Leafs Could Be Halfway Home

TORONTO (June 2) — After winning the Stanley Cup in three of the past six years, the Chicago Blackhawks were bounced from the opening round of the playoffs this spring by St. Louis. It could easily be a temporary set–back, as the core of Chicago’s championship roster is intact and still rather young.

Once upon a time, the Blackhawks were built around Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. Later, around Denis Savard and Steve Larmer. Today, the dynamic duo up front is Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Both are 27 and may still be approaching their prime years in the National Hockey League. In the absence of either man, it is doubtful Chicago would have raised the Cup even once. Which brings us to the team with the longest Stanley Cup drought. Though neither Auston Matthews nor Mitchell Marner have played a minute of pro hockey, one can envision them becoming Toronto’s answer to Toews and Kane. There are unmistakable similarities in size, skating, and play–making ability. The comparison is lofty and invalid until Matthews and Marner perform to standard in the NHL. But, the potential for the M&M boys is enormous.

“I think it’s a sound analogy,” said a friend of mine who scouts amateur hockey for a Western Conference team. “Both players are undoubtedly going to become stars in the NHL. Perhaps even superstars.”

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PATRICK KANE (LEFT) AND JONATHAN TOEWS CLOWN AROUND IN THE CHICAGO DRESSING ROOM.

Such a tandem would be a revelation for young fans of the Blue and White.

Mats Sundin had terrific chemistry with Steve Thomas and Alexander Mogilny, but more than a decade ago. Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk clicked marvelously in the early–90’s as did Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald in the mid–to–late–70’s. It is no coincidence that all three combinations carried the Leafs as far as the club has been since 1967 — to the Stanley Cup semifinals. Given their teen–aged accomplishments, Matthews and Marner may form the next great tandem up front for the Blue and White. And, offer the club unlimited promise. Providing, of course, their gifts are augmented by size and mobility on defense; unwavering dependability in goal. Otherwise, the M&M boys could become Bill Derlago and Rick Vaive — another scintillating duo, undermined (in the first half of the 80’s) by gaping holes behind center ice.

As such, the Leafs are barely halfway home with Matthews and Marner.

My scouting friend offered another opinion that may quell a two–pronged comparison among Leaf followers, who are hoping Marner evolves into another Kane; not the second–coming of Nazem Kadri.

All three are graduates of the Junior hockey program in London, Ont.

“That’s unfair to Kadri,” said the scout. “He’s a very talented player with lots of gumption for a small guy and the Leafs were smart to lock him up for a few years. But, he doesn’t have Marner’s vision on the ice. Or, in my view, his ability to make plays. I think Kadri will be an excellent compliment to Marner and Matthews.

“Which is almost certainly what the Leafs are anticipating.”

Marner, for those unaware, went to the Leafs fourth overall in last year’s NHL draft. He then tore it up in the Ontario Hockey League — being named the top Junior player in North America and MVP of the Memorial Cup tournament. London won the Cup last Sunday in overtime against Quebec champion Rouyn–Noranda. Marner had an astonishing 16 goals and 44 points in 18 playoff matches this spring.

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MITCH MARNER (LEFT) AND CHRISTIAN DVORAK JUBILANTLY HOIST THE MEMORIAL CUP LAST SUNDAY.

The Leafs, barring something totally unforeseen, will take Matthews with the No. 1 selection in this year’s draft, June 24–25 in Buffalo. Toronto will have first pick for only the second time in the history of the universal draft, which began in 1970. General manager Gerry McNamara led off by choosing Saskatoon defenceman Wendel Clark in 1985 at the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre. Clark played left–wing in the NHL and scored 260 goals in 608 regular–season games with the Blue and White.

LEAFS NEW UNIFORMS

The Maple Leafs will unveil their new primary jerseys at the NHL draft in Buffalo. Nothing has leaked with respect to a design that incorporates the club’s modified logo. I asked my computer–wizard son, Shane, to comprise what he’d like to see in the new uniform. And, it’s obvious he is hoping for minimal alteration:

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TOM AND KURT

Tom Lysiak and Kurt Walker were strange bedfellows.

One was a high–scoring center with the Atlanta Flames; the other, a comparative grunt with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their careers in the NHL overlapped between 1975–76 and 1977–78, when Walker played 71 games for the Blue and White; his fists accounting for the majority of 152 penalty minutes. Walker scored four NHL goals; Lysiak, 292. Walker registered nine NHL points; Lysiak, 843. Essentially, polar opposites on the ice. After their careers, however, they settled in Atlanta and became the closest of friends.

Lysiak was only 63 when he succumbed to Leukemia on Monday. Walker, who I remember rooting for at Maple Leaf Gardens in my late–teens, has been busy helping to arrange his buddy’s funeral. Kurt and I stay in touch on Facebook. He has a page entitled Dignity After Hockey… on which he often updated Lysiak’s condition over the past couple of years. I asked Kurt to send me a few paragraphs about his late pal:

As you know, Tommy was my best friend for the past 10 years, even though we played against each other during the 70’s. He was an incredible man and will be missed by so many. I learned a lot from Tom. He was an accomplished carpenter and actually had a contracting business for a short time after he retired from hockey. He was very successful until he had a falling out with his partner.

Tommy was, as he called himself, a “stubborn Polak” who could fish, hunt, cook, and make or fix anything. I remember one time in my garage I had a number of deer antlers, which the animal sheds each year. Tom wondered if he could borrow them and I asked him why. He said, “I’m going to make lamps out of them.” I asked if he would make one for me. Well, about two weeks later, he presented me the coolest deer–antler lamp you’ll ever see. It was amazing. Quite honestly, he could have sold the lamps he made for hundreds of dollars; they were of such quality.

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THE TOM LYSIAK DEER–ANTLER LAMP IN KURT WALKER’S ATLANTA GARAGE.

Another time, we were on Cumberland Island, where John F. Kennedy Jr. got married. The island was founded by the Carnegie family. They built incredible mansions and still have a hotel there which caters to the rich and famous. Tom and I were on the island to hunt wild boar. Cumberland is the largest breeding–ground for sea turtles. The wild boar destroy the nests. So, to control them, they have four hunts a year. To get from camp to the hunting area, we rode bikes in the very early morning while it was still dark. We traveled down a sandy road with lights in our helmets.

On this particular morning, I somehow lost Tommy. I guess I was traveling too fast. As I arrived at the [hunting] spot and got off my bike, I turned around and saw this light coming down the road. It started to go left; then right; then up; then down, until the light hit the ground. When Tom finally arrived, I asked him what happened. “Didn’t you see?” he replied. “A boar ran me over. I was pedaling along. In the bushes, beside me, I could hear a couple of pigs grunting. Next thing I knew, they were running me over. Came right out of the bush and knocked me off my bike.”

I looked at Tommy. He was all disheveled and dirty. We laughed about that incident for a long time. But, it was on that trip that Tom started feeling tired and had a hard time walking distances. By the end of the trip, he said he knew something was wrong. Sadly, that was the beginning of his Leukemia.

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TOM LYSIAK WHILE PLAYING FOR THE ATLANTA FLAMES IN THE 1970’s. TOM (WEARING YELLOW JACKET) AND HIS BEST PAL — EX–LEAF KURT WALKER — AFTER A SUCCESSFUL DAY OF FISHING.

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KURT AS A YOUNG MAPLE LEAF IN THE 1970’s.

OLDEST HOCKEY PROGRAM

A coveted part of my hockey collection is roughly 60 programs that date from the second year of Maple Leaf Gardens (1932–33) to the 1963–64 NHL season. These items (93/4 x 63/4“) were smaller than those published later in the 60’s (11 x 8”) but were replete with stories, bios and sketches of the Leafs top players. Advertisements reflected images and prices from each era. This particular program (below) is the oldest in my collection — from a 2–1 Toronto victory over the New York Rangers on Feb. 11, 1933. For an 83–year–old item, it is still in remarkably–good condition. To preserve such, I had these magazines — in the late–80’s — bound into book–form. Virtually all of them would be classified as “mint” by an appraiser of memorabilia.

Avid Leaf fans and historians will recognize the legendary names profiled in this magazine.

For perspective in February 1933:

* Johnny Bower was eight years old.
* R.B. Bennett was the 11th prime minister of Canada.
* Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States, and one month from handing office to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would nurse the country (for 12 years) through World War II.
* Maple Leaf Gardens was 15 months old.
* The NHL consisted of nine teams: the Leafs, Rangers, Montreal Maroons, Montreal Canadiens, New York Americans, the original Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Black Hawks.
* Don Cherry would be born the following February (1934).
Gordie Howe was still four years old; Maurice Richard, 11.
* My Uncle Moe, today nearing his 105th birthday, was a spry 21.
Leafs were the defending Stanley Cup champion; the Rangers would prevail in ’33.

Some of the contents from an item published more than eight decades ago:

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EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

3 comments on “Leafs Could Be Halfway Home

  1. Really love the 1933 program. Just had a quick glance, but I’ll find some time to read it. What a time capsule that is. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Howard,
    Just a quick note to say thank you for taking the time to write the story about Tommy and me. It was a great tribute to Tommy and it gave a little insight into who Tommy really was and how he was more than just a hockey player, a loving husband, father, grandfather. And one of the most talented guy’s in all he did.
    Thank you for sharing that.
    Your Friend,
    Kurt

    1. Sorry for your loss, and my condolences to all family and friends. Tom Lysiak put Atlanta on the map when it came to hockey, as far as I’m concerned. He was a dynamic player with the puck on this stick.

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