got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
leafmania, 1962: beating chicago wasn’t as tough as this
Not trying to jinx anybody or plan parades ahead of their time: all this, please note, is just facts. Let the record show (because it does) that in Toronto, in the early 1960s, this April week was the onein which the local Maple Leafs won Stanley Cup championships.
There were three of them in a row, you might remember, from 1962 through 1964. I don’t (remember), this was before my time, but I’ve looked up those championships, done some studying of the city’s reaction, and discovered that it was, in a word, joyous.
It was on a Saturday of today’s date in ’64 that the Leafs wrapped up their third consecutive Cup, beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-0 at Maple Leaf Gardens to take the series in seven games. Andy Bathgate scored the winner for Toronto, while Johnny Bower recorded the shutout.
In ’62, the Leafs ended the series against the Black Hawks at Chicago Stadium on April 22, with Dick Duff scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory (Don Simmons was in the Toronto crease). Three days later, on a Wednesday of this very date 61 years ago, the Leafs were back in Toronto to show the Cup to a city that had been waiting since 1951 (cue the Bill Barilko song) for the Leafs to get in gear again. Toronto’s police weren’t prepared for the crowd that showed up around (Old) City Hall to greet the team; not wanting to get too specific, they later estimated that the mass numbered between 50,000 and 100,00 people. Though larger throngs had gathered in Toronto before, officials said they’d never seen one so very dense before.
The team paraded in via a fleet of convertibles to meet Mayor Nathan Phillips. That was the plan, anyway, but the mayhem forced many of the Leafs from their cars two blocks away, which meant that they continued on foot to City Hall under police escort. Here’s Al Nickleson from the Globe and Mail describing that trek:
On the way they were deluged in confetti and streamers and plagued by souvenir seekers and well-wishers. Fans plucked handkerchiefs from Leaf pockets, grabbed at their neckties and arms and banged them on the back. One boy attempted to pull the watch from the wrist of utility player Johnny MacMillan.
Majority of the crowd was made up of teenagers and there were feminine shrieks of “I touched him, I touched him,” as a Leaf went by.
“Beating Chicago in the Stanley Cup final wasn’t as tough as this,” shouted Leaf captain George Armstrong as he bulled his way through the pack.
The mammoth gathering ranged from kids in carriages to oldsters with canes, and it was a minor miracle someone wasn’t trampled or otherwise injured. Several persons collapsed and were treated by first-aid attendants.
More than 50 crying children became separated from parents and were taken to a City Hall room. Magistrates adjourned court for nearly two hours because they were unable to hear over the din set up outside and inside City Hall.
Mayor Phillips addressed the people from the steps, calling Toronto “the hockey capital of the world,” and appealing for order while asking the crowd to let the Leafs through. Inside, in the a-little-less-congested council chamber, he presented the players, coach Punch Imlach, and Leaf president Stafford Smythe with gold-plated cufflinks.
Leaf winger Eddie Shack took a seat in the Mayor’s chair. “You gotta learn to relax in this business,” he said. Also noted in Nickleson’s dispatch:
Captain Armstrong, who carried Toronto’s first Stanley Cup in 11 years into the chamber and who has Indian blood in his veins, told the assemblage, “for once the Indians came out on top.”
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.
faune et flore du pays: le plongeon à collier
game of names
The question of who first put numbers on sweaters in professional hockey remains befogged: while the Patricks, Lester and Frank, are often credited as the first to venture into numerical innovation in their Pacific Coast Hockey League in the winter of 1911-12, we know that the National Hockey Association in eastern Canada put numbers on their sweaters that same season.
When it comes to adding names to go with the numbers, Tommy Gorman led the way in the NHL in 1926.
He was coach and manager of the expansion Americans that year, the team that launched NHL hockey in New York. His line-up was well-stocked with stars, thanks mainly to the demise of the Hamilton Tigers, and with Billy Burch, Bullet Joe Simpson, Jakie Forbes, and the Green brothers, Shorty and Red, taking the ice in star-spangled finery, Gorman was keen to fill Madison Square Garden with fans to watch his fledgling team — and to help keep it afloat financially.
So the idea of aiding New Yorkers in identifying players on the ice seemed like a good one. Names on sweaters had appeared on amateur hockey rinks before this, notably in Stratford, Ontario, in the ’20s, but never yet in the NHL. The New York Sun first mentioned that possibility midway through the season, noting that Gorman’s brainwave was inspired when he watched labelled speedskaters make their rounds at the Garden.
A Montreal Gazette report from early 1926 spread the news: names on sweaters, Gorman believed, “might be applied to hockey with considerable success and help to acquaint the fans with the various players, especially those on the visiting clubs.”
That was the thing: while Gorman planned to start with his own Americans “next season,” he intended to lobby the NHL for a league-wide policy. “If the locals start the fad,” the Sun opined, “it is expected other teams will follow suit.”
But why put off the plan for a year? Gorman didn’t delay, it seems: according to a subsequent Gazette report, the team’s seamsters and seamstresses had the players’ names in place for their home game against the Ottawa Senators on the night of Saturday, January 30, 1926. None of the New York papers that I’ve studied took notice of the names in their dispatches from the rink. The New York Times did note that the place was packed: a raucous crowd of 17,000 showed up to see the Senators down the Americans 1-0. Reporter Harry Cross:
The crowd hit a high pitch of enthusiasm for New York hockey. Long before the game time the ticket windows were closed and the galleries were so jammed that there were standees, and many were perched wherever there was a chance to hang on. It was capacity to the last inch.
It seemed quite the proper thing for the folk who fill the arena boxes to come all decked in furs and feathers. Park Avenue and Broadway were all there and made plenty of noise. No one in this big hockey gathering had a chance to be blasé. Every nerve in the house was tingling at one time or other during the fray. The shouting, cheering and the squealing left many of our citizens and citizenesses with alarming symptoms of laryngitis.
Other mentions of the new-look sweaters from that season are few and far between. Ken Randall played the Americans’ blueline that year, and there is, notably, an image of the name-branded sweater he’s said to have worn against Boston in February of 1926 in the pages of The Pepper Kid, Shayne Randall’s 2017 biography of his grandfather. Otherwise, though, newspapers seem to have taken meagre interest in the revolution.
It didn’t spread to other teams, either. Toronto Maple Leafs did, eventually, follow Gorman’s lead, but that wasn’t until the 1929-30 season, when Conn Smythe’s team added players’ names to backs of their white road sweaters (I’ve seen no evidence that they wore them on their blues at home). As you can just see in the image of Busher Jackson at the top of the post, the Leafs went with a fancy cursive script. Also apparent here: the Americans had, by now, given up their names.
It’s not clear how long the Leafs continued to show their names in the ’30s. No other teams seem to have followed their example, and for the decades that followed, NHL players were backed by numbers alone.
The Leafs were back in the nominal news in the winter of 1978, when Harold Ballard, the team’s owner and blowhard blusterer-in-chief, decided to resist a new NHL bylaw mandating that all players’ names appear on their shoulders to make them more identifiable on TV broadcasts. It was Philadelphia Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider who introduced the resolution this time, in the summer of ‘77; it was adopted on a vote of 13-5.
Ballard initially agreed to the plan, before he decided to defy it. He was concerned, he said, that the change would hurt the sale of programs at Maple Leaf Gardens, wherein players were listed by number.
With every other one of the league’s 18 teams in compliance as the 1977-78 season went on, Ballard agreed to a compromise whereby the Leafs would wear their names on the road but not at home — promising, at the same time, that the lettering would be so small that spectators would need microscopes to read it.
By February he was calling NHL president John Ziegler “a dictator on an ego trip.”
“Technically speaking,” Ballard railed, “names on sweaters are a property right. I don’t have to put names on the shirts. I sent Ziegler a wire saying he had a lot of nerve doing business this way. I told him I thought he had a lot more sense than that.”
“What Mr. Ballard thinks of me is immaterial,” Ziegler said. “The governors made an agreement and he must live up to it. He said he would put names on sweaters for all road games this year and if the rule was still in effect next year, he would put them on sweaters for home and away games.”
If the Leafs refused to comply for a February 13 road game against the Buffalo Sabres, Ziegler said, the team would be fined $2,000. For their next away game, in Chicago on February 26, they would be docked a further $3,000, with the fines increasing by $1,000 each road game after that, up to a cap of $5,000.
Fined for missing the Buffalo deadline, Ballard then relented — in best bloody-minded Ballard style. Having announced that the Leafs would be duly identified in Chicago, he then saw to it that the lettering that was sewn on in the name of Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, and the rest was the same shade of blue as the Leafs’ road sweaters, making them all but unreadable.
“I’ll never make it as a colour coordinator, will I?” Ballard crowed. “I’ve complied with the NHL bylaw. The names are stitched on, three inches high. It’s a pity you can’t see them.”
“Mr. John Ziegler is just going to have to keep his little nose out of my business,” he sneered. In case anyone was in doubt, he wanted the world to know this, too: “This move was done to make a complete mockery of the ruling.”
Ziegler kept his cool — outwardly, anyway. “I’ll let Mr. Ballard do the talking in the press,” he said. “Harold likes to see his name in print. The position I’m at will remain a private matter.”
Toronto’s next road game was in early March in New York, at a newer edition of Madison Square Garden than the one Tommy Gorman and his Americans knew. This time out, against the Rangers, the Leafs’ names appeared in white letters, for all the hockey world to browse at their leisure.
boston garden blues
In the long fierceness that is the rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston leg of the Stanley Cup semi-final in which the two teams met in the spring of 1948 stands on its obstreperous own.
The Leafs had won the first two games at home. They were the defending Cup champions that year, featuring a stacked line-up that included the sublime talents of Ted Kennedy, Max Bentley, and Syl Apps, and they continued their dominance when the teams moved to Boston, beating the Bruins 5-1 at the Garden on the Tuesday night of March 30 to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.
Boston didn’t go quietly that night, though. The game was an ill-tempered one throughout: “stormy” was the word the local Globe used to describe it.
For instance: when, early on, Milt Schmidt and Fern Flaman pinned Bill Barilko to the boards, a spectator leaned over to punch the Leaf defenceman. (Referee Georges Gravel did his best to see the fan ejected from the arena, in vain.)
For instance: a late-game jam between the Leafs’ Harry Watson and Boston’s Murray Henderson ended with a broken nose for the latter.
For instance: as the teams were departing the ice at the end of the game, another fan swung a fist at Leaf coach Hap Day.
That was how the Boston press framed it, anyway. Jim Vipond of Toronto’s Globe and Mail had a more nuanced account, alleging that two fans near the Toronto bench were heckling Day throughout the game, “repeatedly calling him ‘yellow.’” Vipond noted that Gravel tried to have this pair removed, too, but Bruins’ president Weston Adams “dashed to the side of the rink and refused to let the police interfere.”
When the game ended, one of these same agitators seized Day’s hat, a light-tan fedora. Other fans joined in, and Toronto defenceman Wally Stanowski came to his coach’s aid, followed by Ted Kennedy, assistant trainer Cliff Keyland, and defenceman Garth Boesch. The fracas spilled on to the ice; general tussling ensued; Boesch was punched in the face; linesman George Hayes and several policemen helped to restore the peace.
Day’s hat was lost, Vipond reported, and Boesch was dazed: he “had to be taken back to the hotel and put to bed.”
The Leafs were, understandably, outraged, but then so were many on the Boston side of things. Boston Globe columnist Herb Ralby went to the Leaf dressing room to apologize. Weston Adams went, too, but Leaf president Conn Smythe pushed him out before a pair of Boston policemen intervened.
“That was a disgraceful occurrence,” Bruins’ captain Milt Schmidt told Red Burnett of the Toronto Star. “They’ll have to do something to curb those morons,” said his teammate Jack Crawford. “The police should step in and chase them before they can molest visiting players. We don’t receive that kind of treatment in Toronto.”
Mrs. Crawford agreed. “That’s the worst piece of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen,” she said. “The better team won and that’s all there should be to it.”
There was more, though. The following day, as the teams prepared to resume their series, a Boston judge issued arrest warrants for linesman George Hayes and King Clancy, who’d been at the game as back-up referee. They stood accused of assaulting a fan by the name of Ed Shallow, an employee of Boston’s housing authority.
Shallow, it seems, had gone after Georges Gravel in the March 30 melee. According to his complaint, Clancy had “grabbed Shallow by the seat of his trousers and hustled into the officials’ room. Inside the room, Clancy and Hayes are alleged to have manhandled Shallow, whose glasses were smashed.”
No fooling: Clancy and Hayes appeared in court on the morning of April 1, with Clancy testifying that he didn’t know how Shallow ended up in the referees’ room, but that no-one had touched him there. Judge Charles Carr acquitted the officials; the assault, he said, was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. He had strong words nevertheless for Clancy: “I am absolutely certain you are not telling the truth,” Judge Carr told him.
Clancy and Hayes both worked the game that night. The Bruins pulled out a 3-2 win to send the series back to Toronto in what was a relatively peaceful encounter. “The teams tended strictly to their knitting,” Herb Ralby wrote in the Globe. King Clancy, he reported, ruled with an iron hand, “stopping all disturbances in the first period and from there on, the teams just concentrated on hockey.”
Security, he noted, had been stepped up. “There were so many policemen in the rink, it might have been misconstrued as the policemen’s ball.”
“We’ll do everything in our power to protect the visiting players,” said Garden president Walter Brown, “and to prevent a good sport like hockey from being ruined. Anybody who does anything wrong will go right out. Honestly, I can’t understand what’s come over Boston fans to act in the rowdyish way they have this year.”
Bruins’ games were normally policed by 20 patrolmen at this time; on this night, the crowd of some 13,000 was swelled by 50 Boston policemen, three sergeants, and a lieutenant, along with 12 Boston Garden security officers.
Back in Toronto two days later, the Leafs closed out the series with a 3-2 win of their own. Later in April, they went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep to take their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.