won and done: len broderick’s night in the montreal net

One Night Only: A photographer from Parkies happened to be on hand at Maple Leaf Gardens the night Len Broderick played his lone NHL game in 1957, which is how his performance ended up immortalized on a pair of hockey cards. Above, Montreal’s Doug Harvey stands by his goaltender while Sid Smith and Tod Sloan hover.

A crowd of 14,092 would eventually make its way to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto that Wednesday night late in October of 1957. Len Broderick was there, on hand (so he thought) to watch the hometown Maple Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens, the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Toronto-born Broderick, who’d just turned 19, was a student at the University of Toronto who also kept the nets for Toronto’s Junior-A Marlboros, with whom he’d won a Memorial Cup in 1956.

Broderick never got to his seat at the Gardens that night. Instead of settling in to watch the evening’s proceedings, he’d soon be lacing on skates and pads to head out on the ice wearing Jacques Plante’s own number one Canadiens’ sweater to play — and win — his first and only NHL game.

Teams still didn’t carry regular back-up goaltenders in those years. In case Ed Chadwick fell injured, the Toronto Maple Leafs kept practice goalie Gerry McNamara on stand-by. As mandated by the NHL, the Leafs also had a second goaltender on call for the visiting team. That’s where Broderick came in.

It was 7.30 when he got to the rink. Leafs’ PR manager Spiff Evans was waiting to tell him that the Canadiens needed a goaltender and he was probably it. Broderick thought it was a joke. “Don’t laugh,” Evans told him. “I’m serious.”

Only a week had passed since Plante’s return to the ice after a sinus operation and now he was fluey and his chronic asthma was acting up. Gerry McNamara was older, 23, more experienced and if the Leafs could track him down, then he’d be the man to take the Montreal net. They couldn’t; at twenty to eight, Broderick was told he was the man. “Holy cow was I surprised when I heard I was going in there,” Broderick later told The Toronto Daily Star’s Gordon Campbell.

 In his Star report on the game, Jim Proudfoot wrote that Broderick “staged a tremendous display of technical hockey that, for the most part, was lost on the crowd, but which dazzled and disorganized the last-place Leafs.”

The Globe and Mail’s Jim Vipond wrote that Montreal “demonstrated the best five-man defense outside of pro football to protect their stand-in goalie.”

Proudfoot picked out Dollard St. Laurent for particular praise, and Doug Harvey was good, too; Montreal’s defencemen rarely let Leaf shooters gets within shouting distance, he wrote. Broderick didn’t have to make a single save in the opening ten minutes of the second period

Leaf wingers Barry Cullen and Bob Pulford beat him late in the game, while Canadiens were shorthanded. “It’s doubtful if even Plante could have stopped either of those drives,” Proudfoot advised.

Montreal coach Toe Blake: “We gave him great protection all right, but the kid got us started on the right foot with a couple of big saves early in the game when we really needed them.” The Leafs’ Frank Mahovlich broke in while there was still no score. “Suppose he scores,” Blake said. “Leafs have the first goal and you know what that can mean in an NHL game. Instead, Broderick made a good stop. That was a mighty important play.”

“I was really nervous,” Broderick told The Star, “but once I made that stop on Mahovlich I felt all right.”

Canadiens’ GM Frank Selke took down Broderick’s address: he wanted to send him a thank-you. “If ever any proof of the honesty of hockey was needed, this was it,” Selke said. “Here’s a boy, belonging to another team, who goes in and plays terrific hockey.”

Only two pairs of goaltending brothers have made it to the NHL: Len and his late younger brother Ken, who’d later suit up for the Minnesota North Stars and Boston Bruins, along with Dave and Ken Dryden.

Len Broderick never played another NHL game. He turned 79 this week. For many years he’s made his home in Greenville, South Carolina, where he’s CFO of a financial services company. In 2015, I called him up to ask him about his night as a Montreal Canadien. He started by telling me about the pay:

They used to pay me, I think it was $25 a game, to go and watch the games. We sat in Connie Smythe’s box, so they knew where we were.

My dad had not been to a Leafs game for a number of years and his boss that day had asked him if he wanted to go — he had an extra ticket.

So we went around and picked up his boss. I was supposed to be there at seven for the eight o’clock game. We were a little late — I got there about seven-fifteen. At the gate they were jumping around, and then they saw me and they said, hey, get in here you’re playing, we gotta find your equipment. [Laughs] Jacques Plante had an asthma attack and you’re it.

My dad had no idea until I came out on the ice.

In the visitors’ dressing room, they gave him Plante’s sweater, number 1, to wear.

Maurice Richard came over and sat down and started talking to me, I guess thinking he was settling me down but … He introduced me to some of the players. He just sat and talked while I got dressed.

Well, everything was happening so fast, I didn’t have a lot of time to do a lot of thinking about it. It was get ready and get out there.

I didn’t see Plante — I never saw him. I assume he wasn’t there.

Toe Blake came over to shake hands. He was chasing after Geoffrion because Geoffrion was throwing up — he’d told him not to eat that pasta. He was busy with that.

What kind of goalie were you?

Stand-up. Not like they do it now, butterfly. I had Turk Broda as a coach and he was a stand-up goaltender. He would kneel down behind the net and watch people shooting on me. He taught me. And he usually picked me and drove me to practice, so I got to know him pretty well.

What was it like to skate out in front of an NHL crowd?

It was certainly different. The game where we beat the Junior Canadiens to win the Memorial Cup, we had the largest crowd they ever had in Maple Leaf Gardens. They didn’t play overtime, so we played an eighth game, it was a Wednesday night, I remember it: they were standing four and five deep in the greys. So it didn’t bother me, a big crowd.

I had gone to Leaf camp that year and in shooting practice there, Frank Mahovlich would come down, dipsy-doodling, and he kept putting the puck between my legs — to the point where he and I were both laughing about it. I wasn’t stopping it, and he just kept putting it in.

So fairly early in the game, he got a breakaway. I was determined, I said to myself, he is not putting that things between my legs. So I really kept my legs tight together. He tried it, of course, and as he was circling, he looked back. You could see the surprise on his face that he didn’t have a goal.

That was pretty early in the game.

Once I was in the game, I was in it. I had a shutout with about ten minutes to go. It was a great team I was playing with — probably one of the greatest NHL teams ever. I had Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson in front of me. They blocked a lot of shots. That’s what they did — they were very good.

I knew all the Leafs because I’d been up at training camp with them. I remember, there was a scramble around the net and I can remember Bob Pulford saying, ‘Lenny, what are you doing to us?’

Broderick faced 22 shots before the night was over, compared to the 38 that the Leafs’ Chadwick saw at the other end. The final score: Broderick’s Canadiens 6, Toronto 2. The winning goaltender had his photo taken after the game, standing between the Richard brothers, Henri and Maurice. Some fuss would follow as the week went on, but at the Gardens, Broderick just packed up his gear, and handed over Plante’s sweater. Then he drove home with his dad.

He was pretty pleased with the whole thing.

There was a lot of press and that the next day. It was great. I was at the University of Toronto at the time, in Commerce, and there was a film crew over there, got me out of class.

Frank Selke sent me a very nice letter. If [an emergency] goaltender played, they only had to pay him $100. He sent a cheque for $150. He talked about how it wasn’t as easy to go against your own team.

On their way to winning another Stanley Cup the following spring, the Canadiens would get the help of another emergency goaltender, John Aiken, in Boston. As for Len Broderick, he played another year for the Junior-A Marlboros before leaving the nets for good. Did he think of pursuing an NHL career?

They weren’t paying any money. There were no masks. And I just didn’t feel it was worth it. At that time, for a first-year player, it was 8,000 a year. Frank Mahovlich, even, that’s what he got. Staff Smythe called me at home, he wanted me to come to Leaf camp, and I said, how much are you going to pay me? The first year was eight thousand. I was in the chartered accountant course at the time and I just said, I gotta get past this.

I probably had 75 stitches in my face, top of the head, over the years. [Chuckles] Eventually I just thought, why should I get banged around and hammered for 8,000 a year?

Any regrets?

No, not much. I’m very happy with my career. I have two or three hockey cards to remember that night. When my brother came through, I guess it was three years later, salaries had gone up quite a bit. That’s when they were starting to go up. And he got to play with the Canadian Olympic team, out of the University of British Columbia. That wasn’t there when I finished.

Non-Stop: Toronto’s Barry Cullen scores on Len Broderick. That’s Montreal’s Jean-Guy Talbot arriving too late. In the background are Leaf Ron Stewart and Montreal’s Doug Harvey.

[A version of this post first appeared on slapshotdiaries.com. The interview has been condensed and edited.]

 

 

tijuana brash

Jean Béliveau, thoroughbreding through centre!

Frank Mahovlich, moosing down the wing past the Montreal blueline!

I don’t what it is about Blades and Brass, but it makes sense. If you’ve screened William Canning’s short film from back in bygone 1967, maybe you know this already. The old technicoloured hockey is fascinating in its own, though without the soundtrack, it just wouldn’t be the classic it is. Don Douglas wrote that, and Ken Campbell orchestrated it. Just what kind of sense the pairing of the hockey and the music makes, the how, and the why of it — that’s a whole other parcel of questions that might be better off left to itself, over there, in the shade, where maybe is it best if we just leave it unopened? The National Film Board’s catalogue copy has an understated charm that  surprises even as it fails to convey the near-perfect oddity of what you’re about to watch. “This short documentary showcases the best of the 1967 National Hockey League season, set to music in the Tijuana Brass style.”

Well, why not?

Jacques Laperriere!

Bobby Hull!

John Ferguson!

Forgive all the exclaiming, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to translate the footage to the page.

Terry Sawchuk! Eddie Giacomin! Gump Worsley in full flop!

Toronto’s Bob Pulford looking downcast! Béliveau wailing on Reggie Fleming of the New York Rangers! Phil Goyette, not seeing the shot that hits him amidships and drops him to the ice in painful anguish that causes you to shift in your seat, especially if you happen to be male! J.C. Tremblay carried off on a stretcher! One lonesome overshoe on the ice! The rink crew scraping up bloody slush! Toe Blake in a porkpie hat, chewing his chaw! Béliveau pressing a towel to a cut! Great goal, Claude Provost!

Blades And Brass is a masterpiece. Is there any doubting this? Watch it, the whole thing. It’s not long. Me, now — watching these 50-year-old scenes, I’m just not sure how I’m going to be able to endure the plain old modern non-mariachi NHL.

 

hockey players in hospital beds: no more will I put my face in front of the puck

Plante Show: Jacques Plante indicates where a puck hit his mask in May of 1970. Visiting is Mrs. Ruth Frohlichstein, a St. Louis neighbour of the goaltender’s who was also described by some contemporary newspaper captioneers as Plante’s “favourite bridge partner.”

“Did you ever see how they kill cattle?” Jacques Plante said. “They use a sledgehammer and the cattle just drop dead. That’s how the shot felt when it hit me. Without the mask I wouldn’t be here today.”

He was in the Jewish Hospital in St. Louis by then, early May of 1970. Eleven years had passed since he’d first donned his famous mask and started a hockey revolution. At 41, with seven Stanley Cup championships to his name, he was nearing the end of his playing days, but he wasn’t there yet. In his second year with St. Louis, he was a favourite of fans, and had helped the Blues reach their third consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup finals.

Coach and GM Scotty Bowman had used three goaltenders through the early rounds of the playoffs. As the Blues prepared to face Boston in the finals, Bruins’ coach Harry Sinden said, “We recognize Plante as their number one goalie, and I never want to see him in the nets against us.” Bowman didn’t oblige: Plante was the starter on Sunday, May 3, as the Blues opened the series at home at The Arena.

Boston’s Johnny Bucyk scored in the first period, Jim Roberts tied the score for St. Louis early in the second. Then, as recalled next day in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The 41-year-old Blues goalie was struck on the fiberglass mask above the left eye on a deflection of a shot by the Boston Bruins’ Fred Stanfield.” Another correspondent from the same paper had him “felled by a puck.”

UPI: “nearly had his head torn off Fred Stanfield’s screamer.”

Stanfield’s “brow-bender,” was Harold Kaese’s contribution, in The Boston Globe.

“The Boston player’s drive, which started out low, glanced off Phil Esposito’s stick and smashed into the veteran goalie’s mask, cracking it.” (Post-Dispatch)

He fell facedown. For two minutes he lay unconscious on the ice. Blues’ doctor J.G. Probstein and trainer Tommy Woodcock “worked on” him, the AP said. After about five minutes, they got him to his feet. He wobbled. They brought out a stretcher, but he wanted to skate off.

Ernie Wakely, 28, was the Blues’ back-up. He came in and did his best, but the Bruins kept coming, and won by a score of 6-1 with the aid of Bucyk’s hattrick.

Later, Dr. Probstein said it was a concussion and that while Plante’s condition was “satisfactory,” he’d be hospitalized “for an indefinite period of time.”

Plante’s first words (“after his head cleared”) were said to be: “The mask saved my life.”

He phoned his wife Jacqueline in Montreal. “She was relieved to hear from me,” he said later. She made a habit of not watching her husband on TV, but his children had the game on that night. It was almost when she passed through the room and noticed that Plante was absent from the net. Only then did the youngest son calmly mention what had happened.

Monday, a reporter among many visiting Room 223 at Jewish Hospital described the patient: “He had a whelp over his left eye and a slight cut and he smiled very little for his audience.”

Plante: “My head hurts every time I move it.”

Joe Falls was there, sports editor of The Detroit Free Press.

“Hockey writers,” he’d write, “happen to like old Jacques.”

He’s a good guy and always good for a story and so before we went up to see him I chipped in two bucks with a couple of Montreal writers and we bought him some flowers.

Jacques, he like that very much. He is a very sensitive man and was moved by the sentiment.

“Merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup,” he kept repeating.

Of course we’d signed the card: “From Fred Stanfield, with love.” He pretended not to notice.

Did Plante change rooms? Also Monday, Boston Globe columnist Fran Rosa found him asleep in 219. Barclay Plager had spent the night at the hospital, too, and he was the one to wake Plante up. The Blues defenceman was admitted after passing out on the Blues’ bench during the third period of Sunday’s game; now he was being released.

Plante talked about his future. “I don’t think I’ll be here next season.” With Buffalo and Vancouver coming into the league, summer would see an expansion draft. Plante didn’t think he’d be protected.

“Look,” he said, “Hall is three years younger than me and Wakely is the goalie of the future so what do they want with me?”

Plager had injured himself trying to hipcheck Boston’s Johnny McKenzie, damaging ribs when he bounced off and hit the boards. “The doctor didn’t exactly call it a fracture,” he confided. “He seems to think it was a separation. He said he hadn’t seen anything like it before and he’s going to write a paper on it.”

Monday, the Bruins held a light practice. Towards the end, coach Harry Sinden called the players together and led them in an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Fred Stanfield was turning 26.

Plante said he’d never been hit so hard. From his Montreal days, he recalled a tough night against Toronto: “Red Kelly shot and hit me in the face and the rebound went to Mahovlich. When I dove for the puck, it hit me where the mask protects my eyes. All I had that time was a nosebleed. No cuts.”

Dan Stoneking of The Minneapolis Star phoned Plante on Monday, said he sounded “groggy.” He also noted his “unmistakable French-Canadian accent.”

Another report from Plante’s bedside noted his “slight French accent.”

Joe Falls from Detroit’s Free Press opened his column with this:

Monsieur Jacques Plante, he leaned back on ze pillow in ze hospital room and he say: “Le masque m’a sauve la vie …”

“It only hurts when I laugh,” Plante told Dan Stoneking.

“I’ve got the world’s biggest hangover,” was another quote in another paper.

“Nothing ever felt like this,” Joe Falls heard. “My head, it is still spinning. I feel like I am floating. I feel like I want to throw up all the time.”

“I can still feel it in my head,” was another thing Plante said on the Monday. “The way I feel right now, I don’t feel like playing any more. That’s today. I don’t feel like eating or anything. Then I know as I get better I’m sure I’ll play again. But I do not know I will play in this series. I just don’t know.”

Also on Monday, Mrs. Ruth Frohlichstein dropped by. That’s her, above. The newspapers who ran photographs of her visit described her variously: as “a neighbourhood friend” and “Plante neighbour and favourite bridge partner.”

St. Louis coach and general manager Scotty Bowman had yet another goaltender waiting in the wings, 37-year-old Glenn Hall. Originally, Bowman had said he’d wanted to see how Plante played in the first game before he made any decisions on later starters. “He doesn’t play well in Boston,” Bowman said, “Glenn Hall plays well there.” With Plante out, the coach didn’t waver from that: Wakely would keep the net for Game Two in St. Louis before giving way to Hall when the series moved to Boston.

plante down

Bodycheck: St. Louis defenceman Al Arbour arrives on the scene in the moments after Fred Stanfield’s shot laid Plante low.

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slipped disc

pucks shot by Frank Mahovlich Toronto @ Rangers 1-1-61 (Photog: Fred Morgan)

Spill Check: New York Rangers goaltender Gump Worsley played two strong periods on a Sunday night back in January of 1961 — and then came the third. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in town, at Madison Square Garden, and their goalie, Johnny Bower, was good, too. The score was tied 1-1 when it fell apart for Worsley. He caught a rising, 30-foot shot from Leaf winger Frank Mahovlich before … well, that’s it above. “He dropped the puck behind him into the net,” is how Rex MacLeod wrote it for The Globe and Mail. William J. Briordy of The New York Times saw it this way: “Worsley, in ducking, lost control of the disc, and it dropped into the cage.” Neither of them mentioned the reactions of the fans in the corner — the man with the binocs; the pipesmoker who faintly resembles William Faulkner; the woman with her mouth open to say Ohhhhhh; the slightly-Bing-Crosby-looking guy; the men in what look like dishwasher-repairman uniforms — but I do grant that they would have been hard to see from up in the press box. Mahovlich scored again before the period was through, and so did Johnny MacMillan, to make it 4-1, finally, for the Leafs. To Worsley’s credit, MacLeod did note that he robbed the Leafs’ Billy Harris twice in the third period — magnificently. (Photo: Fred Morgan)

there’s no easy way

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Happy to oblige photographer Louis Jaques, captain Leo Boivin smiled for his camera at the end of December, 1963, but the truth is his Boston Bruins were in a bad patch, losers of five games in a row. Two of those were to the Toronto Maple Leafs, starting with a Christmas-Day rout, 5-1, at the Boston Garden in a game in which Frank Mahovlich scored two goals. In Toronto on the 28th, Johnny Bower shut them out 2-0. Bruins coach Milt Schmidt wasn’t pleased, of course. He was giving speeches behind closed doors and, in the press, looking to players like Johnny Bucyk to step up. “Bucyk is a guy who could do a lot for us, if he puts his mind to it,” Schmidt was saying. “He just has to go out there and punish himself. He has to work harder and quit taking that big skate. A forward has to take it out of himself with stops and starts to get anywhere. There’s no easy way.”

After Toronto, the Bruins went to Detroit where Schmidt moved Boivin from the defence onto Bucyk’s wing in an effort to keep Gordie Howe under wraps. The Bruins lost again. “We’re hitting a lot of posts,” Schmidt said, “but we’re not scoring those goals.” The new year brought some respite: on January 1, back home, they managed a 3-3 tie with the Montreal Canadiens. No goals for Bucyk, and no game for Leo Boivin: he was out of the line-up with strep throat.

(Photo: Louis Jaques, Library and Archives Canada/e002343751)

m major

mahovlich

Being Frank: The fans in Toronto cheered the man more than they heckled him, the night Frank Mahovlich took the Calder Trophy in hand, but let’s not forget: they did heckle. Born on this day in 1938, Mahovlich woke up this morning aged 78. He was just 20 by the end of the 1957-58 season when he edged out Chicago’s Bobby Hull and Phil Goyette of Montreal to win the NHL’s award for top rookie and the $1,000 cheque that went with it. It was October before NHL president Clarence Campbell handed him the actual trophy, in an on-ice ceremony before the Leafs’ third home game against Detroit. Toronto prevailed, once the puck dropped, by a score of 3-0, with Johnny Bower in the net and Mahovlich playing a key role that showed up on the scoresheet as assists on goals by Bob Pulford and Brian Cullen. The large lad from mining country, Globe and Mail sports editor Jim Vipond called him, telling the tale. He went on:

A somewhat controversial player on a team with a management record of submerging individualism in favor of collective effort. Mahovlich demonstrated that his speed and strength make him an excellent play-maker from the right wing position.

After a shaky first period in which he was jeered by some vociferous paying critics. Mahovlich later brought much more pleasant sounds from the lips of the majority of the 12,894 spectators as his exciting rink-length rushes set up two scoring plays. Only a combination of erratic shooting on the part of linemates, plus a weirdly bouncing puck, prevented at least four more goals.

under pressure, 1972

dryden

He hadn’t seen Valery Kharlamov skating by yet, or faced Yevgeni Zimin’s wrist-shot. Mid-August, 1972: it was summer still, a Sunday afternoon, and Ken Dryden was still just a goaltender in his underwear.

Team Canada had gathered at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens for a day of medical examinations before the week started and the players took to the ice. “They were in good shape,” said Dr. Jim Murray, one of the team’s three doctors, “some a little better than other, perhaps, but all very, very good. These are tremendous physical specimens, you know. That’s one of the reasons they’re the great hockey players they are. The better a player, I find, the more likely he is to stay in top condition throughout the off-season. Take Big Frank (Mahovlich), for instance. He’s not an ounce overweight.”

That’s Dr. Jack Zeldin, above, checking Dryden’s blood pressure. The Toronto Star noted that on the ice, he wore contact lenses — that’s why “he looks strange in glasses.”

“I think our guys will be in adequate shape,” Canadian coach Harry Sinden was telling The Star’s Jim Proudfoot the next day after he’d overseen a 90-minute skate.

“A lot of people seem to believe there’s something magic about the Russians because they get up at 6 a.m. and play soccer or whatever it is and eat borscht for breakfast.”

“It’s my experience that you’re liable to find NHL players getting home at 6. But they’re great athletes and proud men and they’ll be ready. I’ve been very impressed by their determination to get this job done and to do it right.”

toros, toros, toros

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The Toronto Toros began their brief life in the World Hockey Association as the Ottawa Nationals, and they ended it as Birmingham, Alabama’s own Bulls. The Toros played just three seasons, starting in the fall of 1973. They were gone by 1976. Their best year was that first one, when they played in the division finals, before losing to the Chicago Cougars.

This weekend, the drove of elder Toro alumni that gathered for a private reunion at the Toronto home of historian and collector Mike Wilson included Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Vaclav Nedomansky, Wayne Carleton, Gilles Gratton, and Rick Vaive. Herewith, a look back at some Toro luminaries and some of their selected milestones.

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June, 1973

A group of businessman headed by John F. Bassett had bought the Nationals for $1.8-million. The players they inherited included rising talents like Tom Simpson and Gavin Kirk as well as veterans like Les Binkley. It wasn’t long before the team was introducing itself to the city it was now calling home.

While Toros doesn’t have the euphemistic ring to it Bassett Hounds had, it was market-tested from a hatful of 80 different names, including Twinkies and Tweedies.

The color combination was the survivor of 23 combinations, but it put the Toros in direct competition with league rivals Winnipeg Jets. However, there will be no conflict in color schemes, because road uniforms are a strong contrast to home uniforms.

There had been anticipation that Bassett was about to reveal the signing of Darryl Sittler, or Paulin Bordeleau, or Syl Apps — or even announce the site of their home games — but he could reveal nothing new on these subjects.

• Gord Walker, The Globe and Mail, June 12, 1973

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July, 1973

The Toros did find a home: Varsity Arena (or as The Globe and Mail had it in an early summer story, “Variety Arena”). A month into the team’s history, Bassett announced that they’d sold approximately 2,400 season’s tickets for a rink with a capacity of 4,800.

“That’s pretty encouraging.”

The Toros have been unable to tempt any player into abandoning the National Hockey League, although they had Darryl Sittler wavering for a while. Perhaps they were consoled in that they helped make him a rich man. He signed with Toronto Maple Leafs, supposedly for $750,000.

There were rumors that the Toros might try to sign Alex Delvecchio, 42-year-old centre of Detroit Red Wings.

“We’re not interested in Delvecchio,” said Bassett. “I’m not denigrating him as a player but we did very well in the draft and we think we’re all right.”

In the same article, Bassett shared his vision of the future, which turned out to be more or less on the money, give or take four years:

He assumes it is evitable that the WHA will merge with the NHL. He figures this will happen within two years, “at the very outside.”

• The Globe and Mail, July 26, 1973

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October, 1973

The Toros played their first game, in Toronto, at Varsity Arena, a 4-4 tie with the Chicago Cougars.

After four years of looking at a pillar in Maple Leaf Gardens, Michael Lynch “decided to pack it in and come down here.”

“Here” was little Varsity Arena, all spruced up with shiny red paint last night to welcome 4,753 hockey fans and The Toronto Toros, the World Hockey Association’s alternative to the Leafs.

It was the Toros’ first night in Toronto, an event quite unlike Hockey Night in Canada, which for people like Michael Lynch was just fine.

Bob Garbutt, 26, was there “because I think the Leafs have ripped off the citizens of Toronto long enough. They’re getting too big for Toronto. The city is going to win this team [sic].”

“The Leafs have become too sophisticated,” added Bill McQuaid, 25. “I think this league’s got a good chance of going places — and I like to back an underdog.”

• Elaine Carey, The Toronto Star, October 8, 1973

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June 1974

All-Canadian hero Paul Henderson, 31, signed on for a five-year term with the team. That same month, 36-year-old Frank Mahovlich signed a four-year deal. His terms were said to amount to $1-million of the course of the contract. Henderson wasn’t talking about his:

He refused to disclose the financial terms of his contract, but said, “I’m not making a million dollars.”

• Associated Press, June 11, 1974

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July, 1974

When the Toros added another player that summer, The Toronto Star made room on its front page for the news, with a story headlined “Czechs’ Gordie Howe defects to the Toros.”

His name is Vaclav Nedomansky and he’s known in international hockey as Big Ned.

He’s 30 years old, he’s a centre and he has been an amateur star for 12 years, the latter years as captain of the Czech national team.

Ron Bull, information officer with Manpower and Immigration in Toronto, said today that Nedomansky is in Canada as a legitimate landed immigrant, not as one seeking political asylum.

“He was on holiday in Switzerland and while there applied to Swiss authorities for asylum,” Bull explained. “During this period he also applied to the Canadian immigration office for landed immigrant status.

“The office in Berne is not a busy one and because of this his application was processed quickly,” Bull said.

“He had a job offer to play professional hockey. Because he is a good hockey player with a high degree of skill he was given high points for this. Good hockey players are in high demand in Canada.”

• The Toronto Star, July 18, 1974

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October, 1974

The Toros eventually moved from Varsity Arena over to a Carleton Street address, where they rented Leaf ice from Leaf owner Harold Ballard.

A crowd of 14,141 turned out at Maple Leaf Gardens to see Hull and his Jets go against the Toros who emerged with a 3-1 victory.

“It really felt like a hockey game with all those people here,” said Toros winger Paul Henderson who has been accustomed to crowds of more than 16,000 when he played for the National League Toronto Maple Leafs until last year.

The Toros averaged a little more than 4,000 fans for their games last season at Varsity Arena and averaged about 8,000 in their first four games this season at the Gardens.

• Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen, October 25, 1974

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March, 1975

The heart of a young Toros’ goaltender goes out to 50something former Leaf great Johnny Bower, who’s taking a turn in the practice nets for Toronto NHL team one day on Gardens ice.

If Bower looked behind him, back of the protective glass, he would see a young man with somewhat the air of a street punk passing by. He is Gilles Gratton, 22, who plays goal for Toronto’s WHA entry, the Toros, and is on the first year of a five-year contract that will pay him $645,000. The Toros practised earlier, and Gratton is on his way to the parking lot; in his pocket, fingers play against the keys of a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa — value: $16,670 — which was provided by the Toros free of charge. Every two years he gets a new one; it’s in his contract. When Maple Leaf practice is over Johnny Bower will change into gray flannel slacks and a blue Maple Leaf blazer. The blazer is provided.

“Just look at him, Gratton says, obviously impressed with Bower’s ancient abilities. “I’ll never be half the goaltender he was. But I’ll make more in the next five years than he made in his life. All he ever he had was hockey — it was his work, man, and that’s why he couldn’t walk away from it. I see somebody like Bower playing and it makes me sad. For him there was nothing else.”

• Roy MacGregor, Ottawa Citizen, March 27, 1975

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December, 1975

Nedomansky made an impression in his first North American season, though perhaps not quite the one that he and everyone else had hoped for.

“We were somewhat disappointed,” says former Toros general manager Buck Houle, fired at the start of this season in a front-office shuffle. We thought he’d get at least 50 goals, probably more. We thought he’d show more leadership than he did. Mind you, there were adjustments for him. It was all new. Still, we thought he could have been more aggressive than he was.

“He’s the greatest centre in hockey,” says Toro owner Johnny F. Bassett, “but if he used the body more, he’d have been even better.”

“Vaclav was better in Czechoslovakia,” says Zoltan Sausik, a Toronto businessman and Czech Canadian who knew Big Ned back home. “Here he seemed lost sometimes. He must play the Canadian way more. He must hit more, he must shoot more.”

Big Ned smiles, shakes his head. “You must understand, it is much different for me,” he says in his fast-improving English. “The ice is much smaller. I turn around and — boom — there are the boards. Everybody thinks I must be a big star, I must score many goals. Why? Hockey is for six players, not one player. Here it is one player all the time. Always he wants to keep the puck and score the goal because the scoring championship is a big, big thing. It is too big. It is not important what one player does. For me, it is better to do what is good for the team, not for me. You understand? Hitting is the same. I can be rough too but hockey is hitting puck with the stick — not hitting the player.”

• Earl McRae, Montreal Gazette, December 5, 1975

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 April, 1976

Talk of the Toros’ demise — or at least, their departure — circulated for months.

“I just don’t know,” Bassett said when asked if the Toros would be back at Maple Leaf Gardens next season. There had been talk that the team might move to Hollywood, Fla., if attendance at home games did not pick up. The Toros played to much larger crowds after the rumors of the move were reported.

• Associated Press, April 5, 1976

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May, 1976

The end came quickly. Way to go, Blue Jays.

The Toronto Toros are leaving town.

The team’s last-ditch attempt to gain a foothold on the local hockey market was abandoned yesterday, three seasons and about $4 million in losses after the World Hockey Association club burst onto the Toronto scene as the alternative to the Maple Leafs.

Heavy financial losses — $1.5 million on last season’s operations alone — plus failure of a recent season ticket drive, were principal factors in team president Johnny Bassett’s decision to move the franchise.

Bassett listed the arrival of major league baseball in Toronto and the World Cup hockey tournament to be played next fall as factors in his decision to move.

• Jim Kernaghan, The Toronto Star, May 5, 1976

leafs in springtime: nobody is going to give us anything

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Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan delivered his verdict on the year just ended on Sunday, when he fired GM Dave Nonis, coach Peter Horachek, and nearly 20 other members of the team’s hockey staff. Yesterday, winger Joffrey Lupul called it “a wasted season,” while captain Dion Phaneuf said it was “the toughest year” of his career. In a press conference, Shanahan looked to the future. “We need to have a team with more character and one that represents this city the way it deserves,” he said. If you were looking for cruel vituperative fun on an altogether sombre day in and around the Air Canada Centre, there was always Rosie DiManno’s column in The Toronto Star, which I’ll just boil down here to a dozen or so key words and phrases she used to describe the team and its effort:

unlamented, unloved, misery, big whoop, defunct, blighted, arse-over-teakettle, implode, benumbed, laughable, how many times and how many ways can you say: Oh. My. God. irrelevant, plague of inertia, ignominy, moribund, the team’s loutish character, comedia del hockey.

This isn’t the first time the Leafs have missed the playoffs, of course, even if it is among the ugliest cases in recent memory. Counting back to 1917 and the dawn of the franchise, Toronto teams have avoided the playoffs about a third of the time, 32 of 97 seasons, or more than twice as often as they’ve won Stanley Cups. Actually, in fact, Toronto is the playoffs-missingest team in the history of the NHL: no team has fallen short more than they have — though the New York Rangers are a close second, with 31 futile campaigns to their credit.

With that in mind, before Shanahan’s future takes hold, there’s just time to review what lies behind, in the past, in the Leafs’ forlorn history of not being good enough.

In 1957, Leafs’ majordomo Conn Smythe took sole responsibility for his team’s — I don’t know what you want to call it, demise? downfall? collapse? Anyway, Toronto missed the playoffs that year for the first time in four years, and just the fourth in 27 seasons. “A year of failure,” Smythe called it at a “flamboyant” press conference he felt the need to hold in New York, where the NHL governors were meeting while the Leafs played out their season.

They still had a couple of games left, but Smythe wanted to get a headstart on the post-season turmoil. He’d already left his captain at home in Toronto, defenceman Jim Thomson, because treachery: he’d had the gall to be trying to help organize a players’ association.

“Next year,” Smythe thundered in New York, “our players will have to understand that they owe 100 per cent loyalty to the team.”

He didn’t fire his rookie coach that day, Howie Meeker, nor the GM, Hap Day, though many of the newspapermen had come expecting one or both to be sacrificed.

Smythe was willing to say that just maybe the Leafs would have to change the way they played. “We have a Spartan system,” he mused, “and we may be out of date. We prefer the body … we have stressed the defensive and not the offensive … Our system may be open to question.”

The very first year the Leafs were Leafs, they missed the playoffs. That was 1926-27, the year Conn Smythe took control of the team with a group of investors and in mid-season exchanged an old name (St. Patricks) and colour (green) for news. The team had three coaches that year and ended up bottom of the Canadian Division. They played their final game at home, hosting Montreal. Only a small crowd showed up, most of whom had come to see Howie Morenz and the Canadiens. But the Leafs played as if life depended on it, The Daily Star said, and ended up winning by a score of 2-1, with Bill Carson playing a prominent role along with, on the Leaf defence, Hap Day.

So that’s a plus.

In 1930, the club wanted to send the players off to their summers in style once the games were over, with a banquet, but it was hard to organize. Charlie Conacher, Red Horner, Ace Bailey, and Busher Jackson were off in Montreal, watching the Maroons and Bruins in their playoff series as guests of a “Toronto hockey enthusiast,” while back in Toronto, the rest of the team was packing up for home. I don’t know whether they ever got their meal, but the Leafs returned to the playoffs the following year. The year after that, they won the Stanley Cup.

Just to be keeping it positive.

It was 14 years before they ended their season early again and while there’s no good reason, really, to be ranking the years of disappointment one above another, dropping out the year after you’ve won a Stanley Cup would have to smart, wouldn’t? 1946 Toronto did that with Hap Day now presiding as coach. (It happened again, though not until 1968.)

If only, wrote Jim Coleman in The Globe and Mail in ’46, the Leafs had a goaltender like Durnan, and defencemen of Reardon’s and Bouchard’s quality, maybe a front line resembling the likes of Lach, Blake, and Richard — well, then they’d be the Canadiens, of course, who did indeed end up winning that spring.

For solace, at least, the Leafs triumphed in the last two games they played that season, whupping Detroit 7-3 and 11-7. And that had to have felt pretty good.

Still, it was time to clean out the old, sweep in the new. It was a particularly poignant day, once the whupping was over, for a couple of long-serving Leafs who’d scored a bunch of goals over the years. Sweeney Schriner and Lorne Carr were retiring — though they did mention as they prepared to head home to Calgary that they’d be happy to listen to any other NHL teams who might be willing to make them an offer. (None were.)

As the spring playoffs went ahead without his team, Conn Smythe was feeling — surprisingly? — peppy. If nothing else, he noted for anyone who wanted to hear, the Leafs had rights to and/or options on a veritable mass of hockey talent for the year coming up, 82 players.

“We’re definitely,” he advised, “on the upswing.”

True enough: the Leafs did take home four of the next five Stanley Cups.

I’m not going to trudge through every season the team failed — where’s the fun in that? But back to 1957 for a minute. It is, if nothing else, a bit of a watershed. Teeder Kennedy, 31, retired that year for a second and final time, having returned to the ice midway through the year before deciding that it was time to make way for the next generation. Former Leafs captain Sid Smith, also 31, decided he was quitting, too, until Smythe talked him into returning for one more year. Continue reading

apples and oranges, sugar for the brothers

mahovlichesFrank Mahovlich was a better reader than brother Pete, comic books first, then later storybooks. Frank did pretty well in school as a boy; Pete, well, he needed a push. Sorry, Peter. “Peter was smart, but he just didn’t want to do it.”

That from the boys’ mother, Cecilia, in 1971, when a weekend magazine got her talking about what her wingers were like as children. They were both skating for Montreal at the time. Frank was 33, Pete 24; both, by then, had long since given up the violin. Once, said Mrs. M, they really had loved to play. “In fact, they would give me hell if I forgot to tell them it was time to practice.”

Frank liked to play with guns, while Pete was more of a trucks man. “They were good boys,” testified their mother, “and did everything they were supposed to do.” Although:

Peter watched too much television, and drank too much pop, and chewed gum. Frank was better about that. He ate a lot of apples and oranges.

Frank was never much of a help to young Peter — he just told him to protect himself.

The Bigger M made his debut for Toronto back in the 1956-57 season. It was almost ten years before M the Littler followed him into the league, with Detroit. It was the fall of 1966 when they first played against one another as NHLers. First there was an exhibition, in Kitchener, where Pete prevailed — well, he scored a goal, at least, while Frank cracked his ribs. At the end of October, at Maple Leaf Gardens, the two met again in a regular season game.

“Brand X” was what 20-year-old Pete was calling himself that year. His brother was, at 28, an established star, three times a Stanley Cup-winner, with a Calder Trophy and a couple of First All-Star selections to his name. At Toronto’s Daily Star, Milt Dunnell profiled Pete the day after the Leafs beat the Wings 3-2:

The younger Mahovlich is as different from brother Frank as the ace of hearts is from the ace of diamonds. Where Frank is shy and reserved, Pete is an extrovert and a package of personality.

Also, he could eat. So Red Wings’ defenceman Gary Bergman told Dunnell: “That Pete Mahovlich eats doubles of everything. What an eater — world champion and only 20.”

The Leafs’ season would end that years with another Stanley Cup, but at this point it was only three games old, and the win was their first of the campaign. They were leading 2-0 after two periods on goals by John Brenneman and Kent Douglas. Then in the intermission goaltender Terry Sawchuk got a message to call home to Detroit, where his mother-in-law was seriously ill, and while he wasn’t looking for excuses, he did say later that he had a bad feeling heading into the third, wherein Paul Henderson scored within the first minute and then again a little, though Eddie Shack scored, too, for the Leafs, so not to worry.

“The big thing is we won,” said Sawchuk, the game’s first star, “and the news from home wasn’t as bad as I expected.”

Johnny Bower had played the first two games of the Leafs against the New York Rangers, a tie and a loss. Sawchuk’s summer had included back surgery in June and though he was feeling good when he arrived at Toronto’s Peterborough training camp in September, that didn’t last.

“Physical and mental fatigue set in,” he said. “I hated the sight of pads, skates and the ice: wanted to chuck the whole thing. I walked in on Imlach one Saturday and told him I’d had the course.”

Punch Imlach, the Leafs’ coach and GM. He talked to Sawchuk, calmed him, told him he could set his own schedule. Sawchuk: “You have to stick and stay for a guy like that. Punch may trade me tomorrow but I’ll still say he was great for me.”

He felt like a rookie, to the start the night. “I had the jitters when I skated out before that crowd. But after the first few shots I was okay. I know my back will stand the gaff.”

Mrs. Mahovlich was in that crowd, along with her husband, Peter, Sr. That’s them, above. “They would root for the Big M when he had the puck,” The Daily Star reported, “and go through the same routine when young Pete stepped out.” Neither of the younger Mahovliches made any impression on the score sheet. Frank had missed the first two games of the season, too, suspended by the team in contract dispute. Before that, he’d been out rehabilitating those cracked ribs. So Imlach excused his muted showing. (Adding to Frank’s woes: he fell on an elbow, needed five stitches to close the cut.)

He said he didn’t notice Pete too much. Pete said, sure, yes, he was a little self-conscious, playing against his big brother. Of their dad, Frank said, “He wasn’t rooting, just hoping for both of us. And that’s the way it should be.”

The brothers did end up winning two Stanley Cups together, as Canadiens, in 1971 and ’73. It was in the opening game of the latter championship series that both Frank and Pete scored in an 8-3 win over the Chicago Black Hawks. Ted Blackman of Montreal’s Gazette told of Peter Sr. arriving in the Habs’ jubilant dressing room after the game:

Pete spotted him in the midst of reporters and hollered something in Croatian, then translated for the benefit of the bystanders. “Cut the gab, Dad, and get up some sugar for the brothers,” he whooped.

Mr. Mahovlich stuck a paw in his pants and pulled out a wad of U.S. dollars. He peeled off one for Peter and gave him another fro brother Frank. Twenty years out of short pants and these $100,000 athletes are still taking allowance from an old miner?

“I pay my boys one dollar for each goal I see,” Pete Sr. explained. “Not for games I don’t go to, only those where I’m there. See, my boys must get me tickets or they don’t get a dollar.”

faux frank

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The Big M-nity: The Black Hawks lost the first two games of the 1962 Stanley Cup Finals, away, in Toronto, and so they returned home to the Chicago Stadium on April 15 hoping to turned the series around. Heading into the game — hoping, I guess, to aid in the effort — a vehement Chicago fan carried a pre-noosed effigy of Maple Leafs’ winger Frank Mahovlich to the rink for the purpose of decorating the Stadium’s top balcony. Attendants confiscated it before that happened: here, above, chief Stadium usher Lester Modesti gives Johnny Gottselig (left) a look, the one-time Black Hawk star who was the team’s Director of Public Relations. Is it possible that Modesti was concerned not so much by the effigy itself and its murderous implication as by the bulk of the thing? A Chicago paper only mentioned that he was afraid that “in the excitement” of the action on the ice, its perpetrators might “‘accidentally drop’ it overboard.”

Chicago did win the night, 3-0, in front of a crowd of 16,666 standing what The Chicago Tribune called “delirious witness.” If they didn’t have a facsimile Mahovlich to toss, local partisans did make up for the lack by flinging to the ice “21 hats, two rubber boots, three rolls of toilet paper, confetti, silver streamers, and programs.” Unintimidated, the Leafs eventually prevailed in the series, winning the Cup in six games. It was their first since 1951.

the rumour trade

If He Were Younger: Hooley Smith (17) faces off for the New York Americans in 1937 with Chicago's Lou Trudel (11). Mickey Ion is the referee.

If He Were Younger: Hooley Smith (17) faces off for the New York Americans in 1937 with Chicago’s Lou Trudel (11). Clarence Campbell is the referee.

Nothing confirmed yet, stayed tuned, but it sounds like Chicago just might — possibly — be prepared — shocking as it seems — to deal Bobby Hull.

Hard to believe, I know: just imagine the stir it must have caused in May of 1970. The Black Hawks had lost that year in the semi-finals, ejected in four games by Boston, which is when the rumours started to smolder that maybe Chicago would be trading either Hull or Stan Mikita. If it was Hull, then probably he was going to Toronto. That’s what Bill Gleason of The Chicago Sun-Times thought. Or maybe to one of the newer teams, Vancouver or Buffalo, because the NHL wanted to see them start pulling in more fans. Asked for his opinion, Chicago general manager Tommy Ivan said, “Is the report about Bobby Hull far-fetched? Well, nothing is far-fetched today.”

When Hull heard that he was on his dad’s farm near Picton, Ontario. He shrugged. “I don’t know why he said it. I guess that’s the kind of guy he is.”

“If I had a choice,” Hull went on to say, “I’d stay in Chicago. But that’s only because we own our home there and there’s a lot of stuff in the basement I’d have to dig up if we moved.”

With the NHL’s trade deadline coming down tomorrow, it’s as good a time as any to trot out a few more historical rumours. From January of 1938, for instance, there’s Red Dutton chatting away in the press about the possibility of shipping off Hooley Smith to the Montreal Maroons. Dutton was managing the New York Americans at the time, and Frank Calder had told him that Montreal was interested — the NHL president who also happened to be a director of the Amerks. It made sense, if for no other reason than the nostalgic one of Smith having captained the Maroons when they’d won the Stanley Cup in 1935.

Dutton’s heart was divided, though. “During the last few games with us,” he said, “Hooley has played the best hockey of the last six or seven seasons and I would not part with him for any amount of money if he were younger.”

But Hooley has his home and a business in Montreal and this plus the fact that I am anxious to build the Americans for the future might persuade me to consider a deal for him with the Maroons.

As for a straight swap, though, that’s out. There isn’t a player on that team I’d take on an even trade for Hooley. I’d want a first-class forward and a substantial sum of cash.

As it happened, the Maroons’ Tommy Gorman had already moved on. That same day, in the same paper, he was quoted as having said yes, he had indeed been interested in the Hooler, but that was over now. Continue reading