Monday, April 25, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs 1945

As World War 11 continued to rage on, NHL markets still felt the pinch when it came to the make-up of their rosters. Unique circumstances often came into play. Doug Bentley was restricted from travelling outside of Canada due to a war exemption. Bentley sought relief from active duty due to his operation of a working farm in Saskatchewan. Seeking the exemption came with consequences.

As was the case in the previous year, gaping holes in NHL line-ups resulted in opportunities where they didn't exist in the past. In Detroit. the Red Wings signed Ted Lindsay. Still seeking a replacement for Turk Broda, Toronto signed goalie Frank McCool. Also, Detroit summoned 17 year old Harry Lumley from Indianapolis.

On the ownership front, Leaf boss Conn Smythe returned from the military theater. The Major suffered injuries while in battle and was sent home to recover. In Chicago, Major Frederick McLaughlin passed away at the age of 67.

On the ice, one player dominated like no other in NHL history. Maurice "Rocket" Richard was the major story of 1944-45. Two nights, in particular, stand-out when examining Richard in '44-45. The first, December 28, 1944 was a contest played against Detroit in the Montreal Forum. After spending an exhausting afternoon lifting and moving furniture, Richard had a game to play in the evening. In a 9-1 whipping of the Red Wings, Richard contributed 5 goals and 3 assists. The event is wonderfully depicted in the film, "The Rocket", with Roy Dupuis playing the Rocket.

Richard saved the best for last in the closing contest against Boston. In the final scheduled game of the '44-45 campaign, number 50, Maurice Richard became the first player in NHL history to notch 50 goals in 50 games.

Other highlights from '44-45 included Syd Howe of Detroit becoming the all-time points leader. His 516th point enabled him to surpass Nels Stewart. Howe's teammate, Flash Hollett, became the first defenceman to record 20 goals in one season.

When the NHL handed out it's hardware, it was the Rocket's linemmate Elmer Lach who was named the recipient of the Hart Trophy. Despite Richard's accomplishments, few had any qualms with Lach taking the MVP prize. He set an NHL record for assists in a season, 54, and won the scoring title (29G/54A/80PTS). Frank McCool (Calder), Bill Durnan (Vezina) and Bill Mosienko (Byng) were the other trophy winners.

Semi-final play saw Toronto defeat Montreal (4-2) and Detroit bounce Boston (4-3)

On April 22, 1945, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings faced each other in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The winner would be presented with Lord Stanley's mug. The runner-up would get the O'Brien Trophy. Detroit was able to force a deciding contest, thanks to Mud Bruneteau's overtime goal in game 6 at Maple Leaf Gardens. His goal gave Detroit a 1-0 victory. The goalies and their respective shutouts certainly were a storyline in Cup final action. In games 1, 2, and 3, McCool closed the barn door on Red Wing snipers. In games 5 and 6, it was Harry Lumley's turn to return the favour.

In game 7, Toronto opened the scoring with Mel Hill's shot beating Lumley in the first period. Detroit tied the game in period two when McCool left his net to retrieve a rebound off a Flash Hollett shot. Also dashing for the puck, was Detroit forward Murray Armstrong. He reached the puck first, pulled it back, then fired it over a sprawled Leaf goalie.

The winning goal would come off Babe Pratt's stick in the final frame. It came on a Leaf power play as Syd Howe was sent off for highsticking Gus Bodnar. On the play, Lumley, stopped a Nick Metz scoring chance, but Pratt pursued the puck and poked it from under Lumley's pad into the net.

Toronto, playing a strong defensive game throughout the entire series, held on for a 2-1 win. The largest crowd in Red Wings history, 14,890, witnessed Leaf captain Bob Davidson being presented the Stanley Cup and his counterpart, Flash Hollett, the O'Brien Trophy.

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