Friday, April 1, 2011

Sid Smith : Maple Leaf Forever Pt.3

In preparing these stories on Sid Smith, I was hoping to view footage of him in action as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although not during his prime, I found a game, on VHS, from October 26, 1957. In 1957-58, Smith would only play in 12 games for Toronto prior to retiring from active NHL duty. The game of October 26, 1957, was number seven on the Leafs schedule. Visiting Maple Leaf Gardens, were the New York Rangers.

Playing mostly on a line with Rudy Migay and Tod Sloan, the trio were considered Toronto's veteran combination. On occasion, Migay would be relived by Billy Harris at centre. Wearing sweater number 8, Smith is diligent in patrolling the left wing. He is consistently looking for open ice in the offensive zone. When a play breaks down, Smith sprints back to attend to his defensive responsibilities.

Late in the third period, Migay, Sloan and Smith perform some magic for a national audience watching on Hockey Night In Canada. The action starts with Sid Smith picking up a loose puck in the Leaf zone and initiating a rush up the middle. As he crosses the Ranger blueline, he cuts right. Smith must fend off New York defenceman Jack Evans. As he eludes Evans, Smith makes a pass, but Bill Gadsby's stick blocks the puck. Not giving up on the play, a determined Smith attempts a second pass, with the identical result. He regains control of the puck and skates around the net. Coming out the left side, Smith curls the puck towards the goal. Tod Sloan, in perfect position, shoots the puck past a hapless Gump Worsley.

Toronto goal scored by Tod Sloan. Assisted by Sid Smith and Rudy Migay. Time of the goal 15:59.

To get a personal perspective on Sid Smith, their was one individual who had insight into both his playing career and post-hockey life. This week, I held a lengthy discussion with his son - Blaine Smith. Although he never witnessed his dad playing with the Maple Leafs, Blaine Smith had some wonderful stories to pass along relating to his famous dad. He talked about how Sid Smith loved the City of Toronto and how important it was to him that he played  his entire NHL career in Blue & White.

Blaine pointed out his dad never forgot where he came from. As a youngster, Sid Smith would spend all his free time at Christie Pitts. At this recreational park, located in the centre of Toronto, Smith would play hockey in the winter and baseball during the summer. With pride in his voice, Blaine had this gem concerning his dad. While playing for the Leafs, Smith went down to Christie Pitts and joined in a game of shinny with the local kids. Can you imagine the look of joy and puzzlement on the faces of those who were present - "Is that Mr. Sid Smith joining us?" - as Smith approached with skates flung over his shoulder and clutching his hockey stick.

In 1942-43, Sid Smith played Juvenile hockey with the Columbus Boy's Club entry in the Toronto Hockey League. One of his linemates was Red Mcleish. Blaine advised these two buddies remained life long friends. Their summer cottages a short distance apart. In the 1980s, Sid Smith didn't hesitate to attend the Essex Street Public School reunion. He received his early education at this institution of learning and never forgot his time in the Christie Street neighbourhood.

Another topic of interest, was Smith's special bond with Conn Smythe. They both had a mutual respect for one another. In 1950-51, Smythe presented Sid Smith with a new car. Smith had a spectacular playoff in '51, scoring 7 goals and 10 points in 11 games. A young Blaine Smith travelled to Woodbine Race Track with his dad one day. The purpose of their journey was for Mr. Smythe to meet Sid's boy. Blaine vividly remembers Smythe pulling up in a shining limousine.

Sid Smith was a player who recognized the importance of team first. He was appointed captain of the Leafs for the 1955-56 campaign. He had big skates to fill - Ted Kennedy's. Blaine stated his dad wore the "C", but came to the realization that the added responsibility was starting to affect his performance. For the good of the club, Smith relinquished the captaincy. Team first.

Following his 12 year stint with the Leafs, Smith reclaimed his amateur status. He was recruited by Wren Blair and joined the Whitby Dunlops as a player-coach. In two seasons he won a World Championship and the Allan Cup. Blaine told me his dad worked briefly for Dunlop Tires after he was finished with competitive hockey. He had a gig with Labatts Brewing Company, but the bulk of his business career dealt with selling paper to lithographers and printers.

In a sense, Sid Smith never really stopped playing the game of hockey. It was in his blood. In 1959, he organized a charity Oldtimers Game to benefit the United Appeal. Blaine filled me in on the rest of the story. In 1962, Sid Smith called on his hockey pals to participate in several Oldtimers Games. These would take place locally around the City of Toronto. Players like Danny Lewicki and Bob Goldham were more than willing to oblige. Like a California wildfire, news of these games spread. Requests for similar contest came flooding in from all over the Province of Ontario. Soon, the Oldtimers Team was hitting the road and visiting small communities who only dreamed of seeing the former stars in person. It was a labour of love for Sid Smith, who had duties beyond just playing. Team first.

Blaine provided me with three photographs of the early Oldtimers Teams.

On March 23, 1980, I took in my first Oldtimers Game in Maple Leaf Gardens. While talking to Blaine, he pointed out that he also was in attendance. As I was sitting in the stands, Blaine was performing some very vital duties. Can you spot him out in the picture below?

No - not "Rocket" Richard. He was the guest referee. One more guess. Bingo - Peter Puck! Blaine donned the Peter Puck costume as a favour to creator Brian McFarlane. Blaine would often travel with dad to those Oldtimers Games, which usually were pencilled in for Friday evening or Sunday afternoon.

Hockey - that special bond between father and son.

Of interest, Blaine told me Los Angeles Kings general manager, Larry Regan, contacted his dad concerning a coaching job in L.A. It was reminiscent to a time late in his career, when the Leafs could have traded Smith to Detroit. He really didn't want to leave the City of Toronto and elected to play in Whitby. With the Los Angeles situation, Smith made contract demands he knew Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke wouldn't capitulate to.

As Blaine Smith so emphatically stressed, "Dad was born and raised in this city. Toronto was his town,  his city. He loved Toronto."

Sid Smith : A (Toronto) Maple Leaf Forever.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great article. I am Sid's grandson and this was really interesting to read. A lot of stuff I never knew about my grandfather. Thanks again. -Mike


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