a niche for mitch

Born in Markham, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1997, Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner is 24 today. Already in his fifth season in the NHL, Marner is a sublime talent and one of the best things that ever happened to Auston Matthews; if you’re new to the area, he is has-a-plush-toy-in-his-image famous in the Greater Leaf Region. (The exemplar above was on sale at Scotiabank Arena circa 2019.)

The portrait below is the work of Toronto editorial designer, illustrator, and endlessly interesting artist Nadine Arseneault. Her work has featured before on Puckstruck: you can find it here and here and here as well as here

leafs’ training camp, 1935: have skates, will travel

The Toronto Maple Leafs took their training camp on the road this morning, flying a squad of 75 players, none of whom was Mitch Marner, for four days of pre-season prepping in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Leafs, of course, have been getting out of town ahead of an upcoming NHL campaign for a long, long time, going back to 1928, when they fled north to Port Elgin, Ontario, on the Lake Huron shore. By 1935, the Leafs were convening just down the King’s Highway in Kitchener. Thirty-three players gathered there that October (the season started November 9) under coach Dick Irvin’s supervision. That’s him, of course, here on the right, posed at Maple Leaf Gardens in packing mode the week before camp commenced with the team’s tan managing director, Conn Smythe.

(Image: Archives of Ontario)

letter to the editor: not the arenas

 

A version of this letter appeared on page A12 of The Globe and Mail on December 26, 2017.

Dear The Globe and Mail:

Re: “Marner, Leafs Trounce Hurricanes In Afternoon Matchup,” David Shoalts, December 19, 2017, as well as “Maple Leafs Forever” p. A1 + “True Blue” p. B15, The Globe and Mail, December 20, 2017

It’s a fine point, and not one the NHL itself has always grasped so firmly in its 100-year history, but Toronto’s initial NHL team wasn’t known as the Arenas during that first 1917-18 season. True, the Toronto Hockey Club was owned by the Toronto Arena Company, and played at Arena Gardens. But en route to winning the 1918 Stanley Cup, the team was just plain Toronto. Popularly (including in the pages of The Globe and other newspapers) they were often referred to as the Torontos or Blueshirts. The following year, ’18-19, was when they became Arenas, donning new sweaters that said so — the uniforms the modern-day Torontos wore this week alluded to that second-season garb. Just to muddle the matter further, when the NHL got around in 1947 to engraving the original Stanley Cup with the names of champions previously left off, the slip was perpetuated in silver. 1918, that old Cup will assure you, was the Toronto Arenas’ year, not the plain old Torontos’. Don’t believe it.

Sincerely and, yes, a little preachily,
Puckstruck

Just Torontos: Toronto councillor Norm Kelly wasn’t the only one to err on the name of the cit’s NHL team: NHL.com and Sportsnet’s Leaf broadcast on December 19 were in on the mistake, too.

make way for the leafs

standwitness

Toronto’s upstart Maple Leafs head into tonight’s game with the Washington Capitals with a five-game winning streak in hand, but the real news may be the optimism and glad-heartedness attending the team in the wake of Sunday’s outdoor overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings feels like something of a new commodity in the city. The surging Leafs have their fans talking about making the playoffs for the first time in four years, even as they bask in the lustre of the bright youth of Connor Brown, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and the incandescent Auston Matthews.

Toronto has, in fact, seen the hope before. It was this very time of the year in 1992, for instance, when GM Cliff Fletcher orchestrated the ten-player trade that brought in Doug Gilmour from the Calgary Flames.

A new day dawns for the team that forgot how to win

was the headline in Toronto’s Financial Post on this day 25 years ago, while in The Windsor Star, columnist Lloyd McLachlan wrote about the notion of Gilmour as, “if not the second coming of Dave Keon, at least a playmaking Moses possibly capable of helping inspire a miracle escape from the wilderness.”

Twenty years further back, Stan Fischler’s 1975 book Make Way For The Leafs outlined an end for another era of Toronto hockey woe. Once, he wrote in opening his thesis, the Leafs had been Canada’s own New York Yankees: “the supreme professional sports organization.” By the end of the page, he’d outlined the glories composed by Conn Smythe, emphasized the success of his teams, the colour of its characters, the team’s toughness, his material proof of which cited Bingo Kampman,

a defenceman of such herculean strength he would win bets that he could lift heavy dinner tables just by placing a side of the table top between his teeth and then hoisting the table using sheer mouth power.

Fischler’s quick sketch of Toronto’s downfall centred mostly on GM Punch Imlach. His account of the team’s ongoing resurrection got going in chapter two with Imlach’s sharp young successor, Jim Gregory, along with the savvy coach he hired in Red Kelly, and a cadre of “youthful skaters” like Darryl Sittler, Rick Kehoe, and Lanny McDonald.

Fischler pegged the start of the Leafs’ “rebirth” to the opening of the NHL’s 1973-74 season — just as, it so happens, team president Harold Ballard was getting out of prison after serving a sentence for theft and fraud.

Ballard isn’t everyone’s idea of a hero, of course. Fischler called him “the most intriguing and one of the most engaging personalities in Toronto sports,” framing him as “a hard man in what he feels is a hard world.” In ’73, Fischler said, Ballard believed the Leafs were three years away from establishing a Stanley Cup-winning team.

They did get to the semi-finals in 1978, losing there to the eventual champions from Montreal. That was as good as it got, though: what the Leafs had to look forward to beyond that were the grim ’80s. Was the team’s wilderness ever so deep and dark as it was in that decade in which they traded away McDonald and Sittler, and squandered one draft pick after another?

The legacy of those years under the Ballard regime lingered a long time. It’s what Cam Cole was alluding to in ’92 as Doug Gilmour arrived from Calgary, and it’s something that Leaf-loving hearts trust is history of a kind that doesn’t repeat itself.

Players turn to mush in Loserville North

Cole’s Edmonton Journal column that January morning was headlined, and it carried on in a key that even, now, still, in these heady times of Marners and Matthewses, can send a shudder through a city:

For reasons not clearly understood to this day, good players turn to mush instantly upon contact with Toronto. It may be the acid rain. Veteran star, proven role player, promising draft pick — you name it, the Leafs can ruin it.