In previous posts, I’ve written about favorite Leafs and “all-time” teams built using various criteria.
Today, I thought it would be fun to think back to the guys that I remember who distinguished themselves because they were the hardest-working Leafs that I can remember.
My definition of hard-working is pretty simple: It doesn’t necessarily mean toughest, though that can be part of the assessment. When I think of the ultimate hard-working players, I think in terms of Bob Gainey in Montreal and Bobby Clarke in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Guys who were hard on the puck, were tough to play against and were simply ultra-determined when they were on the ice.
I don’t know if Toronto has ever had a Bobby Clarke, in terms of sheer determination on a nightly basis over 15 years. That said, there are the guys who, in my mind, stand out not necessarily because of their high-end talent (though some of the list had that) but because they were players who worked their tail off more often than not.
Agree or disagree, here’s my list. By all means send along your own list and thoughts.
Johnny Bower- He worked hard in practice and pushed himself under Punch Imlach’s tutelage, skating hard laps at the end of practice day after day- which is probably why he lasted until he was 45 years old
(I tried to think of another goalie who fit the criteria. Talented guys like Doug Favell and Mike Palmateer were not known for their off-ice work ethic, for example. Maybe Curtis Joseph or Eddie Belfour would fit.)
Bobby Baun - A hockey warrior. He took on the best left-wingers (his side of the ice, guys like Bobby Hull). A hard hitter all over the ice.
Rick Ley - Ley wasn’t with the Leafs for too many years but he was a rugged guy who wouldn’t back off. Unfortunately, he left too soon for the WHA.
Jim Dorey - The Leafs should never have traded Dorey. He was one of those guys who stood up for his teammates.
Borje Salming - While I didn’t always like Salming’s work in front of his own net, the guy played hard, took everything the tough players threw at him and logged huge minutes on not-always great teams.
Trevor Johansen - A rugged fire-hydrant on the back end in the late ‘70s.
Bob McGill - Not a skill defenseman, but he came to play every night- hard.
Todd Gill - I always sensed that not many guys were prouder to wear the blue and white and he played that way.
Dimitry Yushkevich- After a slow start in Toronto, he played hard and he played hurt.
Danny Markov- Like Yushkevich, injuries took a toll. He went to Phoenix in a deal I didn’t like. I wanted him to stay with the Leafs.
Doug Gilmour- He only played with Toronto parts of five seasons, but because of the way he played, especially in 1993 and ’94, Leaf fans have a special place in their hearts.
Dave Keon- Keon played hard in a different way than Clarke or Gilmour. He was not a shot-blocker, fighter, dirty or big hitter but he played a relentless skating game, forechecked a ton and covered top centers on the other team just about every night.
Peter Zezel- Though Peter made his name with other teams, primarily the Flyers, he was a beloved Leaf for his tireless work and tenacious play as a third-line center supreme in the Pat Burns era.
Bob Pulford- Was another relentless, pile-driving forward who not only was a premier forechecker, he went right through people in his prime from the mid-1950’s through 1967.
Mats Sundin- I thought that, as his time with the Leafs moved forward, he became a more consistently dependable guy who played hard at home and away, and was often a difference-maker in the clutch.
Jim Harrison- He did a lot of the dirty work and the hitting for the Leafs in the early ‘70s, before he went to the WHA and back injuries took a toll
Scott Garland- He was one of my all-time favorite Leafs from the late ‘70s. Only briefly a Leaf, the late Garland had limited talent at the NHL level, but one of the biggest hearts you could find. A true grinder, he was not afraid to mix it up in the corners or go to the front of the net.
Bert Olmstead- Olmstead always makes my “teams” because he brought that “hate to lose” attitude from Montreal when he joined the Leafs in 1958. He set an example for the young players and helped Toronto win their Cup in 1962 before retiring.
Gerry James - James was rock-hard winger from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s who doubled as a star with the CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Brian Spencer - One of my biggest disappointments was the summer when the Leafs let Spencer go on waivers to the Islanders after he had hurt his knee. He bounced back to have a really good run as a third/fourth-line mucker with the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs could use a guy like Spencer now.
Rocky Saganiuk - While he never lived up to his early promise, I liked his hustling style. Unfortunately the Leafs tried to make him play a more up and down game, and he lost a lot of his effectiveness as a result.
Gary Roberts - Modern-era Leaf fans know what I’m referring to.
Wendel Clark - Now, in truth, I’m one of those who felt that Wendel sometimes coasted in his Toronto years. But I acknowledge that injuries took a toll we can’t fully appreciate. When motivated, though, (see 1993 playoffs) he worked his tail off and was an impact player of the highest order.
Tie Domi - I know many won’t support this choice. It’s not that I was a big Tie guy, but he stood up for his teammates in Toronto for many years, when few others would or could.
Shane Corson - I recognize that the end of his time with the Leafs was awkward, but I’ll never forget his shot-blocking heroics in the playoffs. You don’t win without guys who play that gritty role.