Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs 1967

 From ocean to ocean the country went centennial crazy as each community tried to compete with its neighbours in the scope and ingenuity of the birthday binge. The nation indulged in an orgy of sports events, folk dancing, historical pageants, parades, and  youth exchanges.

 - From "1967 The Last Good Year" by Pierre Berton (1997)

In the National Hockey League, the two Canadian clubs were destined to compete with one another for bragging rights, as Canada celebrated it's 100th birthday.

The defending Stanley Cup champions from Montreal, failed to repeat as the league leader in points following the 1966-67 campaign. This honour went to Chicago, who's 41-17-12 record produced 94 points in 70 games. The Habs fell to second-place with 77 points (32-25-13). Sitting in third-spot were the Toronto Maple Leafs with 75 points (32-27-11). The final playoff-spot went to Emile Francis and his New York Rangers. Their 72 points (30-28-12) resulted in New York's first trip to post-season action since 1962.

There is little doubt, Chicago was the class of the league during the '66-'67 season. This fact is reflected when one checkouts the trophy winners for '67. The Hawks were a powerhouse on both offence and defence.

Stan Mikita lead the league in scoring, racking-up 35 goals and 62 assists for 97 points in 70 games. His assists total was a new NHL record. Mikita's scoring ability resulted in him winning the Art Ross Trophy as top scorer. Also, he was named the MVP and added the Hart Trophy to his display cabinet. In a case of role reversal, Mikita captured the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct. His penalty-minutes only reached 12 for the year. By contrast, in his previous 7 campaigns (1959-60 to 1965-66), Mikita averaged approximately 106 PIM per-season.

Stan Mikita
On defence, goaltenders Glenn Hall and Denis Dejordy won the Vezina Trophy (fewest goals against). The Hawks only surrendered 170.

The other major winners for regular season play, were two defenceman. New York's Harry Howell won the Norris Trophy as top defenceman. Boston's Bobby Orr was named top rookie and presented with the Calder Trophy. It was Orr's first of many individual awards.

As Montreal edged Toronto by two points in the standings, they drew New York in semi-final action. Taking into account Chicago's weapons on offence and steady goaltending provided by Hall and Dejordy, New York was the desired opposition in opening-round play.

The Canadiens and Rangers opened their series on April 6. Montreal won games one (6-4) and two (3-1) on Forum ice. When the series shifted to Madison Square Garden, the Habs winning ways continued. They defeated the Rangers in game three (3-2) and required overtime in game four (2-1) to sweep the best-of-seven semi-final.

Notre pays
Lon-gue vie

- Lyrics from the Canadian Centennial Song by Bobby Gimby

The Montreal Canadiens were about to make their third straight visit to the Stanley Cup final. More important, they were seeking their third Cup victory in as many years.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were faced with the difficult task of facing Chicago. Not only would they have to find a way to curb  Chicago's assets on offence, but mount an attack of their own when they controlled the puck.

The two teams faced-off in Chicago Stadium on April 6. The Maple Leafs had a new look, but this change wouldn't aid their cause in the goal production department. The cosmetic change pertained to a new jersey, in tribute to centennial celebrations. The 11-point Maple Leaf crest was replaced by a 5-point Maple Leaf.

Although Toronto lost game one by a score of 5-2, their strategy for defending against the mighty Hawks was crystal clear. The Leafs increased their physical play and hoped this would slow down the Hawks and create turnovers.

In game two, Punch Imlach's plan worked like a charm. A combination of physical punishment and aggressive forechecking, resulted in a 3-1 win. The Leaf goal scorers were Pete Stemkowski, Dave Keon and captain George Armstrong.

The series resumed in Maple Leaf Gardens for games three and four. The two clubs split the games in Toronto, with the Leafs taking game three (3-1) and Chicago bouncing back  in game four (4-3).

With the series tied at two games apiece, the pivotal game five was played in Chicago. For the contest, Imlach replaced Terry Sawchuk with Johnny Bower. After the first twenty-minutes, the score was knotted at 2-2. Bower, who  appeared to be out-of-sorts in the Leaf net, didn't start period two. Terry Sawchuk got the call from his coach.

There was no scoring in the middle frame. The Hawks held the advantage in shots with 15, while Dejordy blocked 9 at his end. The story, however, was Sawchuk. With Chicago on a power play, the Hawks came at Sawchuk with guns-a-blasting. Bobby Hull let a rocket go, which caught Sawchuk on an already injured shoulder. The Leaf goalie went down like a huge oak tree, which falls after the final blow has been inflicted by a sharp axe.

Sawchuk's courageous effort didn't go unnoticed by his teammates. In period three, the Leafs scored early, with Stemkowski's tally at 2:11. At 17:14, Bob Pulford scored an insurance marker and Toronto escaped the Windy City with a 4-2 win. The score sheet reveals Chicago fired 49 shots on the Toronto goal, with Sawchuk blanking his opponent over the final forty-minutes. The veteran puck stopper made a total of 37 saves.

The 1966-67 Leafs were mostly composed of older players, who had gone to battle many times in their NHL careers. However, in game six, back in Toronto, Imlach's kiddie-core went to work against the Hawks. The opening goal was scored by 25 year-old Brian Conacher. The first period intermission would arrive with the score tied at 1-1, thanks to Pat Stapleton's goal at 14:38.

Neither club would score in the second period. The lone penalty was assessed to Dennis Hull for charging.

With Toronto in a position to advance, Conacher and 23 year-old Pete Stemkowski fuelled the Leafs offence. The game winning goal was scored by Conacher at 4:47 and Stemkowski would add the icing to the cake at 13:06.

Brian Conacher
In a stunning upset, the Maple Leafs knocked-off the Chicago Black Hawks. The stage was set for the two Canadian representatives in the National Hockey League to fight-it-out for Lord Stanley's silverware.

North, south, east, west
There'll be happy times
Church bells will ring, ring, ring
It's the hundredth anniversary of
Ev'ry-bo-dy sing together

-Lyrics from the Canadian Centennial Song by Bobby Gimby

The "happy times" for hockey fans started on April 20, with the opening of the Stanley Cup final in Montreal. Prior to the first match in the Forum, Punch Imlach was fighting for any psychological/mental edge he could muster-up. His target became Canadiens goalie Rogie Vachon. The rookie netminder was to referred to by Imlach as being a "Junior B" goaltender.

If Imlach hoped for immediate results in game one concerning his verbal intimidation, he would have to wait. Montreal's attack in a 6-2 victory was lead by Henri Richard's hat trick and two goals from Yvan Cournoyer.

In game two, it was Johnny Bower's moment to shine. The ageless wonder shutout Montreal 3-0, stopping all 31 shots directed at the Leafs cage. The Toronto goals were scored by Stemkowski, Mike Walton and defenceman Tim Horton.

The most thrilling contest in the Cup final was game three, played in Maple Leaf Gardens. After regulation time, Montreal and Toronto had produced two goals apiece. It was a seesaw affair, with Jean Beliveau and Stemkowski exchanging goals in period one. In the second frame, Jim Pappin and John Ferguson concluded the scoring.

The first overtime period went scoreless, as Toronto out shot Montreal 9-7.

At 8:26 of extra-time in the second O/T, Bob Pulford would emerge as the hero for Toronto. Finding open ice in Montreal's zone, Pulford was in position to bury the puck, which arrived in his direction off a Jim Pappin backhander. Pulford would share the spotlight with Johnny Bower, who faced 62 Montreal shots.

Johnny Bower
The Maple Leafs game of musical chairs, pertaining to their goaltenders, continued in game four. In the warm-up, Bower suffered a groin injury and Sawchuk got the starting assignment. Fans attending the contest in MLG, hoping for a repeat of game three, went home disappointed. Game four had more of a resemblance to game one, as Toronto once again fell to Montreal by the identical 6-2 score. Furthermore, their supporters had to be concerned over the Leafs two goalies. Both were battered and bruised, with Sawchuk being the lone warrior still standing to face Montreal.

The Cup final returned to the Forum, with Montreal and Toronto both having two victories in the win column.

Montreal opened the scoring at 6:03, when Leon Rochefort beat Sawchuk. Toronto evened things-up when Pappin's long shot got by Vachon at the 15:06 mark.

In the middle frame, Toronto took control, netting three unanswered goals. The winner was notched by Brian Conacher, followed by tallies from Marcel Pronovost and Dave Keon.

Coach Toe Blake inserted Gump Worsley between the pipes to start the third period. The Canadiens attempted to ignite their firepower, but the Leafs were busy throwing a wet blanket over their efforts. The Leafs won game five by a 3-1 margin.

The Toronto Maple Leafs returned home needing one victory to take possession of the Stanley Cup.

Game six took place on May 2, 1967. Both clubs employed their respective styles in this important contest. The Habs were patrolling the trail, hunting for the first goal. The Leafs defence provided the perfect camouflage around netminder Terry Sawchuk, protecting the Leafs zone against unwanted predators. The first period ended in a 0-0 standoff.

The first goal would come from Ron Ellis at 6:25 of period two. Then, at 19:24, a goal credited to Jim Pappin, was one of those late period goals which tend to deflate a team.

For Montreal to get back into the thick-of-things, a quick goal was required in the final sixty-minutes. At 5:20, former Leaf Dick Duff got Montreal on the scoreboard, pulling his team to within one.

The game would come down to one play late in the final frame. With Gump Worsley out for an extra-attacker, Allan Stanley and Jean Beliveau drew the plum job of handling the face-off duties. With the drop of the puck, Stanley took out Beliveau. In a series of passes - Red Kelly to Bob Pulford, followed by, Pulford to George Armstrong - the Leafs moved the puck out of their end. As he reached centre ice, Armstrong leaned into a long shot, which travelled directly into the unprotected Montreal net.

The Toronto Maple Leafs won the final Stanley Cup in the Original Six era. George Armstrong would be credited with the final goal in the Golden Age of Hockey. Dave Keon would capture the Conn Smythe Trophy.

It was something we had in common - all of us, west coast loggers, Slavic farmers, habitants, bluenoses. A tiresome cliche hols that Canada has no heroes. Nonsense! How about Howie Morenz, Charlie Conacher, Bobby Orr? How about the Rocket? Boom-Boom? The Big M? The Golden Jet? The Great One? The nicknames are instantly recognizable to any Canadian. Gump Worsley is remembered today; the chinless comic-strip for whom he was named is forgotten. These, not the politicians, are the national heroes we revere.

-From "1967 The Last Good Year" by Pierre Berton (1997)

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