wordsmith

You Can Call Him: Al Smith was a Penguin in Pittsburgh for two seasons, 1969-70 and 1970-71.

Al Smith’s best year in the nets might have been in 1977-78, with the New England Whalers, when he won the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s best goaltender. Smith, who died on a Wednesday of this date in 2002 at the age of 56, got his pro start as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 1966. Before he retired from puckstopping in 1981, he also saw NHL service with Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, Hartford, and the Colorado Rockies. He subsequently worked selling cars and ads, picking fruit, and driving taxis. He wrote, too, in his later years, novels, including The Parade Has Passed and The Tragedy of Lake Tuscarora, and a long poem called Raymond Hollywood, and the play Confessions To Anne Sexton.

 

leafs in bud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

eddie shack, 1937—2020

Sorry news today: Eddie Shack died last night at the age of 83. Irrepressible on the ice and off, the Sudbury-born left winger with the outsized personality was most memorably a Maple Leaf. He won four Stanley Cups with Toronto, in 1962 and ’63 (he scored the Cup-winning goal that year), as well as in ’64 and ’67. He also saw service with the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres during an NHL career that lasted from 1958 through 1975. In recent weeks he had been in palliative care, suffering from the effects of throat cancer.

hammer of the habs (and leafs, and hawks)

Chicago, Start and Finish: Born a butcher’s son in Hamilton, Ontario, on a Tuesday of this date in 1892, Dick Irvin did most of his growing up in Winnipeg. An outstanding centreman in his playing days, he served as the very first captain of the Chicago Black Hawks before a fractured skull put an end to his on-ice career in the late 1920s. As a coach, he won a Stanley Cup in Toronto along with three more in Montreal before making a return to Chicago for a single season in 1955-56. Dick Irvin died in 1957, at the age of 64; he  was elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame the following year.

in the six

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

fêting fern flaman

The night the Bruins fêted Fern Flaman at the Boston Garden in 1960, they gave him a hockey-rink cake and a colour TV set, also a freezer, a necktie, a big portrait of himself, some silverware, bicycles for the Flaman kids — and, oh, a six-month supply of meat and ice cream, according a contemporary account of the Boston Globe’s, which, it pains me to report, could easily have but did not itemize what meats and what ice creams, exactly, were involved. This was all before the Bruins faced their old rivals the Montreal Canadiens, and beat them, too, 6-5, though I should say that Flaman’s big present that night, they wheeled it right out on the ice, was a brand-new Rambler station wagon that, when Flaman skated  over and peered within, guess what, his mother, Mary, was sitting there, surprise, just in from her home in Regina.

The Globe reported that it was the first time in Flaman’s career that he’d “cried on the ice.”

“I just couldn’t help it,” he said.

And Mrs. F? “What made this night wonderful,” she told the Globe, “was having others think Ferny is wonderful. I’m a very happy mama.”

Flaman was 34 that, playing in his 17th and final NHL season. The Dysart, Saskatchewan, native, who died at the age of 85 on a Saturday of this date in 2012, was just 18 when he made his start with the Bruins in the winter of 1945, making his debut, a winger, then, in a game against the New York Rangers. “A fast and rugged youngster,” was how the Globe introduced him, “put on the third line to add a body-checking element.”

“He played his part with zest,” Harold Kaese wrote, “so much zest that late in the game he even challenged Bucko McDonald. This, as Flaman learned, was much like challenging a cement-mixer. He was shaken up, but should be ready by Sunday.”

In 1950, the Bruins traded Flaman to the Maple Leafs in a deal that also sent Leo Boivin, Ken Smith, and Phil Maloney north in exchange for Bill Ezinicki and Vic Lynn. He arrived in Toronto in time to win a Stanley Cup in 1951, when Bill Barilko, his partner on the blueline, scored that famous overtime winner of his.

Three times during the ’50s he was named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. Montreal’s Doug Harvey owned the Norris Trophy in those years, taking home seven of eight between 1955 and 1962, but Flaman finished third in Norris voting in both ’56-57 (behind Red Kelly) and ’57-58 (trailing Bill Gadsby).

In a poll of NHL coaches in 1958 that ordained Gordie Howe the league’s “smartest player” and Maurice Richard “best man on a breakaway,” Flaman was deemed “best fighter.”

“I played with him and I played against him,” another Bruins’ captain, Milt Schmidt, said at the time of Flaman’s death, “and there was no-one tougher in the National Hockey League.”

Flaman went back to Boston in 1954 in a trade for Dave Creighton. He played a further seven seasons for the Bruins, the last six as team captain, before he moved on to the AHL Providence Reds as playing coach in the fall of 1961. He later coached Northeastern University.

Fern Flaman was inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Sask Strong: In 1961, the Boston Garden celebrated Flaman’s Bruin faithful service with gifts of a station wagon, meat, and (above) a big hockey-rink-shaped cake.

 

 

 

turk ethic

Goal-Line Stand: Today’s the day that Turk Broda was born in 1914, in Brandon, Manitoba — it was a Friday there, then. Conn Smythe bought his contract from the Detroit Red Wings this month in 1936, and after that the history he made was all Maple Leaf. Pictured here in the late ’30s, Broda won five Stanley Cups with Toronto, along with a pair of Vézina trophies. Twice he was voted to the NHL’s First All-Star Team, and in 1952, aged 37, he became the first goaltender in league history to play in 100 playoff games. In recognition for all he achieved in the blue-and-white — and for what he suffered therein, maybe? — the Leafs eventually got around to retiring his number 1. (Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

that stride and elegance kiruna had raised

Earlier that same pandemic, Borje Salming was sharing his inspirational planter-hoisting workout regime from back home in Sweden. That was at the start of April, just before he turned 69. Not long after that, Salming shared the news that he was recovering from a scary bout of presumed COVID-19 symptoms that had sent him to hospital in early March.

Also debuting, in what’s turned out to be a busy season of Salming content: the best poem you’ve ever read about what the flinty Swede meant to those of us who grew up watching the Toronto Maple Leafs of the wayward 1970s. Ken Babstock won a Trillium Book Award for Airstream Land Yacht (2006) and a Griffin Poetry Prize for Methodist Hatchet (2011). His latest collection, from 2014, is On Malice. His “21” appeared in the magnificent April print edition of Toronto’s West End Phoenix, with illustrations by Jacqui Oakley; they feature here with permission.

If you’re not subscribing to the West End Phoenix  … what are you doing? Why not? Correct your course, do it now, here. Follow the WE Phoenix @westendphoenix. Ken Babstock is @KBabstock.

over the hill and far away

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

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headlong horner

It was on a Wednesday of this date in 2005 that Leaf legend Red Horner died at the age of 95. He played all 12 of his NHL seasons with Toronto, leading the league in penalty minutes in seven of those. In 1932, he aided Toronto’s effort to win the Stanley Cup. He succeeded Charlie Conacher as Leaf captain mid-season in 1938 and continued in the role until he retired in 1940. Inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1965, he was booster of kitchen appliances and Alka-Seltzer  as well as a Maclean’s coverboy. Carrot-topped is a common epithet associated with him during his days on the defence; buxom in size and crude in action is how the Montreal Gazette described him in 1934.

maple leafs, 1951: next goal won

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

portrait of a leaf on fire

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