Every once in a while it’s fun to look not only at the present, but back at what made us Leaf fans in the first place. I’ve certainly posted on this subject before on occasion, but today I wanted to not only discuss some of my “faves” through the years (including the present) but yours as well.
So, paying small homage to the many individuals who could make up this “list” but can’t be included for reasons of my own roster limitations (hey, Ron Wilson isn’t the only guy struggling with that, now that he has more than a full bench to manage…), here are some of the guys who really were my personal “favorite Leafs” as I draw on my memory bank to bring forward some great old names—and some current ones, too.
(Quick aside: everyone has favorite players—athletes who you are drawn to because you just like the way they play, their attitude, their work ethic, their skill or the way they conduct themselves off the field of play. Maybe you just flat out like them. Whatever the case might be, send your names along.)
As my own memories of Leaf lore began in the late 1950s, let’s start there. I will select two Leaf players from each decade. (If you're interested, I've linked to earlier stories on some of the individuals below. Click on their names to see more...)
Eddie Chadwick- the first guy that really meant “Maple Leafs” to me as a youngster in the ‘50s. (I love the wonderful old "posed" picture of Chadwick at right.) I had the opportunity to interview Ed in later years when he was a scout (can’t remember if it was with the Oilers or Islanders). Just a nice, humble man. And, he was the last Maple Leaf goaltender to play 70 games in a single season, if I’m not mistaken. He had a fine career.
Frank Mahovlich- I apparently couldn’t say his name properly when he first came up in 1958 or so (I was maybe 4 years old...) He was an “enigma” to fans at times who saw him sometimes as lazy. He clashed with Punch Imlach (many did) but what power—and what a player he was. He “proved” just how good he really was when he fit in beautifully with the more free-wheeling Habs and won two more Cups there in the early 1970s.
Honorable mention: Marc Reaume. This is partly sentimental. Marc was a young defensemen, a very promising one, with the Maple Leafs in the 1950s. Amazingly to me, he lived in the small town just next to mind, where he was born and raised, in Essex County, Ontario. He was the first NHL player I ever met, and he was as nice as the day is long. From what I’ve heard, he always has been that way and never changed.
Dave Keon- yes, a “favorite” for me and thousands of other Canadian kids at the time. I would check off my self-made stat sheet around his old Bee Hive picture whenever he scored a goal in the 1960s. Great times. He was my guy, for sure. Small, fast. He missed so many breakaways but was also unbelievably determined as a fore checker and penalty-killer. He left in the mid-‘70s under unfortunate circumstances but to this day, I don’t look at Keon as a bitter old ex-Leaf, not at all. I remember him as the wonderful and loyal player that he was.
Dickie Duff- this fine winger (left) was traded too soon. How I wish he had stayed a Leaf his entire career. Small—but so speedy and tough. He scored big goals throughout his career as a Maple Leaf and Hab. The guy won six Cups and he was no bit player. He well deserved his late induction into the Hall-of-Fame.
Honorable mention: Johnny Bower. Anyone who knows about Bower knows the kind of competitor and champion he was, and what integrity he had off the ice. He may be one of the world’s nicest people. That has never changed, by all accounts.
Lanny McDonald - drafted high in 1973, then some thought he was a “mistake”. But his confidence blossomed in his third season and he never looked back after that in a Hall-of Fame career. I also wish never he had never been traded. He won me over when, in that third season (1975-’76, I believe) he knocked Bobby Orr and Denis Potvin head over heels on consecutive Saturday nights at the old Gardens with a classic old-style, open ice hip-check. A hero to this day in Calgary, for good reason.
Brian Spencer- (seen at left opposite popular St. Louis Blue Bob Plager in a wonderful old Dan Baliotti photo) for me, the guy was unforgettable. Worked so hard, but the Leafs gave him away because of a knee injury. Went on to perform admirably for a very good Buffalo Sabres team in the 1970s, including almost winning a Cup in the spring of ’75.
Honorable mention: Brian Glennie. He was just a loyal, dedicated, hard-working defenseman who gave his all and played hurt a lot.
Rocky Saganiuk – I loved the way he played, but he ran around too much for Leaf coaches of that early ‘80s era. I often wonder what he might have been with more support and patience.
Allan Bester – In the Bester-Wreggett “debate”, I was a Bester guy. I have always felt that, with better coaching and someone around to boost his sometimes flagging confidence, he would have been an outstanding Leaf netminder for many years.
Honorable mention: Wendel Clark. While he was often criticized when he kind of fell into a lull in his play—and even Harold Ballard, the owner, wondered why he was hurt so often—when inspired, Clark was the prototypical Leaf from the olden-days Smythe era. He could beat you in the alley- and on the ice.
Doug Gilmour – I think he brought a lot of fallen-away Leaf supporters back into the “fold”. He just played with such a level of grit and intensity. I’m not sure we’ve had anyone before or since who played quite that way, though I acknowledge it was for a relatively brief period of time.
Todd Gill – I just think Todd was one of those guys who, for all his imperfections, played some solid “D” while he was here way more often than not and more importantly, always struck me as a guy who was genuinely proud to wear the Maple Leaf crest on the front of his jersey every night.
Honorable mention: Sylvain Levebvre. I so appreciated the smarts and finesse he brought to the Leaf defense. Hated to see him go, though he was a necessary piece in the deal that brought Sundin here.
Mats Sundin - the smile when he scored a big goal could light up a building, and he did many nights over the years at the Gardens and the ACC. He had size, strength and was a guy who grew into his role as captain in a tough market.
Danny Markov – I just loved the guy because he played with so much heart. Another of those guys I wish had never been dealt.
Honorable mention: Shayne Corson. I know Shayne left the Leafs under not the best of circumstances, timing-wise, but I refuse to forget him throwing his body in front of shots in the playoffs in the early 2000s. He could be a true hockey warrior.
Nik Kulemin – those who know this site also know that I’m a Kulemin guy. He’s just one of those all-around guys who contributes in different ways. Funny, I think the guy has a higher ceiling that we are seeing so far this season.
James Reimer – I have no idea how the young goalie will be over the years as an NHL netminder, but how can we not like the attitude he brings to the rink every day? He appreciates being a big-leager, and so far he has played like one. We just need him healthy, so take your time, young man.
Honorable mention: Mikhail Grabovski. Yes, call me a convert. I would not have said this two years ago, or even twelve months ago. But we all make mistakes. Hopefully am I am forgiven.
Again, have fun with this. Share the names of those you “just like” from the Leafs, for as far back as your memory will take you.
I look forward to your comments.