Thursday, October 31, 2013

Allan Stanley: 1926-2013

When defenceman Allan Stanley's name is mentioned, one image materializes.

Late in game six of the 1967 Stanley Cup final, Punch Imlach sent Stanley out to face Jean Beliveau for a crucial draw deep in Toronto's zone. Stanley and his teammates had one task - protect their slim 2-1 lead over Montreal.

After making sure everyone knew their assignment, Allan Stanley went to work.

"Stanley not only beat Jean Beliveau to the draw, but he knocked the Hab captain out of the way, allowing Kelly (Red) to field the puck, " wrote Red Burnett in The Toronto Daily Star. He went on to describe what happened once Kelly gained possession. "Kelly passed to Pulford (Bob), who relayed to Armstrong (George). The Leaf captain pounded the puck into the open net, to cinch the win."

Mission accomplished.

Allan Stanley passed away on October 18, 2013, at Speciality Care Case Manor in Bobcaygeon, Ontarion. He was 87.

Born in Timmins, Ontario, on March 1, 1926, Allan Herbert Stanley's first crack at professional hockey came in 1943-44, with the EAHL Boston Olympics. They were sponsored by the NHL Bruins.

Back in 1949, Stanley spoke about his subsequent departure from the Bruins organization.

"I was on loan from the Boston Olympics in the Eastern United States League to Providence and it seems that the Bruins had to take a defenceman off their list to make room for another," Stanley told The Hockey News.

Weston Adams and Art Ross took in the Providence game to watch Stanley before making any roster decisions. "The day they were to see me in action I was laid up in bed with a bad cold and sore throat, but I dressed anyway," stated Stanley. "I think I played the worst game of my career. The next day I read that I had been sold outright to the Reds."

Stanley's long-term goal was, like his Uncle, Barney Stanley, to don an NHL sweater. The elder Stanley made his name out west with the Vancouver Millionaires. He won a Stanley Cup with them in 1915. While coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1927-28, Barney Stanley played in his only National Hockey League contest. He became an honoured member in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.

Another Uncle, Ab Stanley, played senior hockey for the Hamilton Tigers.

In 1942, Allan Stanley patrolled the blue line for the Holman Pluggers a juvenile team in his home town.  During a game in Toronto, he caught the eye of scout Baldy Cotton. This led Stanley to the Boston Olympics and Providence Reds.

His chance to make the big show came in December 1948.

"In the biggest deal in the history of the club, the New York Rangers yesterday acquired the services of Allan Stanley, husky defenceman from the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League," began a story by Joseph Nichols in the New York Times on December 10, 1948.

To obtain Stanley, the Rangers surrendered cash and players with an estimated value of $60,000 to $70,000. A huge sum for a late 1940s transaction.

He first NHL outing took place on December 11, 1948, at the Detroit Olympia. In his debut, the Rangers fell 5-3.

"Although Stanley played steady hockey he didn't figure in the scoring," noted the Associated Press of Stanley's performance.

Back home in New York the next evening, the tables were turned with the Rangers posting a 2-0 shutout over the Red Wings.

On December 15, 1948, the Toronto Maple Leafs came calling.

With his team up two goals early in the final frame, Stanley added to their margin by notching his first NHL point and goal.

"At 4:40, Fred Shero sent a relay to Stanley and the newcomer, firing from just inside Toronto's blue line, found the target with a lightning shot," chronicled The Times of Stanley's first tally.

A return engagement versus Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens on December 18, 1948, was a special occasion for the Ontario born rearguard.

When Stanley arrived at Toronto's Union Station, his Mom and Dad were there to greet him, having made the trip from up north. His Dad, Bill Stanley, held the position of Fire Chief in Timmins. After his son became a Ranger he stated, "We'll be down to Toronto to see him in action the next time New York plays there."

With family and friends on-hand, Stanley didn't disappoint.

"...He fed his wings and blocked well,  gained two assists and generally looked as if he had been in the big time for years," offered Allan Nickleson in The Globe and Mail.

Early in 1949, Ranger coach, Lynn Patrick, gave this assessment of Stanley's game. "Stanley is a good blocker a good checker and he can also rough it up when he wants to," said the New York bench boss.

Stanley's stay in the Big Apple lasted until November 1954. New York's inability to evolve into a playoff contender resulted in Stanley becoming the object of fan frustrations.  He had to contend with constant abuse flowing down from the stands.

To ease the situation management shipped Stanley to Chicago, and in October 1956 he returned to the Bruins fold.

Despite helping Boston have successful campaigns in both 1957 and 1958,  they had apprehensions about Stanley's lasting-power. Nicknamed 'Snowshoes", his slow-moving style, combined with a leg injury, contributed to Boston once again moving Stanley.

Punch Imlach in Toronto, didn't share Boston's appraisal of Stanley's extended worth. He obtained the defenceman in an October 1958 trade.

Imlach thought Stanley would mature in the same manner as his Uncle Barney.

Late in his career, Barney Stanley used his hockey I.Q. to get by. He performed "when a veteran could get by on brains alone and Barney was one of the craftiest players the game has known," observed a Winnipeg columnist.

The same could be said of Allan Stanley.

"Stanley went on to play more than six hundred games for Toronto in the next ten years, as honest and dependable as a coach could ask for...," penned Imlach in his 1969 book, "Hockey Is A Battle".

The one Leaf who had the best sight lines to watch Stanley ply his trade was goalie Johnny Bower. In his book Bower wrote:

Allan was  fantastic at playing the angle on the shooter and he never obstructed my vision while doing it. He was blessed with tremendous anticipation and seemed to know where I was going to play the rebound even before I did.

Commenting about both King Clancy and Allan Stanley, former Leaf defenceman Bob Baun wrote this about his coach (Clancy) and teammate (Stanley) in his autobiography: "They were masters of the defensive zone - I think either of them could have played in a rocking chair."

Allan Stanley finally settled into his rocking chair after one season of post-season competition with the Philadelphia Flyers. Prior to departing Toronto, he captured four Stanley Cups. In 1981, the Hockey Hall of Fame summoned Allan Stanley.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Picture This

New Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment boss Tim Leiweke caused a stir over the summer when he suggested that photos of past laurels be removed from the Air Canada Centre.

After a number of Maple Leaf Alumni expressed their concerns, Leiweke reversed his course of action. Fan favourite Johnny Bower, acting as a voice of reason, eventually helped Leiweke see what all the fuss was about.

A Toronto Star cartoon (above) depicts Bower making one more save on behalf of his former teammates.

Back in January 1949, Leaf management took another approach when it came to photographs.


As the caption on the top picture indicates, Hap Day knew the importance of instilling past achievements into the mindset of rookies.

"After getting Johnny McCormack's signature on a Leaf contract yesterday, coach Hap Day, left, took the lanky Marlboro star on a tour of his office, showing him pictures of Leaf teams which have won the Stanley Cup," noted the text under the photo. "It was a subtle way of letting Johnny know the Leafs will need a lot of help from him if they're going to make a serious bid for their fourth straight world title," it goes goes on to read.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Metro Prystai 1927-2013

On October 8, 2013, former NHL player Metro Prystai passed away - OBIT - at the age of 85.

Prystai joined the Chicago Black Hawks in 1947-48. He won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. The first coming in 1951-52, then in 1953-54 he captured his second championship.

The above photo of Prystai (C), Bert Olmstead (L), and Bep Guidolin (R) appeared in a Toronto newspaper. The Hawks were in town for a tilt against the Maple Leafs on January 8, 1950. It shows Prystai kissing a horseshoe for good luck.

Playing at centre, Prystai enjoyed his most productive NHL campaign that year ('49-'50). He scored 29 goals and added 22 assists for 51 points.

Born on November 7, 1927, Prystai died in his hometown of Yorkton, Saskatchewan.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hockey or Baseball?

How many nights does one travel up and down the TV dial only to discover nothing of interest? Last evening, however, wasn't one of those occasions.

On Leafs TV the Toronto Maple Leafs took on Nashville, 48- hours after suffering their first loss of 2013-14. For Leaf supporters it was a chance to see how the Buds would respond. Despite their 3-1 record, most of Toronto's victories haven't been pretty. Their goalies, in particular Jonathan Bernier, get the credit for the teams first six points in the standings.

The one blemish came on Tuesday when Patrick Roy and company downed Randy Carlyle and company 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre.

If hockey isn't your game, Detroit and Oakland tangled in game five of the American League Division Series. The winner earning the right to advance against the Boston.

In today's modern world of advanced technology, there is no reason to miss any action. A split-screen feature enabled me to watch both hockey and baseball. One with audio and the other silent. Since hockey contains more fluid action, I decided talking heads weren't necessary. Baseball with its slower pace needed more spice and the banter filled the void between pitches.

From a visual perspective, it was amazing how similar in colour the Nashville and Oakland uniforms were. On the split-screen they appeared to blend together like mustard smeared on a hot dog. The boys of summer and winter sharing the same space.

A one-timer off a hockey stick being matched by a bat connecting with a baseball. A quick glove save by Jonathan Bernier. Detroit Tigers backstop Alex Avila using his catching mitt to prevent pitches from getting past him.

A black puck. A white ball. Ice on one side of the screen and grass on the other. Pitcher versus batter. One defenceman battling two forwards. Plays going off-side at the blueline. Foul balls down the first base line.A referee consulting with a linesman. The home plate umpire huddling with the third base ump.

When all was said and done, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Tigers prevailed. Bernier not allowing a goal and Justin Verlander not allowing a run.

I swear I could hear the television director say, "and fade to black." It was my cue to go to bed. There would be more to watch tomorrow night.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Tradition Continues

Opening night in the National Hockey League is always a special occasion.

The 2013-14 campaign kicked off with the Canadiens hosting the Maple Leafs. In an entertaining contest, Toronto edged the Habs by a 4-3 score.

Back on December 23, 1918,  Montreal and Toronto helped usher in the 1918-19 season. Like 2013, the summary reveals a final score of 4-3, but it was the Canadiens earning the victory 95 year-ago over the Toronto Arenas.

One of hockey's greatest goalies, George Vezina, stole the spotlight in Montreal's win. "Vezina was the outstanding star of the game," declared The Globe in their game story on Christmas Eve. The report went on to detail Vezina's performance. "In the early periods Arenas bombarded the visitors net and threatened to pile up a commanding lead, but the Montreal wizard proved equal to the occasion and made marvellous stops."

No matter the era, the anticipation of game one is what keeps every fan coming back for more. Points are on the line and hope springs eternal for a championship year.

In 1918, Montreal got the jump over Toronto, however, the other night it was Toronto's turn.

The fun and excitement is only beginning.