By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 29) – What a trip it’s going to be at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, November 12th. Forget, for a moment, that the Ottawa Senators are in town that night to face the Maple Leafs, which is always an emotional affair. The real emotion will occur during the pre-game ceremony the Leafs always hold on Hall of Fame Weekend. It will be a celebration bathed in blue and white as three former members of the team take their bows at centre ice: Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour. That trio, along with Mark Howe, will be inducted into the hockey hall two nights later… the announcement from the selection committee coming Tuesday afternoon to the delight of Leaf supporters.
In the end, and with no disrespect to the others, the pre-game ceremony; in fact, the entire weekend, will belong to Gilmour. Those not in attendance at the ACC will be waiting a good five minutes for the ovation to die down when No. 93 is introduced by public-address announcer Andy Frost. You don’t necessarily have to be in your mid-20s or older to understand why the audience will react so warmly to Gilmour, though there is no substitute for first-hand recollection of the magical spring in these parts 18 years ago. Gilmour led a Toronto team with very modest expectation to within three minutes of the 1993 Stanley Cup final by enjoying the greatest individual season in the history of the hockey club.
His crowning moment actually occurred four years earlier, when he scored what proved to be the Cup-winning goal for Calgary in the ’89 championship against the Canadiens. The Flames thus became the only visiting team to ever parade the silver mug in the hallowed Montreal Forum.
But, it was Gilmour’s magnificence in a Maple Leafs uniform during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons that truly earned him his rightful place in the hall of fame. He may well have been chosen for the hall even if he’d remained in Calgary during those peak seasons. The spotlight and reverence he earned in this crazed hockey market, however, assured his immortality as a player. Incredibly for those who recall the Gilmour era in this city, nearly two decades have passed since he established team records for assists (95) and points (127) in a season (1992-93). He fell off only slightly in ’93-94 with 84 assists and 111 points.
The months of April and May in 1993 were utterly euphoric for Leaf fans. The club had missed the playoffs the two previous years but had caught fire under coach Pat Burns in the latter half of ’92-93: the acquisition of hot-shooting Dave Andreychuk from Buffalo, and his brilliant assimilation with Gilmour, providing the spark. A 26-8-4 run between Jan. 8 and Apr. 3 had the city all excited heading into the post-season. That excitement quickly went “pfffft” when the playoffs began with consecutive poundings at Joe Louis Arena and it appeared the upstart Leafs would be quick fodder for the Red Wings. But, Gilmour, Andreychuk, Wendel Clark, Mike Foligno, Felix Potvin et al clawed back to take four of the remaining five encounters and won the series, dramatically, in Game 7 at Detroit when Russian forward Nikolai Borschevsky re-directed a shot by Bob Rouse past Tim Cheveldae in overtime; Gilmour having tied the match with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
Gilmour’s epic moment as a Leaf occurred two nights later in the opener of a Conference semifinal with St. Louis at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs threw everything in the arena except urinals and concession stands at Blues’ goalie Curtis Joseph but could not subdue the visitors in regulation. Despite outgunning St. Louis, 64-34, it wasn’t until 3:16 of the second overtime that Gilmour – appearing confused – dipsy-doodled back and forth behind the Blues’ net and stuffed a backhand wrap-around past the exhausted Joseph. It remains, arguably, the most memorable goal in the post-1967 era for the Leafs, who knocked off St. Louis with a 6-0 rout in the deciding seventh game at the Gardens.
Then came the Conference final against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. Gilmour may have had the best 30 minutes of his career in the latter half of Game 1 at the Gardens, as the Leafs broke a 1-1 tie and breezed to a 4-1 victory. Most fans remember that game for the crunching hit Gilmour absorbed from Marty McSorley of the Kings in the third period as he cut across the L.A. blue-line. Wendel Clark interceded and engaged in a dandy scrap with McSorley. The Leafs and Kings split the first four matches and then Gretzky’s former Edmonton teammate, Glenn Anderson, won the pivotal fifth game at the Gardens by swatting the puck out of mid-air and between Kelly Hrudey’s pads at 19:20 of overtime.
With the Canadiens having eliminated the New York Islanders in five games to win the Eastern Conference title, the Leafs were one victory away from a Toronto-Montreal Stanley Cup final. That win could have – maybe should have – occurred in Game 6 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. and because it didn’t, the name Kerry Fraser will be historically reviled by Leaf zealots. If you’re a Toronto hockey fan of any voracity, you probably don’t need to be reminded of what happened in Los Angeles on May 27, 1993.
A quick refresher of what remains, all these years later, the most electrifying Leafs game I’ve covered: Toronto battled back from a 4-2 deficit with Clark finishing off a hat-trick in the dying moments of regulation time and Potvin on the bench for an extra attacker. It was Clark, in fact, who became that extra man – leaping off the bench and making a bee-line for the L.A. zone. Gilmour locked on him the whole way from the corner to the right of the Kings’ net and fed the puck to No. 17. Clark whipped one of his laser wrist-shots past a helpless Hrudey, engendering what I have often described as the most unique sound I’ve ever heard in a hockey arena: more than 16,000 people sucking air and settling back into their seats as one. The only noise at that moment in the Forum was the visitors screaming like wild banshees as they pored off the bench to mob Clark.
Sadly for the Leafs, both Fraser and Glenn Anderson snuffed out their momentum. First, it was Anderson taking a ridiculous boarding penalty in the final minute of regulation, running defenseman Rob Blake into the end-glass from behind. The ensuing Los Angeles powerplay carried into overtime and Gretzky – accidentally, though without question – nicked Gilmour with the follow-through of a shot from inside the point. Gilmour fell to the ice, then regained his feet and snarled at Fraser while wiping blood from the gash beneath his chin. Fraser, to this day, claims he never actually saw the Gretzky follow-through, though he seemed to harbor some regret, on reflection, in his excellent book The Final Call published last year. Instead of being banished from the game (and possibly the season), Gretzky – as per his usual timing – flipped a rebound over Potvin with Anderson still in the penalty box, setting up a deciding Game 7 at the Gardens.
The Great One then enjoyed what he still calls his best-ever playoff performance (quite a claim given his prior heroics in Edmonton), scoring three goals in the Kings 5-4 victory two nights later.
But, it was Gilmour who carried the Leafs through that improbable spring, with 10 goals and 25 assists in the 21 playoff matches: his 35 points still easily a club standard. For a trip through time, please enjoy these images from the Berger scrapbook collection, as I look back at the remarkable two months that cemented Gilmour’s place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
AMONG THE GREAT MOMENTS FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS IN THE PLAYOFF DRIVE OF ’93 WAS AN OVERTIME GOAL BY MIKE FOLIGNO THAT WON THE PIVOTAL FIFTH GAME OF THE OPENING ROUND IN DETROIT, BREAKING A 2-2 SERIES DRAW. THE FRONT COVER OF THE TORONTO SUN (ABOVE) ACCURATELY REFLECTS THE EMOTION OF BOTH TEAMS AFTER FOLIGNO’S SHOT FROM 30 FEET CLEANLY FOOLED GOALIE TIM CHEVELDAE.
MIKE FOLIGNO (LEFT) IS ABOUT TO BE HUGGED BY AN EXULTANT WENDEL CLARK AFTER SCORING THE OVERTIME WINNER IN GAME 5 AT DETROIT, APR. 27, 1993. THIS WAS FRONT OF THE TORONTO SUN SPORTS SECTION: GAME STORY BY DAVE FULLER.
FRONT PAGE OF THE TORONTO STAR SPORTS SECTION (ABOVE) SHOWS (CLOCKWISE) DOUG GILMOUR, DAVE ELLETT, DAVE ANDREYCHUK, TODD GILL AND GLENN ANDERSON CELEBRATING A GAME 5 GOAL AGAINST THE RED WINGS, WITH ACCOMPANYING STORY BY DAMIEN COX.
ROSIE DiMANNO’S FRONT-PAGE STORY (ABOVE) IN THE SUNDAY TORONTO STAR (MAY 2, 1993) SITS BENEATH AN EXCITABLE HEADLINE AND NEXT TO A PHOTO OF THE JUBILANT MAPLE LEAFS CELEBRATING NIKOLAI BORSCHEVSKY’S SERIES-WINNING OVERTIME GOAL IN GAME 7 OF FIRST PLAYOFF ROUND AT JOE LOUIS ARENA.
GLENN ANDERSON (LEFT) AND DOUG GILMOUR ARE ABOUT TO EMBRACE ON FRONT SPORTS-PAGE OF TORONTO STAR THE MORNING AFTER THE UPSET WIN AT DETROIT.
FRONT COVER OF SUNDAY TORONTO SUN (MAY 2, 1993) HAS PHOTO OF GLENN ANDERSON’S OPENING GOAL IN GAME 7 AT 7:25 OF THE FIRST PERIOD, A WRIST-SHOT THAT CLEANLY BEAT TIM CHEVELDAE.
TWO NIGHTS AFTER BORSCHEVSKY’S BIG GOAL IN DETROIT CAME GILMOUR’S CROWNING MOMENT AS A LEAF: HIS DIPSY-DOODLE BACKHAND WRAP-AROUND IN THE SECOND OVERTIME PERIOD THAT WON THE OPENER OF THE WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL AGAINST ST. LOUIS AT THE GARDENS. THE STORY (ABOVE) BY ROSIE DiMANNO AND PHOTO APPEARED ON THE FRONT OF THE TORONTO STAR THE NEXT MORNING, MAY 4, 1993.
FRONT SPORTS PAGE OF THE STAR (ABOVE) SHOWS GILMOUR BEING HUGGED BY TODD GILL AND FANS CELEBRATING HIS UNORTHODOX GOAL AGAINST CURTIS JOSEPH.
THE SCORING AND STATISTICAL SUMMARY OF GAME 1 VS. ST. LOUIS (ABOVE) SHOWS THE GILMOUR OVERTIME GOAL AND JUST HOW BUSY CUJO WAS THAT NIGHT.
“KILLER” HAD THE WAVE DOO BACK IN THE SPRING OF ’93 (ABOVE) AND THE HOCKEY FANS OF THIS CITY ABSOLUTELY ADORED HIM.
FRONT SPORTS PAGE OF THE TORONTO STAR (ABOVE) ON MAY 24, 1993 DESCRIBES AND ILLUSTRATES HOW THE LEAFS BEAT THE KINGS, 4-2, A DAY EARLIER IN GAME 4 OF THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL AT THE FORUM IN INGLEWOOD, CALIF. – TORONTO DEADLOCKING THE SERIES AT 2-2. PHOTO SHOWS WENDEL CLARK PESTERING KINGS’ GOALTENDER KELLY HRUDEY.
GILMOUR LOOKS ON (ABOVE) AS GLENN ANDERSON HUGS FELIX POTVIN SECONDS AFTER SCORING THE OVERTIME WINNER AGAINST LOS ANGELES IN GAME 5 AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, MAY 25, 1993 (FRONT PAGE OF TORONTO STAR SPORTS). ANDERSON BATTED THE PUCK OUT OF MID-AIR AT 19:20 OF THE FIRST EXTRA FRAME TO PUT THE LEAFS WITHIN A VICTORY OF ADVANCING TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL.
HEADLINE WRITER IN SPORTS DEPARTMENT OF THE LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS (ABOVE) WASN’T PARTICULARLY OPTIMISTIC THAT THE KINGS WOULD REBOUND FROM LOSING GAME 5 AT THE GARDENS. IN PHOTO, WARREN RYCHEL OF L.A. COLLIDES WITH JAMIE MACOUN OF THE LEAFS. RYCHEL WOULD PLAY FOR THE LEAFS IN THE LOCKOUT-SHORTENED 1994-95 SEASON THEN LATER BE GM OF THE WINDSOR SPITFIRES BACK-TO-BACK MEMORIAL CUP TEAMS IN 2009 and 2010.
THIS WAS QUITE THE DELICIOUS HEADLINE FOR LEAF FANS ON MAY 27, 1993 – FRONT SPORTS PAGE OF TORONTO STAR (ABOVE) PRIOR TO GAME 6 OF THE LEAFS-KINGS SERIES SHOWING GILMOUR (LEFT) AND A SMILING GRETZKY (MAYBE THE GREAT ONE HAD A PREMONITION). ONE THING IS FOR CERTAIN: AT NO OTHER TIME SINCE 1967 HAS A LOCAL NEWSPAPER BEEN ABLE TO PRINT SUCH A HEADLINE.
FRONT SPORTS PAGE OF THE TORONTO STAR ON MAY 28, 1993 (ABOVE) SHOWS WAYNE GRETZKY CELEBRATING HIS OVERTIME GOAL THE PREVIOUS NIGHT AT THE FORUM – IN THE SO-CALLED KERRY FRASER GAME. THE VETERAN REFEREE MAY HAVE MISSED GRETZKY’S HIGH-STICK ON GILMOUR IN OVERTIME, BUT THERE’S NO GUARANTEE THE LEAFS WOULD HAVE WON THE MATCH EVEN IF THE GREAT ONE HAD BEEN BANISHED (CLEARLY, SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE SCORED THE WINNING GOAL), AND FRASER HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GRETZKY’S VIRTUOSO PERFORMANCE IN THE DECIDING GAME TWO NIGHTS LATER.
VETERAN TORONTO STAR COLUMNIST JIM PROUDFOOT (ABOVE) SENSED WHAT WOULD HAPPEN LATER THAT SATURDAY NIGHT IN GAME 7 OF THE LEAFS-KINGS CONFERENCE FINAL AT THE GARDENS, MAY 29, 1993. PAT CONACHER AND GRETZKY SCORED LATE GOALS TO BREAK A 3-3 TIE BEFORE DAVE ELLETT BROUGHT THE LEAFS BACK TO WITHIN ONE, BUT LOS ANGELES PREVAILED, 5-4, TO ADVANCE AGAINST MONTREAL IN THE STANLEY CUP FINAL. PHOTO ABOVE SHOWS WENDEL CLARK EXULTING AFTER HIS GAME-TYING GOAL (WHICH COMPLETED A HAT-TRICK) IN L.A. TWO NIGHTS EARLIER.
MAGAZINE STORY (ABOVE) JUST PRIOR TO THE 1992-93 SEASON ACCURATELY FORESHADOWS WHAT WOULD HAPPEN WITH THE DOUG GILMOUR-LED MAPLE LEAFS. THE “KILLER” IS SEEN JAWING WITH OPPONENT LATE IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH THE BLUE & WHITE, 1991-92.
PRIOR TO THE 1993-94 SEASON – COMING OFF HIS MONSTER 32-GOAL, 95-ASSIST PERFORMANCE WITH THE LEAFS – GILMOUR IS RATED THE NO. 3 PLAYER IN THE NHL (ABOVE) BY THE HOCKEY NEWS (BEHIND MARIO LEMIEUX AND ERIC LINDROS). GRETZKY, DESPITE HIS MAGICAL PLAYOFF EFFORT THE PREVIOUS SPRING, RANKED 8th AFTER AN INJURY-PLAGUED ’92-93 REGULAR SEASON.
IN GILMOUR’S FIRST HALF-SEASON WITH THE LEAFS (HE WAS ACQUIRED FROM CALGARY AS PART OF A RECORD 10-PLAYER DEAL ON JAN. 2, 1992), THE CLUB STILL WORE THE UNIFORM IT DEBUTED IN 1970-71 (ABOVE). THE PATCH ON GILMOUR’S JERSEY COMMEMORATES THE 75th ANNIVERSARY SEASON OF THE NHL IN ’91-92. LEAFS WOULD SWITCH TO THEIR CURRENT DESIGN IN ’92-93.
ONLY 48 GAMES WOULD BE PLAYED BY EACH CLUB DURING THE 1994-95 NHL SEASON, AS AN OWNERS’ LOCKOUT DELAYED THE SCHEDULE UNTIL THE THIRD WEEK OF JANUARY. BUT, THE PREVIEW MAGAZINES KNEW WHO TO FEATURE ON THE COVER IN THESE PARTS (ABOVE).
FRONT COVER OF THE MAPLE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDES (ABOVE) IN 1992-93 AND 1993-94, THE SEASONS DOUG GILMOUR COMBINED FOR 59 GOALS AND 238 POINTS IN THE REGULAR SEASON; 16 GOALS AND 63 POINTS IN 39 PLAYOFF GAMES. I’D SAY THE MAN IS A HALL OF FAMER.