Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A New Season

Despite there being no NHL hockey, options are available to hockey fans.

In Toronto, the Marlies offer an excellent alternative.

A look back at their recent success offers real hope for a championship and not the usual pipe dreams associated with the Maple Leafs.

The idea of being the top banana has become a foreign concept to many hockey fans living in Toronto. Sure, it happens in other hockey cities, but not here.

Some can recall when it did happen and are grateful for the memories.

For most though, it's something they simply cannot relate to - a professional hockey club in Toronto going on an extended run and playing for all the marbles.

Last spring, that all changed.

It was Christmas in June for Toronto Marlie fans, as their team advanced to the Calder Cup final.

Yes Virginia, hockey can be played in Toronto when temperatures are soaring and steaks are sizzling on the barbecue!

Although the Marlies were swept in four by Norfolk, a number of past clubs linked with the Toronto Maple Leafs have experienced Calder Cup success.

In fact, the very first winners of the Calder Cup  in '36-'37 were the Syracuse Stars, a  farm team of the Maple Leafs. For some reason, the Calder Cup wasn't presented to them in 1937. But the American Hockey League made up for this in 1996.

During a ceremony, former Stars player, George Parsons, was presented the Calder Cup.

On April 6, 1937, Syracuse opened the best-of-three final in Philadelphia against the Ramblers. The visitors were defeated 2-0, not exactly the start they were hoping for.

In the next two contests, the Stars got their game on track, defeating Philly 5-2 at home and 4-1 back in Philadelphia.

With two victories under their belt, Syracuse was in a position to take the final on April 11th.

Following a scoreless first period, Syracuse forward Normie Mann put his team on the scoreboard, netting two early in the middle frame.

Syracuse would add three more goals in period three, with Eddie Convey, Maxie Bennett and Norm Locking hitting the twine.

In goal for the Stars and recording a shutout in the 5-0 pasting of Philadelphia was Phil Stein.

The Syracuse Stars were crowned champions in the initial campaign of the International-American Hockey League. In 1940, the organization became the American Hockey League, with "International" falling by the waste side.

During the 1940s, the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets became a Toronto farm team. And by 1951-52 were good enough to advance against Providence in the Calder Cup final.

Up three games to two, the Hornets and Reds met in Providence for game six on April 20, 1952.

When regulation time didn't produce a winner, the two teams went to overtime.

They reached this point after Kenny Smith of Providence tied the game at two-all.

Scoring the other goal for Providence was Barry Sullivan. Pittsburgh scoring came from Andy Barbe and defenceman Tim Horton.

This set the stage for overtime.

At 6:08 of the second overtime period, Pittsburgh's Ray Hannigan notched the sudden death game winning goal, stunning a huge crowd of 6100 spectators jammed into  Rhode Island Auditorium.

For Pittsburgh fans, it was time to celebrate their first American Hockey League championship.

Like their confrontation with Providence in '52, the 1955 version of the Pittsburgh Hornets would capture another Calder title on the road.

Travelling to Buffalo for game six on April 10, 1955, the Hornets needed one more victory before they could hoist the Calder Cup.

With neither club capitalizing in period one, Pittsburgh came out blasting in the second. They built-up a 3-0 advantage and withstood a comeback attempt by Buffalo in the final frame.

Getting Pittsburgh the lead were Ray Timgren and Bob Solinger with two. Replying for the Bisons were Kenny Wharram and Frank Sullivan. Firing an insurance marker for  the Hornets was Willie Marshall at 19:37.

A collection of players belonging to the Maple Leafs (Bob Hazzard, Marc Reaume, Brian Cullen, Timgren, to name a few), gathered around captain Frank Mathers as he accepted the Calder Cup from league president John Chick.

Toronto's affiliation with Pittsburgh came to an end following play in 1955-56. The demolition of Pittburgh's home rink didn't leave the Leafs with much choice.

The hunt was on to find a new minor league team, where Toronto's prospects could be groomed and veterans could get another shot at making it to the NHL.

Looking to to perhaps limit their financial exposure, Leaf management, in conjunction with the Canadiens Frank Selke, agreed to jointly share an AHL team in Rochester, New York.

Known as the Rochester Americans, they took to the ice on October, 1956, for their first home date. The opposition being provided by the Cleveland Barons.

Those in attendance hoping to witness Rochester's first regular season win on home ice, had to settle for a 2-2 draw. The Americans held  1-0 and 2-1 leads, but couldn't maintain their advantage.

Scoring for Rochester were Mike Nykoluk and Earl Balfour. Responding for Cleveland were Cal Stearns and Bo Elik.

Being fierce NHL rivals, put a strain on Toronto and Montreal's co-existence at the AHL level.

Although both organizations held an equal ownership share, Montreal personnel operated the Rochester franchise. This resulted in Toronto having concerns as to how much effort was being put in to enrich their talent.

Prior to the 1959-60 campaign, Stafford Smythe looked to turn the tables. To accomplish this, there was only one direction to take - buy-out the Canadiens.

Montreal and Toronto held controlling interest, with each possessing a 27.5 percent share for a total of 55 percent. The remaining 45 percent belonged to the Rochester community.

By mid June 1959, the papers were signed, sealed and delivered.

Smythe and company cut the Canadiens a cheque, thus enabling Toronto to have complete authority over hockey operations in Rochester.

It was the beginning of a glorious relationship.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, with a talent pool of NHL ready players in Rochester,  became a powerhouse in the decade that followed.

Stanley Cup presentations crowning the Leafs champions occurred in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.

The success engulfing the parent club became contagious and a trickle-down effect eventually reached the Rochester Americans.

Starting in the spring of 1965, Rochester went on a Calder Cup binge.

After winning a Stanley Cup in 1964 with Toronto, Jim Pappin, Gerry Ehman, Ed Litznberger, Billy Harris, Larry Hillman and Al Arbour became AHL champs in '65 with the Americans.

A 6-2 win over the Hershey Bears on April 30, 1965, gave Rochester their first Calder Cup.

In the final contest, Jimmy Pappin registered a hat-trick and Billy Harris accumulated five points. Scoring against Rochester goalie Gerry Cheevers, were Gene Ubriaco and Ralph Keller.

One year later, the Americans duplicated their accomplishment from the previous season.

Facing the Cleveland Barons in game six on May 13, 1966, the Leafs farm team needed one more victory to ensure the Cup remained in Rochester.

Playing in Cleveland, the Americans got off to a fast start. Goals by Brian Conacher, Larry Jeffrey and Jim Pappin, gave Rochester a 3-0 margin.

Jim Pappin's tally turned out to be the game-winning-goal, as Rochester skated to a 3-2 Calder Cup win. His low shot from 25-feet out got past Cleveland goalie Les Binkley.

Rochester's next trip to the Calder final came in 1968. In game six, on May 4, 1968, Rochester and the Quebec Aces were tied at two goals apiece after forty-minutes of play. In period three, at 14:11, Len Lunde scored to give Rochester a one goal advantage. At 15:27, Bob Barlow put the cherry-on-the-cake, providing his club with a two goal cushion.

A huge crowd of 11,711 spectators in Quebec watched the visitors defeat their team 4-2.

Despite the success their farmhands enjoyed in Rochester, Leaf ownership decided to sell the franchise. Motivation for such a move appeared to be financial. Toronto brass raked in $400,000, but lost 18 solid players.

The win in 1968 marked the final time an AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Calder Cup.

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