TORONTO (Aug. 17) — He remains, more than 40 years after his National Hockey League prime, one of the most–popular figures in modern Toronto Maple Leafs history. As a player in the late–1970’s, he embodied exactly what the current Leafs are missing — swagger and determination when it matters most.
“You can develop confidence, but a competitive drive and spirit is part of your DNA; either you have it or you don’t,” said Mike Palmateer over the phone today. “It’s wonderful to be skilled… yet it doesn’t matter much without a passionate desire to win. And, it has to flourish in the playoffs. Everything else is just the build–up. If you cannot ‘bring it’ while playing for the Stanley Cup, there isn’t a lot of hope for your team.”
Palmateer, the brash, acrobatic goalie, played on Leaf clubs that weren’t deep enough to challenge for the NHL title. During a lopsided era in which the Montreal Canadiens were easily the best team, winning four consecutive championships under Scotty Bowman between 1975–76 and 1978–79. But, Palmateer is remembered so well for his ability to overcome size with valor. Slightly built at 5–foot–9 and 155 pounds, he had a natural flair for challenging the most–feared shooters in the league. When called up by general manager Jim Gregory to replace the struggling Wayne Thomas for a game at the Detroit Olympia (Oct. 28, 1976), Palmateer famously said, “Mr. Gregory, your goaltending problems are over.” The bigger the occasion, the better he performed — no more of an example than the night of Nov. 17, 1976 at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was only his third week in the NHL and he laid a goose–egg on the hot–shot Habs, 1–0; that Montreal team still holding the record for most points accrued in a regular season, 132 (60–8–12). It marked the only time the Canadiens were shut out in 1976–77, breezing, as they did, to such disproportionate triumphs as 11–0, 10–1 11–3, 9–1, 9–2 and 8–1 (twice) while losing but a single game at home. Yet, Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer and Co. could not fool Palmateer during that mid–November eve.
MIKE PALMATEER WON FOUR STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF SERIES WITH THE LEAFS AND FAMOUSLY BLANKED THE MONTREAL CANADIENS, AT THE GARDENS, IN THE EARLY PART OF HIS CAREER.
In the Stanley Cup tournament of 1978, Palmateer was an increasing burden to the favored New York Islanders, who grabbed a 2–0 lead on home ice in the best–of–seven quarterfinal. Coached by Roger Neilson, the Maple Leafs pummeled the Islanders, physically, and won four of the last five games, eliminating the Isles on Lanny McDonald’s overtime goal in the decisive match at the Nassau Coliseum. Palmateer also backstopped the Maple Leafs to preliminary round triumphs (best–of–three) over Pittsburgh (1977), Los Angeles (1978) and Atlanta (1979). His DNA allowed for numerous clutch performances in the post–season.
“As we all know, the Leafs of today are extremely skilled, but the team needs some grit,” said Palmateer, 66, a scout with the club from 2001–15. “The general manager [Kyle Dubas] adheres to analytics, which call for speed and puck movement. What I’ve seen, however, are guys putting on the brakes rather than paying the price. Spinning away from contact and the so–called ‘dirty’ areas of the ice. You can’t win like that in the playoffs, no way. If you aren’t willing to fight for the puck; to control it along the boards and in the corners, you won’t succeed. That part of the game hasn’t changed since I played. [Zach] Hyman is the only Toronto forward that sacrifices himself. As a group, the Maple Leafs do not have enough burning desire to win.”
While viewing his current–day number in net, Palmateer sees lots of ability in Frederik Andersen, but an intangible that is missing. “Most of the time, there’s a fine line between making a save and allowing a goal,” Palmateer explains. “I look at Andersen and see, obviously, size that I didn’t have and sound positioning. Yet, there’s a competitive instinct that fails him at the worst time. I always felt you had to be unafraid in the playoffs. It’s the biggest time of the season… and the best time to get a little cocky; to be a bit full of yourself. If you’re hesitant, or worried about making a mistake, you’re gonna allow a soft, untimely goal. Andersen, for whatever reason, does it too often. That really hasn’t changed during his time with the Maple Leafs.”
As for attributes of the Blue and White, Palmateer says “they have two of the best players in the NHL — [Auston] Matthews and [Morgan] Rielly. Guys you can build a team around. That Matthews is a monster. He can skate like the wind and shoot as well as anyone in the league. Rielly isn’t much different than what we had in the 70’s with [Borje] Salming and [Ian] Turnbull. But, the Leafs aren’t balanced or gritty enough to win during the playoffs. That has to change or the results will be the same every year.”
MY VINTAGE HOCKEY JERSEYS — Part 1
I need hangers. And, some extra closets. For the better part of 15 years, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I amassed a large collection of vintage NHL uniforms. Purchasing most of them on–line. Today, they are neatly folded in green garbage bags; situated in a condominium locker. I went through the jerseys this week. And, I’d like to share them with you:
IN MY VIEW, THE GREATEST NHL LOGO EVER — LOS ANGELES KINGS: 1967 to 1988.
LEFT: JERSEY WORN BY THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS THE LAST TIME THEY WON THE STANLEY CUP (MAY 2, 1967). RIGHT: ROAD JERSEY OF THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS IN THEIR EXPANSION SEASON, 1967–68.
ROAD AND HOME JERSEYS WORN BY BOBBY ORR, PHIL ESPOSITO AND THE BOSTON BRUINS WHEN THEY WON THE STANLEY CUP IN 1969–70 ON ORR’s FAMOUS OVERTIME GOAL AGAINST ST. LOUIS.
JERSEY AND CREST WORN BY THE BOSTON BRUINS FOR THE BRIDGESTONE WINTER CLASSIC ON JAN. 1, 2010. MARCO STURM’s GOAL AT 1:57 OF OVERTIME LIFTED THE HOME SIDE TO A 2–1 WIN OVER THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS BEFORE 38,112 ON–LOOKERS AT FENWAY PARK.
LEFT: HOME JERSEY WORN BY THE ATLANTA FLAMES DURING THEIR EIGHT SEASONS (1972–73 to 1979–80) PLAYING OUT OF THE OMNI AND BEFORE RE–LOCATING TO CALGARY. RIGHT: ROAD JERSEY OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS (WHEN OWNED BY CHARLES O. FINLEY) FROM 1970–71 to 1973–74.
LEFT: ARGUABLY MY FAVORITE NHL JERSEY OF ALL TIME — ROAD VERSION WORN BY THE PHOENIX (NOW ARIZONA) COYOTES FROM 1996–97 to 2002–03 AFTER THE FRANCHISE RE–LOCATED FROM WINNIPEG. RIGHT: HOME JERSEY OF THE COYOTES BETWEEN 2003–04 and 2014–15.
LEFT: THE “FORUM BLUE” JERSEY WORN BY THE LOS ANGELES KINGS AT HOME (1967–68 to 1969–70), THEN ON THE ROAD (1970–71 to 1979–80). RIGHT: JERSEY WORN BY THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS FOR THE FIRST BRIDGESTONE WINTER CLASSIC (JAN. 1, 2008) DURING HEAVY SNOW AT RALPH WILSON STADIUM IN BUFFALO. SIDNEY CROSBY WON THE MATCH OVER THE SABRES, 2–1, IN A SHOOTOUT.
LEFT: ROAD JERSEY OF THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS FOR THREE SEASONS BEGINNING IN 1975–76. RIGHT: THE ORIGINAL ROAD UNIFORM WORN BY THE MIGHTY DUCKS OF ANAHEIM IN 1993–94.
WAYNE GRETZKY, BRETT HULL, GRANT FUHR AND AL MacINNINS WERE HALL–OF–FAMERS THAT WORE THIS ROAD JERSEY OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES FOR PARTS OF THREE SEASONS BEGINNING IN 1995–96.