the dawn-defying whoopee

A birthday today for Lester Patrick, legendary rushing defenceman (and stopgap goaltender), hockey innovator, and architect of the New York Rangers, born in Drummondville, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1883. Here he is, with headgear, at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto in April of 1940, when his Rangers seized the (detachable) Stanley Cup from the Maple Leafs in six games. Patrick was 56 that year, and just GM, having handed over coaching duties that year to Frank Boucher after 13 seasons on the bench. This was the sixth Cup of Patrick’s illustrious career. It was the Rangers’ third championship; they wouldn’t win a fourth (as New York fans might remember) until 1994. Cavorting with Patrick are Rangers (from left) Bryan Hextall and Neil Colville.

“Pandemonium reigned in the Ranger dressing room,” a CP dispatch noted of events at Maple Leaf Gardens before the party moved over to the Royal York, “as [Toronto] manager Conn Smythe and members of the Leaf team congratulated the New York players. In their own quarters, the Leafs proved good losers and many of them later joined the Rangers in the dawn-defying whoopee.”

 

 

terry sawchuk: he groped for his stick and gloves and, defiant, went to work

Like The Gangster in the Howard Hawks Film: Terry Sawchuk’s last NHL duty was with the New York Rangers in 1969-70. He also padded up for Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles during his 21-year career.

Born in Winnipeg on a Saturday of this same date in 1929, Terry Sawchuk was a four-time Stanley Cup champion and a four-time Vézina Trophy winner; he was elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1971, the year after his death at the age of 40. Did any goaltender in NHL history wear his puck-stopping pre-eminence so painfully? Here’s Dick Beddoes writing in 1990, recalling a night in ’67, when a 37-year-old Sawchuk helped the Toronto Maple Leafs to a Cup.

His single most commanding performance occurred that spring, on April 15, in the fifth game of an engrossing Cup semi-final between the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks. He replace a shaky Johnny Bower in the second period of the fifth game with the best-of-seven series tied 2-2 in games, and this pivotal game tied 2-2 in goals.

The Hawks, in the noisy three-tiered cavern of Chicago Stadium, pressed in the first two minutes of the second period, clamorous action boiling around Sawchuk. Bobby Hull pivoted 15 feet to Sawchuk’s left, almost parallel to the goal, an impossible angle from which to score. Hull shot, hard and high. The puck struck Sawchuk’s left shoulder like a crowbar and knocked him down. Other players skated around the Toronto net, circling, looking, needling.

Pierre Pilote, the Chicago captain, crafty, canny, aimed his barbs. “How’d you feel, Terry? Should’ve let it go, Terry. Might’ve been a goal.”

The scene was caught, pinned forever in a reporter’s memory. Bob Haggert, the Toronto trainer, skidded across the ice from the Toronto bench to Sawchuk. “Where’d you get it, Ukey?”

Sawchuk, on his knees, “On my bad shoulder.”

Haggert, leaning down, “Think you’re okay? Can you stay in the game?”

“I stopped the fucking shot, didn’t I?” Sawchuk struggled to regain his feet. “Help me up and I’ll stone those sons of bitches.” He groped for his stick and gloves and, defiant, went to work.

It is a 23-year-old story, a footnote in clutch exhibitions, how he went home again to glory, how he stopped 36 shots in Toronto’s 4-2 conquest, frustrated the most insatiable shooters in the game, shut them out with the remnants of the young Sawchuk: down the glove, out the arm, over the stick, up the glove, shutting off daylight the shooters thought they saw — all in a kind of desperate epileptic action. You were left wondering who choreographed the most stylish goaler in the galaxy.

guilt trip

Binned For His Sins: Toronto Maple Leafs’ right winger Bill Ezinicki visits the penalty bench at the Montreal Forum at some point in the late 1940s. The absence of gloves and Ezinicki’s reputation both suggest he’s been exchanging punches with a galled Canadien, maybe Murph Chamberlain or Ken Reardon. A three-time Stanley Cup winner with Toronto, Ezinicki was a bumptious and thereby much-sanctioned member of the Leafs; he led the NHL in penalty minutes in 1948-49 and almost did it again the following year, finishing a minute behind Gus Kyle of the New York Rangers. Off the ice, Ezinicki was an accomplished golfer, turning pro after his hockey career reached its end in the later 1950s.

squeeze play

Spread It Generously: Born in Humberstone, Ontario, on a Saturday of this date in 1925, Ted Kennedy won five Stanley Cup championships with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a Hart Trophy, too, in 1955. That same year, he and his family came out in favour of the new Bee Hive Corn Syrup Squeeze-Pak.

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)

 

tabletop tim

Anchorman: Anthony Jenkins’ table-hockey portrait of defenceman Tim Horton, the pride of Cochrane, Ontario, who won four Stanley Cups with the mighty Maple Leafs of the 1960s, and later suited up for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo’s Sabres. A former editorial cartoonist for the Globe and Mail, Jenkins wields his brushes now at his studio in Mono, Ontario, north of Orangeville. More on him and his work in this feature interview from last week’s Puckstruck; you can also visit his own bountiful site here.

spectres of the maple leaf bookshelf

Hopefullessness: A Toronto bookstore shelf, circa 2018, showcasing some literary highs and lows. From left, Gare Joyce’s Young Leafs: The Making of a New Hockey History (2017); Christopher Gudgeon’s The Sound of One Team Sucking (2017); and Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto: Life as a Maple Leafs Fan (2012) by Peter Robinson.

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:

Al Strachan’s Why The Leafs Suck (2009) was recently re-issued as Why The Leafs Still Suck.

Leafs AbomiNation: The Dismayed Fan’s Handbook to Why the Leafs Stink and How They Can Rise Again (2009) by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange

Old-School: Toronto Maple Laffs (1980), cartoonist Patrick Corrigan’s cartoon guide to another woeful era.

 

 

 

maurice richard would never wear it

My mother had pulled the blue and white Toronto Maple Leafs sweater over my head and put my arms into the sleeves. She pulled the sweater down and carefully smoothed the maple leaf right in the middle of my chest.

I was crying: “I can’t wear that.”

“Why not? This sweater is a perfect fit.”

“Maurice Richard would never wear it.”

“You’re not Maurice Richard! Besides, it’s not what you put on your back that matters, it’s what you put inside your head.”

“You’ll never make me put in my head to wear a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.”

My mother sighed in despair and explained to me: “If you don’t keep this sweater which fits you perfectly I’ll have to write to Monsieur Eaton and explain that you don’t want to wear the Toronto sweater. Monsieur Eaton understands French perfectly, but he’s English and he’s going to be insulted because he likes the Maple Leafs. If he’s insulted, do you think he’ll be in a hurry to answer us? Spring will come before you play a single game, just because you don’t want to wear that nice blue sweater.”

So, I had to wear the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.

• from Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater,” The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories (1979), translated from the original French by Sheila Fischman

(Image: a young Leaf fan, circa the 1930s, whose sweater is a perfect fit, and whose mother didn’t have to remonstrate with him because Monsieur Eaton made a mistake.)

pedal power

Bike Path: Born in Ottawa on a Thursday of this same date in 1947, goaltender Wayne Thomas turns 74 today: happy birthday to him. He made his NHL debut in 1973 for the Montreal Canadiens by posting a 3-0 shutout over the Vancouver Canucks. He was Montreal’s starter for most of the 1973-74 season, during Ken Dryden’s year off. He subsequently spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers before hanging up his blocker and trapper in 1981.

pappinin now

Pappy Birthday: Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Sunday of this same date in 1939, Jim Pappin is 82 today: manifold returns of the day to him. He made his debut as an NHL right winger in 1963 when he joined Punch Imlach’s roster in the wake of their second successive Stanley Cup championship. In 1967, Pappin not only scored the Cup-winning goal against Montreal, he led the league in playoff scoring. After five Leaf seasons, he went to Chicago in the trade that brought Pierre Pilote to Toronto. Pappin played in seven seasons for the Black Hawks, and saw action, too, with California’s Seals and the Barons of Cleveland. 

 

 

les chandails de hockey

“Papa et Yvon,” is as much as the back of this snapshot divulges, “en 1945.” Papa would end up with bragging rights that fall and into ’46, as the Canadiens dominated the Leafs through the regular season, beating them seven times while losing two and tying one. I’m not saying past is necessarily prologue, but brace yourselves, Leaf fans: Toronto missed the playoffs in the spring of the new post-war era. After finishing first overall, Dick Irvin’s Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup.