Leafs Nail It With Legends Row

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Sep. 7) – Of all the storied names in Toronto Maple Leafs history, an argument can be made that the two living players most beloved by fans of all ages were honored outside the Air Canada Centre Saturday afternoon.

Johnny Bower and Darryl Sittler were on hand to see their bronzed statues unveiled as the second and third figures of Legends Row in Maple Leaf Square. The great Teeder Kennedy was the first player so-honored, posthumously, several weeks ago. Bower is undoubtedly the most popular player in franchise history – the irrepressible goaltender of the Leafs Stanley Cup dynasty in the 1960’s as visible today at nearly 90 years of age as he was between the pipes half-a-century ago. Sittler, who turns 64 on Sep. 18, remains the most respected Leafs player of the post-1967 era. As captain from 1975 to 1981, he put up numbers that placed him atop the club’s all-time scoring list for nearly 30 years until conquered by Mats Sundin (1-a among respected players) in 2008. Rest assured Sundin will also be part of Legends Row in the future.

Veteran photographer Craig Robertson of the Toronto Sun/QMI Agency captured the scene outside Air Canada Centre on Saturday:

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MAPLE LEAF LEGENDS DARRYL SITTLER (LEFT) AND JOHNNY BOWER.

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SITTLER (ABOVE AND BELOW) POSES WITH HIS LEGENDS ROW STATUE – THE BRONZED LIKENESS OF TEEDER KENNEDY BEHIND HIM. SITTLER AND KENNEDY ARE AMONG THE GREATEST CAPTAINS IN MAPLE LEAFS HISTORY.

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TWO OF THE NICEST PEOPLE YOU WILL EVER MEET: JOHNNY BOWER AND HIS WIFE NANCY. HERE, JOHNNY SEEMS IMPRESSED WITH CARVING OF HIS TEETH.

Bower and Sittler combined to cover 34 seasons of Maple Leaf history (1958-59 to 1981-82) and missed playing together by one year. Bower retired in December 1969 (“I felt good but I couldn’t see anymore,” famously declared the goalie, then 45) and Sittler came aboard in September 1970 as the club’s No. 1 draft choice from London of the Ontario Hockey Association. But, the two Leaf legends developed a lasting friendship, as Bower remained with the organization throughout the 70’s and 80’s as an amateur scout and part-time goalie coach.

Bower was sitting with owner Harold Ballard in the so-called “bunker” at Maple Leaf Gardens on the Saturday night of Feb. 7, 1976 when Sittler erupted for 10 points against Boston (six goals, four assists) – all these years later, still a National Hockey League record for most in one game. Bower’s thick, black-rimmed bifocals could be seen from everywhere in the Gardens. He would often join Ballard, fellow Leafs legend King Clancy and general manager Jim Gregory in the bunker. Sittler was 11 years of age when Bower and Don Simmons shared goaltending duties against Chicago in the 1962 Stanley Cup final; Toronto winning its first of three consecutive NHL titles. He was 16 when the grandfatherly Maple Leafs of 1967 – Bower and Terry Sawchuk between the pipes – knocked off Montreal for the franchises most “recent” Stanley Cup.

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BOWER AND SITTLER: LEAF LEGENDS IN A DIFFERENT TIME.

It will be interesting to see if Dave Keon – generally regarded as the greatest player in franchise history – will be a part of Legends Row. Theoretically, he should have been the first person unveiled on the statue but Keon still blows hot and cold as it pertains to attending club functions. He could not, as a prime example, be convinced to join all other living players for the final NHL game at the Gardens on Feb. 13, 1999. But, he did end a 32-year estrangement when the 1967 Cup team was feted in a 40th anniversary ceremony prior to a game at Air Canada Centre on Feb. 17, 2007. He also joined his ex-mates at the ACC on Feb. 16, 2013 when Leafs commemorated 50 years since the 1963 Stanley Cup winner – considered the best of the storied decade.

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DAVE KEON (SECOND FROM LEFT) CAME TO TORONTO FOR THE 50th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION – ON FEB. 16, 2013 – OF THE 1963 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS. ALSO IN PHOTO (LEFT-TO-RIGHT) ARE EDDIE SHACK, DICK DUFF, JOHNNY BOWER AND GEORGE ARMSTRONG. KEON WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN A BANNER-RAISING CEREMONY UNTIL THE MAPLE LEAFS CHOOSE TO RETIRE, RATHER THAN HONOR, JERSEY NUMBERS.

Keon was not at the Air Canada Centre Friday night when Tim Leiweke, Brendan Shanahan and the current Leafs’ brass handed out $5,000 rings to players that were part of the 1963, ’64 and ’67 Cup triumphs. An original ring was crafted for the ’62 championship team. Those that continued playing would turn in their rings after each subsequent title to have a larger diamond-stud inserted. On Friday, the Leafs presented the surviving players with separate rings for each Cup win they were a part of after 1962. On hand at the ACC – and beaming with pride – were Bower, George Armstrong, Bob Pulford, Bob Baun, Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly, Eddie Shack, Larry Hillman, Jim Pappin and Johnny MacMillan.

It was a very nice gesture by the hockey club.

SPEAKING OF LEGENDS…

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I don’t often include family photos in my blog, but I thought it might be pertinent to introduce my uncle Moe Mandel. He is the lone surviving brother of my maternal great-grandmother – Sarah Tobe – who died in the summer of 1977, when I was 18. The reason I’m presenting you uncle Moe is that he was born in July 1911 and is now 103 years of age. He still drives a car and may be the oldest such person in Canada. I took this photo last Monday during a family event in North York. Always a sports fan, uncle Moe came around at a time in Toronto and hockey history that truly emphasizes his age. Consider the following:

? Conn Smythe, founder of the Maple Leafs, was only 15 in July 1911.

? Uncle Moe was born in the summer before the 1911-12 National Hockey Association season – six years prior to formation of the NHL. The NHA was comprised of just four teams in ’11-12: Quebec Bulldogs, Ottawa Hockey Club (later the original Senators), Montreal Wanderers and Montreal Canadiens. The legendary Georges Vezina – namesake of the NHL trophy – was the NHA’s leading goaltender with the Canadiens.

? Uncle Moe was six when the Toronto Arenas were formed; eight when the name was changed to St. Patricks and 15 when Conn Smythe changed the club’s name to Maple Leafs in 1926.

                

TORONTO ARENAS TO ST. PATRICKS TO MAPLE LEAFS. SPORTSLOGOS.NET

? From a Legends Row perspective, uncle Moe had turned 13 when Johnny Bower was born on Nov. 8, 1924; 14 when Teeder Kennedy came into the world on Dec. 12, 1925 and 39 when Darryl Sittler was born, Sep. 18, 1950.

? Maple Leaf Gardens opened (Nov. 12, 1931) just four months after uncle Moe turned 20 and hosted its final NHL game (Feb. 13, 1999) five months before his 88th birthday.

? Uncle Moe’s age (in brackets) when the following Leafs were born:

Terry Sawchuk (18). George Armstrong (19). Tim Horton (19). Frank Mahovlich (26). Dave Keon (28). Borje Salming (40). Doug Gilmour (51). Wendel Clark (55). Mats Sundin (59). Phil Kessel (76). Morgan Rielly (82).

? Uncle Moe’s age (in brackets) when the following NHLers were born:

Maurice Richard (10). Gordie Howe (16). Jean Beliveau (20). Bobby Hull (27). Bobby Orr (36). Wayne Gretzky (49). Mario Lemieux (54). Martin Brodeur (60). Sidney Crosby (76). Nathan MacKinnon (84).

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HOW OLD IS UNCLE MOE? WELL, HE WAS NEARLY 17 WHEN GORDIE HOWE WAS BORN IN FLORAL, SASK. ON MAR. 31, 1928.

? The New York Americans played in the NHL from 1925 to 1942 as Uncle Moe was between the ages of 14 and 31.

? Uncle Moe celebrated birthdays 51, 52, 53 and 56 during the Leafs Stanley Cup dynasty of the 60’s. He was 56 when the NHL doubled to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season and 89 when the two most recent expansion clubs – Minnesota and Columbus – came aboard in 2000-01.

OTHER STUFF: Uncle Moe was…

? Nine months old when Fenway Park in Boston opened in 1912.

? Nearly three years old when Wrigley Field in Chicago opened in 1914.

? Nearly 12 when the original Yankee Stadium opened in 1923.

? Coming up to his 24th birthday when Babe Ruth hit his 714th and final home run – at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh – on May 25, 1935.

? Nearly 63 when Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium on Apr. 8, 1974.

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HANK AARON OF THE ATLANTA BRAVES HITS HIS 715th MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN AT FULTON-COUNTY STADIUM – vs. LOS ANGELES DODGERS – APR. 8, 1974.

? Coming up to 66 when the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game – vs. Chicago White Sox at Exhibition Stadium – Apr. 7, 1977.

? 30 years old when Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

? 34 years old when the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan – Aug. 6 and 9, 1945 – to end World War II.

? Coming up to his 50th birthday when Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth on Apr. 12, 1961.

? 52 years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

? 58 years old when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon – July 20, 1969.

? 100 years old when Brian Burke fired Ron Wilson on Mar. 2, 2012.

NOW YOU KNOW MY UNCLE MOE.

ONLY ONCE IN A BLUE MOON do I get as clear a shot of our neighboring rock. I took this photo just after 8 p.m. tonight – Sep. 7, 2014.

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