Sunday, May 31, 2015

Alex Levinsky - Stanley Cup Winner in 1932

Although I never had the opportunity to talk with former Leaf defenceman Alex Levinsky, I did have the chance to meet his son, Richard Levinsky, earlier this month. After occasions like this, I can't help but look back and learn more about the player. And this was no different after my chat with Richard.

Richard Levinsky
Born in Syracuse, New York, Alex Levinsky joined the junior Toronto Marlboros in 1928-29.

On March 2, 1931, Levinsky turned pro when he signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also putting pen-to-paper on that day in 1931 was forward Bob Gracie.

"Gracie signed a professional contract early in the morning, but it was not until just before the train pulled out for the Quaker City (Philadelphia) that Levinsky came to terms after several conferences during the day," noted the Toronto Daily Star the following day.

He played his first home game in a Leaf uniform on March 5, 1931, at the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. The Montreal Maroons provided the opposition and they edged the Leafs by a score of 6-5.

Levinsky's outing was typical of a rookie playing for the first time before a home crowd.

On the Maroons second goal, Levinsky couldn't stop a rush by Jimmy Ward and Dave Trottier, which resulted in Montreal taking a two goal advantage.

Lou Marsh of The Star described how Levinsky rebounded from being the goat on Ward's goal.

"His chance came a minute or two later when he rammed Northcutt (Baldy) over and pulled a couple of determined rushes."

Marsh commented on Levinsky's home debut and the prospects of his improving with time.

"Levinsky of course did not set anything on fire with his performance last night, but when King Clancy and Hap Day get through teaching him how to hurl the hip he will make some of them go into second gear after they meet him."

In the spring-summer-fall of 1931, work commenced and continued on a new home for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the corner of Church and Carlton in downtown Toronto. Built in an remarkable speed of time - 5 months - Maple Leaf Gardens was open for business on November 12, 1931, when Toronto hosted the Chicago Black Hawks.

Alex Levinsky and his teammates capped off their first season in the Gardens by capturing the Stanley Cup on April 9, 1932. The Leafs swept the New York Rangers in the best-of-five final.

His time with the Maple Leafs ended in May of 1934, when Levinsky was sold to the New York Rangers. After a half-term in the Big Apple, he was sold to Chicago. His final NHL campaign was in 1938-39 as a member of the Hawks.

Alex Levinsky passed away on September 1, 1990.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Maple Leaf Gardens - A Different View

On my first visit to Maple Leaf Gardens in January of 1965, I couldn't get over how far away the domed roof appeared to be. During every trip to the Original Six building, I wouldn't miss the opportunity to gaze up at Foster Hewitt's gondola, and then to the domed roof.

It wasn't until the Gardens closed in 1999, that I decided to find out more about the upper most region of the hockey shrine built by Conn Smythe.

I came across an interesting article published in the Contract Record and Engineering Review. The headline above the story read, "An Outstanding Construction Accomplishment - Erection of Large Sports Arena in Five Months - Maple Leaf Gardens Represents Latest Ideas in Arena Design."

Dated November 11, 1931 - the day prior to the official opening of Maple Leaf Gardens - the piece provided background information on the construction of the domed roof.

"Over the arena portion a dome, 207 ft. by 225 ft. in projected measurement, rises to a height of about 150 ft. above street level," noted the Contract Record and Engineering Review.

"The roof of the building, which is domed in the centre, is carried on structural steel framework. The dome, of rectangular plan, has a base of 207 ft. by 225 ft. and comprises four trussed ribs braced by a series of trusses arranged rectangularly and carrying the roofing ribs on which the decking is placed."

Another interesting passage observed that, "at the centre of the dome, reached by cat walks, is a winch platform from which can be operated a boxing and wrestling ring, light canopy, loud speakers and radio microphones."

Perhaps, the most fascinating fact is it took only four weeks to build the roof.

The historic address of 60 Carlton Street is currently shared by Loblaw Companies Limited and Ryerson University.

Mattamy Home Ice, situated on the top floor of the reconfigured structure, was designed to resemble a miniature version of the original Maple Leaf Gardens. The Ryerson Rams hockey team calls this space their home.

What struck me most when entering the new ice rink was the proximity of the domed roof. The difference in distance to the naked eye is dramatic, compared to the times when Hap Day and subsequent generations of Leaf players called the Gardens home.

Now, to peer up at the domed roof, it isn't necessary to strain your neck to the point where your eyeballs can't look any higher. A close-up view can be had from any spot and binoculars are not required.

For Maple Leaf fans, it is like the domed roof is the gateway to hockey heaven.

To paraphrase lyrics written by Paul Simon - "Where have you gone, Teeder Kennedy, Leafs Nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Friday, May 8, 2015

1945 Memorial Cup

At a recent NHL Oldtimers lunch, I experienced one of those magical hockey moments that crop up from time to time.

As I was enjoying a conversation with Phil Samis, a former teammate, Johnny McCormack, sat down beside him and they quickly began reminiscing about their early days in hockey and their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. These two wonderful characters were members of the 1945 Memorial Cup championship team at St. Mike's.

Johnny McCormack (L) with Phil Samis

Phil Samis (above), a defenceman, went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1948. The bulk of his hockey career was spent in the American Hockey League, where he added Calder Cup championship to his trophy case.

Johnny McCormack (above), who played up the middle, was noted for his ability to strip a puck away from an opponent by employing a nasty sweep check. He won a Stanley Cup in 1953 with the Montreal Canadiens.

On April 23, 1945, Samis and McCormack celebrated St. Mike's 7-2 victory over the Moose Jaw Canucks at Maple Leaf Gardens. Although Samis didn't play in game 5, he did see action in two other contests. The win was St. Mike's fourth in the best-of-seven final, thus making them Canadian junior champions.

Future Montreal Canadien, Leo Gravelle, was the scoring hero for St. Mike's in game 5. He notched a natural hat trick with his first goal resulting from a major penalty shot. John McCormack assisted on his third goal. The Globe and Mail noted of Gravelle's final marker: "McCormack passed to Gravelle, but the puck got mixed-up with his feet. He kicked (it) into position for a shot and beat Bentley with a short shot." The goalie for Moose Jaw was Bev Bentley, a member of the hockey family from Delisle, Saskatchewan. Besides this helper, McCormack added a goal of his own and another assist on a goal by Gus Mortson.

In addition to Gus Mortson, who later joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, a number of players listed in the game line-ups for Moose Jaw and St. Mike's went on to play in the National Hockey League.

Several of the better known names for Moose Jaw included Bert Olmstead, Metro Prystai and Ralph Nattrass. On St. Mike's side of the ledger there was Jimmy Thomson, Tod Sloan and Les Costello.

The coach of the Canucks, Reg Bentley, the older brother to Max, Doug and the previously mentioned Bev Bentley, played 11 games with the 1942-43 Chicago Blackhawks. His counterpart behind the bench at St. Mike's was Leaf legend Joe Primeau. The centre for Toronto's dynamic Kid Line, Primeau skated for the Leafs from 1928-29 to 1935-36.

The Globe and Mail reported on April 25, 1945, that "the five-game tournament between (the) Canucks and St. Michael's College drew 65,437 customers for a game average of 13,087, an all-time record."

The success at the box-office raised talk of Maple Leaf Gardens becoming the permanent home for future Memorial Cups. This proposal was made to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association by Conn Smythe. Also, there was chatter of a 'Hall of Fame at the Gardens for junior hockey teams."

Seventy-years have passed since the evening of April 23, 1945, however, on a pleasant spring afternoon in 2015, Phil Samis and Johnny McCormack talked about that time as though it were only yesterday.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Montreal-Detroit 1937

Last week when Tampa Bay eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in game 7 of their series, I was hoping for a different result. The prospect of Montreal and Detroit adding another chapter to their rich history of battling one another in the playoffs was something worth looking forward to.

They first met in 1937 when they went to battle in the semi-finals. The best-of-five series went the distance with the deciding game being played at the Montreal Forum on April 1, 1937.

A goal scored late in the third period by Montreal defenceman Bill MacKenzie sent the contest into extra-time. The following description MacKenzie's goal appeared in The Globe and Mail:

On a brilliant solo play MacKenzie brushed through Wings', edged closer while a wing checked him, then smashed a backhand shot past Smith from about six feet away. It was scored at 14:56. 
It took three overtime periods before the outcome was determined. The hero for the Detroit Red Wings was Hector Kilrea. The native of Blackburn, Ontario, scored when he, "...slipped through to take a pass from behind and score the goal that hoisted Detroit to the heights again and a courageous Canadien entity into the dreariness of defeat after a season of exceptional excellence."

Hec Kilrea

The Detroit Red Wings captured the '37 Stanley Cup by taking the best-out-of-five final 3-games-to-two over the New York Rangers.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Past Glory

Sure, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs haven't had much to celebrate recently, but that wasn't always the case.

Back on May 2, 1967, television viewers, tuned in to watch hockey, watched as Toronto defeated the Montreal Canadiens in game 6 of final to capture the Stanley Cup. These clippings from The Toronto Telegram are a wonderful reminder of what the Toronto Maple Leafs could accomplish.

Past Glory.