Who Says The Leafs Aren’t Playing?

TORONTO (May 28) — Only one of our winter–sport teams has ever played in the month of June. That would be the 2012 Toronto Marlies, which lost to Norfolk in the Calder Cup final.

The Leafs came closest in 1999, bowing in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final to Buffalo on May 31.

Cleveland eliminated the gritty Raptors on Friday at Air Canada Centre in Game 6 of the NBA East final.

Local sports fans, however, are aware that a Leafs team is in action every June. And, well beyond.

The Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League have been a staple in our city since 1969. Jack Dominico’s baby is occupying Christie Pits (now named in his honor; a park at the northwest corner of Christie and Bloor St.) for a 48th consecutive season, squaring off with Ontario rivals from Barrie, Brantford, Burlington, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener and London. The Intercounty schedule is 36 games in length — 18 home; 18 away — stretching, for the 2016 Leafs, from May 8 to July 31. Playoffs are in August.

Next game at the Pits is Sunday, 2 p.m., against Hamilton. The weather should be terrific — partly cloudy and 29 C. The Leafs are the only Intercounty team that does not charge admission. A hat is passed around, and the club (Jack, in particular) appreciates any quarters, loonies or two–nies that spectators deposit.

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THE LONG–TIME AND HISTORIC BALL CAP OF THE BASEBALL TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.

For those unaware, there is only one Jack Dominico. They threw away the mold when he arrived 74 years ago. To me, he’s been a great friend for nearly four decades. To others, he’s a royal pain–in–the–ass. That rare blend of cordiality and chutzpah has made him the most prolific accumulator of advertising among any individual in Canada. There are game–programs in the National Football League without the voluminous ads that appear annually in the Maple Leafs program and yearbook. The Dallas Cowboys play before 90,000 spectators in Arlington, Texas. Jack Dominico’s semi–pro baseball club may attract a couple–hundred fannies to the surrounding hill at Christie Pits. Yet, a professional magazine–publisher wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. For Jack, the word “no” has never existed. It never will.

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JOLLY JACK DOMINICO AT HIS HOME/OFFICE IN ETOBICOKE, ONT.

I paid a visit to Jack on Thursday afternoon. Hadn’t seen him since his wife, Lynne, died of cancer eight years ago. She was the ying to Jack’s yang — a sweet and lovely partner in life and in business. The cluttered room he now occupies in his southwest–Toronto home is still “Lynne’s office.” Always will be. Jack has worked on his programs and yearbooks for several decades with one of my closest friends: Joel Colomby, assistant sports editor of the Toronto Sun. We visited Jack together on Thursday. Joel gave me my first job, as a sportswriter at the Etobicoke Guardian community newspaper. In May 1979. I was 20. Offered me $175–a–week — more money than I’d ever seen in my life. Now, he’s 62 and I’m 57. That’s what I call a life–long pal. It was around the same time in ’79 that I got to know Jack. Trust me when I tell you he hasn’t changed.

Still a good man… and a very kind soul.

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JACK DOMINICO’S 2016 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS PROGRAM IS 112 PAGES, REPLETE WITH LOCAL AND NATIONAL ADVERTISING. HIS MAJOR CLIENT IS THE NEW ERA CAP COMPANY, FOUNDED IN BUFFALO, N.Y. 96 YEARS AGO. ITS FLAGSHIP STORE IN TORONTO IS LOCATED AT 202 QUEEN ST. WEST. AND, IT OCCUPIES THE BACK–AD COVER OF THE 2016 MAPLE LEAFS PROGRAM.

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2016 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS POCKET SCHEDULE.

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JACK’S 8×10–INCH, GLOSSY YEARBOOK FOR THE 2016 MAPLE LEAFS. EACH SEASON KICKS OFF WITH JACK INVITING FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL GREATS FOR A GALA DINNER. OVER THE YEARS, SUCH PLAYERS AS FERGUSON JENKINS, WARREN SPAHN, GAYLORD PERRY, MAURY WILLS, BOB FELLER, BERT CAMPANERIS AND BILL BUCKNER HAVE VISITED TORONTO FOR THE EVENT.

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ACCRUING ADVERTISING HAS NEVER BEEN A PROBLEM FOR JOLLY JACK.

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JACK AND JOEL WORKED TOGETHER THROUGHOUT THE 80’s AND 90’s ON AN ANNUAL YEARBOOK (ABOVE) FEATURING PHOTOS AND BIOS OF PLAYERS IN THE ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE. JACK PROVIDED ADS (BELOW) FOR THE 1993 MEMORIAL CUP PROGRAM.

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SHARKS WILL PREVAIL

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So, my pre–season prediction in this space last October for the Stanley Cup final was Pittsburgh vs. a team from California. Yes, I chose Los Angeles instead of San Jose (or Anaheim), but 50 percent ain’t bad. That said, I don’t believe the Penguins will win the NHL championship. San Jose was too quick up the middle of the ice for St. Louis; I don’t see that changing dramatically against Pittsburgh. And, heck, isn’t is San Jose’s time? At last? I think so. And, I suspect there are many fans across North America rooting for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to finally raise the Cup. So, yes, Lord Stanley goes to NoCal for the first time.

In 14 playoff rounds this spring, my prediction record is 9–5.

2016 STANLEY CUP FINAL

  
SHARKS IN 6

SAN JOSE — YEAR 1 IN THE NHL

It required a quarter–century and many big disappointments for the San Jose Sharks to make the Stanley Cup final. The franchise came aboard in expansion for the NHL’s 75th anniversary season — 1991–92 — and stunk it out pretty good with a mark of 17–58–5 for 39 points. But, the inaugural club was championship caliber compared to Year 2, when the Sharks lost an NHL–record 71 (of 84) games. The team played its first two seasons at the ancient Cow Palace in south San Francisco before moving to its current home in San Jose (the S–A–P Center) for 1993–94. Some first–year memories:

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THE FIRST SHARKS HOME GAME I COVERED WAS A MATINEE (TOP–LEFT) AGAINST TORONTO AT THE COW PALACE — SIX MONTHS BEFORE “CJCL” BECAME CANADA’S FIRST ALL–SPORTS RADIO STATION. IT WAS JUST MORE THAN TWO MONTHS AFTER THE LEAFS HAD ACQUIRED DOUG GILMOUR FROM CALGARY AND THE CLUB WAS MAKING A MOVE TOWARD THE PLAYOFFS. BUT, A 4–1 LOSS TO THE SHARKS KILLED MOMENTUM. ALSO PICTURED IS THE COVER OF SAN JOSE’S FIRST MEDIA GUIDE.

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MY PHOTO APPROACHING THE COW PALACE ON DEC. 20, 2014. TOOK MY SON TO SEE THE ARENA.

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THE SHARKS’ CURRENT GENERAL MANAGER PLAYED DEFENSE FOR THE CLUB IN ITS FIRST YEAR.

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COVER OF THE HOCKEY NEWS (OCT. 18, 1991). INSIDE, WAS A STORY AND SUMMARIES FROM THE SHARKS FIRST TWO NHL GAMES — AT VANCOUVER, OCT. 4 AND HOME TO THE CANUCKS, OCT. 5. 

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FIRST TWO SHARKS SUMMARIES. SAN JOSE’S INITIAL GOAL WAS SCORED BY A NATIVE OF CALIFORNIA. CRAIG COXE, BORN IN CHULA VISTA (JUST SOUTH OF SAN DIEGO) ON JAN. 21, 1964, IS NOW 52. COXE BEAT VANCOUVER GOALIE KIRK McLEAN AT 4:09 OF THE THIRD PERIOD, OCT. 4, 1991, ON PASSES FROM MARK PAVELICH AND NEIL WILKINSON. AT THE COW PALACE THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, ANOTHER AMERICAN SCORED THE SHARKS FIRST HOME GOAL: DEARBORN, MICH. NATIVE WAYNE PRESLEY.

AS SEEN ON TV…

FRIDAY, OCT. 4, 1991 — San Jose 3 at Vancouver 4

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CRAIG COXE (21) RE–DIRECTS A PASS FROM MARK PAVELICH TO SCORE SAN JOSE’S FIRST NHL GOAL AT THE PACIFIC COLISEUM IN VANCOUVER. SHARKS GOALIE JEFF HACKETT STOPPED 49 SHOTS IN A NARROW LOSS, AS VANCOUVER OUT–GUNNED ITS EXPANSION OPPONENT, 52–22. THIS GAME WAS TELEVISED ONLY IN VANCOUVER AND THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY–AREA.

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SATURDAY, OCT. 5, 1991 — Vancouver 5 at San Jose 2

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THE SHARKS HOME OPENER WAS SHOWN FROM COAST–TO–COAST BY HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA — BOB COLE AND HARRY NEALE IN THE TELECAST BOOTH AT THE COW PALACE. THE SECOND HALF OF A SATURDAY–NIGHT TV DOUBLEHEADER, IT WAS JOINED IN PROGRESS MIDWAY THROUGH THE FIRST PERIOD AFTER THE EARLY GAME (DETROIT AT TORONTO) AND AN ABBREVIATED CBC NEWSCAST.

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ALSO IN THE SHARKS FIRST SEASON…

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THE NHL’s 75th ANNIVERSARY WAS MARRED BY A 10–DAY PLAYERS’ STRIKE THAT THREATENED THE STANLEY CUP TOURNAMENT. IT BEGAN APR. 1, 1992. THE HOCKEY NEWS PUBLISHED A PHOTO OF EMPTY MAPLE LEAF GARDENS; THEN THE PEACE–LOVING TIE DOMI OF THE NEW YORK RANGERS ONCE THE WORK STOPPAGE ENDED. ULTIMATELY, MARIO LEMIEUX, YOUNG JAROMIR JAGR AND THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS REPEATED AS STANLEY CUP CHAMPION, ROUTING THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS.

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WHERE TO, STEVEN?

Might this be the final image of Steven Stamkos in a Tampa Bay jersey — shaking hands with Sidney Crosby on Thursday night after the Lightning fell to the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final? The guesswork among media and fans will now shift into high gear with just more than a month remaining until the market opens for unrestricted free agents in the NHL (July 1). Stamkos hasn’t spoken much about the situation. When offering comment, he has steadfastly (and, I suspect, genuinely) repeated his wish to stay with the Lightning, who nearly won the Eastern title in his absence. Stamkos missed all playoff action while recovering from surgery to remove a blood-clot in his arm, returning only for the club’s elimination match on Thursday. Can T–Bay afford to rather generously upgrade its reported offer of $8.5–million a season? Will the unpredictable and frightening blood–clot scenario impact the terms of Stamkos’s next contract?

These are questions many of us will ponder over the next five weeks.

THE HOCKEY NEWS, in its current issue (below), designed a clever front–cover, “dressing” Stamkos in the jersey of half–a–dozen potential suitors — yes, the Maple Leafs among them. Writer Matt Larkin then offered his “power ranking” of the top 20 players potentially available on July 1.

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OH, LEAFS NATION — 23 YEARS AGO…
Toronto Star front sports page (below) from May 27, 1993. The Leafs had a 3–2 series lead on the Los Angeles Kings and an opportunity to advance to the Stanley Cup final against Montreal with a Game 6 victory at the Great Western Forum. As it were, the pictured players (and referee Kerry Fraser) factored in the outcome: Wayne Gretzky scoring on Felix Potvin in overtime after slicing open Doug Gilmour’s chin with the follow–through of a shot. The visitors had rebounded in the third period from a 4–2 deficit — Wendel Clark completing a hat–trick in the final moment of regulation, with Potvin on the bench. It was the most dramatic and memorable Leafs game I covered in my 23 years at The FAN–590. L.A. won the series, two nights later, in Game 7 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

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MAYBE AGAIN… ONE DAY SOON.

LOST AND FOUND…
A bit of Toronto hockey history — tickets (below) in the south–mezzanine Blues for the New York Islanders first–ever visit to Maple Leaf Gardens (Jan. 10, 1973). I misplaced these items, one month before by 14th birthday, and somehow talked a nice man at the Gardens’ special ticket office into allowing me and a friend admittance with a paper substitute. I found the tickets, buried under something, a few days later and have kept them through the years. It is possible that $6.60 may buy you a bag of popcorn today at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto won the match, 4–2, handing the expansion Islanders one of their NHL–record (at the time) 60 losses.

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And, I leave you with the final sentence of my blog here from May 16: “By the way, Cleveland will defeat the Raptors in the NBA Eastern Conference final. But, not prior to Game 6.”

Not too shabby for a basketball bozo.

Til next time…

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

One comment on “Who Says The Leafs Aren’t Playing?

  1. Howard,
    Thanks for the walk down memory lane regarding the early days of the SJ Sharks (forwarded to me by our mutual friend and Bay Area hockey guru Len Shapiro). I wrote that short clip from The Hockey News summarizing the team’s first two games. Sometimes it seems like yesterday that we were at the Cow Palace, and sometimes it seems like forever ago. Anyway, those were good times. Thanks again,
    Mike Weaver

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