Like most Maple Leaf supporters, I could pick out all kinds of highlights from my years as a Leaf fan. I was there (yes, like a million others, but I really was…) when Sittler had his famous 10 point night—and I certainly remember my first ever game at the Gardens during the 1964-’65 NHL season—but my “happiest” times were not necessarily those particular moments, cool as they were.
For me, there was something special that made me feel good inside about each of the following:
1. 1) The night the Leafs won their first Cup in my lifetime in the spring of 1962. Don Simmons was in goal for the sixth and deciding game in boisterous old Chicago Stadium. I was not yet 9 years old, but I remember watching on our old black and white TV in what we called the “sun” room. (I honestly thought my parents meant "son" room...that's where I spent most of my time as a kid.) What a feeling for a little kid who loved hockey, and the Leafs.
2. 2) The night the Leafs won their last Cup in ’67. I was 13 and knew the Leafs were in tough if they did not wrap up the series against the Habs in Game 6 in Toronto. Ellis scored off a Red Kelly rebound, then Jim Pappin scored a fluky one that seemed to go in off Pete Stemkowski. The Leafs (with the legendary Terry Sawchuk in goal) somehow held on in a frantic third period, before the famous George Armstrong empty net goal. I was so happy. I lived in a household of rabid Montreal fans and while I couldn’t cheer overtly (we weren’t exactly the kind of family that allowed full freedom of expression in those days…) it was a wonderful moment. My favorite player, Dave Keon, was named MVP and Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Life was good, in hockey terms. (Little did I know just how not good things could get…)
3. 3) I remember the playoffs in the spring of 1971. After a few rough seasons, GM Jim Gregory had re-built the Leafs, a nice mix of kids and solid veterans. They jumped ahead of the Rangers in their quarter-final series two games to one, capping the night with a beautiful Garry Monahan goal to take the lead in the series. Then, one night later (no break, and they could have used one after three games in four nights), they came out flat and fell behind 4-0 and they ended up losing the series in 6. But for that one day, I felt like a million bucks. I thought the Leafs could upset the Rangers, and I still believe if there had been the off-days in the playoffs like there are today, they would have won that series.
4. 4) In terms of pure joy, the Lanny McDonald overtime winner in the spring of 1978, to upset the big, bad Islanders in 7 games has to be one of my happiest moments as a Leaf fan. We hadn’t won a best-of-seven playoff series since 1967, and to beat a team (that later went on to win four Cups in a row…) on their ice was huge. Dan Maloney had cost a lot of the Leafs future in a trade with Detroit, but was immensely helpful in giving the Leafs the muscle they needed to win that series. Ian Turnbull played the hockey of his life, after Borje Salming was injured. And McDonald’s goal is still remembered in Leaf lore as a great memory.
5. 5) While there have been other moments, the Borschevsky goal in Game 7 against the Red Wings in 1993 was awfully sweet. Again, as Leaf fans of the time well know, the Wings were a very good team, on the cusp of being a championship team. Wendel Clark was heavily criticized after the first two games of the series for playing soft. But he and the rest of the squad, under Pat Burns, came roaring back to upset the heavily-favored Red Wings. A great night, and a happy memory, for sure.
Again, I could list many more "happy memories", and there have been many, despite the relative lack of championship success over the past few decades. Being a Leaf fan will always be something special.
And, it’s always worth waiting for that next “happy” memory.
While we’re all waiting, send along your thoughts about a memory or two that brought the most joy to your Leaf hockey life…