Friday, April 8, 2011

Maple Leaf Gardens : The First Stanley Cup

Tomorrow, April 9th, marks the 79th anniversary of the first Stanley Cup won in Maple Leaf Gardens. Fittingly, the honour of being the first recipient belongs to the hometown Maple Leafs.

The 1931-32 campaign was perhaps the greatest in team history. In November 1931, Toronto moved into the newly constructed Maple Leaf Gardens, a place they would call home for the next 68 years. One would think Leaf boss Conn Smythe's major focus during this period of time would be getting the building up and running. However, Smythe knew the importance of icing an upgraded product for the City of Toronto's new hockey palace. With more seats to sell, Smythe realized his club had to be competitive. Although he didn't allocate much time to his roster, he did make some moves. As Smythe put it in his autobiography, he was "being busy hounding people to get the building finished on time." The most important adjustment would come once the season got underway.

Prior to beginning in '31, Smythe made several transactions which were meant to bolster his line-up.

The Leafs obtained centre Syd Howe (above) on loan from the Philadelphia Quakers, who ceased operations following the conclusion of play in 1930-31.

In April 1931, Toronto claimed forward Harold Darragh (above) from Boston.

The Ottawa Senators didn't take part in the 1931-32 season and loaned Toronto right winger Frank Finnigan (above). Thinking towards the future, Smythe acquired King Clancy on October 11, 1930.

The National Hockey League introduced a new twist to their '31-32 schedule. The number of games played increased to 48 from 44. Toronto played in the Canadian Division, along with the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Maroons and New York Americans.

On November 12, 1931, amid much pomp and circumstance, the official opening of Maple Leaf Gardens occurred. The Leafs didn't burst out of gate with guns blasting. In the home opener, Toronto fell 2-1 to Chicago. With a record of 0-3-2 after five games, Smythe fired coach Art Duncan. As previously noted, this was the major adjustment Smythe implemented to set the ship straight. Duncan's replacement was former Chicago coach Dick Irvin. With Conn Smythe guiding the ship for a game on November 28, 1931, Andy Blair would score in overtime to give Toronto it's first win of the season, defeating Boston 6-5. Dick Irvin's arrival in Toronto was several days away.

At seasons end, the Maple Leafs posted a 23-18-7 record, good for 53 points. The Division was won by the Habs who racked up 57 points.

The Maple Leafs quarter-final opponent in the playoffs was Chicago. The winner would be determined in a two game showdown with total goals being the deciding factor. Game one took place in Chicago, with the Hawks squeezing out a 1-0 win. The return match was played two days later on March 29, 1932. In the very first NHL playoff game held in Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto didn't disappoint their fans. They defeated Chicago 6-1 and advanced to the semi-finals against the Montreal Maroons.

In game one, Montreal and Toronto skated to a 1-1 draw. On April 2, 1932, the two clubs would participate in another close contest. Based on a 3-2 victory, Toronto won the two game, total goals series,  4-3.

It had been an amazing calendar year for the Toronto franchise. On April 1, 1931, construction crews began the task of bulldozing existing buildings on the future site of Maple Leaf Gardens. One year later, they would be advancing to the Stanley Cup finals in their new home.

Monday - Maple Leaf Gardens : The First Stanley Cup Pt.2

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