Reverse–Jersey Rage

TORONTO (Nov. 18) — For a long–time fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is nothing more gloomy than a reminder of the Harold Ballard era. Particularly the “lost decade” of the 1980’s, when the team flopped and fizzled beneath a penny pinching, meddlesome owner. Perhaps that is why such indignation followed the unveiling, on Monday, of the Maple Leafs retro–reverse jersey for next season (whenever play resumes in the National Hockey League). As I mentioned in a Tweet on Nov. 6: “Hearing, though not confirming, that the adidas Leafs retro–reverse jersey will have elements of the design worn between 1970 and 1992.”

It was therefore unsurprising when the alternate item mirrored the road–blue uniform of the Maple Leafs throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Ballard’s ownership tenure, with white shoulder–piping the full length of the sleeve and a club logo–patch on the shoulder. The one modification is the front logo: a replica (blue, outlined in white) of that worn by the club from the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs to the end of the 1969–70 season.    


As expected, a discussion about the retro jersey quickly ensued on One comment encapsulated the general reaction of Toronto hockey fans. A user named BARILKO05 wrote: “I lived through the Ballard era and those clown uniforms. And, even though my childhood Leaf heroes (Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams, Mike Palmateer) wore them, [the jersey] still reminds me of the failure of that era.” The captain’s ‘C’ beneath the left shoulder is grey, outlined in white. Said NOOODLES: “The Maple Leafs are blue and white, not blue and grey. At least I won’t be buying [this] jersey.” Offered ALSECORD: “The Maple Leafs rarely disappoint with their jerseys. This is bad.” User KROG held back nothing: “That logo is a joke. It’s rather impressive that they managed to f*** it up, given how simple our design and color scheme is. Probably the worst jersey we’ve ever had.” QUADRUPLEDION wrote: “Woof. Close, but no cigar. Make that logo white and smaller. Not rocket science, folks.” Opined ROBBROWN: “I was prepared to order one as soon as possible, but no longer. Our [primary] home/away set is probably Top 5 in the league and the St. Pats jerseys are great. But, these are just bad. Highly doubt you’ll see many at the arena when fans are back in the building.” A strong reaction came from DEATHFROMABOVE1979: “Hideous. Especially compared to many of the other [retro] jerseys, which are beautiful.” THEPODIUM delivered a single word: “Awful.”

There was a similar tone on my Twitter feed, with such comments as:

[The jersey] is as bad as the team was between 1970 and 1992.
A disgrace to the team’s heritage.
Hard no! Probably the worst Leafs jersey ever.
That looks like sh**. Give me the actual jersey that Darry, Lanny, Tiger and Wendel wore.
Horrible period [of franchise history] to revive. Will they have the blue–on–blue names, too?

The latter remark made me chuckle — a reference to Ballard ignoring the NHL edict (in 1977–78) to sew player names on the back of jerseys, claiming it would hamper program sales at Maple Leaf Gardens. After repeated warnings from NHL president John Zeigler, Ballard pulled a legendary stunt. For a road game at Chicago Stadium on Feb. 26, 1978, he had trainers affix blue player names to the back of the blue jersey, rendering them imperceptible. “There they are; can’t you see them?” he cackled in mock delight. Apparently satisfied that his prank generated wide publicity, Ballard capitulated and conformed to the NHL bylaw.

My opinion of the Leafs reverse–retro design: It isn’t as horrible as some fans allege but, yes, it could be better. The 1967–70 logo may have appeared more handsome on, say, a white replica of the road jersey worn against Chicago and Montreal in the 1967 Stanley Cup run (as below); then for the next three NHL seasons. Otherwise, as with everything Leafs, the 2020–21 reverse–retro edition will probably catch on.


50 Years Ago Tonight — Maple Leaf Gardens

It was the first embarrassment of the new decade for the Maple Leafs. Nov. 18, 1970. Fifty years ago tonight. When the expansion Buffalo Sabres, making their inaugural appearance at Maple Leaf Gardens, nudged the Leafs into last place in the 14–team NHL with a 7–2 trouncing. And… with former Leafs coach George (Punch) Imlach standing behind the Buffalo bench, having received a long, standing ovation upon his appearance from the visitors’ dressing room. The Leafs, under Imlach, had been humiliated in the 1969 Stanley Cup quarterfinals by the Boston Bruins, losing the first two games, at Boston Garden, 10–0 and 7–0, en route to a four–game sweep. Moments after the final match, at the Gardens, Leafs owner Stafford Smythe fired Imlach, ending a decade–long term that yielded the club’s last championship dynasty (1962–63–64–67). When Buffalo was awarded an expansion franchise on Dec. 2, 1969, it followed by hiring Imlach as general manager and coach. The former Leafs boss warned Smythe that he would “get even” for letting him go.

And, “get even” Imlach did, 50 years ago tonight. 


The Sabres came into their first Gardens visit (program–insert, above) tied with the Leafs in the NHL basement, each club with eight points; Toronto having played one fewer game. For all appearances, however, the Leafs were up against the defending NHL champion. Buffalo romped to a five–goal victory, sending Imlach into euphoria. Another sting was provided by Gerry Meehan, who had grown up in the Toronto Junior system and played 25 games with the Leafs in 1968–69. Meehan had two goals and two assists to lead the Sabres in the 7–2 romp. Toronto actually opened the scoring: Garry Monahan beating Roger Crozier at 7:11 of the first period. But, Donnie Marshall tied the match on the powerplay just more than three minutes later. Meehan and Mike Walton of the Leafs traded goals early in the middle frame. But, it was all Buffalo from that point on. Larry Keenan scored twice for a 4–2 Sabres lead going into the third. Meehan, Steve Atkinson and Paul Andrea then added to the lead in the final period. Bruce Gamble endured the embarrassment in goal for the Leafs; Gamble had been Imlach’s No. 1 netminder with Toronto in 1967–68 and 1968–69. Crozier, the former Detroit goalie, was the game star, stopping 44 of 46 Leaf shots.

John Ashley officiated the match with linesmen George Ashley and Ron Ego.

George Gross of the old Toronto Telegram penned an article about Imlach in the program, below.

From the program line–ups, above and below: The expansion Sabres were immediately led by future Hall–of–Famer Gilbert Perreault (11), chosen first by the club in the 1970 NHL draft. Floyd Smith (17) had played for the Leafs the previous three years and went to Buffalo in the expansion draft. He was the Sabres’ first captain and would be GM of the Leafs from 1989–91. Phil Goyette (10), Don Marshall (22) and Jean–Guy Talbot (24) had played for Montreal when the Canadiens won a record five consecutive Stanley Cup titles (1956–60). For the Leafs, defenseman Bob Baun had rejoined the club five days earlier (Nov. 13, 1970) in a trade with St. Louis for Brit Selby. Baun had played on all four Stanley Cup teams under Imlach in the 60’s.

As mentioned, the 7–2 Buffalo win shoved the Leafs into last place in the 14–team NHL.


He may be 67 years old with seven grandchildren, but the mere image of Lanny McDonald rekindles memory of one of the Toronto Maple Leafs all–time most–popular players. As right winger on a line centered by his best friend, Darryl Sittler, Lanny enjoyed seasons of 37, 46, 47 and 43 goals between 1975–76 and 1978–79. He is, today, Chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame and he explained to James Duthie, in these TSN images on Monday night, why it was important to postpone the 2020 induction ceremony to next year because of the COVID–19 pandemic. Rather than naming a Class of 2021, the Hall will honor the current inductees, which include NHL stars Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson; Canadian women’s icon Kim St. Pierre and Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland, in the Builder’s category, for his work with the Detroit Red Wings: Stanley Cup champion in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.


2 comments on “Reverse–Jersey Rage

  1. Looking at the Leafs roster that night, there were some of the biggest names in the team’s history, not a bunch of no name newbies. We’re they really that bad, too old, or just refusing to play for Ballard— who didn’t care less?

  2. Any chance they go LA chargers and pull the plug due to the level of disgust with the jersey?

    I’m sure hoping so. It’s an abomination. And I won’t buy it, I also have little interest to look at it.

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