TORONTO (Aug. 6) — There’s nothing like a phone message from Don Cherry in the wee hours to get a guy’s arse out of bed. I had nodded off early last night and vaguely remember my Samsung coming to life. Which, in my delightful haze, I ignored. When Mom Nature knocked a bit later, as she often does while the birds aren’t chirping, I retrieved a friendly admonition from the former Boston Bruins coach and Hockey Night In Canada icon: “Hey Howard, Donald S. Cherry here. Enjoying your [blog]… Luba (Don’s wife) gets the email every day. Just want to say you should write something about my buddy, [Frederik] Andersen. Remember the last [blog]? You said ‘let’s wait and see how he does (in Game 2 against Columbus).’ Well, he did pretty good. Talk to you soon. Have a good night. Too–da–loo.” The old coach doesn’t waste words on the blower.
It was after 3 a.m. and I sat, bleary eyed, before my desktop. True, Frederik Andersen has allowed just one goal in the best–of–five series — though a third–period lob any of our grandparents could have stopped that proved the difference in Game 1. Truth be known, and with the large exception of that flub, he performed better in the opener than while crafting a shutout in Game 2; his teammates helping to reduce the Columbus shot total from 35 to 20. I have warned, for many obvious reasons, against comparing this stand–alone, made–for–TV competition against all other Stanley Cup tournaments. Andersen provides once–such reason: he enters the playoffs, for the first time as a Leaf, without being fried like an egg. Not having the benefit of a reliable No. 2 stopper, Mike Babcock overused Andersen in three consecutive seasons, sending him out 66, 66 and 60 times in the 82–game regular schedule. Though he offered moments of splendor in the trio of Conference quarterfinals, Toronto lost all three… and ol’ Freddy was completely gassed for the decisive matches at TD Garden in 2018 and 2019, performing abysmally in each blowout by the Bruins.
The nearly five–month hiatus during the COVID–19 pandemic has eliminated the fatigue factor with Andersen. Whether or not it has curtailed his propensity to allow soft, untimely goals remains to be seen.
Friday night will mark the first of two potential elimination games in the Leafs–Blue Jackets round. If it’s Toronto staring at the grim reaper in Game 4, there will be no margin for error. That these 81–point clubs are locked in a tight, sparring match is hardly a coincidence. Columbus played with more urgency in Game 1; the Leafs in Game 2. Neither was that a coincidence given the brevity of this qualifying series. No team can reasonably afford to fall behind, 2–0, in a best–of–five. Had Andersen blocked the routine shot by Cam Atkinson in the opener, as he should have, perhaps Columbus would be facing elimination tonight (8 p.m., Sportsnet, NBCSN). Instead, the clubs now engage in a best–of–three, with John Tortorella holding the last line–change in Games 3 and 4. Accordingly, that soft goal looms as a monster for the Blue and White.
BURKE STILL UNDER–USED: Nothing changed with the intermissions on Sportsnet and Hockey Night In Canada during the pandemic pause. Ron MacLean is still driving the bus on the most–watched telecasts — those involving the Maple Leafs — with Elliotte Friedman, Chris Johnston, Kelly Hrudey and others providing solid insight. For entertainment value, Brian Burke appears over roughly 90 seconds while answering a topical question from host David Amber. Not surprisingly, it is the best 1½ minutes of the between–periods interval, as Burke offers his usual unvarnished and educated opinions. Why the tall foreheads at Rogers do not set aside more air–time for Burke is a mystery. Perhaps after finding a lame excuse to fire Don Cherry last November, the execs are aiming for a family friendly intermission. Who knows? All we do know is that the most–intriguing, candid and, yes, polarizing figure gets minimal exposure. And, that’s a shame.
MY HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS PHOTOS
During my teenage years in the late–1970’s, I hauled around an old Pentax camera to hockey and football games. This was long before the digital age, at a time when images were “developed” from strips of negatives. By replacing the normal light with a dull, yellow version, I was able to set up a “dark room” in the laundry room of my parents’ home in North York. With the use of an “enlarger” and various liquid chemicals, the photos I snapped at Maple Leaf Gardens, and elsewhere, came to life. Here are a few examples:
MAR. 11, 1978: LEAFS CAPTAIN DARRYL SITTLER FACES OFF AT CENTER–ICE IN THE GARDENS WITH DENNIS MARUK OF THE CLEVELAND BARONS. ORIGINALLY THE CALIFORNIA SEALS — JOINING THE NHL IN THE GREAT EXPANSION OF 1967–68 — THE BARONS PLAYED ONLY TWO SEASONS (1976–77 AND 1977–78) IN THE VILLAGE OF RICHFIELD, OHIO, SOUTH OF CLEVELAND. MARUK WAS THEIR BIGGEST STAR. THE BARONS MERGED ROSTERS WITH THE OLD MINNESOTA NORTH STARS IN 1978–79.
FEB. 2, 1977: JIM RUTHERFORD IS, TODAY, THE HALL–OF–FAME GENERAL MANAGER OF THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, OWNING THREE STANLEY CUPS (THE FIRST, IN 2006, WITH CAROLINA). ON THIS NIGHT IN EARLY 1977, HOWEVER, JIMMY (TOP–LEFT) HAD NO IDEA OF THE CARNAGE THAT AWAITED HIS TEAM AT THE GARDENS. SHARING THE GOALTENDING MISERY WITH ED GIACOMIN, JIM AND THE DETROIT RED WINGS WERE BOMBED BY THE LEAFS, 9–1, AS TORONTO DEFENSEMAN IAN TURNBULL SCORED FIVE GOALS — STILL A SINGLE–GAME RECORD FOR A DEFENSEMAN IN THE NHL.
OCT. 10, 1977: TORONTO FOOTBALL FANS OF VINTAGE WILL NEVER FORGET THE FUMBLE BY RUNNING BACK LEON McQUAY THAT COST THE ARGONAUTS A CHANCE TO AT LEAST TIE THE 1971 GREY CUP GAME IN VANCOUVER. INSTEAD, THE CALGARY STAMPEDERS HELD ON FOR A 14–11 VICTORY. AFTER BOUNCING AROUND THE NFL, McQUAY RETURNED TO THE ARGOS IN 1977 UNDER COACH LEO CAHILL, WHO ALSO CAME BACK TO THE TEAM THAT YEAR. ON THANKSGIVING DAY, AT OLD IVOR WYNNE STADIUM IN HAMILTON, McQUAY (23, TOP–LEFT) AND THE ARGOS HUMILIATED THE TIGER–CATS, 43–2.
NOV. 28, 1976: IT WAS THE FIRST GREY CUP GAME PLAYED AT THE ENLARGED EXHIBITION STADIUM HERE IN TOWN — THE OTTAWA ROUGH RIDERS vs. THE SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS. SITTING IN THE WEST END–ZONE SEATS (THOSE DOWN THE THIRD–BASE LINE ONCE THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS ARRIVED JUST MORE THAN FOUR MONTHS LATER), I SNAPPED THIS PHOTO DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. MY GOD, WAS IT COLD THAT DAY. DAD AND I MOVED TO SEATS UNDER THE GRANDSTAND FOR THE SECOND HALF AND HAD A GREAT VIEW, TO OUR LEFT, WHEN OTTAWA QUARTERBACK TOM CLEMENTS HIT TIGHT–END TONY GABRIEL WITH THE GAME–WINNING TOUCHDOWN PASS IN THE FINAL MINUTE. THE EASTERN ‘RIDERS PREVAILED, 23–20, BEFORE A SELL–OUT THRONG OF 54,467.
OCT. 19, 1976: FROM ICE–LEVEL, BEHIND THE SOUTHWEST–CORNER GLASS, I CAPTURED THIS PHOTO OF BORJE SALMING (TODAY, 69) LINING UP FOR A FACE OFF, WITH FORWARD SCOTT GARLAND (25) BEHIND HIM. THE LEAFS AND L.A. KINGS PLAYED TO A 4–4 TIE, BUT TORONTO LOST HIGH–SCORING WINGER ERROL THOMPSON WITH A BROKEN WRIST, WHICH DERAILED THE CLUB’S MOMENTUM. GARLAND PLAYED 85 GAMES FOR THE LEAFS (1975–77), SCORING 13 GOALS. HE DIED, TRAGICALLY, AT 27 ON JUNE 9, 1979 WHEN HIS CAR BLEW A TIRE AND SLAMMED INTO A WALL IN MONTREAL.
FEB. 26, 1977 (TOP–LEFT): THE OUT–OF–TOWN SCORES AT THE GARDENS (WITH COLOR LOGOS) WERE MOUNTED ON THE FACING OF THE NORTH AND SOUTH–MEZZANINE BLUES. ON THIS NIGHT, WHILE BUFFALO DEFEATED THE LEAFS, 6–5, LOS ANGELES EDGED THE RED WINGS, 4–3, AT THE DETROIT OLYMPIA. AND, THE CANADIENS BEAT CLEVELAND, 5–3, AT THE MONTREAL FORUM. NOV. 16, 1977 (TOP–RIGHT): WHILE THE LEAFS KNOCKED OFF WASHINGTON, 5–3, AT THE GARDENS, THE ST. LOUIS BLUES GOT DESTROYED, 9–1, IN DETROIT. THE TWO WHITE DOTS SIGNALED A FINAL SCORE.
FEB. 11, 1977 (LEFT): FORWARD WAYNE DILLON OF NEW YORK, IN THE ROAD–BLUE JERSEY THE RANGERS WORE FOR TWO SEASONS (1976–77 AND 1977–78) BEFORE SWITCHING BACK TO THE TRADITIONAL DESIGN WITH “RANGERS” SPLASHED DIAGONALLY ACROSS THE FRONT. NOW 65, DILLON BEGAN HIS PRO CAREER AS A TEENAGER WITH THE TORONTO TOROS OF THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION. THE LEAFS BEAT THE RANGERS, 3–2, THAT NIGHT. OCT. 16, 1976 (RIGHT): RICK MacLEISH OF THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS, AMONG THE ELITE FORWARDS IN THE NHL FROM 1972–81 (SEASONS OF 50, 48, 45 AND 41 GOALS). MacLEISH SCORED THE ONLY GOAL THE DAY THE FLYERS WON THEIR FIRST STANLEY CUP — MAY 19, 1974 — OVER BOSTON AT THE PHILADELPHIA SPECTRUM. RICK DIED AT 66 ON MAY 30, 2016 WHILE BEING TREATED FOR MENINGITIS, KIDNEY AND LIVER FAILURE. ON THE NIGHT THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN, THE MAPLE LEAFS AND FLYERS PLAYED TO A 5–5 DRAW.