St. Patrick’s Day at Maple Leaf Gardens was a big do in 1934: Conn Smythe spared no extravagance in celebrating the day in raucous style, and Leafs’ star defenceman, King Clancy, along with it. There was a hockey game, too, as Toronto beat the visiting New York Rangers, but it was what took place before any pucks were played that makes an impression 89 years later, even if the Leafs and the NHL would rather not recall the circumstances in too much detail. For TVO Today, I wrote about the Irish-infused revelry that night, how Clancy ended up playing the game in blackface, and why Toronto barely batted an eye. You can read about it here.
The Toronto Maple Leafs made history tonight in their 6-3 win over the Sabres in Buffalo, even if they did let their guard drop in the third period. Milestone #1: for the first time in the club’s 106-year history, three players registered three points apiece in the first period of a game, as new Leaf Ryan O’Reilly (2 goals + 1 assist), John Tavares (1+2), and Mitch Marner (0-3) went to town. O’Reilly completed his hattrick in the third period with a goal into an empty net, while Tavares added a second-period assist to his total.
Marner, meanwhile, collected five assists in all, the first time he’s done that in his sterling seven-year career as a Leaf.
Prior to that, the last Leaf to helped himself to five assists was Doug Gilmour, 26 years ago, against the Calgary Flames on January 22, 1997. Gilmour had another six-assist game against the Minnesota North Stars in February of 1993, a feat that Babe Pratt pulled off, too, against the Boston Bruins in January of 1944.
Other Leafs to have collected five assists in a game are Börje Salming (vs. Minnesota in December of 177); Babe Pratt, again (vs. Montreal Canadiens in December of 1942); and Pep Kelly (vs. Canadiens in March of 1940).
The first to do it was Syl Apps, on January 30, 1937, on a night when the Leafs flummoxed the Montreal Maroons at Maple Leaf Gardens by a score of 7-4.
Apps, 22, would end up winning the Calder Trophy that season as the NHL’s top rookie. A centreman, he had a pair of formidable wingers in Gordie Drillon (on the right) and Busher Jackson (playing left). Drillon and Jackson scored three apiece on the night, with Art Jackson, Busher’s younger brother, finishing off the scoring. Apps assisted on all three of Drillon’s goals and along with Busher Jackson’s second and third.
every streak comes to an end
The current-day Maple Leafs saw several team and individual streaks stopped last night when they lost 3-1 in New York to the Rangers, and you can find out about those elsewhere. In March of 1980, the Leafs were in the middle of a four-game losing slide when a fan shed his clothes, jumped the glass, and vaulted onto the ice near the end of a game against the St. Louis Blues. He kept his socks on, red ones, and brandished a sign: “Leafs are # 1.”
Maybe you recall the reality of the Leafs in the early ’80s: they weren’t. Sitting fourth out of five teams in the old Adams Division, the Leafs fell in the first round of the playoffs that year to the Minnesota North Stars.
A couple of Toronto policemen, Rene Lessard and John Pepper, chased the streaker down. According to one local account, Thomas Enright, 25, got a “semi-standing ovation” as he was taken away to be charged with indecent exposure. Down 3-1, the Leafs took heart and got a late goal from Darryl Sittler, thought that was as close as they came.
“I have never seen something like that before,” said the Blues’ Wayne Babych, who scored a pair of his team’s goals. “”You had to chuckle about it for a while after that and it was a bit distracting.”
“It was a great performance by that guy,” Maple Leaf Gardens president Harold Ballard said, adding that he was pleased to have an attraction in the building that he didn’t have to pay for. Enright’s naked ambition was front-page news in the Toronto Star next day.
A week later in Provincial Court, a fully dressed Enright pleaded his guilt. Judge Sydney Harris wasn’t having it, and dismissed the charge. “Naked in a public place, maybe, but not indecent exposure.”
“I just wanted to liven things up,” Enright told reporters afterwards. “It was just in fun. I’ll never do it again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
maple leafs, 1951: next goal won
Born in Timmins, Ontario, on a Friday of this date in 1927, Bill Barilko would be 95 today, if he hadn’t disappeared that summer (he was on a fishing trip). That spring, 1951, the last goal he ever scored (in overtime) … well, you know. With their 3-2 victory on Saturday, April 21, the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed their ninth Stanley Cup, edging the Montreal Canadiens by four games to one. Above, that’s the 24-year-old hero of ice and song himself, post-game amid socks and hats at Maple Leaf Gardens, greeting his delighted boss, Conn Smythe. “We just out-Irished them,” Smythe said that night, alluding to Leaf luck in a tight series.
Below: recalling the famous shot that Barilko powered past Canadiens’ goaltender Gerry McNeil lo, these 71 years ago, a modern-day mural in Toronto’s west end, near the corner of Davenport Road and Caledonia Park.
(Top image, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 143212; mural, Stephen Smith)
a leaf supreme
blank slate, 1929: conn smythe tries something new as toronto (married men and bachelors) shuts out detroit
Big win for Erik Källgren the other night, great that the 25-year-old Swedish rookie volunteered himself as the missing piece that completes the puzzle that is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation, good night, good luck, see you in the Stanley Cup final.
Too much, too soon? Probably. No sense in getting ahead of ourselves, or the Leafs, maybe let’s just pause in the moment and say that Källgren looked good in his first NHL start as he made 35 saves to secure Toronto’s 4-0 home win over the Dallas Stars, careful, craftful, calm when he needed to be, hasty when haste was called for, agile, pliant, just lucky enough. He shouldn’t have had to explain himself once his work was done, but of course he was asked to, because that’s what TV demands.
“Ah, I mean,” Källgren gamely told TSN’s Mark Masters, “it’s a lot to take in right now, but obviously I’m really happy, and happy for the win, and how the guys played in front of me was unreal. So a lot of emotions right now but of course very happy.”
Gladdening the hearts of fans of historical significance, the NHL was quick to chime in on the evening’s historical resonances. This was the 100th regular-season win of Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe’s tenure, in his 163rd game behind the bench, which makes him the quickest Leaf to that milestone: Pat Quinn and Dick Irvin each took 184 games to reach 100 wins.
The NHL also tagged Källgren’s performance as the fourth in club history in which a Leaf goaltender had earned a shutout in his first game as a starter:
Notable. Sorry to say that that infographic is only partly true. Fans of historical nitpickery soon discovered that, with minimal due diligence. When it comes to Benny Grant, the actual fact of what happened in 1929 is stranger and altogether more interesting than the version the NHL boxed up this week for social media.
Benny Grant hailed from Owen Sound, up on the Georgian Bay shore. In 1927, he helped the Owen Sound Greys win the Memorial Cup, Canada’s junior championship. After a year with Bert Corbeau’s Canadian Professional Hockey League London Panthers, he signed with the Maple Leafs, where Conn Smythe was coach and manager, and another Owen Sounder, Hap Day, was the captain.
Grant was 20 years in the fall of 1928. Not every NHL team employed a back-up goaltender in those years, but Toronto did, maybe because the man slated to start for the Leafs that year was coming off a grievous injury that had almost cost him an eye in the previous spring’s playoffs. After two years with the Rangers, Lorne Chabot, 28, had arrived in Toronto in an exchange that sent John Ross Roach and $10,000 to New York.
Chabot’s health wasn’t a worry, though, as it turned out: he was fine. He ended up playing in every one of the Leafs’ regular-season games that season, along with all four playoff games. When Grant saw action, it was almost always in relief: he appeared in five games through the season (none in the playoffs).
In Chabot’s case, NHL records only have him playing 43 games through the 1928-29 regular season. Most other standard hockey references say the same. (The Society for International Hockey Research, in its wisdom, does credit Chabot with his full and rightful 44 games.)
A sliver of an oversight, yes? Maybe so.
Still, significant enough that it shifts the meaning of the very record that the NHL claimed last night for Benny Grant. The game that Chabot played that the NHL is missing is the one on Saturday, March 9, 1929 — Benny Grant’s first NHL start (against the Detroit Cougars), when he’s supposed to have recorded his first NHL shutout. But Chabot played in that game, too, so he shared in the effort to deny the Detroit Cougars a goal. Benny Grant’s first start, as it turns out, wasn’t quite the same as Erik Källgren’s week: in 1929, Grant had help. Should he get credit for in the record books? It’s not up to me to add or subtract official shutouts, but I will note that the same situation occurred five days later that March, with Chabot and Grant combining to blank the New York Americans, and neither one of them is credited in the official records as having recorded a shutout.
Got that? It’s all very arcane … as statistics are. Here’s where the story of Benny Grant’s NHL debut gets interesting, and a little strange. Unheralded as it is, that night at Toronto’s Arena Gardens is notable for a tactical innovation that Conn Smythe seems to have introduced that night.
Unless, of course, the Leafs were just fooling around, having some fun as the season wound down before the playoffs.
Toronto was in: with just four games remaining in the regular schedule, there was no danger, by then, of the Montreal Maroons catching them in the standings. Toronto’s first-round opponent, in fact, would be the same Detroit Cougars they were meeting on March 9.
Time (I guess) for the Leafs to cut loose, just a little.
As has been noted before, Dick Irvin experimented with the idea of platooning goaltenders when he was coaching the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the NHL’s 1940-41 season. That was in March, too, with the end of the season in sight. Goaltenders worked hard, wore heavy pads, and like everybody else, they tired: why not, Irvin wondered, dress a pair of goaltenders and shift them on and off just like regular skaters?
“If we’d had an extra goalie,” he mused after a Canadiens loss in New York to the Rangers, “we might have used him along with the regular goalie in an effort to improve the situation. Those Rangers really were boring in and sure kept little Wilf Cude busy.”
Later that month, in Montreal’s final regular-season game, Irvin gave it a go. With the New York Americans visiting the Forum, Bert Gardiner started the game in the Canadiens’ net, with Paul Bibeault replacing him halfway through. The experiment was a success, I suppose, unless you’re a stickler for stats: though Montreal won 6-0, the NHL seems to have been unable to compute the shared shutout, so while Gardiner got the win, neither goaltender was credited with a shutout.
Twelve years earlier, lining up against Detroit in March of 1929, Conn Smythe’s version of doubling up his goaltenders added a fun twist — he “introduced another of his popular innovations,” as the Toronto Daily Star framed it. With a line-up of 12 players at his disposal, Smythe “used two complete teams and changed them completely every five minutes. The teams were known as the married men’s team and the single men’s team ….”
Bachelor Benny Grant got the start: he and Phyllis Banks wouldn’t marry until 1934. In front of him Grant had Hap Day and Red Horner on defence and a front line of Danny Cox, Andy Blair, and Ace Bailey. Marital status wasn’t so strictly enforced: Cox was married, while in the connubial substitute line-up of Chabot in goal, Arts Duncan and Smith on d, and Shorty Horne, Baldy Cotton, and Eric Pettinger at forward, Smith and Horne were single men. (Chabot, for the record, had married Elizabeth Money in 1927.)
Again, the two shifts operated as complete units: “When substitutions were made,” the Globe noted, “all six players left the ice and the other six replaced them.”
According to the Star, the Leafs made it even more interesting for themselves. “It was agreed before the game that the squad scoring [sic] most goals should be provided with new hats and it remained for a married man to help out the single men’s cause as Danny Cox, assisted by Andy Blair, got two of the goals. The other one, secured for the married men, went to Shorty Horne, with an assist from Harold Cotton.
And so the Leafs prevailed, 3-0. Grant had relieved Chabot earlier in the season in a game in New York against the Americans, but this was his first outing on Toronto ice. “He upheld his end nobly,” the Star judged. “As a matter of fact he had a great deal more work to do than Chabot, the regular goalie.”
So much so, it seems, that Chabot’s contribution was ignored entirely by whoever was keeping records for the NHL. To this date, while the official online boxscore includes Chabot in Toronto’s line-up, it credits Grant with having played all 60 minutes of the game and collecting the win and the shutout.
What happened? Who knows. With the goaltenders switching out every five minutes, maybe it was just too much bother to keep track of them on the night. Even so, Chabot does deserve credit for his involvement in the game and (I’d argue) a share of the shutout that’s on Benny Grant’s record.
Chabot and Grant continued to share Toronto’s net for the rest of the regular season: in all three of Toronto’s three remaining games, Smythe used both goaltenders as the Leafs went 1-2 to finish the season, though it doesn’t seem that Smythe shifted his netminders quite so aggressively in these games. Records for all three of these games reflect the participation of both, even if (as mentioned) the shutout Grant and Chabot crafted in the penultimate game, a 5-0 home win over the Americans, was credited to neither man.
Former Toronto owner/coach/manager Charlie Querrie was writing a popular column in the Star in 1929. As he saw it, Smythe’s hasty goaling shifts were all for the show. “It is hard to create excitement,” he wrote, “with nothing at stake, but the Leafs did all they could to please the spectators, and the evening was worthwhile. It showed that the Leafs have plenty of good material and a round dozen players who can give a good account of themselves.”
As for the hats, the Globe’s Bert Perry delivered the goods on those. “The Maple Leafs will flash some Easter millinery this week,” he duly reported on the Monday following the Detroit win. That is, all the players got new hats, courtesy of management. “Ace Bailey,” he jibed, “will now be able to turn in his 1925 model for something modern.” The deal, Perry said, was that if the Leafs had lost to Detroit, the players would have been buying headgear for the team’s directors.
“Despite their recent successes,” Perry concluded, “the hat sizes of the Leafs have not changed since last fall. A more unassuming aggregation of athletes would be hard to find.”
smokey smith at centre ice
War over, time for some hockey.
Not that the NHL had paused any of its winter maneuvers during the early 1940s as the Second World War roiled, though there were annual discussions, early on, about whether it might be right for the league to suspend operations for the duration.
Now, hostilities among nations having ceased, there was, in 1945, a sense that real hockey was back for the first time in years.
“We’re in for our greatest season,” NHL president Red Dutton was enthusing 76 years ago this very week.” The boys are playing for keeps this season. It’s something we’ve never experienced before. You have a rugged bunch of boys back from the services, bent on proving they’re still the best hockey players in the world. You have another bunch of wartime-developed boys battling to prove they’re as good as the veterans. And you have some ambitious youngsters that don’t see any reason why they can’t keep pace with the older ones.”
On a Saturday of this date that October, Boston’s Bruins were in Toronto to open the first season of the new peace at Maple Leaf Gardens. It ended up a good one, for the Leafs, the season: the following April, they were Stanley Cup champions again, claiming their first title since 1942.
For opening night, along with the traditional appearance by the massed brass and pipes of the 48th Highlanders, Conn Smythe’s Maple Leafs had arranged to host six of the 16 Canadian servicemen to have been recognized during the war with the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest military honour, conferred for extraordinary courage and devotion to duty.
That’s one of the distinguished guests here, the man who dropped a ceremonial to kick off the new season: 30-year-old Private Ernest “Smokey” Smith, a son of New Westminster, B.C., the only Canadian enlisted soldier to have won a V.C. during the Second World War. (More on Smith and his colleagues at MLG here.)
With Smith here, from the right, that’s Boston Bruins’ captain Jack Crawford (last seen in yesterday’s post) and Leafs’ chairman J.P. Bickell. Bob Davidson is the Leaf at left. In 1943, when Toronto captain Syl Apps went to war, Davidson assumed command of the hockey team. After two years, Apps was back with the Leafs, and early that October week, the Globe reported Davidson’s greeting to the team’s star centreman: “Welcome back, Syl, and I’m officially turning the team captaincy back to you.”
Apps was excused, however, from this Leafs’ opener. During one of the final preparatory scrimmages that week, he’d suffered a broken nose and a bad cut. The Toronto Daily Star’s Joe Perlove filed a report from the Gardens:
He was the same cyclonic Apps of pre-war days, if slightly breathless. He was still hammering away three minutes before game’s end when hit on the nose by Gaye Stewart’s stick which flew out of the latter’s hand as he was heavily bodied by Elwyn Morris.
X-rays disclose Apps suffered a broken nose. He needed a stitch to close a slash under his right eye. The classic Appsian schnozzle was not badly dented and he will still take fine pictures from either side.
Without him, the Leafs skated to a 1-1 tie. A crowd of 14,608 saw Bill Shill score for Boston; Davidson countered for the Leafs.
(Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7084)
spectres of the maple leaf bookshelf
You may not like it — it is a little cruel — but you have to at least, I think, pay grudging respect to the commitment to the bit: mockery on this scale takes time and planning and diligence.
A Twitter accounting of the (long) arc of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ futility when it comes to winning Stanley Cup championships is one thing, and impressive in its own way.
To go to the trouble of self-publishing a 200-page book to troll the team and (I guess) its faithful: that’s on a whole other level.
Today might not be the best day for all this: I apologize if there’s a sting to it, on the morning after another dispiriting Leaf loss, last night’s 7-1 debacle at the gloves of the undermanned Pittsburgh Penguins. Friday night, of course, Toronto lost another one, at home to the San Jose Sharks. That leaves the team with a record of 2-3-1 to start the new season, just five points out of first in the Atlantic Division, tied for 21st overall in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the presiding Stanley Cup champions, so … chin up?
Still the mood around the team is a little worrying.
The jeering from the bookshelf isn’t going to help that, I’m guessing. Still, it is my duty to report that this very fall, somebody has gone to the trouble of publishing a paperback called The Complete History of Toronto Maple Leafs Championships (in the Last Five Six Decades). The author is given as … Stan Lee Slump. Beyond an author’s note, table of contents, and page of wry blurbs, the pages are (yes, that’s right) … blank. It retails for C$14.95.
When it comes to anxiety and quick-settling despondency, only the devotees of the Montreal Canadiens can match those of the Leafs. I think that’s fair to say. The literary front is something else entirely: bookswise, no team has seen its tail so thoroughly snapped at by fans and followers over the years.
Some (not blank) exemplars from the calamitous (and ongoing) past:
A Leaf legend who played his part in five successful Maple Leaf Stanley Cup campaigns, Turk Broda was born in Brandon, Manitoba, on Friday, May 15 in 1914. Here he is in the aftermath of Toronto’s 1947 championship, which the Leafs completed on Saturday, April 19 of that year, dismissing the Montreal Canadiens at Maple Leaf Gardens by a score of 2-1 to take the Cup in six games. That’s Leaf majordomo Conn Smythe gripping and grinning on the right. Left is Toronto Mayor Robert Saunders.
(Image: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 114329)