TORONTO (Nov. 8) — What better occasion to discuss goaltending than the 91st birthday of Johnny Bower — the most popular and beloved player in Toronto Maple Leafs history? Had there been a few more of his genre, it’s possible that a rival team would own the longest current Stanley Cup drought.
Instead it’s Toronto: 48 years… and counting.
Which brings us to today’s subject — the revolving door of puck–stoppers that have worn the Maple Leafs jersey after the ethereal night of May 2, 1967. With Jonathan Bernier currently on Injured Reserve, it is possible that Antione Bibeau will get the nod at some point this week from Mike Babcock — either as a starter or in relief of James Reimer. If (or when) that happens, Bibeau will become the 62nd person to stand between the pipes for the Blue and White since Terry Sawchuk won Game 6 of the ’67 Stanley Cup final. That is 62… as in 12 more than 50; 38 less than 100. A veritable and unending flock of would–be saviors.
It is a roll–call of the famous and obscure — beginning with Bower, himself, in the first season of expansion, 1967–68. In chronological order, how many of these names ring a bell?
BRUCE GAMBLE, AL SMITH, MARV EDWARDS, GERRY McNAMARA, JACQUES PLANTE, BERNIE PARENT, MURRAY McLACHLAN, GORD McRAE, RON LOW, DOUG FAVELL, DUNC WILSON, ED JOHNSTON, PIERRE HAMEL, WAYNE THOMAS, MIKE PALMATEER, PAUL HARRISON, JIRI CRHA, CURT RIDLEY, VINCENT TREMBLAY, JIM RUTHERFORD, MICHEL (BUNNY) LAROCQUE, BOB PARENT, RICK ST. CROIX, ALLAN BESTER, KEN WREGGET, BRUCE DOWIE, TIM BERNHARDT, DON EDWARDS, JEFF REESE, MARK LaFOREST, PETER ING, DAMIAN RHODES, GRANT FUHR, FELIX POTVIN, RICK WAMSLEY, DARREN PUPPA, DON BEAUPRE, MARCEL COUSINEAU, GLENN HEALY, CURTIS JOSEPH, COREY SCHWAB, TOM BARRASSO, MARCEL CENTOMO, ED BELFOUR, MIKAEL TELLQVIST, TREVOR KIDD, JEAN–SEBASTIAN AUBIN, ANDREW RAYCROFT, SCOTT CLEMMENSEN, VESA TOSKALA, MARTIN GERBER, JUSTIN POGGE, JEAN–SENASTIEN GIGUERE, JONAS GUSTAVSSON, JOEY MacDONALD, JAMES REIMER, BEN SCRIVENS, JUSSI RYNNAS, DREW McINTYRE, JONATHAN BERNIER.
Pardon me while I take a nap. That was an exhausting paragraph.
AMONG THE FAVORITE IMAGES I HAVE SNAPPED WITH MY TRUSTY NIKON: JOHNNY BOWER (RIGHT) BEING EMBRACED BY BOB BAUN, THE DEFENCEMAN WITH WHOM HE SHARED FOUR STANLEY CUP TITLES AS PART OF THE PUNCH IMLACH MAPLE LEAFS IN THE 1960’s. JOHNNY IS A SPRY 91 TODAY.
Okay… now where were we?
Oh yeah, Leaf goalies. Zillions of them. Oddly enough, the above list includes three of the greatest and most decorated netminders of all time: Jacques Plante, Bernie Parent and Grant Fuhr. Thirteen Stanley Cups among them. Even more odd is that Plante — in 1970–71; at 42 years of age and playing with an ordinary team — recorded the third–lowest goals–against average (1.88) of his brilliant career.
Parent was the key figure in one of the top half–dozen trades the Leafs have ever made. Jim Gregory acquired him from Philadelphia on Feb. 1, 1971 in a three–way swap (Boston included) for Bruce Gamble and Mike Walton. Had he not arrived at the beginning of Harold Ballard’s despotic term as owner of the Maple Leafs, Parent may have won a Stanley Cup here in Toronto; he learned much of his craft from Plante. Instead, he was virtually dared by Ballard, the tight–wad, to leave for the upstart World Hockey Association in 1972. Which Parent did. When he returned to the NHL in 1973 — refusing to play for Ballard — Gregory was forced to trade him back to the Flyers for Doug Favell and a first–round pick the Leafs wasted on Bob Neely, as crafty forward Rick Middleton (988 NHL points) was still available. Parent led the Flyers to consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP each year.
Fuhr came to a bad Leafs team as part of a multi–player trade with Edmonton on Sep. 19, 1991. He was, by then, in the twilight of a career that netted five Stanley Cups with the Gretzky–Messier–Coffey Oilers. He appeared in 95 games with the Leafs and compiled a 3.50 GAA before a clever trade by Cliff Fletcher sent him to Buffalo (Feb. 2, 1993) for winger Dave Andreychuk, who meshed wonderfully with Doug Gilmour.
Tom Barrasso and Ed Belfour (combined 174 games with Toronto) had also done nicely beforehand — Barrasso winning consecutive championships with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992; Belfour backstopping the Dallas Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup (sorry for the reminder, Buffalo readers). Plante, Parent, Fuhr and Belfour are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
As I was pondering this subject, my friend, Brian Gerstein, sent a Facebook message asking about the number of goalies Montreal has deployed since losing the ’67 Cup to the Leafs. Surely not 61, I figured, given a 10–0 lead in championships over Toronto. So, why not look it up? Here are the results:
LORNE (GUMP) WORSLEY, ROGATIEN VACHON, TONY ESPOSITO, ERNIE WAKELY, PHIL MYRE, KEN DRYDEN, DENIS DEJORDY, WAYNE THOMAS, MICHEL PLASSE, MICHEL (BUNNY) LAROCQUE, RICHARD SEVIGNY, DENIS HERON, RICK WAMSLEY, MARK HOLDEN, STEVE PENNY, PATRICK ROY, DOUG SOETAERT, BRIAN HAYWARD, VINCENT RIENDEAU, RANDY EXELBY, ANDRE RACICOT, JEAN–CLAUDE BERGERON, FREDRIC CHABOT, ROLAND MELANSON, RON TUGNUTT, LES KUNTAR, MARTIN BROCHU, JOCELYN THIBEAULT, PAT JABLONSKI, JOSE THEODORE, PATRICK LABRECQUE, TOMAS VOKOUN, ANDY MOOG, JEFF HACKETT, MATHIEU GARON, ERIC FICHAUD, STEPHANE FISET, OLIVER MICHAUD, CRISTOBEL HUET, DAVID AEBISCHER, YANN DENIS, JAROSLAV HALAK, MICHAEL LEIGHTON, CAREY PRICE, MARC DENIS, ALEX AULD, PETER BUDAJ, DUSTIN TOKARSKI, MIKE CONDON.
And, it’s closer than you may think — Toronto “leading” 61–50. The Canadiens list, however, is somewhat deceptive because three members — Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and Carey Price — have held the No. 1 role for at least seven seasons: Dryden for eight (1971–72 to 1978–79); Roy for 11 (1985–86 to midway through 1995–96), and Price for seven (2008–09, then 2010–11 to today). By comparison, only one Toronto goalie — Felix Potivn — has carried the starter’s role through as many as six seasons: 1992–93 to 1997–98.
Five goalies — Wayne Thomas, Michel (Bunny) Larocque, Rick Wamsley, Pat Jablonski and Eric Fichaud — have played for the Maple Leafs and Canadiens since the start of the 1967–68 season.
But, it all began here in Toronto with the “China Wall,” who appeared in 43 games with the Leafs in ’67–68 and retired in December 1969, claiming poor eyesight. “I couldn’t see the puck anymore,” Johnny Bower will tell you when asked about hanging up the pads at age 45. More than twice that time later, ol’ Johnny continues to make appearances on behalf of the Blue and White as — unequivocally — the most revered figure in franchise history. More years of health and smiles to you, Mr. B.
JOHNNY BOWER APPEARED ON THE COVER OF THE MAPLE LEAF GARDENS PROGRAM FOR GAME 4 OF THE 1967 STANLEY CUP FINAL (LINE–UPS BELOW) — A 6–2 LOSS TO THE CANADIENS. BUT, TORONTO WOULD WIN THE FOLLOWING TWO MATCHES FOR ITS MOST RECENT NHL TITLE.
WEEKEND THOUGHTS: The NHL seems to be in conflict with itself on the issue of generating more offense. On one hand, it has striven (with limited success) to reduce the size of goaltending equipment and is pondering, to some degree, the notion of bigger nets. Conversely, the rules to protect goalies from pillaging skaters — combined with the new coach’s challenge — is negating what many would consider perfectly legitimate scoring plays. A case in point occurred Saturday night at the Verizon Center in Washington when Alex Ovechkin scored on a wondrous backhand in the third period to pull the Capitals even with the Maple Leafs, 2–2. Or, so it seemed. Mike Babcock initiated a challenge, claiming Justin Williams had bumped James Reimer out of position in the crease before Ovechkin’s shot. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Brad Meier reviewed the play on a tablet in the penalty box and agreed with Babcock, overturning the call on the ice. Given strict interpretation of the rule, it was probably the correct decision. But, a couple of things: First, if goalies are now sacred to the point they no longer have to fight for position, the NHL will be left with no recourse but to enlarge nets. Second, all goalies, with the puck in their vicinity, play the position today on their knees. As such, even a slight nudge will propel them in the opposite direction (Newton’s Law). Had Reimer been on his skates Saturday night, the “bump” by Williams wouldn’t have moved him a millimeter. The NHL too often reacts to a trend by going from black to white. The lack of grey area creates problems — in this case, nullifying offense the league is desperately trying to embellish… The overriding issue with the NHL is that bigger, faster players with bigger, much–improved equipment are skating on the same size ice surface as Syl Apps, Max Bentley and Ted Kennedy in the 1940’s. Creativity is limited because today’s guys simply run out of space too quickly… I admire the way Leafs forward Leo Komarov plays the game, but is there anything more ridiculous in hockey than his visor — a device that has one purpose: to protect the eyes. Komarov’s visor may (and it’s questionable) protect his hairline. It protrudes outward, rather than downward, from the top of his helmet. I typically look at it and say, “Why even bother?” See for yourself, as I compare Leo’s silly gadget to the prototype visor worn by Ovechkin:
Since Dec. 16 of last season, the Maple Leafs have played 65 games and compiled a record of 13–43–9. For fans of the hockey club, this is “pain” — as brutally defined by Babcock… I’ve mentioned it before, but how difficult it must be for the Leafs to answer post–defeat questions while trying to convince others (and themselves) that a turnaround is imminent. Offered James van Riemsdyk after the loss at Washington: “I thought we had a great effort, and did some great things. I’m confident in this group, if we stick with it and keep improving and keep trending up, I think we’re going to do a lot of good this year.” As my son, Shane, replied to the quote: “What else can he say, Dad?”… Learning quickly what you cannot do while playing 3–on–3 overtime in the NHL: miss the net with a shot. It inevitably creates a 2–on–1 chance (or worse) the other way. Though gimmicky, it is spellbinding to watch the new five–minute format… If the NHL truly wishes to increase scoring, why not begin by playing 4–on–4 in the final 10 minutes of regulation? It could easily reduce the “trapping–for–a–point” that is endemic among inferior teams… There is still, for me, something primordial in listening to Bob Cole call a game on TV, as he did Sunday night at Chicago between the Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers. The voice; the cadence remain unmatched… Among those being inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday is the greatest European–born player of all time: Nicklas Lidstrom, otherwise known as “the perfect human.” I’ll always remember a personal moment with the great Swedish defender. It was in the wee hours of June 9, 2002 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. The Red Wings had defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 3–2, on a goal by Igor Larionov in triple–overtime. Everyone was dog–tired — players, coaches, reporters. Covering the series for The FAN–590, I had been caught in the Carolina dressing room longer than anticipated. When leaving the arena just prior to 2 a.m., I was disappointed in not having a one–on–one interview with a player to send to the radio station. Lidstrom was walking alone in front of me. I approached him with trepidation and minimal hope. When I asked for a quick chat, he smiled; stopped, and said, “Sure. No problem.” Many others would have waved me off after such an exhausting game. Lidstrom was a perfect gentleman and I’ll never forget his kindness… I can also not forget my “moments” with another 2015 inductee, Chris Pronger. He and I had a minor exchange of words on tape during the 2004–05 owners’ lockout. It was played extensively on The FAN–590 and Pronger appeared on our morning show a few days later, asking, “Who is this Howard Berger character?” I formally introduced myself to Chris at the Honda Center in Anaheim after a Ducks practice during the 2007 Stanley Cup final. He smiled and enthusiastically grabbed my hand. Afterward, we would occasionally attempt to “one–up” each other in media scrums. But, I’ll never forget a scene in the visitors’ dressing room at Joe Louis Arena after a 2009 playoff game between the Ducks and Detroit Red Wings. Anaheim had been routed and it was deathly quiet in the room. Suddenly, Pronger appeared from the shower and yelled, “Howard Berger, what the [expletive] is up?” I looked for a hole in which to crawl, but couldn’t find one. Chris just stood and grinned at me. What a customer — not to mention the most dominating defender, in his prime, that I’ve ever seen… Ol’ Leaf Darcy Tucker appeared with Ron MacLean on the Rogers Hometown Hockey telecast Sunday night from Fredricton, N.B. and I don’t think his appearance has changed one iota from when he last played for the Blue and White, in 2007–08:
THE SUNDAY VAULT
In this week’s edition of The Vault, we look inside a program from a game on Oct. 24, 1971 at the Los Angeles Forum between the Kings and Minnesota North Stars. Both clubs were early in their fifth seasons, having joined the National Hockey League in the Great Expansion of 1967 (the North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993). You’ll see a fair amount of gold in these pages, as the Kings wore predominantly gold home uniforms, with purple trim. The program insert was therefore printed on gold-colored paper.
Please enjoy this hockey nostalgia from more then 44 years ago:
HAVING GROWN UP IN ORILLIA, ONT. (80 MILES NORTH OF TORONTO), KEN (JIGGS) McDONALD WAS THE ORIGINAL VOICE OF THE EXPANSION KINGS AND ATLANTA FLAMES (IN 1972–73). IN 1980, HE JOINED THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AND CALLED THE FINAL THREE YEARS OF THE FOUR–SEASON STANLEY CUP DYNASTY UNDER BILL TORREY AND THE LATE AL ARBOUR. JIGGS WORKED ONE SEASON (2002–03) AS TV PLAY–BY–PLAY BROADCASTER FOR THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.
AMONG THE MANY NOW–DEFUNCT REGIONAL AIRLINES IN THE UNITED STATES.
BOB PULFORD PLAYED ON ALL FOUR TORONTO STANLEY CUP TEAMS IN THE 60’s. LARRY HILLMAN WAS A MEMBER OF THE 1967 LEAFS CHAMPION. JEAN POTVIN IS THE OLDER BROTHER OF DENIS POTVIN, WHO WOULD BE DRAFTED FIRST OVERALL BY THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS IN 1973. JUHA WIDING WAS THE SECOND FINNISH–BORN PLAYER IN THE NHL, AFTER PENTTI LUND (NEW YORK, BOSTON, 1948–53). MIKE BYERS CAME UP THROUGH THE TORONTO MARLBOROS ORGANIZATION.
FROM THE ERA WHEN NHL TEAMS FLEW COMMERCIALLY. IT’S ALL CHARTER TODAY.
THE NHL CAREERS OF BILL MIKKELSON AND BILLY SMITH TOOK DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT PATHS AFTER L.A. MIKKELSON PLAYED FOR THE WORST TEAM IN NHL HISTORY — THE EXPANSION WASHINGTON CAPITALS OF 1974–75 — AND CRAFTED THE LOWEST PLUS–MINUS FIGURE (MINUS–82) OF ALL TIME. SMITH WENT TO THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AND BACKSTOPPED THE CLUB TO ITS FOUR CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUP TITLES, BEGINNING IN 1980. HE IS A MEMBER OF THE HOCKEY HALL–OF–FAME.
DATSUN BECAME NISSAN IN 1986.