TORONTO (May 29) — This will be a sorry–ass memory for hockey fans in the Greater Toronto Area.
Just once in the 104–year history of the Maple Leafs has the club played on the exact date as today: Saturday, May 29. That was back in 1993 — 28 years ago tonight. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals against Wayne Gretzky (the wretch!) and the Los Angeles Kings. If you cannot summon first–hand memory of the occasion, you’ve probably read about it. And, seen the nightmarish video images. No. 99, the Great One, past his prime but still plenty good enough to come home and destroy the fantasy Cup final–in–waiting: Toronto vs. Montreal. Scoring three goals on Felix Potvin; the third — and winning — marker banked in (some say deliberately) off the skate of Leafs defenseman Dave Ellett. It ended, agonizingly, the Gretzky–Doug Gilmour two–week marathon (below).
Though the Maple Leafs would be involved in a playoff game later than May 29 — eliminated by Buffalo in the Cup semifinals on May 31, 1999 — they haven’t yet come as close to competing for the National Hockey League title. In 2002, under Pat Quinn, the club advanced to Game 6 of the semifinals before getting knocked out at the Air Canada Centre by Carolina when Martin Gelinas beat Curtis Joseph in overtime. Other semifinal engagements since 1967 ended in a four–game sweep (by Montreal in 1978)… then in five games (against Vancouver in 1994 and the Sabres in 1999). By eliminating Montreal from the opening playoff round tonight at the Bell Centre, the Maple Leafs could rinse the foul taste of May 29 and play into June for the first time. Otherwise, it’s a franchise–equaling latest date on Monday, when the Habs come back for Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena.
INCREDIBLE STAT: The Leafs enter what could be the penultimate clash of the Montreal series with defenseman Jake Muzzin leading Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews 2–1 in goals scored. Muzzin, for the record, has 66 career tallies in 632 regular–season games with Los Angeles and the Leafs. He connected twice in the Game 5 overtime loss. Matthews would have threatened that goal–total in a full 82–game schedule this season.
One might suggest the Leafs will not eliminate the Habs tonight if their most–prolific marksman remains silent.
ANOTHER INDEPENDENT VOICE GONE…
The media trend spearheaded by Rogers Communications and Bell Canada purchasing 75% of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — thereby consigning TV and radio commentary about the Toronto Maple Leafs to the partisan clutch of branding and team ownership — gained a bit more strength on Friday when veteran columnist Ken Campbell announced he was parting ways with The Hockey News. Campbell was among the dwindling troop of recognizable writers willing to take a stand and offer an opinion. With his departure from the hockey weekly, founded in 1947, readers have lost yet another credible, independent voice. And, that’s truly a shame.
Campbell covered the Leafs for the Toronto Star during a brief period (early–2000’s) in which Canada’s largest daily boasted a superb hockey line–up. With columnists Damien Cox and Rosie DiManno, and fellow Leafs scribe Paul Hunter, who wrote with an edge and discerning eye, the Star was a must read. It was during the first portion of the Pat Quinn era (1998–2002), when the Maple Leafs general manager and coach quarreled with those covering the team. Which I vividly recall from first–hand experience, having followed the club, home and away, for The FAN–590. I felt rather emboldened to have Ken alongside, as neither of us yielded an inch to the imposing Irishman. The dynamic changed after Quinn took ill with an irregular heartbeat during the 2002 semifinal series against Carolina. He also lost his father, John, that summer and returned in a more conciliatory frame of mind.
Until then, however, he could be monstrous.
KEN CAMPBELL (LEFT) HAS BEEN AN AUTHORATATIVE HOCKEY VOICE FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS.
We playfully called Ken the “small ball of hate”, which did no service to his thorough knowledge of the game.
I’ll never forget an early morning media scrum at a hotel in East Rutherford, New Jersey, during the 2001 playoff round between the Maple Leafs and Devils — an off day in the best–of–seven series. Quinn was a cigar smoker at the time and hadn’t yet rinsed his mouth. As he spoke to a group of reporters, Campbell stood alongside me, grimacing. I thought, perhaps, he was in pain and I scrambled after him as he quickly moved toward the elevators to return to his room. “Ken, you alright?” I asked, rather concerned. Campbell looked around to be sure no one else was approaching and yelled “Good God, his breath was horrible!!” I nearly fell onto the floor, laughing.
Without Ken’s regular submission to The Hockey News, the ever–growing crowd of cheerleaders in the Toronto hockey media will be that much louder. And, readers commensurately poorer.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS MOVE ON…
UNTIL THE DECISIVE MATCH ON FRIDAY, THE VEGAS–MINNESOTA SERIES WAS THE MOST–COMPELLING OF THE FIRST ROUND. SADLY, THE WILD RAN OUT OF FUEL AND GOT SPANKED, 6–2, IN GAME 7 AT T–MOBILE ARENA. BUT, MINNESOTA WAS THE SUPRISE TEAM OF THE REGULAR SEASON, FINISHING NINTH IN THE OVERALL STANDINGS WITH A RECORD OF 35–16–5 FOR 75 POINTS, ONLY TWO POINTS FEWER THAN THE LEAFS. THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS MOVE ON TO FACE COLORADO IN THE deFACTO STANLEY CUP FINAL — A CLASH BETWEEN THE TOP TWO TEAMS IN THE 56–GAME SCHEDULE.
COMING UP ON HALF–A–CENTURY…
In my newspaper collection, I have the Toronto Sun special edition from Sep. 2, 1972, the night the famed Summit Series between Team Canada and the Soviet Union began at the Montreal Forum. Foster Hewitt (bottom–right) called the eight–game competition for TV viewers on CTV and CBC. He worked alongside International hockey veteran Brian Conacher, a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup team in 1967.
Pre–series columns (above and below) showed that Bobby Orr was clairvoyant; Punch Imlach mistaken.