Sunday, February 28, 2016


There are games a hockey fan simply cannot forget. Ask anyone who witnessed game eight between Team Canada and Russia in 1972 and they can tell you exactly where they were when Paul Henderson scored his series clinging goal for Canada.

Many people remember New Year’s Eve 1975 when the Montreal Canadiens and Russia skated to a 3-3 draw. A close and exciting contest from beginning to end this epic battle was more important than the ball drop at midnight.

Several months after the New Year’s Eve classic another unforgettable game took place.

On Saturday February 7, 1976, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Boston Bruins and the encounter was televised across the entire country on Hockey Night In Canada.

The Bruins were on a seven game winning streak and led the Adams Division with 73 points.

Prior to meeting the Leafs, Don Cherry’s club defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 at Boston Garden. Their starting goalie, Gilles Gilbert, missed the contest due to a knee injury suffered in practice the previous day. 

Cherry turned to netminder Dave Reece to face the Penguins. The lone goal scored against Reece in Boston’s victory came off Lowell MacDonald’s stick.
Still sidelined for the tilt in Toronto, Gilbert was again replaced between the pipes by Reece.

In addition to Gilbert and Reece, the Bruins signed their former puck-stopper, Gerry Cheever’s to a contract on January 27, 1976. Cheever’s obtained his release from the WHA Cleveland Crusaders. He served as Reece’s back-up against Toronto.

The Maple Leafs last action before they hosted the Bruins was a mid-week confrontation with Washington at Maple Leaf Gardens.

This match-up was significant as Leaf coach, Red Kelly, juggled his forward combinations. His top line included a new centre, team captain Darryl Sittler.

Motivation to find a productive middleman for wingers Lanny McDonald and Errol Thompson was partially provided by Leaf owner Harold Ballard.

“We’d set off a time bomb if we had a sensational centre,” Ballard was quoted as saying.

At the time, Darryl Sittler was in a mini-slump. In 17 prior games, he scored 5 goals and 10 assists. Also, Sittler was hampered with a shoulder injury.

Another factor, which contributed to Sittler’s lack of production, was the constant changing of his linemates.

On the west coast for a late January date with Oakland, Sittler skated between four different players.  In Pittsburgh on February 1, he worked with six different teammates on his line.  Hardly, the ideal circumstances for establishing chemistry.

All these factors were considered before Red Kelly formed the trio of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Errol Thompson.

“I’m thinking seriously of giving that line a try,” the Leaf coach told reporters prior to the Washington game. “I used it late in the game against Pittsburgh. Sittler creates many scoring chances for his wingers through his strong forechecking and he needs some scorers with him for maximum effectiveness.”

Red Kelly wasted little time keeping his new line intact for an entire game. In their next outing both Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald scored on Washington Capitals goalie Ron Low. Also, Sittler gained an assist on McDonald’s first period goal.

The reconstructed number one line clicked as a unit, but the Leafs could only muster up a 4-4 tie with the dreadful Capitals. The visitors one point only gave them 16 on the season.

A true measurement of what Sittler, McDonald and Thompson could accomplish as a threesome could be more accurately determined against their next opponent.

And all expectations were shattered when the Boston Bruins came calling on February 7, 1976.

One player took command on hockey’s biggest stage and gave the performance of his professional life. Like a leading-man in a Broadway production, Darryl Sittler slowly let the drama build, then in the final act, brought the audience out of their seats.

John Iaboni worked the Leaf beat for the Toronto Sun and his review the next morning placed Darryl Sittler with hockey’s all-time elite. Iaboni opened with the following paragraph:

 “No player in the history of professional hockey – not Gordie Howe, not Maurice (Rocket) Richard, not Bobby Hull, not Bobby Orr, not even Phil Esposito – did what Darryl Sittler accomplished last night at Maple Leaf Gardens.”

When the curtain fell on Saturday February 7, 1976, Darryl Sittler had taken his place in hockey history by setting a new record for most points in 60-minutes of play. His 10-point game against Boston broke the previous mark of 8 points shared by Maurice Richard (1944) and Bert Olmsted (1954).

Totally unscripted, Sittler improvised from beginning to end.

ACT ONE: (Starting Slowly) Darryl Sittler concentrated on his role as a playmaker, setting up goals by Lanny McDonald and Ian Turnbull.

ACT TWO: (The Suspense Builds) Darryl Sittler scored his first of three goals in period two. On the play he knocked in a pass from Borje Salming.

Then, on a power play, Sittler and Salming once again joined forces. After winning the draw, Sittler moved the puck to his defenceman and Salming’s shot from the blueline found the back of the net.

Point number 5 came when Sittler picked-off a pass at centre ice and moved into Boston’s zone. He fired a shot, which Reece was unable to stop.

Darryl Sittler completed his hat trick when he converted George Ferguson’s pass into a goal.

His final point in the middle frame resulted from a goal by Salming at the 13:57 mark.

ACT THREE: (High Drama) Darryl Sittler tied the record very early in period three. Point number 8 was collected 44-seconds after the drop of the puck to begin play. Positioned just outside of the crease, Sittler banged in a pass, which was delivered by Borje Salming.

Darryl Sittler’s crowning moment, point number 9, officially came at 9:27, when his wrist shot eluded Dave Reece.

He completed his show with a move usually associated with the game of pool. Sittler, anchored behind the Boston cage, sent the puck in front of the net, which triggered the trick shot. First, the puck banked-off Brad Park’s skate and went towards Reece. Then, it banked-off the goalies skate and crossed the goal line.

At 16:35 of the third period Darryl Sittler completed his 10-point game. His work was done.

The original  National Hockey League Score Sheet from February 7, 1976.

Post-game quotes secured by reporters provide insight into Darryl Sittler’s thoughts and reflections on his 10-point game.

“When you play with guys like Thompson and McDonald, they create openings for their centre because they skate and move the puck so well. If you give either of them a good pass, you have the chance for an assist.”

When asked if he changed his game-day routine in any fashion, Sittler replied, “well my son fell in the mud when I was baby sitting him, other than that, nothing different.”

Reflecting on his 10-point game performance, he said, “It was one of those nights when everything happened. Some nights you have the puck and nothing happens.”

On when he became aware his game against the Bruins was about to enter unchartered waters, Sittler spoke of his teammates and their encouragement in his 10-point game.

“Lanny told me at the end of the second period there was a Leaf record I’d beaten, then in the third, they flashed things across the (electronic) board and I was aware of the record. And the guys kept  informing me about it.”

In response to Harold Ballard’s quest to find “a sensational centre,”  Sittler offered his boss some advice.

“Maybe now he won’t have to hunt so hard for that centre he wants,” Sittler said following the 10-point game.

On the 40th anniversary of his 10-point game, Darryl Sittler looked back on February 7, 1976, during an interview for this story.

“It was a Saturday night with an Original Six team (Boston) on Hockey Night In Canada from coast to coast and that added an dimension of excitement,” Sittler recalled as I asked him about his memories of the 10-point game.

“The game started out and we were doing pretty well, which didn’t always happen against Boston. During the second period it sort of all broke loose when I got the 5 points. I went out in the third period and got a goal to tie the record. The record breaking point was an exciting goal as I got it coming down the wing. The 10th point resulted from a fluke goal. I was behind the net and tried to pass the puck out and it ended up in the net. I put my hands in the air and shook my head. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

I asked Darryl Sittler how long it took him to realize he had strung together a 10-point game and its historical importance.

“Here is the thing, I didn’t realize it at the time. It was great and we won, but I never realized the magnitude of it all until 2 years later.” 

Having surpassed the single game point production of Rocket Richard and Bert Olmstead, I wondered if Sittler ever had the chance to speak with either of them. “I spent sometime with Rocket, but we never talked about it.” 

When asked if Harold Ballard’s comments lit a fire under him, Sittler’s reply started with, “No.” He went on to state, “You just go out and try the best you can every night. There were other nights I felt I played as good or better than the 10-point game and I didn’t get as many points. Harold was Harold and he did what he did and you tried not to let that bother you.”

A team leader on and off the ice, Darryl Sittler gave credit to his teammates for the contribution they made on his 10-point game. 

“I was fortunate to play with great wingers like Lanny and Errol Thompson. They were very skilled players with great speed and they could score. We also had Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull. When you put the five of us out on the ice, we had an awesome offensive combination.” 

Besides his 10-point game record, Darryl Sittler had an amazing run in 1975-76. He was named team captain and later in the schedule on March 17, 1976, against Chicago, he broke the franchise record for most assists (51) and points (85) in one season. Former Maple Leaf Norm Ullman held the previous mark. In a playoff game on April 22, 1976, Sittler scored 5 goals against Philadelphia and recorded 6 points. This tied Rocket Richard for most goals and points in a post-season contest.

Darryl Sittler didn’t rest on the 10-point game or his other feats when the next hockey season rolled around. He was selected to play for his country in the 1976 Canada Cup tournament. In the championship game, he scored the winning goal in the first overtime session against Czech goalie Vladimir Dzurilla.

I asked Sittler to name the highlight of his body of work from that time. His reply is surprising taking into account he is the only player to have a 10-point game in the history books.

“The 10-point game is something that is brought up every year,” he noted. “The overtime goal in the Canada Cup is more special because we won the championship. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be on a Stanley Cup team. To be part of Team Canada and scoring that goal, to me that was the highlight of them all.”

On the subject of his 10-point game record being broken in the future, Sittler takes a never-say-never approach. 

“They could change the size of the goal nets or the goaltenders equipment and maybe 15 or 20 years from now the game may not be like it is today. I’d be happy for the guy that broke the 10-point game record, but at the same time I want to hold the record.” 

One might think Darryl Sittler’s 10-point game on February 7, 1976, filled him with enough confidence to last until he hung-up his skates for good. But that wasn’t the case.

“I went out every game and tried to play as hard as I could. It had nothing to do with confidence. It was nice to get the goals and points,” Sittler said in reference to his 10-point game performance. “The next night I don’t think I even got a point (he registered one point, an assist, on a goal by Lanny McDonald). You go out and play the best you can and that’s what makes a successful career.”

Just as important to Darryl Sittler was the fact he remained, thanks to his 10-point game, between McDonald and Thompson.  

“The 10-point game kept our line together and if we didn’t have a great outing against Boston, the coach may have decided to change the lines around.” 

Darryl Sittler acknowledged to the press in the Leaf dressing room, “it’ll be hard to forget something like this.” And for those who watched in-person or on television, the Darryl Sittler 10-point game is one they will never forget.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


At the February NHL Original Six Alumni lunch, former Toronto Maple Leaf goalie, Mike Palmateer, made his first appearance at the event. He is pictured above (left) with John Iaboni, who worked on the hockey beat for the Toronto Sun when Mike broke into the NHL.

Palmateer's first appearance as a starting goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs came early in the 1976-77 season. A loss to Minnesota on October 27, 1976, extended their winless streak to seven games. The 5-3 loss to the North Stars at Maple Leaf Gardens gave Toronto a 1-5-3 record and motivated the team to make a change in goal.

"We have to get a great effort in goal," Red Kelly (the Leafs' coach) stated when he told reporters after the Minnesota tilt that his club would summon Mike Palmateer from the minors. Kelly went on to explain, "Palmateer had a good training camp, played exceptionally well in exhibition games and has been doing the same thing in Dallas."

The next night, John Iaboni covered Mike Palmateer's first regular season contest between the pipes for the Maple Leafs. Iaboni's game story left little doubt as to the impact Palmateer made on getting the Leafs back in the win column:

 The 22-year-old native of Toronto left Dallas at 6:40 a.m. and spent the afternoon catching up on some sleep. Then last night before 10,484 spectators at the Olympia, Palmateer made his National Hockey League debut memorable as the backbone of the Leafs' 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Palmateer faced 25 Detroit shots and the lone goal he surrendered came off Danny Grant's stick. The goal was scored at the 8:08 mark of period one and after that, Palmateer shut the barn door.

An action shot of Mike Palmateer in his first NHL contest. Borje Salming looks on as his goalie denies Detroit's Buster Harvey of a scoring chance.

As Red Kelly pointed out, the entire Leaf defence rallied around the rookie netminder. "Checking, that's what everyone out there did. Everyone on defence, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull, Jim McKenny and Brian Glennie played really well."

Up front, Iaboni wrote of another key ingredient that helped Toronto earn its second win:

 He (Red Kelly) also negated much of the aggressiveness of the Dan Maloney-Walt McKechnie and Dennis Polonich line by playing Kurt Walker (against Polonich) on a line with Lanny McDonald and Sittler. 

Another switch paid off when Kelly added defenceman Bob Neely to a line with George Ferguson and Scott Garland. In the middle frame with the score knotted at a goal apiece, Neely scored the game-winning-goal against Detroit goalie Jim Rutherford.

In his post-game comments, Palmateer praised his teammates and spoke about his state-of-mind going into his maiden voyage as a Leaf. "I'm glad the team played well because I didn't feel great. I was tired. I wasn't really that nervous although I thought I would be because I worried about this game all day."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


On February 2, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a huge splash when they unveiled their new logo, which is pictured above. The entire uniform will make its debut at the 2016 Draft.

The new logo contains several features that recognizes the Maple Leafs past accomplishments and important dates in the history of the franchise. The 31 point Maple Leaf pays homage to when the club moved from Arena Gardens on Mutual Street to their new home at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. A total of 17 veins are shown on the crest. This number represents the year the franchise was formed and entered the newly created National Hockey League in 1917. The 13 veins situated at the very top (4 right, 6 centre & 3 left) acknowledges the 13 Stanley Cups won by the Toronto Arenas, St. Pats and Maple Leafs.

While most of the franchise logos have been documented since 1917, there is one period of time that lacks detail. When Conn Smythe and his partners purchased the St. Pats on February 14, 1927, they decided to rename their new acquisition the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In the February 15, 1927, edition of The Toronto Telegram, an article (above) shed light on the new-look Maple Leafs:

 The club will be called the Maple Leaf Hockey Club. The old green and white sweaters of the St. Pat's will go into discard. On Thursday night against New York Americans here, the local boys will sport these new sweaters. They will be white with a green maple leaf...

The opening paragraph in The Globe story (above - Feb. 18/27) on the Toronto Maple Leafs first contest made note that they were, "...bedecked in new uniforms, a new name, and playing under new management..."

A review of the Toronto newspapers - Toronto Daily Star, The Globe, The Star Weekly, The Telegram, The Mail & Empire - failed  to turn up a photograph of the Maple Leafs new threads. The search stretched from February 1927 to the end of the 1926-27 season. Also, several out-of-town newspapers were checked, but no photos were found.

To properly appreciate the full affect of viewing a green Maple Leaf crest, a colour photo would be the best image. Like the attempts to secure a black and white team issued or press picture, the hunt for a colour version came up empty.

A Google image search produced several photos, but didn't expose a green Maple Leaf as opposed to a blue Maple Leaf. The only interesting aspect is the fact an all-white sweater is shown.

The above picture of Joe Primeau is an example of an all-white jersey. Obviously, there is no way to tell if the logo is green or blue. A review of Primeau's fact sheet on the Society for International Hockey Research website revealed that the centre for Toronto's famed Kid Line didn't play for the Leafs until the 1927-28 campaign. This leads to the possibility of the post-sale jersey being a hand-me-down for future Leaf players to wear in practice or at special events. This is only speculation and an authentic/documented colour picture is the only true visual evidence of a green Maple Leaf.

In a media guide, the Toronto Maple Leafs noted:

Now in charge of Toronto's National Hockey League entry, Smythe's patriotic pride led him to decide on a Maple Leaf as the team's nickname and crest...the uniform colours remained green and white for a year after he purchased the team out of respect for the previous organization. He then changed the colours to blue and white...

 The reference to the colour's remaining green and white could also include a green Maple Leaf, but the guide doesn't come right out and confirm the logo was green.

In 1927-28, the Toronto Maple Leafs donned their new blue and white uniform (above photos).  At this point, the elusive green Maple Leaf disappeared.


Saturday, February 6, 2016


At the February lunch for the NHL Original Six Alumni, I had the pleasure of giving a talk on the career of Sandy Air.

In 1957, Sandy was a member of the Allan Cup champion Whitby Dunlops. As reigning champs, the Dunlops were selected to represent Canada at the 1958 world championships in Oslo, Norway. Due to business commitments, Sandy wasn't going to make the trip. However, he was told by Dunlops manager, Wren Blair, to stay by the phone in case he was needed.

And that call came on February 25, 1958. Hoping to bolster their attack on right wing, Blair and playing-coach Sid Smith felt it was necessary to reach out to Air. A headline in The Globe and Mail read, "SANDY AIR-LIFT PLANNED TO STRENGTHEN DUNLOPS."

On March 9, 1958, Sandy Air and his Dunlop teammates doubled-up Russia by a 4-2 score and their quest to conquer the world was complete.


Taking into account it is called Legends Row, it didn't come as a surprise when the Leafs announced that Dave Keon would be honoured with a statue in their upcoming centennial year. 

Since retiring, Keon has returned to take part in ceremonies to hail the 1960's Stanley Cup winning teams. However, he has refused to participate in an individual tribute. This stems from his firmly held belief that his former team should retire player numbers and not employ their policy of having honoured numbers.

The Maple Leafs only have two retired numbers - #6 for Ace Bailey and #5 for Bill Barilko - hanging from the rafters at the Air Canada Centre.

Left to Right: Barb Tushingham, Brendan Shanahan, Dave Keon and Jeri Horton-Joyce

Since Keon wasn't going to be part of any gathering to honour his number 14, the Leafs found another way to acknowledge their former captain. On January 23rd, Keon was front and centre in a pre-game ceremony to salute the latest members of Legends Row. Joining Keon at centre ice was Barb Tushingham (representing her father, Turk Broda) and Jeri Horton Joyce (representing her father, Tim Horton). 

And how did Keon land the number that he feels so strongly about?

The story begins at his rookie training camp prior to the 1960-61 season. During camp, Keon wore two different numbers - 8 & 24. His request to permanently wear 24 was refused and number 14 was assigned to him.

During a press conference between periods at the ACC, Keon explained his reluctance to wear number 14.

"I didn't want it fourteen was the number given to every guy coming up and down from Rochester (the Leafs AHL farm team). For a month or two weeks you wore 14 and you were gone again. That's not a good sign."

As history shows, Dave Keon put an end to that tradition.