TORONTO (Feb. 7) — Over the span of four decades, Darryl Sittler has been celebrated and cursed by nostalgic followers of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Celebrated for his 10–point eruption against Boston at Maple Leaf Gardens on this date 40 years ago; cursed for his apparent unwillingness to share the only videotaped copy of the historic match — televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at 8 p.m. on Feb. 7, 1976. One emotion is legitimate; the other unwarranted, or misguided with respect to obligation.
Yes, by all accounts, Sittler did receive the original two–inch–quad videotape of the game shortly after his record performance. And, no, he did not wish to share — for whatever reason — a VHS transfer of the tape with LEAFS–TV for a Sunday Night Classics presentation in 2001. The item belonged to Sittler; he owned it, and probably did not want for it to become randomly circulated — as would surely have been the case once played on LEAFS–TV. Many have considered this a selfish act by Sittler, but once he took possession of the lone videotaped copy, it was no longer public domain. Sittler had a rare, treasured item that would increase in value — monetarily and sentimentally — with the passage of time. This could also apply to Team Canada 1972 defenseman Pat Stapleton, allegedly keeper of the puck with which Paul Henderson scored the final–minute goal on Vladislav Tretiak to win the famed Summit Series against the Russians. If possession is indeed nine–tenths of the law, neither man is accountable for coveted proprietorship. In Sittler’s case, he was not at all obliged to atone for a clear and egregious error by archivists at the CBC.
“It was a much–different time in the 70’s when it came to preserving televised hockey and sporting events,” explained arguably the world’s No. 1–such archivist — Toronto resident Paul Patskou. “What is absolutely common today was quite rare around the time of Sittler’s big game. As such, the vast majority of hockey cassettes were simply re–used; their contents taped over for the next event. This wasn’t always the case and I can assure you there were many people working in TV libraries back then that should have been doing something else. But, the practice of erasing hockey games was not at all rare in the 1970’s.”
Patskou’s clarification still does not absolve the CBC of myopia. Forty years ago tonight, the National Hockey League was in its 61st season. Nearly a quarter–century of games had been televised by then. No player had ever–before accumulated ten scoring points in one match. How any person at our country’s national broadcaster could be so absurdly short–sighted to have handed Sittler a tape of the historic event without first ensuring it retained a copy is beyond explanation. Even for the time, it would not have been a ground–breaking choice to archive Sittler’s performance. All eight games of the ’72 Canada–Russia series had been preserved. The legendary encounter between the Soviet Red Army and Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Eve 1975 was kept. As was the Red Army/Philadelphia Flyers match of Jan. 11, 1976, when Bob Cole famously crooned “they’re goin’ home!” while the Russians left the ice at the Spectrum rather than absorbing further punishment from the Broad Street Bullies (the Ruskies quickly re–appeared when told they weren’t going to see any money). The decisive Game 4 of the Montreal/Philadelphia Stanley Cup final at the Spectrum in 1976 has been maintained. All of Team Canada’s games in the inaugural Canada Cup tournament of September ’76 were preserved. So, it would have hardly been unheard of — or the equivalent of rocket science — had a person at the CBC copied Sittler’s eruption for posterity.
FROM CBC HIGHLIGHTS OF THE GAME: SITTLER SCORES HIS SIXTH GOAL AND 10th POINT AT 16:35 OF THE THIRD PERIOD AND IS THEN CONGRATULATED AT THE LEAFS BENCH BY TRAINER GUY KINNEAR.
Today, 40 years later, all we have (and, thankfully) are highlight snippets of the Toronto scoring plays in the 11–4 rout of Boston. At least someone had the brains to keep video evidence of Sittler recording six goals and four assists on the Bruins’ Dave Reece. The rest of the game was trashed. Even more ridiculous was the handling of a Boston at Toronto encounter from 12 years earlier. On Jan. 18, 1964 — a Saturday night — the last–place Bruins came to Maple Leaf Gardens and laid an 11–0 whupping on the home team. The Maple Leafs were working on their third consecutive Stanley Cup title. It would be the rough equivalent, today, of the Leafs or Columbus going into the United Center and destroying the Chicago Blackhawks.
Patskou was elated when he received a copy of the 11–0 Bruins romp for Sunday Night Classics on LEAFS–TV. But, his euphoria didn’t last. “Yeah, it was wonderful; the entire game had been preserved — with the minor exception of all 11 goals,” Patskou sighed. “They had been spliced out of the tape at some point.
“Needless to say, we aired another ‘classic’ that Sunday.”
On this night, I vividly recall the privilege of attending Sittler’s 10–point game at Maple Leaf Gardens. I sat with my life–long pal, Jeffrey Spiegelman, in Sec. 42 of the southwest Reds, fairly close to the ice. Hoarder of memorabilia that I am, I’ve kept the program and ticket–stub from that historic occasion. Sittler long held a copy of the program as well, but believes it was taken by a guest at a house party some years back.
From my collection, here are memories of Sittler and the Leafs 40 years ago this week:
LAST SEP. 17 — ONE DAY PRIOR TO HIS 65th BIRTHDAY — I MET SITTLER AT THE LEAFS PRACTICE FACILITY AND SHOWED HIM THE PROGRAM FROM HIS 10–POINT GAME (BOTTOM–RIGHT), WHICH I ATTENDED IN THE WEST REDS AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, FOUR DAYS AFTER MY 17th BIRTHDAY.
THE LINE–UP SPREAD (GIDDILY DEFACED AFTERWARD BY YOURS TRULY) FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS–BRUINS GAME 40 YEARS AGO TONIGHT… WHICH DARRYL PERUSES (BELOW) LAST SEPTEMBER.
THE SUB–PLOT: Feb. 4–6, 1976
The Maple Leafs were faring poorly as they prepared to host the high–flying Bruins, coached by Don Cherry. Toronto had compiled a 1–4–3 record in its previous eight games and struck a low point by needing to claw from behind to gain a 4–4 tie — Feb. 4, 1976 — at the Gardens against the second–year Washington Capitals, who would finish 1975–76 with a record of 11–59–10 for 32 points.
One day after the humiliating result against Washington, Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard belittled Sittler in a comment to the Toronto Sun — implying that his team would fare better with “a hell of a center” for wingers Lanny McDonald and Errol Thompson. Twenty–four hours later, Sittler put up the most points in one game by any player in the history of the NHL — a record that stands today. The Toronto Star did not yet publish on Sunday in early–1976. As such, these images from the Globe and Mail and the Star are from two days after the Leafs–Bruins encounter:
MONDAY, FEB. 9, 1976
More from Frank Orr’s Toronto Star game story:
MAPLE LEAFS–BRUINS SCORING SUMMARY:
NHL STANDINGS (ABOVE) AND SCORING LEADERS (BELOW) AFTER GAMES OF SUN. FEB. 8, 1976:
FROM THE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE IN 1976–77:
FRONT COVER OF THE TORONTO STAR FROM YESTERDAY: