Why, you may wonder- especially considering I was also very much around for the four Cups in the ‘60s?
I’m not one of those who think Imlach simply let his old guard age and stuck with them too long. There’s some truth in that, in my view, but he did try to address that by promoting the aforementioned young forwards and by moving out the enigmatic Frank Mahovlich in the massive deal that brought Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson over from the equally struggling Red Wings.
He also had to replenish the cupboard on defense, which by 1968 still had Tim Horton, Allan Stanley, Marcel Pronovost and former Hawk stalwart Pierre Pilote, all players near to or older than 40 years of age. He brought in some youngsters on the back end, too, including the versatile (if infuriating) Jim McKenny and a name that seemed to arrive in town like a bolt out of the blue—Jim Dorey.
Dorey’s (left) first season in the NHL was Imlach’s last (of his first go-round here)—1968-’69. The Leafs, a team very much in transition, made the playoffs in the newly-entitled “Eastern Conference” but had to face the emerging and very tough Boston Bruins in the playoffs in the spring of ’69. We didn’t match up well and were hammered 10-0 and 7-0 in the first two games in Boston. Though we came back and played well (losing by a goal each time) in the playoff games in Toronto, it wasn’t enough to save Imlach’s job. Stafford Smythe, the Leaf owner, fired Punch and brought in a young individual who had been learning the ropes by running the Marlies (affiliated with the Leafs) junior operation—Jim Gregory.
The Leafs struggled in 1969-’70, Gregory’s first year in charge, but by 1970-’71, the Leafs were suddenly a competitive team again. Ullman and Dave Keon had renaissance seasons. Ullman teamed with Henderson and Ellis. Keon made a strong line with two unheralded wingers: Garry Monahan and Billy MacMillan.
Gregory acquired tough young center, Jim Harrison, from the Bruins, and paired him with another favourite of mine, rookie winger Brian Spencer, a whirlwind on skates. He also brought up some of the young Leaf defensemen that were, in some cases, part of Imlach’s earlier efforts to rejuvenate the squad: defensemen Rick Ley, Mike Pelyk, Brian Glennie and Brad Selwood joined McKenny and Dorey to form a really solid young (and quite physical) defense.
Gregory also acquired former ex-Leaf defenseman Bobby Baun, so dependable during the Cup runs in the early '60s, who was lost in the expansion draft in the summer of 1967. Baun came on board and became the leader of the kiddie-corps defense. Maybe most importantly, the young Leaf GM made a bold move to trade disgruntled forward Mike Walton in a three-way deal. (Walton ended up with the Bruins.) But in return, we got future Hall-of-Fame goalie Bernie Parent, who teamed with another Gregory signing—the ageless Jacques Plante—to provide the Leafs with some of the best goaltending in the NHL.
Goodness, I loved that team.
But one of my absolute favourites, again, was Dorey. He had skill, could skate, move the puck well and he had a good shot form the point. He not only could put up some points from the back end, but he was truly old-school—a guy who was, as they say, tough as nails. He fought all the henchmen on the other teams, regardless of their reputation. He wasn’t afraid of anyone.
Dorey was one of the individuals who, you could just tell, was thrilled to be a Maple Leaf. A Kingston boy, it was clear he wore the Leaf sweater with pride.
That spring of ’71, the Leafs faced a really, really good—and experienced—Ranger team. (They had a lot of ex-Leafs, like Ron Stewart, Bobby Nevin and Tim Horton…) The Leafs played really well in the first two games in New York and were unlucky not to walk away with a 2-0 lead in games. They outplayed the Rangers in Game 3 back home at Maple Leaf Gardens to take a lead in the series but had to play Game 4 the very next night (a Sunday) in Toronto. We came out flat and never found our legs and the Rangers won Game 4 by a score of 4-2. We never fully rebounded, and the Rangers won the series in 6 games, with Nevin putting the dagger in our hearts with an OT winner in Game 6 at the Gardens against Plante.
As for Dorey, one of the Gregory moves I didn’t like was that he traded the emerging Leaf rearguard to the Rangers before the deadline in the winter of 1972. After the season, Dorey then jumped to the WHA himself.
Though Dorey was a Leaf for less than four full seasons, just the way he played—so intense, so tough—always made me a huge fan, and I still regret that he was traded away. He had a really solid career in the WHA and actually returned to Toronto and played for the old Toros for a while in the mid-‘70s.
As for the Leafs, Gregory had to re-build them again, and he did so by drafting Lanny McDonald, Bob Neely and Ian Turnbull in the first round of the 1973 draft, while also signing European free-agents Inge Hammarstrom and that other guy, Borje Salming, who became a Hall-of-Famer. That helped lead to some nice years in the late ‘70s when again, we fell just a bit short.
But Dorey was one of a kind. To hear more, I invite you to check out our most recent “Leaf Matters” podcast, which features our conversation with the well-regarded former Maple Leaf defenseman, now a businessman in Kingston. It is available (click) on iTunes and via the Podalmighty Nework.
If you are interested in some recent posts, we've touched on:
- Renewed trade talk around Luongo
- Do Leaf fans really care if it's Reimer or Scrivens
- A subtle sign from Reimer that he's feeling good