Maple Leafs: Half a Century without the Stanley Cup
Maple Leafs: Half a Century without the Stanley Cup
Last Tuesday marked exactly 50 years since the Leafs won their last Stanley Cup, the longest drought in the NHL not counting the expansion St. Louis Blues.
While the youthful Leafs of today are in pursuit, those surviving Leafs are still revered. A look back to 50 factoids connected to that season, the upset playoff wins against Chicago and Montreal and the big night, May 2, 1967:
1. With Expo ‘67 opening in Montreal during the series, managers of the Quebec Pavilion at the world’s fair said they planned to have the Cup on display after Montreal won. Leaf defenceman Marcel Pronovost vowed it go to the Ontario Pavilion.
2. The average age of that Leafs’ team was 31.2, with six players 36 or older.
3. With the Leafs getting on and expansion sure to break up many Original Six teams, Johnny Bower said there was extra impetus for the Leafs to get a last Cup. Indeed, only Frank Mahovlich, Larry Hillman and Mike Walton would ever win another.
4. ‘Somethin’ Stupid’ by Nancy Sinatra was locked in battle with Happy Jack by The Who for top spot on the May 1 CHUM radio chart, with Sgt. Pepper on its way across the Atlantic.
5. Superstitious Toronto manager/coach Punch Imlach was in a heightened state of paranoia throughout the ‘67 playoffs, carrying supposedly charmed pennies, always tapping the stick of No. 7, Tim Horton before a game. People sent him shamrocks, women sent him ‘lucky’ underwear.
6. Bobby Hull and the Chicago Blackhawks had 60 more goals than the Leafs and almost 20 more points. That’s why the first round six-game win over the Hawks is considered the bigger upset.
7. Though the Leafs and Habs have battled more than 800 times in regular season and playoffs, ‘67 marked just the fifth and final time in the NHL century they’ve met in a Cup final.
8. Toronto had new sweaters for the playoffs, an 11-point Leaf logo to emulate the new Canadian flag in the nation’s 100th birthday.
9. The Leafs went with four primary defencemen, Larry Hillman, Allan Stanley, Horton and Pronovost and utilized the energetic line of Bob Pulford, Peter Stemkowski and Jim Pappin.
10. Many players ate oranges to re-energize during those playoffs. Stemkowski kept a garlic sausage out of sight and snacked on it. Imlach would go around the room giving a speech, smell something but be unable to detect what it was.
11. As Toronto’s dry gulch continued through ensuing decades it sparked talk of several ‘curses’ associated with the ‘67 team. One was the Hillman Hex, put on the club because Imlach would not give the loyal soldier a desired raise after the Cup win. It gained so much traction over the years that Hillman was compelled to lift it.
The late Allan Stanley also felt slighted when the club released him. “My line was ‘they’ll never win another one without me’,” he said in 2007. “But I didn’t mean it.”
12. Goalie Bower was the oldest player in the NHL at the time at age 42.
13. Imlach dismissed Gump Worsley’s young back-up Rogie Vachon as “a Jr, B goalie”. After Vachon was sharp in a 6-2 Game 1 Leafs loss, Imlach amended his statement to “the best Jr. B goalie in the country”.
14. Despite that one-sided defeat, Imlach boldly ordered a garish green checkered suit and told the tailor to have it ready ASAP as he planned to wear it for a Cup win.
15. The Cup year also included the team’s longest pre-shootout era losing streak of 10 games. Assistant King Clancy took over the team for an exhausted Imlach who was hospitalized, during which the Leafs reeled off a record of 7-1-2.
16. Forward John Brenneman played more than half the ‘66-67 schedule for the Leafs, had as many points as Bob Baun and helped Toronto out of a mid-season slump that threatened their playoff spot. But the winger’s name is not on the ‘67 Cup, nor are Kent Douglas, Bruce and Dick Gamble, Gary and Al Smith, Brit Selby, Wayne Carleton, Duane Rupp and Jim McKenny. None were in a playoff game.
“There was no waiver rule then (which would’ve made it harder for Imlach to demote players) and teams often made back-room deals about not taking the other guy’s player,” Brenneman said. “Having played 41 games that year, I thought I contributed. It was disappointing, because the next year, the Players Association was created, Alan Eagleson came in and things changed.”
17. Bower stretched the wrong way in Game 4 warm-ups at the Gardens, opening the door for Terry Sawchuk to finish the series.
18. Before Game 5, word got out that Red Kelly was going to retire at the end of the series and coach the expansion Los Angeles Kings. With Kelly about to turn 40, it certainly wasn’t a surprise, but it might have been when Imlach got the idea to protect Kelly in the coming expansion draft, forcing L.A. to make a trade for his rights. The Leafs got defenceman Ken Block, but he wound up playing just one NHL game for Vancouver and almost 500 in the WHA.
19. Pulford’s 3-2 double overtime goal at 28:26 in Game 3 ended the second longest playoff game at the Gardens, after April 3, 1933 when Ken Doraty beat Boston 1-0 in the sixth extra period.
20. Milan Marcetta and Autry (Aut) Erickson remain the two mystery Leafs with their names on the Cup. Marcetta was a 40-goal scorer, Erickson a defenceman, both on the secondary farm team in Victoria, B.C. They were called up as their club had been eliminated from WHL playoffs, but the AHL Rochester Americans were still alive. Marcetta played three games against Montreal, Erickson one in which he served a penalty.
21. Though Bower was too beaten up to play by the end of the Montreal series, Imlach insisted he be on the bench in full uniform. Al Smith was dressed in the Leaf room if needed.
22. Jean Beliveau, considered one of the most gentlemanly players of the era, led the ‘67 playoffs with 26 penalty minutes, one more than Horton.
23. For Game 6, Imlach put $10,000 in bills on a table in the middle of the Leaf dressing room. To underpaid players such as Bower it was more cash money than they’d seen in their lives, but Imlach forbade anyone from touching it “until you win the Cup”.
24. There were 42 births recorded in the Toronto Telegram May 2, 1967. As far as we know, only one new father, Emilio Redigonda, attended the birth of son Lui at old Northwestern Hospital and made it to the Gardens in time for the game.
“I just remember getting very, very drunk,” Emilio told the Sun in 2004. “A son and a Stanley Cup.”
25. While George Armstrong’s empty net goal remains the iconic clinching moment of the series, the actual game winner was by Pappin at the 19:24 mark of the second period, a backhand pass attempt to Stemkowski that hit Jacques Laperriere’s skate. It was originally credited to Stemkowski who alerted officials to the correct call.
26. Alignment for the final face-off with the Canadiens’ net empty at the 19:05 mark was pure Punch. He sent out his oldest players, Kelly, Armstrong and Pulford, with Stanley and Horton. Knowing big Beliveau would take the draw for the Habs, Imlach called on Stanley, for his favourite manoeuvre in his zone to utilize a defenceman to tie up the centre and allow a swift forward to scoop the loose puck.
It worked like a charm, Stanley swiping at Beliveau’s stick then pushing him back, allowing Kelly to take the puck and feed Armstrong via Pulford for the empty netter. Beliveau wanted a face-off interference call, but to no avail.
27. Among the Gardens crowd in Game 6 was future Sun columnist and Toronto historian Mike Filey, sitting with friend Ross Edwards up in the Blues. Filey’s future wife Yarmila purchased the tickets from Ted Tory, her boss at Sun Life Insurance, one of the companies who helped build the Gardens in 1931.
28. Usher Dennis Goodwin smuggled in champagne for Game 6 into the East Greens and served it to fans in Dixie cups as the trophy was being presented. Goodwin would call the roar that followed Armstrong’s goal “the most spontaneous cheer I ever heard at the Gardens in 50 years of working there.”
29. At the end of the game, a teen-aged Toronto fan snatched the stick of Habs player J.C. Tremblay and began running on the ice with it. Tremblay skated after him, pushed the kid down and retrieved it. A Montreal sportswriter mused if J.C. had been that aggressive in the series, the Canadiens might have won.
30. Sawchuck stopped 40 of 41 shots in Game 6, beaten only by former Leaf Dick Duff.
31. For those wondering, this is how a Leaf Cup presentation sounds as NHL president Clarence Campbell went to the centre-ice table where the gleaming trophy was positioned and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my very pleasant duty and responsibility to present the Stanley Cup to the Maple Leaf hockey club for the 11th time.”
32. The home page of the popular web site On This Day In Leafs History features a running clock of how long it has been since 2/5/67, to the hour, minute and second. On Tuesday it will reach 18,263 days, headlined as always “The shame of it all.”
33. The feud between Imlach and opposite number Toe Blake raged throughout the series, but was put aside in the handshake line as the two great leaders congratulated each other on a well played set. “Toughest series I ever lost,” Blake declared.
34. Ward Cornell from Hockey Night In Canada caught up with Horton in the jubilant Leaf room, still in his suspenders.
“It’s pretty hard not to get emotionally involved,” Horton said. “This was one of the happiest moments I can remember in hockey. When Army scored that third goal, I actually thought I was going to start crying. There were tears starting to roll down my cheeks and that’s never happened.”
35. “This is (Canada’s) centennial year and we have our centennial project finished. I want to thank the supporters of the Toronto Maple Leafs.” - executive vice-president Harold Ballard on victory night, four years before he took the Leafs down a very different path as majority owner.
36. Winning goalie Sawchuk was glad to shut up a fan from Newfoundland who’d sent a telegram after Montreal’s 6-2 win in Game 4, claiming the goalie must have received a bribe to throw the match.
37. The Toronto Marlie juniors were listening to the game on a bus somewhere in Quebec while battling Thetford Mines in the Memorial Cup playdowns. A couple of weeks later, the Marlies would win it all in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), the last instance of a Stanley Cup and Memorial Cup residing in the same rink.
38. Pappin led the NHL playoffs in goals (seven) and points (15), while Bob Pulford had 10 assists.
39. Pappin gave his ‘67 Cup ring to his father in law, who lost it in the sand at Vero Beach, Fla., sometime in the early ‘70s. Feeling terrible, he paid for a replica and never told Pappin, but the original was found by a beachcomber in 2007.
40. Dave Keon is the only Leaf to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. But by ‘67. Smythe himself was estranged from the team he built 40 years earlier. One of his final public acts at the Gardens was in 1979 to welcome Keon back as a Hartford Whaler after a five-year absence in the WHA, also Smythe’s first time in the visitor’s dressing room at MLG.