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It was worth the drive to Chatham

In the spring of 1964, the Leafs were shooting for their third consecutive Stanley Cup. Punch Imlach had swung a major deal to obtain Andy Bathgate in February, giving up a huge chunk of the Leafs future (established youngsters Dick Duff and Bob Nevin, as well as budding junior stars Rod Seiling and Arnie Brown).

That semi-final series is famous in Leaf lore for a number of reasons, but primarily for the fact that Dave Keon scored all three goals in Game 7, a 3-1 victory for Toronto at the Forum in Montreal.

But what I also remember about that series, when I was all of 10 years old, is that many of the games were not available on the local CBC television affiliate (in Windsor, Ontario) because the nearby Detroit Red Wings were also in the playoffs, and they had a black-out rule in effect which was supported by the NHL.

In those days, if I remember correctly, a team could “black out” a television broadcast within a 50-mile radius when they were playing at home. Playoff games (both series, as there were only two back in the 6-team NHL) were played on the same night, at least during the week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

So that spring, the Leafs were taking on Montreal and the Wings were facing Chicago, with Chicago, like Montreal, having the home rink advantage by virtue of finishing higher in the standings during the regular season.

Both series went 7 games; that meant 3 games in Toronto and Detroit, and at least 3 games that I couldn’t watch on television. (As far as I remember, all the games may have been blacked out for some reason, but I just can’t recall for sure.)

What I do remember is that in either Game 3 or 4 in Toronto, I did get to watch the game on TV, but it took some doing. (I just checked a source, and the facts are that what I am recalling must have been Game 3, in Toronto, on March 31, 1964.)

Friends from just down the road, the Charette family, had several sons- young adults, teenagers and one just a bit older than myself. They were virtually all ardent Montreal fans. So on this particular night, they decided they would (I assume with their Dad’s permission) take the family station wagon and head to Chatham, about 50 miles east of Windsor/Detroit to find a motel that was carrying the playoff game.

I and one of my older brothers were invited to come along. It may even be that Mr. Charette, who operated a religious articles store in nearby Windsor (we lived in the small nearby town called River Canard) drove that night. I’m not quite certain.

I do remember that we managed to get a room, and watched the game on a rather smallish black and white TV. I’m thinking there were 7 or 8 of us in total. It was a close game, and I believe I was the only Leaf fan in the rented – and cramped- hotel room that we occupied that night. (I was also the youngest person on the trip, which was kind of neat.)

It was a tense game to watch, very close, but the Leafs were seemingly in control and leading 2-1, when the Canadiens scored two late goals in the third period to win 3-2. Henri Richard scored the winner in the very last minute, deking around Johnny Bower.

I remember my shock at the turn of events.

I also remember several of the Charette boys leaping up and banging their fists on the wall with joy when both Montreal goals were scored. (We likely were not allowed back in that hotel…)

It was so depressing, but I was obviously the only disappointed guy on the car ride home that night. All the Montreal fans were thrilled.

I now also remember, as I write this, that Mr. Charette must have driven, at least on this particular night. Why? Because I recall that, as I lay down in the very back end of the wagon (that wouldn’t be allowed today, especially on a highway- I wasn’t even in a seat and there was no seat belt) that we said the rosary on the way home. I doubt that would have happened if one of the sons was doing the driving.

We got home very late that night. But it had been worth the drive to Chatham. As for the Leafs, they overcame that tough loss, and went on to win the series.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael,

    You were not the only disappointed Leaf fan sitting in the very back of my dad’s station wagon on that cold and desolate night as we drove back to River Canard from Chatham. My brother Gerard and I would have been back there, too.

    I don’t recall my father coming on these road trips but if we were saying the Rosary then he must have been driving.

    There were other Leaf fans in the car that night: my brothers Tom and Mike. There was also at least one Detroit Red Wing fan, Roger Rocheleau and my brother Bob would have also been there. He was a rabid Montreal Canadiens fan and certainly would have been tormenting the disheartened Leaf supporters on the way home that night.

    I think that was the night that my brother Bob, adding insult to injury, dressed up my dog Pookie in a makeshift Canadiens uniform and paraded him around the house. This was supposed to be a preview of what he assumed would be a Montreal Stanley Cup victory parade.

    Pookie, who was also an ardent Leaf fan, and my other brothers, got sweet revenge when Toronto went on to defeat the hated Montreal club in the semi-finals and went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.

    I briefly describe these hockey road trips in my memoirs:

    ...gazing up at my pennants of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings, would probably have conjured up pleasant memories of my beloved Maple Leafs defeating the hated Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup in April, 1964.

    I didn’t really hate the Red Wings, but I did hate a gentleman named Lincoln Cavalieri. He was the General Manager of Olympia Stadium in the spring of 1964 and we blamed him for blacking out television broadcasts of NHL playoff games within a fifty-mile radius of Detroit, which included the village of River Canard, whenever the Red Wings played a home game in Detroit.

    While we missed a couple of playoff games over the years, the blackouts resulted in a few prized memories. All my brothers were avid hockey fans and were distraught with the idea of not being able to watch crucial games between the Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens and the Wings during the 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs.

    My older brother Tom, who was 20 at the time came up with a novel solution: we crowded into my father’s station wagon, went down to Tiny’s grocery store where we loaded up on the necessities of life: pop, chips and candy, picked up a couple of my brothers’ friends and headed east on Number 2 highway to Chatham, which was located just beyond the 50-mile blackout radius, where we rented a motel room and watched the games there.

    These trips to Chatham were incredible adventures for a 12-year-old boy and I’ve never let my older brother Tom forget how thankful I was for letting the “three boys” join him, my brother Bob and their friends on these exiting school-night road trips…

    Johnny C