Welcome to No. 47, Leafs Nation

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 2) – And so it continues… month after month; decade after decade; perhaps unavoidably reaching and surpassing half-a-century. In these parts, it is simply known as “the drought” – the longest current Stanley Cup famine. Forty-seven years and counting, with no conceivable end.

May 2, 1967.

It hasn’t nearly the tragic ring of Nov. 22, 1963 or Sep. 11, 2001, but is no-less familiar to those that live and breathe hockey in this city. Were any of us handed a ten spot for every video-to-film replay of George Armstrong’s empty net goal at Maple Leaf Gardens 47 years ago tonight, we’d have accrued close to $5,000. If you watch intently enough, you’ll see it in one context or another roughly ten times in a calender year – four or five on this very date. Bob Pulford passes to Armstrong in front of the Leafs bench. The aged captain glides past centre-ice and fires a dart into the Montreal Canadiens net – vacated, seconds earlier, by goalie Lorne (Gump) Worsley. “He shoots, he scorrress!” yells Bill Hewitt on Hockey Night In Canada; his nasal twang nearly indistinguishable from that of his pioneering dad, Foster, who is describing the identical scene on CKFH-1430 radio – one booth away – in the famed gondola.

I had turned eight years of age three months earlier and still remember sitting at the foot of my parents’ bed watching the moment – familiar, at the time, to hockey fans in this city – on a portable black-and-white television. With “rabbit ears” on top for better reception in the days before cable TV. Rabbit ears were a two-pronged antenna that could be moved in any direction to improve quality of the TV picture – dependent on weather conditions in the area. Yes, it was that long ago.

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How long exactly?

Well, for one perspective, 47 years prior to the last Toronto Stanley Cup was 1920 – or six years before the club became known as the Maple Leafs. In 1920, the NHL was only three years into existence and the Toronto Arenas changed their name to Toronto St. Patrick’s. The club played at Mutual Street Arena, 11 years before Maple Leaf Gardens opened. The NHL had four teams – Arenas, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Bulldogs – and it played two halves of a season, each consisting of 12 games. Top three scorers were Joe Malone (Quebec), Edouard [Newsy] Lalonde (Montreal) and Frank Nighbor (Ottawa). These are mythical figures from the earliest years of the NHL.

Yes, it was that long ago.

Speaking of myths, a newspaper article this week again perpetuated the one about Leafs and St. Louis Blues sharing the same drought. Forget that the Blues existed only in name 47 years ago tonight; did not participate in the 1967 playoffs and wouldn’t make their regular-season NHL debut for five months and nine days. But, the Leafs and Blues have the identical Stanley Cup drought. Alright… whatever you say.    

Maple Leaf supporters can probably take limited solace in the fact New York Rangers hold the record Stanley Cup famine. But, it’s getting close. The Blueshirts went 54 years between champagne sips (1940-1994). That’s just seven more than the current Toronto dry spell. And seven years ago was 2006-07 – the first of two seasons with Paul Maurice behind the Maple Leafs bench. In other words, fairly recently.

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THE TEAMS THE MAPLE LEAFS ELIMINATED TO WIN THE 1967 STANLEY CUP (ABOVE) HAVE SINCE COMBINED FOR 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS – 10 BY MONTREAL; TWO BY CHICAGO. THE BLACKHAWKS COULD ADD NO. 3 THIS SPRING.

When will the drought end?

Well, that’s sort of like asking when the next ice age will begin. Given our exasperatingly long and frigid winters, it will probably happen at some point in the next 15,000 years. By then, Brian Burke and Brendan Shanahan will be looked upon as we today view Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus. And, chances are, ol’ Chris’s namesake – the Blue Jackets – will have raised the Stanley Cup at least once. We can only assume the Maple Leafs drought will not be at 15,047 years.

But, all ancestral bets are off.

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