In the mid-to-later 1970s, the Toronto Maple Leafs revolved around Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Mike Palmateer, Ian Turnbull, Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams. They played the Flyers, then the toughest team in hockey, three years in a row in the playoffs- 1975, 1976 and 1977, never managing to win a series.
Those last two years the Leafs were a pretty team tough team themselves. They had guys like Brian Glennie still on defense, Pat Boutette and Williams up front and they imported players like Scott Walker up front to be ready for teams like Philadelphia.
But the toughest Leaf in my mind was winger Scott Garland.
Garland was, to me, the definition of the honest hockey player. He was not a naturally smooth skater, and he had to work very hard to get from point A to point B. His skill set was modest at the NHL level, but he was a classic grinder, not afraid to work in the corners. And when the opportunity presented itself, he was not shy to fight and he could handle himself. He was also the kind of player that when he hit you, you likely remembered it because he would skate right through you when finishing a check.
Too, he was one of those rare players who wasn’t afraid to position himself in front of the goalie, where he would get hacked and whacked by goalies and defensemen. He did not play a lot of minutes but, in my mind, he was a valuable contributor to the team during the 1976-’77 season. He scored maybe 10 goals that season, and while he did not play in the playoffs that spring, in my opinion he was much underrated.
In fact, I so loved the way Garland played that I invited him to be a guest on my weekly radio show, in the spring of 1977. He drove to our remote broadcast location at the Square One Mall in Mississauga for our interview. In person, this tough as nails player was so down to earth and unpretentious. He may well have been the most genuine professional athlete I ever interacted with.
Unfortunately by the next season an injury set him back, and he played only with the Leaf farm team. He then played with the LA Kings briefly in the 1978-’79 season.
That summer, I was on my way to Montreal from Toronto when I heard a radio report that Garland had died in an automobile accident. I was truly sad to hear the terrible news. He was a solid hockey player and a genuinely nice human being.