Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Looking Back: February 14, 1927

It was a matter of all the pieces falling into place. The end result would be an historic day for hockey and the City of Toronto.

On February 14, 1927, Conn Smythe and his business partners purchased the Toronto St. Pats of the National Hockey League. Prior to reaching this point, several events took place leading Smythe back to Toronto.

In the fall of 1926 Smythe was employed by the NHL's newest entry, the New York Rangers. While conducting his first NHL training camp at Ravina Gardens in Toronto, Colonel Hammond an executive with the Rangers, came calling. The Colonel didn't deliver good news to Smythe. He was informed the Rangers were going in another direction and his services would no longer be required. The Rangers had second thoughts about Smythe's degree of experience in professional hockey. His replacement was Lester Patrick.

After leaving the Rangers organization, Smythe approached the St. Pats in Toronto concerning any job openings. With the NHL season only a month away, Toronto was still without a leader to run their club. Once again, Smythe was rebuffed due to his lack of experience in the pro game.

Over the next while, pieces of the puzzle would fall into place. First, Smythe settled his contract with New York and several gambling ventures paid-off nicely for Smythe.

Shortly after the 1926-27 campaign got underway, Smythe was approached by Jack Bickell. The hockey world was taking notice of Smythe's past work with the Rangers who got off to a good start. In Toronto, Bickell and company changed their tune and were looking to the Toronto native to change the fortunes of their big league club.

Smythe, sensing he could push for more in the deal, changed his position when negotiating with the St. Pats.

"I said I'd only run the team if I could buy it, or part of it," wrote Smythe in his memoirs - If You Can't Beat 'EM in the Alley.

Jack Bickell, a major investor in the St. Pats, agreed to keep his $40,000 with the club. It was up to Smythe to raise the remaining $160,000 to pay-off the other investors.

"I agreed. Late in January I put down $10,000 for an option to purchase. On February 14, 1927, a Monday night, the new investors I'd rounded up met with the owners, and we paid another $75,000 and undertook to pay the remaining $75,000 in thirty days," wrote Smythe.

With things falling into place, there was one important final piece to drop. It came in the form of a maple leaf. In addition to becoming a part-owner and representing his team on the NHL board of governors, Smythe fitted the final piece into the puzzle. He changed the team colours and name of the franchise.

Exactly 85-years-ago this evening, the Toronto Maple Leafs were created. Mention the words - blue and white - in 2012 and every true hockey fan will know the reference.

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