NOTE: After sending this blog, I received word of the sad coincidence that Leonard (Red) Kelly — a key figure on the 1967 Maple Leafs and coach of the club from 1973–77 — passed away today at 91. Such a kind and gentle man. May God bless his soul.
TORONTO (May 2) — Welcome to May Day–plus–1. For the 52nd time.
Yes… May 2, 1967 is seared into the cerebellum of every Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Particularly those, today, using walkers and Polident. Heck, even yours truly — still jaunting without aid and with all but one of my original ivories (a bottom–left molar was extracted in 2000) — remembers sitting at the foot of his parents’ bed, 52 years ago tonight, when George Armstrong lifted the most–recent Stanley Cup in franchise history. Gazing at a black–and–white TV. I was eight; the Chief, nearly 37. And, you know we’re still waiting for a repeat. All these decades later. The other five pre–expansion teams in the National Hockey League (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York Rangers) have raised the bauble at least once. As have teams not–yet in existence on this date in ’67 (Philadelphia, New York Islanders, Edmonton, Calgary, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Colorado, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Washington).
At some point (though God knows when), the planets will re–align for this hockey city. Hang tough.
THE VISUAL EVIDENCE OF 52 YEARS AGO TONIGHT AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. CAPTAIN GEORGE WITH THE MUG. WAIT, THEY HAD COLOR FILM BACK THEN? (“FILM”… GOOGLE IT).
In the Chinese Zodiac, 1967 was the year of the “sheep”. Appropriate, given that fans of the Blue and White are still flocking to games and team–apparel shops in 2019. No wool is thick enough for this legion.
As the late, great Pat Quinn would occasionally exclaim to reporters: “Baaaaa–aaaaa–aahh!”
Truth be known, however, May 2 proved triumphant for the Maple Leafs well after 1967. Such as 20 years ago tonight, in Philadelphia, during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Toronto club of May 2, 1999 had recently migrated from the Gardens to the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena). It featured Curtis Joseph in his first of four rather–brilliant seasons between the pipes. During a tight, low–scoring series, Cujo was outplaying his opposite number on the Flyers: John Vanbiesbrouck (who Philly signed only after losing out on Joseph in free agency the prior summer). Game 6, at the First Union (later Wachovia; now Wells Fargo) Center, was scoreless late in regulation when referee Terry Gregson nailed John LeClair of the Flyers for elbowing Leafs forward Mike Johnson. I covered the match in my role as Leafs beat–reporter for The FAN–590. Rather than recreating the moment, I offer you the following pages from the diary–book I wrote that season: ON THE ROAD AGAIN — THE TRIUMPHS & FOLLIES OF THE 1999 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS:
SERGEI BEREZIN OF THE MAPLE LEAFS EXULTS AFTER SCORING WITH 59.2 SECONDS LEFT IN REGULATION TIME AT PHILADELPHIA — MAY 2, 1999 — TO ELIMINATE THE FLYERS IN GAME 6.
So, yes, unlike this year, May 2 has been a happy time for fans of the Maple Leafs. That playoff game, two decades ago tonight, ranks among the clearest memories of my 17 seasons covering the Leafs for The FAN–590. How coincidental that the Leafs’ basketball cousin — the Toronto Raptors — engage in a playoff match this evening in the very same arena (Round 2, Game 3 vs. the Philadelphia 76ers).
I suspect the Leafs will again be active on this date. Perhaps as early as next year.
Otherwise, we’ll be commemorating May Day–plus–1… for a 53rd time. Heavy sigh.