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Non-Maple Leafs I kind of hated, but admired, in the good old days

Raised as I was in a household of Montreal Canadiens fans back in the 1950s and ‘60s, I learned a little something about rivalries.

I hated the Habs passionately, and later very much loathed the “Big Bad” Bruins and the “Broad Street Bully” Flyers win the early and mid-1970s hen they were both tough, dirty—and very good.

There are a number of guys from the olden days that yes, I hated at the time, but over time came (or have come) to admire. The list would include:

Ted Lindsay

Like Bert Olmstead (the former Montreal stalwart who brought a winning attitude to the Leafs and helped them win a Cup in 1962), my regard and respect for Lindsay deals primarily with what I have learned about him over the years.  I was a kid when I saw him play in the late 1950s though he did make a comeback in my early ‘wheel-house’ years as a young fan- the early-mid '60s.  With the equally legendary Doug Harvey of the Canadiens, Lindsay was one of the catalysts for a first stab at a players’ association in the 1950s, and was dispatched to the then lowly Chicago Blackhawks for his efforts.  (Chicago was where a number of NHL players were traded who had supported the planned union/association.)

Though a rather smallish man, Lindsay had been a dominant winger with the Wings in the early ‘50s,  He was primarily an inspirational leader in his later years with the Blackhawks for youngsters like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, "Moose" Vasko and Pierre Pilote. (Lindsay is shown at right during his time with the Hawks in the late 1950s.)

He made a remarkable comeback in 1964-‘65, with his original team, the Wings, after he had been away from the game for several seasons.  Tiny by today’s standards (less than 165 pounds), he was tough, dirty, but played with a passion that you had to love—or hate.  (My late father, a fervent, devout Montreal and “Rocket” Richard fan, loathed the Red Wings, loathed Gordie Howe even more and certainly despised Lindsay.  All the more reason why, as a moderately rebellious youth, I came to admire Lindsay over the years.) 

In retirement, Lindsay came back to be GM of the Wings in the mid-70s, for a while reviving a then dormant franchise.  I have always been impressed in many interviews I have seen over the years by the way Lindsay still talks about the game.  In his 80’s he still exudes passion, a love for the game and respect for his former foes.  Lindsay is one of the guys who made hockey the game that it is.

Johnny McKenzie

For a guy who just wasn’t very big, he played like he weighed 240 pounds.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another player who seemed to love being hammered into the side and corner boards while he was making a rush and trying to make a play the way Mckenzie did. 

He was fiery, fast, tough.  He played hurt.  McKenzie started his NHL career as a kid with the with the Red Wings and later spent time Rangers and Hawks in the early ‘60s. But he only really made a name for himself once he played with the Bruins from the late ‘60s through the early-70s, before heading off to the WHA. 

He was a really small guy, but played a physical game.  I absolutely couldn’t stand the Bruins, and particularly McKenzie, but every team should have a Johnny McKenzie.

Terry O’Reilly

This rugged winger may have been the ultimate Bruin in the ‘70s and early 1980s.  He was evidently not a top pro prospect as a junior player in Oshawa because of his “poor” skating, but he worked and worked and became one of the most popular Bruins ever, largely because of his hell-bent style. 

O’Reilly displayed an unbelievable work ethic.  He would fight, of course (an Irish guy in Boston, that’s to be expected) but he was much more than a fighter.  I can’t imagine there was an opposing winger who looked forward to playing against him, especially in Boston where the old rink was so small.  He was a near-perfect winger in the tiny, cramped Boston Garden.  Imagine a team with wingers like McKenzie, Wayne Cashman, Johnny Bucyk and O’Reilly. That’s a big reason why the Bruins were tough to beat at home in the '70s.  Having Bobby Orr didn’t hurt, I suppose.


Gilbert Perreault

When Perreault joined the Sabres as a 20 year-old rookie and the number 1 overall draft choice in the 1970-’71 season, this guy was unbelievable.  If Orr was the best player I ever saw, Perreault was the most explosive, dynamic and exciting.  (In modern times, I think of Alex Ovechkin in a similar breath.) 

He was often compared to Beliveau, of course, because of their French-Canadian roots and their stick handling skills, but Perreault was much faster than Beliveau.  He was one of the last breed of player who would take it behind his own net and try to skate through the other team—by himself.  He most often failed, but every once in a while he made it, and I can guarantee that if you asked defensemen who played against him, they were fearful every time he wound up, because they could end up getting beat badly one-on-one.  He played his whole career with the Sabres, was great in the playoffs a number of times but could not quite get his club past the vigilante-like Flyers in the ’75 Stanley Cup finals.

In my mind, he was an all-time great.  He always seemed to kill the Leafs, but he was tough on everyone, especially Montreal.  You want to get fans in the seats at NHL games in certain markets? Bring back Gilbert Perrault.  As I mentioned, he may have been his day’s Ovechkin, without the physical edge Ovechkin plays with.

But in terms of pure skill, he may have been even better.

Richard Martin

Martin, who passed away recently, may well have been considered a “power” forward in today’s lexicon, but he was an all-around offensive threat on a line with Perreault in the 1970s.  He was not overly rugged like some wingers and he wasn't really a fighter as I recall, but he was strong on the puck, could skate and was a superbly skilled scorer. 

He had an unbelievable wrist shot, and was uncanny in his ability to roof the puck up high from in close, even against huge goalies like Montreal’s Ken Dryden.  I remember him as a big-time playoff performer.  Unfortunately, injuries stalled his career, and he finished his career quietly in Los Angeles with the Kings.  But he was a Hall-of-Fame talent, in my memory, for sure.

Bob Gainey

Gainey did not arrive on the scene until the 1972-’73 season with Montreal, a first-round draft choice out of Peterborough who was known primarily as a tremendous checking forward.  But he was a winger who was as tough as steel.  He was an exceptionally fast skater, tireless, and rarely got knocked down or off the puck. 

While not a gifted offensive scorer, he may have been, for a time, the best all-around player in the game in the late 1970’s, a sentiment echoed at the time by Soviet coaching legend Anatoly Tarasov.

Eddie Giacomin

Noted in his early years for his (and the Rangers’) playoff failures in the late 1960s, I grew to respect him as an ultimate competitor.  You could just see this guy lived to play, to compete.  He was the kind of individual that wanted to—and could—play 70+ games a season.  He hated sharing time with Gilles Villemure, another fine Ranger goalie. 

Athletic, acrobatic, tough, a great skater and a wonderful puck-handler (by far the best of his era), his teams never won the Cup, but he could play on my team anytime.  Giacomin had to be one of the most popular Rangers of all-time, in terms of genuine fan appreciation for what he gave to the franchise.

When he went to the Red Wings at the end of his career and came back to play against the Rangers, Madison Square Garden resonated with the sound of Ranger faithful chanting “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie….”  He meant that much to them.

Tony Esposito

Tony was the Esposito I liked.  He just seemed like the kind of guy you would want as a teammate.  Came up in the late '60s/early '70s with Montreal, but was one of many young goalies in the system at the time.  Was shuffled off to Chicago, where he forged a Hall-of-Game career.  Left-handed, he was a then fairly “new”  era butterfly-style goalie and like today’s netminders, was awfully hard to beat low.  I just thought he was a great goalie. 

That said, I’ve never quite forgiven him for fanning on Jacques Lemaire’s center-ice slap shot in Game 7 of the ’71 finals against Montreal, when Chicago had control of the game 2-0, and ended up losing 3-2.  (I hated the Canadiens back then.)  But I have a lot of regard for Esposito (shown at right in action with the Hawks), and for the way he has conducted himself in retirement—a classy guy who meant a lot to the game.

There are many other guys I could write about, including Tony’s brother Phil, who I really didn’t like, but hey, the guy scored over 700 NHL goals. (I kind of looked at Phil the way my late father always looked at Gordie Howe—a guy who stood in the slot and scored off the hard work of others.  But of course, Espo was much more than that. And hey, I love him when I hear him nowadays talking hockey on various radio programs.)

I didn’t like Stan Mikita but was a fantastic player.  An absolutely sublime passer.  Bobby Clarke, well, I could go on for quite a while about Clarke.  But who wouldn’t want that guy on his team when the game was on the line?  No one was better at fighting for the puck and creating last-second opportunities in close games.

I couldn't stand Ken Dryden, either, but I was likely, as  a Leaf fan, envious of his obvious success with the hated Habs in the 1970s. There are too many guys to name for this list, but it's a start for another column later on.

Send along your thoughts about modern-day players who kind of fit the above description—opposition guys you “can’t stand” but have to admit you admire or respect because of the way they play the game.


  1. Michael-
    My personal experience of the Gilbert Perrault phenomenon was in Cardinal, Ontario, watching Todd Gill skate through an entire team en route to scoring for the Broncos. That goal Luke Schenn scored this season instantly brought that back for me-

  2. Joe Sakic. The Leaf scouts wanted to draft him badly, coac and GM overruled them; traded for Sundin instead of Sakic. Not a guy I can't stand, but a guy who should've been a Leaf and I have tons of respect for, no matter how many he scored on us.