TORONTO (Nov. 29) — In a year when the Chicago Cubs win a baseball title; a 15–1 team loses the Super Bowl; a 73–9 basketball team blows a 3–1 Finals lead and is defeated at home in Game 7 and an 8–9–1 pretender conquers a 15–2–1 juggernaut in the Grey Cup, anything in professional sport is conceivable.
As such, in what realm does Toronto’s woebegone National Hockey League club fit the model? If you’re thinking “no realm”, you could be right. On the other hand, strange stuff is happening in baseball, basketball and football. So, why not on the ice? And, what could be more strange than the Maple Leafs occupying the Air Canada Centre in April and May? Perhaps even in June? As you read this, you might be wondering if I’m a glue–sniffer. Or a victim of early dementia. I can say “no” to the former and “please no” to the latter.
And, I still contend there may not be a limit to the Blue and White in 2016–17.
You see, this team doesn’t know any better. It is too young, collectively, to understand that enormous strides cannot be made one season after finishing dead–last in the overall standings. It performs most effectively while unconscious. Heck, it might even think that Carey Price can be beaten four times in a seven–game playoff series. What Mike Babcock has to be hoping — beyond all else — is that his flock of newbies doesn’t “wake up”. Smelling the roses might be fatal. Remaining incognizant could lead to unimaginable heights.
TYLER BOZAK AND MITCH MARNER. NOT A FREAKIN’ CLUE.
It is a wonderful time, honestly, to be skilled in the NHL. And, dopey. A crystal–meth haze — sans drug — is perfect ethos for the young and nubile. For 19 and 20–year–old hockey phenoms that do things without knowing how. Mitch Marner, of course, is the current poster–child here in town. Out to lunch beyond measure. Without a clue as to how he dips and doodles opponents to distraction. So utterly mindless that he could become the first Toronto chattel in 51 years to snatch the Calder Trophy. Shhhh. Leave him alone.
How about young William Nylander? Nowhere to be found at home on a sleepy Tuesday against Carolina. Yet, twice monstrous under the Saturday glare of the Bell Centre. And, it won’t be the Hurricanes providing opposition in Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. Young Willie needs a challenge. He responds to a challenge. So, why not dream a little? Then there’s Auston Matthews. How feeble–minded must one be to score four goals in his first NHL night? Perhaps so imbecilic that he could do it in Game 7 of a playoff series?
No reason to think otherwise.
After all, these are not the Maple Leafs of logic. That team hasn’t done poop in nearly half–a–century. This club doesn’t know whether to sh– or shine its loafers. It is so delightfully doltish that anything is possible.
I’m talking Chicago Cubs–possible.
50 YEARS LATER — IN VANCOUVER
This Saturday provides me a remarkable calendar coincidence.
It will be 50 years — precisely — to the night that I attended my first NHL game. Dec. 3, 1966. Detroit at Toronto. Gordie Howe and Paul Henderson against Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich. Exactly two months before my eighth birthday. That the 50th anniversary of the occasion also falls on a Saturday is remarkable. So remarkable that I’m flying to Vancouver to watch the Leafs and Canucks at Rogers Arena (I’m also meeting with a literary agent and visiting some friends). Chris Brumwell, the Canucks’ V–P of communications and a friend from my years covering the Maple Leafs (home and away) for The FAN–590, has been nice enough to accommodate me among “legitimate” media. Many of whom I look forward to catching up with.
CBC/HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA IMAGES FROM MY FIRST NHL GAME: DETROIT AT TORONTO, MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, SATURDAY, DEC. 3, 1966. TERRY SAWCHUK (30) PLAYED GOAL FOR THE HOME SIDE. YOUNG PETER MAHOVLICH (11) WAS ANXIOUS TO TAKE A FACE–OFF AT CENTER–ICE FOR THE RED WINGS.
CLASSIC PHOTOS — Part 1
As a further tribute to the late hockey author, Mike Leonetti, whose collection of Harold Barkley (1920–2003) photographs generated an array of spectacular, coffee–table books, I present Part 1 of the many unique images from Barkley’s camera. His strobe–photography of NHL games in the 1960’s established new ground for color reproduction. They will forever live on — in his name and Mike’s name.
FROM 1961–62: FRANK MAHOVLICH OF THE LEAFS SCORES ON GLENN HALL AT CHICAGO STADIUM. DEFENSEMAN ELMER VASKO LOOKS ON WHILE BILLY HARRIS CIRCLES BEHIND THE NET. LATER THAT YEAR, THE LEAFS WOULD BEAT CHICAGO TO WIN THEIR FIRST OF THREE CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUPS.
FROM 1966–67: TORONTO CAPTAIN GEORGE ARMSTRONG ATTEMPTS TO HOOK FORMER TEAMMATE DICK DUFF OF MONTREAL, AS DEFENSEMAN TERRY HARPER (19) INTERVENES. DUFF PLAYED ON THE 1962 / 1963 STANLEY CUP TEAMS BEFORE THE MAPLE LEAFS TRADED HIM TO NEW YORK. THE CANADIENS THEN ACQUIRED DUFF FROM THE RANGERS (FOR BILL HICKE) ON DEC. 22, 1964.
FROM 1962–63: VIC STASIUK OF DETROIT IS GRABBED BY CHICAGO’S ERIC NESTERENKO IN BACK OF GOALIE TERRY SAWCHUK. STASIUK PLAYED IN THE NHL FROM 1950–63.
FROM 1961–62: DEFENSEMAN PAT STAPLETON, WEARING NO. 4 FOR BOSTON, ONE–HALF DECADE PRIOR TO BOBBY ORR’S ARRIVAL. HERE, HE IS FORE–CHECKED BY SECOND–YEAR LEAF, DAVE KEON. STAPLETON IS BEST–REMEMBERED FOR HIS EIGHT–SEASON TERM (1965–66 TO 1972–73) IN CHICAGO.
FROM 1963–64: ORLAND KURTENBACH WORE NO. 7 FOR THE BRUINS FOUR YEARS PRIOR TO PHIL ESPOSITO ARRIVING IN A TRADE FROM CHICAGO. HERE, HE BATTLES WITH EDDIE SHACK. KURTENBACH AND SHACK WOULD BE TEAMMATES IN TORONTO FOR ONE SEASON — 1965–66.
FROM 1967–68: FRANK MAHOVLICH (27) RACES FOR THE PUCK WITH DOUG ROBERTS OF DETROIT AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. DUANE RUPP IS UPPER–RIGHT CORNER. MAHOVLICH WOULD BE DEALT TO THE RED WINGS LATER THAT SEASON (MAR. 3, 1968) IN ONE OF THE BIGGEST–EVER LEAF TRADES.
LEFT — FROM 1967–68: AB McDONALD OF THE EXPANSION PITTSBURGH PENGUINS IS WATCHED BY LEAFS DEFENSEMAN LARRY HILLMAN. RIGHT — FROM 1964–65: GORDIE HOWE TRIES TO STICK–CHECK DEFENSEMAN JACQUES LAPERRIERE OF THE CANADIENS AT THE DETROIT OLYMPIA. LAPERRIERE HAD WON THE CALDER TROPHY AS NHL ROOKIE–OF–THE–YEAR THE SEASON BEFORE.
FROM 1963–64: DEAN PRENTICE OF THE BOSTON BRUINS CHASES VETERAN DEFENSEMAN MARCEL PRONOVOST OF DETROIT. THEY PLAYED A COMBINED 2,584 REGULAR SEASON GAMES IN THE NHL.
FROM OCT. 20, 1965: IN THE NHL’s 19th ALL–STAR GAME — PLAYED AT THE MONTREAL FORUM — NORM ULLMAN (OF DETROIT) LOOKS FOR THE PUCK IN FRONT OF GOALIE GUMP WORSLEY. HABS’ DEFENSEMEN J.C. TREMBLAY (3) AND JACQUES LAPERRIERE APPEAR TO HAVE FOUND IT. ULLMAN SCORED FOR THE ALL STARS, WHO BEAT THE DEFENDING STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS, 5–2.
FROM 1968–69: GEORGE ARMSTRONG OF THE LEAFS CHASES FELLOW CAPTAIN TED HAMPSON OF THE OAKLAND SEALS AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. IT WAS OAKLAND’S SECOND YEAR IN THE NHL.
FROM 1966–67: ROD GILBERT OF THE RANGERS POSITIONS HIMSELF BETWEEN LEAFS GOALIE JOHNNY BOWER AND DEFENSEMAN ALLAN STANLEY AT THE OLD MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN NEW YORK. THE NEW (AND CURRENT) GARDEN WOULD OPEN IN FEBRUARY OF THE FOLLOWING SEASON.
FROM OCTOBER 1965: TORONTO AND DETROIT EACH WEAR PREDOMINANTLY COLORED JERSEYS DURING A PRE–SEASON GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. LEFT — NORM ULLMAN (7) RACES FOR THE PUCK AGAINST FORMER TEAMMATE MARCEL PRONOVOST (TRADED TO THE LEAFS IN MAY 1965). RIGHT — GORDIE HOWE STICKS HIS RUMP INTO OFF–SEASON FISHING PAL JOHNNY BOWER.
FROM 1965–66: RON ELLIS OF THE MAPLE LEAFS KEEPS A CLOSE EYE ON THE PUCK WHILE TIED UP AT THE GARDENS WITH RED WINGS DEFENSEMAN BILL GADSBY. ELLIS, 21, WAS IN HIS SECOND NHL SEASON. IT WOULD BE THE LAST OF 20 NHL SEASONS FOR GADSBY, THEN 38.
FROM 1966–67: LEFT — KENT DOUGLAS, WEARING EYE–BLACK TO COMBAT THE GLARE FROM NEW TV LIGHTS AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, KNOCKS DOWN BOBBY HULL. RIGHT — FRED STANFIELD OF THE BLACK HAWKS CHASES BOB BAUN BEHIND THE GOAL. STANFIELD WENT TO BOSTON IN MAY 1967 AS PART OF THE TERRIBLY LOP–SIDED TRADE THAT LANDED PHIL ESPOSITO WITH THE BRUINS.
FROM 1967–68: PETE STEMKOWSKI OF THE LEAFS IS SURROUNDED BY MEMBERS OF THE EXPANSION PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, INCLUDING ART STRATTON (7), DEFENSEMAN AL MacNEIL AND GOALIE LES BINKLEY. STEMKOWSKI WOULD GO TO DETROIT LATER IN THE SEASON AS PART OF THE FRANK MAHOVLICH TRADE. MacNEIL WOULD RETIRE AND COACH MONTREAL TO THE 1971 STANLEY CUP.
FROM 1966–67: LEFT — EDDIE SHACK IN CONVERSATION WITH MAPLE LEAFS COACH PUNCH IMLACH. RIGHT — RANGERS GOALIE CESARE MANIAGO FOLLOWS THE PUCK DURING A GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. RED KELLY (HELMET) AND WAYNE HILLMAN ARE IN THE BACKGROUND. MANIAGO SUBBED FOR ED GIACOMIN ONLY SIX TIMES IN ’66–67. HE WOULD BE CHOSEN BY MINNESOTA IN THE 1967 EXPANSION DRAFT AND PLAY WITH THE NORTH STARS FOR NINE SEASONS.
FROM 1968–69: BOB PULFORD OF THE MAPLE LEAFS WATCHES THE PUCK APPROACH ROOKIE GOALIE GERRY DESJARDINS OF THE LOS ANGELES KINGS. BILL FLETT (17) CIRCLES IN THE BACKGROUND.
FROM 1968–69: DEFENSEMEN AL ARBOUR OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES AND BILL WHITE OF LOS ANGELES.
FROM 1966–67: MAPLE LEAFS CAPTAIN GEORGE ARMSTRONG CHASES NEW YORK DEFENSEMAN WAYNE HILLMAN AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN WHILE GOALIE ED GIACOMIN FOLLOWS THE PLAY.
FROM 1967–68: YVAN COURNOYER OF MONTREAL EYES THE PUCK AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS WITH TORONTO DEFENSEMAN LARRY HILLMAN (WAYNE’S BROTHER).
LEFT — FROM 1959–60: MAURICE RICHARD TRIES TO OUTDUEL DETROIT’S MARCEL PRONOVOST AT THE OLYMPIA. IT WAS THE ROCKET’S FINAL NHL SEASON. RIGHT — FROM 1957–58: CHICAGO ROOKIE BOBBY HULL, WEARING NO. 16 TO BEGIN HIS CAREER, SKATES AWAY FROM HENRI RICHARD (THE ROCKET’S BROTHER) OF THE CANADIENS. IN 1961–62, HULL SWITCHED TO HIS FAMOUS NO. 9.
FROM 1967–68: BOB PULFORD OF THE LEAFS AND ALEX DELVECCHIO OF THE RED WINGS EYE THE PUCK IN FRONT OF DETROIT ROOKIE (AND HAMILTON JUNIOR) BART CRASHLEY (15).
FROM 1968–69: RARE IMAGE OF TONY ESPOSITO PLAYING GOAL FOR MONTREAL. HERE, HE FACES DAVE KEON OF THE LEAFS WHILE TEAMMATES TED HARRIS (10), J.C. TREMBLAY (3) AND YVAN COURNOYER CLOSE IN. MURRAY OLIVER IS THE OTHER TORONTO FORWARD. ESPOSITO APPEARED IN 13 GAMES WITH THE HABS, WHO ALSO HAD GUMP WORSLEY AND ROGATIEN VACHON. CHICAGO SELECTED ESPOSITO IN THE INTRA–LEAGUE DRAFT (JUNE 11, 1969) AND HE WON THE CALDER TROPHY AS NHL ROOKIE–OF–THE–YEAR IN 1969–70 WITH A LEAGUE RECORD (THAT STILL EXISTS) OF 15 SHUTOUTS.
FROM 1962–63: THE GREAT JEAN BELIVEAU TRIES TO SCORE ON JOHNNY BOWER AT THE MONTREAL FORUM WHILE BEING CHECKED FROM BEHIND BY MAPLE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN TIM HORTON.
LEFT — FROM 1963–64: FLOYD SMITH OF DETROIT BUMPS BERNIE GEOFFRION OF MONTREAL AT THE OLYMPIA. IT WOULD BE GEOFFRION’S FINAL SEASON WITH THE CANADIENS; HE FINISHED HIS BRILLIANT NHL CAREER IN NEW YORK. RIGHT — FROM 1966–67: BOBBY ORR. NHL ROOKIE.