leafs in bud

Man of the Book: Ed Fitkin’s Kennedy bio appeared in 1949, five years after the man they called Teeder made his playoff debut as an 18-year-old.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs launching 18-year-old Nick Robertson into the NHL tonight — he’ll be in the line-up for the Leafs’ Stanley Cup Qualifier, making his big-league debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets — would we turn back for a moment to another youthful premiere in club history? Of course we would, and it would be a March night in 1944, when the great Ted Kennedy made his first playoff start for the Leafs.

The future Leaf captain and Hart-Trophy winner who’d go on to win five Stanley Cups with Toronto was, like Robertson, 18 when he played that first playoff game of his, though Kennedy was in fact younger on his debut than his modern-day counterpart by seven months or so.

Worth noting: Kennedy wasn’t the only 18-year-old in the Leafs’ line-up that night in the ’40s. Nor was he the youngest Leaf in the game.

This was wartime, of course, and with many NHL players having departed the league for military service, all six teams found themselves hard-pressed for manpower.

Desperate for skaters, the Leafs had signed a couple of 17-year-olds that season, including winger Eric Prentice, who (it so happens) grew up to be the father of the late federal cabinet minister and Alberta premier Jim Prentice. Prentice Sr. is still the youngest player to have played for the Leafs.

A bevy of 19-year-olds had seen Leaf service during the regular season in 1943-44, too, including a goaltender, Jean Marois, and winger Bud Poile, the future GM of the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks whose son, David, is president and GM of the Nashville Predators.

To open playoffs that night in ’44, the Leafs faced the Montreal Canadiens, who’d finished the regular season atop the NHL standings, a full 33 points ahead of third-place Toronto.

Though he was making his first playoff start, 18-year-old Ted Kennedy had played almost the entire regular season for the Leafs, contributing 25 goals and finishing fourth in team scoring. Joining him at centre in blue-and-white was another veteran, 18-year-old Jack Hamilton, who’d played his first playoff game for the team a year earlier, when he was 17. Also at centre for the Leafs that night was 20-year-old Gus Bodnar; left winger Don Webster was 19.

The youngest Leaf on the ice that night was the other 17-year-old in the Leafs’ stable, defenceman Ross Johnstone. A year earlier he’d been playing for the OHA’s Oshawa Generals, coached by former Leaf titan Charlie Conacher, as they vied for (but lost) the Memorial Cup against the Winnipeg Rangers of the MJHL.

The oldest Leaf player that night in Montreal in 1944? Right winger Lorne Carr was 33 while left winger and team captain Bob Davidson had just turned 32.

The Leafs did get off to a good series start, all those 76 years ago, surprising Montreal in their own building and beating them 3-1.

“Spirit,” Leaf coach Hap Day explained afterwards, “is the quality that we have the most of, and that’s what paid off dividends.”

Not to jinx anything, but it was all downhill from there for Toronto. Montreal swept back to win the next four games and the series, before continuing on to beat the Chicago Black Hawks and win the Stanley Cup. In the game that decided the series against the fledgling Leafs, Montreal swamped them by a score of 11-0.

in the six

Born in 1903 on a Friday of this date in Bracebridge, Ontario, Ace Bailey only ever played for Toronto during his short NHL career. He debuted with the St. Patricks in 1926, the year they transformed into Maple Leafs, and played seven further seasons after that, on the right wing. He was speedy, and prone to scoring, leading the league in goals and points in 1928-29, and notching the goal, in 1932, that won the Leafs the Stanley Cup. His career came an end when he was 30 years old, one December night in 1933, after Eddie Shore of the Bruins blindsided him at the Boston Garden. His head hit the ice hard; a doctor at the scene diagnosed a lacerated brain. Two subsequent surgeries saved his life. “It’s all in the game, Eddie,” is what he’s supposed to have told Shore at the rink when the Boston defenceman apologized for knocking him down. After he didn’t die, when he’d recovered enough to never play hockey ever again, Bailey went on to coach the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues men’s hockey team. Later, he worked as a timekeeper at Maple Leaf Gardens.  His number, 6, was the first in NHL history to be retired. Inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1975, Ace Bailey died in 1992. He was 88.

over the hill and far away

Jim Pappin scored the decisive goal in a 3-1 win, and Terry Sawchuk was the Toronto goaltender on a Tuesday of this date in 1967 when the Maple Leafs clinched their last (most recent?) Stanley Cup by overthrowing the Montreal Canadiens in six games. Punch Imlach’s underdog gaggle of Leafs included a couple of 40-year-olds in Johnny Bower and Allan Stanley, as well as 39-year-old Red Kelly; Sawchuk and captain George Armstrong were 36. That’s a mammoth Armstrong above, of course, looming over the faithful in the wake of a previous Leafs’ championship, in 1963. The soggy scene below does date to what happened, back in the dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens, after the Leafs won on this night 53 years ago. That’s Bower bared with 21-year-old Toronto winger Ron Ellis and assistant manager King Clancy, who was 64. Clancy had been seeing Stanley Cups for a while at this point: he won his first, as a defenceman for the original Ottawa Senators, at the end of March of 1923. He helped the Senators win another in 1927 and was part of a third championship team when he played for the Leafs in 1932.

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maple leafs, 1951: next goal won

Hero Of (Another) OT: Bill Barilko scored his famous goal on this date in 1951 to secure the 3-2 victory for his Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs claimed their ninth Stanley Cup that night, surpassing the Montreal Canadiens by four games to one in the series. That’s the hero here, post-game at Maple Leaf Gardens, congratulated by delighted Leafs’ bossman Conn Smythe. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 143212)

portrait of a leaf on fire

Freeze Frame: It was on a Saturday of this date in 1947 that the Toronto Maple Leafs won their sixth Stanley Cup, dethroning the Montreal Canadiens with a 2-1 win at Maple Leaf Gardens to take the best-of-seven finals 4-2. Syl Apps was the Leaf captain, 73 years ago, while Ted Kennedy was the one to score the deciding goal. Two years later, Kennedy skippered the Leafs to their third consecutive Cup. That’s him here, after the ’49 championship, gazed upon in-studio by legendary photographer Nat Turofsky. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 9582)

maple leafs, 1942: down three, up for the comeback

Comeback Kids: It was on a Saturday night of this date in 1942 — all those 78 years ago — that the Toronto Maple Leafs capsized the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup in seven games. Pete Langelle’s goal was the winner on April 18, a 3-1 affair at Maple Leaf Gardens that capped as famous a playoff turnaround as you’ll find: after losing the first three games of the series, the Leafs roared back to win four straight. Captain Syl Apps, seen here with hefting his championship luggage, was pleased, as was Leafs’ panjandrum Conn Smythe, who rewarded his players with ten-karat golden coins —winger Hank Goldup’s is here below — that would get them in the door at the Gardens for the rest of their lives.

 

(Top image: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 78887; bottom image: Classic Auctions)

the last goal he ever scored (won the leafs the cup)

North Star: March 25 was a Friday in 1927, the day that iconic Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bill Barilko was born in Timmins, Ontario. He played just five NHL seasons before he scored the goal that Gord Downie would come to immortalize in song, beating Montreal goaltender Gerry McNeil in overtime on Saturday, April 21, 1951 to win the Leafs their ninth Stanley Cup. Barilko died later that summer in a plane crash. He was 24. Hoisting the hero in the moments following his heroics are Leafs (left) Cal Gardner and Bill Juzda. To their right, that’s Howie Meeker alongside Ray Timgren, whose stick partly obscures … Jimmy Thomson? Joe Klukay is farthest to the back.

 

(Image: Michael Burns, from A Century of NHL Memories: Rare Photos from the Hockey Hall of Fame, used with permission)

lead leaf

Leaf Leader: Born in Noranda, Quebec, on a Friday of this date in 1940, Dave Keon, who turns 80 today, was recognized in 2017 as the greatest ever of all Toronto Maple Leafs. His statue guards the approach to the Leafs’ modern-day home at the Scotiabank Arena, wherein the number he wore on his sweater, 14, is draped up in honour amid the rafters. Keon won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1961, the year this portrait was posed, and his personal trophy case gained Lady Byngs in 1962 and ’63 as well as a Conn Smythe in ’67. He won four Stanley Cups during his Leaf tenure. Dave Keon was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986. (Image: Louis Jaques/Library and Archives Canada/e002343743)

working for the honour, on and off the ice

Born in Winnipeg on a Wednesday of this date in 1927, Jim Thomson was starting his 12thseason working the Toronto Maple Leafs blueline when he was named captain of the team in the fall of 1956. At 30, he was a four-time Stanley Cup-winner by then, and twice he’d been named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. Coach Howie Meeker recommended his promotion to the captaincy ahead of the new season, succeeding Sid Smith. “This being a young team,” Meeker wrote to Leafs’ supremo Conn Smythe, “I think more than ever we should have a captain who can set an example on and off the ice for the kids.” Thomson had proved himself to be the Leafs’ best defenceman at training camp, the coach continued. And: “He is the only one of the possible captain candidates working for the honour on and off the ice.”

And so it was that Thomson, pictured here with his wife, June, proudly showing off his C’d sweater, took up as the Leafs’ on-ice leader. The season, unfortunately, didn’t go so well: the team stumbled from the start, and ended up out of the playoffs. By time it was all over, Smythe had accepted responsibility for what he called “a year of failure” — while summarily axing Meeker and long-serving GM Hap Day. As for Thomson, he signed on during the season as secretary for and Leafs’ representative to Ted Lindsay’s fledgling players’ association. When the players went public in February of 1957, Thomson soon found out what his boss thought of the whole business. Benched and stripped of his captaincy, Thomson was soon sold into exile, joining Lindsay and others on the NHL’s island of Broken Toys, a.k.a. the Chicago Black Hawks. “I find it very difficult to imagine,” Smythe railed, “that the captain of my club should find time during the hockey season to influence young hockey players to join an association that has no specific plans to benefit or improve hockey.”

Thomson played a year for the Black Hawks for he hung up his skates in 1958. He died in 1991 at the age of 64.

mobile apps

Leading Leaf Light: Born in Paris, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1915, Charles Joseph Sylvanus Apps grew up to be a first-rate pole vaulter (winning gold at the 1934 British Empire Games) before he established himself as a superlative centreman for and captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1937 and the Lady Byng for extreme gentlemanliness in 1942. Back in the days when the Leafs were regularly winning Stanley Cups, he helped them hoist that famous trophy three times, in 1942 as well as in ’47 and ’48. Having run unsuccessfully for a federal seat in 1940, he went on to serve in Ontario’s legislature from 1963 to 1975, during which time he was Minister of Correctional Services in Bill Davis’ government. Inducted in hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1961, Syl Apps died in 1998 at the age of 83. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds 1266, Item 61223, October 17, 1939)

come on, teeder

Born in Port Colborne, Ontario, on a Saturday of this date in 1925, Ted Kennedy (you can call him Teeder) was never not a Toronto Maple Leaf — that is, he played all 14 of his NHL seasons in Toronto, eight of which he served as Leaf captain. He died in 2009 at the age of 83. He and Leaf goaltender Turk Broda were the first NHLers to win five Stanley Cups, which gets us to the photograph on display here. It dates to 1951, the year of Kennedy’s last Cup, the one that Toronto’s Bill Barilko decided when he scored in overtime to vanquish Montreal in the fifth game of the finals. Kennedy’s face was battered before that, in the first round of the playoffs, wherein Toronto dismissed Boston’s surly Bruins in a series that lasted six games — though only five of them counted.

Boston had opened the series with a Wednesday-night 2-0 win at Maple Leaf Gardens. The teams skated out again in Toronto on the Saturday, March 31. Tied 1-1 at the end of regulation time, the teams played a scoreless period of overtime before witching hour struck at 11.45 p.m. Just before midnight, with the teams still deadlocked at ones, they ran smack into prim Toronto’s Sunday curfew, meaning no more hockey — game over.

The plan at that early point in the series was to play an eighth game, if needed. It wasn’t: Toronto would win four straight after that to advance.

Interestingly, while the game was wiped from the record books, its statistics weren’t. Among other things, that means that the third-last goal that Barilko scored before his death later in the year was duly counted, along with the 21 minutes in penalties he accrued on the night.

Overall, it was, as the Globe and Mail reported, “a bruising night in big-time hockey.” Boston winger Johnny Peirson suffered a fractured cheekbone before it was through, with five other players taking on a total of 34 stitches to close their respective cuts. Not that anyone was counting, but Barilko did inflict the majority of the damage, wounding a couple of Bruins’ wingers, Dunc Fisher (12 stitches) and Pete Horeck (ten). It was Boston captain Milt Schmidt who sliced Kennedy for a further seven stitches, under the eye.

“I lost my head,” Schmidt owned afterwards, admitting that he deserved the major that he was assessed. “It was my stick that cut him. But we were both high-sticking, and it might have been I who was cut.”

Canada’s Governor-General watched it all from a flag-draped seat in back of the penalty benches, Viscount Alexander of Tunis.

And Kennedy’s chin? That was a souvenir of the next game, the following night, April 1, at Boston Garden. The Leafs won that one 3-0 on the strength of Turk Broda’s shutout. “Ted Kennedy added five stitches to his facial collection,” the Globe’s Jim Vipond noted. “He was cut under the chin but couldn’t recall how it happened.”

tangled up in blue

Happy Day: The last Leaf to lead the NHL in regular-season scoring, Gordie Drillon, left, poses with coach Hap Day and defenceman (and future MP) Bucko McDonald. (Image: Archives of Ontario)

Question: who’s the last Toronto Maple Leaf to have led the NHL in regular-season scoring?

The answer, of course, is Gordie Drillon, a right winger who topped the table back in 1937-38, when the league’s eight teams played a 48-game schedule. He finished the year with 26 goals and 52 points, just ahead of his Leafly linemate, centreman Syl Apps, who counted 50 points. Moncton-born in 1913, Drillon died on a Tuesday of this date in 1986 at the age of 72. Big, obstinate, and opportunistic in front of the net, he was a purveyor of what in Phil Esposito’s day would come to be known as the garbage goal, the kind you score at close range, mostly out of pure doggedness, because you’re there with your stick on the ice, refusing to be evicted. Drillon served just four penalty minutes in ’38, and that won him a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy to go with his scoring title. He was also named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team that year, and the next. All of this you’ll find listed in his Hall of Fame profile; he was elevated to that hockey pantheon in 1975.

Given that Drillon played six of the seven seasons he skated in the NHL for the Leafs, you’d think he might rate as one of the team’s all-time greats, except for, well, no, he isn’t, is he, having been more or less booed out of town in 1942. Later Leafs (thinking of you, Larry Murphy; hey there, Jake Gardiner) would find themselves similarly hounded by fickle Leafs fans, accused of — what, exactly? Drillon was deemed to be lazy, a floater, not a team man. None of those subsequent Leafs, I’m going to say, suffered so harshly as him. ’42, was the year Toronto roared back in the finals from three games down to overthrow the Detroit Red Wings in seven games and win the championship. Gordie Drillon got his name on the Cup, but he wasn’t on the ice for the heroics. By then, Leafs’ majordomo Conn Smythe had turned on him, too, sending word to coach Hap Day to bench him. Drillon was peddled to the Montreal Canadiens that off-season, but he only lasted a year there. He was out of the NHL at 29.