By HOWARD BERGER
VANCOUVER (Feb. 18) – Last Saturday is already a wonderful memory: Mats Sundin and his family watching from centre-ice at the Air Canada Centre as a banner honoring the Leafs all-time scoring leader ascended to its rightful place. Some suggested it would be years before another Toronto skater earned the same distinction.
As far as I’m concerned, there are three former Leafs that are fully deserving of the honor bestowed – to this date – on Syl Apps, George Armstrong, Irvine (Ace) Bailey, Bill Barilko, Johnny Bower, Walter (Turk) Broda, Francis (King) Clancy, Wendel Clark, Charlie Conacher, Clarence (Hap) Day, Doug Gilmour, Tim Horton, Leonard (Red) Kelly, Ted Kennedy, Frank Mahovlich, Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Sundin.
No reasonable follower of Leafs history would argue that Rick Vaive, Ron Ellis and Bob Baun should not be among those already displayed in the ACC rafters.
This is an opportune day – and place – to discuss Vaive: the first player in Leafs history to reach and surpass the 50-goal mark. For it was 32 years ago on this date that he and linemate Bill Derlago were acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in the only useful transaction of Punch Imlach’s otherwise-disastrous second term as GM. On Feb. 18, 1980, Vaive and Derlago came east for Dave (Tiger) Williams and Jerry Butler.
The Canucks did not suffer from the deal, as Williams played a key role in the club advancing to the 1982 Stanley Cup final, where it was throttled in four games by the dynastic New York Islanders. But, Vaive developed into a superstar with the Blue and White – his only “fault” being (as with many others that have worn the uniform) that the club failed to surround him with quality personnel. As such, Vaive played on a succession of lousy Leaf teams in the 1980s: a circumstance that should not be held against him in any consideration of a jersey ceremony. His No. 22 is unquestionably worthy of hanging alongside the others in the ACC – perhaps even more-so than Barilko and Clark, who are there more out of legend and popularity.
IT WOULD BE A TRAVESTY IF THE LEAFS REFUSED TO HONOR FORMER CAPTAIN RICK VAIVE WITH A BANNER-RAISING NIGHT AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE – THE AGGRESSIVE RIGHT-WINGER STRINGING TOGETHER THREE 50-GOAL SEASONS IN THE 1980S.
FROM THE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE: THE TRADE 32 YEARS AGO TODAY (ABOVE) BETWEEN TORONTO AND VANCOUVER, AND THE DATE (BELOW) THAT VAIVE BECAME THE FIRST LEAF TO SCORE 50 GOALS IN A SEASON (1981-82).
Ron Ellis was the consummate Maple Leaf – one of the most consistent, dependable players in franchise history and a gentleman who will never admit how much it hurts to be overlooked among the jersey honorees. Ditto for Bob Baun, a bruising defenseman on all four Leaf Stanley Cup teams in the 1960s.
Difference is, Baun – if asked – will tell you, flat out, of the heartache he feels.
Ellis went up and down his wing on some excellent Leaf teams in the ’60s; some better-than-average teams in the ’70s, and – like Vaive – some awful teams in the Harold Ballard era of the ’80s. But, he never complained; never spoke out of turn, and routinely scored between 20 and 35 goals for the club, regardless of its standing. He also played a critical role for Team Canada in the 1972 summit series against the Russians, skating on a line with Bobby Clarke and Leafs teammate Paul Henderson that distracted the top Soviet players and accounted for the winning goal in all three final games. He remains the franchise leader in goals scored by a right-winger (Vaive is second) and the Leafs should seriously consider honoring this very special person before many more years pass.
RON ELLIS (ABOVE) HOLDS A SPECIAL PLACE IN LEAFS HISTORY AMONG FORWARDS, AS DISPLAYED BELOW IN THE CLUB’S MEDIA GUIDE. HE WAS EXTREMELY DURABLE – MISSING ONLY SEVEN REGULAR-SEASON GAMES IN AN EIGHT-SEASON SPAN BETWEEN 1965-66 AND 1972-73, NEVER SCORING LESS THAN 19 GOALS DURING THAT TIME. HIS GOAL AGAINST MONTREAL ON MAY 2, 1967 WAS THE WINNER IN GAME 6 OF THE STANLEY CUP FINAL, THE LAST NIGHT THE LEAFS RAISED THE SILVER MUG.
Bob Baun was arguably the Leafs most popular player during their Cup dynasty of the ’60s. Teamed on defense for much of that period with the late Carl Brewer, he kept opposing skaters honest by dishing out bone-rattling checks in mid-ice: a skill displayed on the current Leafs team by captain Dion Phaneuf. Legend, of course, has followed Baun since the night he scored the overtime winner at Detroit in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup final on a cracked foot, incurred while blocking a shot earlier in the match.
Though he also played for the California Seals and Detroit Red Wings, Baun had a Leaf tattooed on his butt and would be the happiest man on Earth if the club justifiably raised his No. 21 to the rafters alongside the jersey later worn by Salming.
LEAF FANS OF THE ’60s AND EARLY-’70s ADORED BOB BAUN FOR HIS AGGRESSIVE PLAY.
After a two-day break here in rainy Vancouver, the current Leafs are back at it late this afternoon against the blazing-hot Canucks – undefeated in regulation in 10 games (8-0-2). We’ll have lots of photos for you in this corner later tonight.
FRONT COVER (ABOVE) AND INSIDE SPORTS-PAGE (BELOW) OF TODAY’S VANCOUVER SUN.
UGGHHH! IT HASN’T STOPPED RAINING FOR MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES SINCE I ARRIVED HERE IN VANCOUVER ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON – THE PHOTOS ABOVE AND BELOW TAKEN FROM MY HOTEL WINDOW EARLIER TODAY.
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