Oddly, for a franchise that has a number of Stanley Cups on its resume, (though none in recent times, we all realize) and has also suffered many painful, memorable losses, a mid-season game in 1963-’64 may be one of the most famous Maple Leaf games of all. It’s one of those events that is ‘remembered’ by people who weren’t even around in those days, because it has been referenced so often in the intervening 50 years. The game has taken on a life of its own.
I had just turned 10 not long before the Leafs and Bruins met that fateful evening at the Gardens, the night the “lowly” Bruins skunked the defending Stanley Cup champion Leafs by a score of 11-0. Those who were around—or who have studied their Leaf “history”—know that the Leafs were a very strong club in the early ‘60s and were far and away the best team in the league the year before, needing only 10 games to sweep through the playoffs and win the Cup. They were that good and at the height of their greatness as a team. Many feel they should have won more than the four Cups that they did win in the ‘60s.
The Bruins, for their part, had not made the playoffs since the end of the 1959 season, and had fallen on hard times in the early part of the new decade. But on this night, when Canada tuned in—as we always did at 8:30 “Eastern” time on Saturday night for Hockey Night in Canada on CBC television, Bill (Foster’s son) Hewitt’s voice welcomed us with the updated score, “in progress”: sounding slightly shocked himself, Hewitt announced to Canadians far and wide that the score was 6-0…for Boston.
I was watching with a young friend from just down the street in our tiny rural home town in southwestern Ontario, and to say we were shocked was an understatement. In those days, the Leafs usually cleaned up at home on national TV on a Saturday night. Those of us who were still kids would have had our Saturday evening supper, then a bath, to get ready to enjoy watching the blue and white on the TV screen (though it was only in “black and white” in those days). The Leafs would sometimes fall behind and have to make a comeback as the game went on, but they were usually good for a win, allowing me to get my "nickel" (I’d make a bet every Saturday with my oldest sister’s then boyfriend, who liked to humour me by taking whoever the Leafs were playing that night. I won a lot of nickles).
I remember the night and the score well, but I can’t honestly recall too many specific details. I may well be wrong with regard to what I think I remember but I seem to recall Wayne Connelly and Johnny Bucyk scoring for the Bruins. But hey, a lot of guys scored that night for Boston.
There’s no question it was a stunning result. Consider for a moment: the Leafs were the two-time defending Stanley-Cup champions at the time. The Bruins were a perennial doormat (this was long before Bobby Orr arrived). The Leafs were still loaded. It was a Saturday night. Maple Leaf Gardens. National television. How could this happen? Losing to the Bruins, well, that happened, even in those days.
The Bruins went on to finish last again that season. The Leafs won the Cup again, for the third season in a row. But interestingly enough, the Bruins, when I look back at their roster now, actually had a lot of talent.
They had future Hall-of-Famers Leo Boivin and (an albeit aging) Tom Johnson on defense, along with a future star in Teddy Green. Eddie Johnston was just establishing himself in goal. Doug Mohns was another solid defenseman, a future member of the famous Blackhawk “Scooter Line” with Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram (after Mohns converted to being a forward).
Up front, they had Bucyk, another future Hall-of-Famer, along with slick Murray Oliver, wingers Andy Hebenton (a one-time NHL “ironman”) and Dean Prentice, solid offensive threats all. They also had Jean Guy Gendron, another good two-way winger, and young American-born Tommy Williams, who I have written about here before. Emerging youngsters Eddie Westfall, Gary Dornhoefer and Don Awrey played a fair bit that season, as did future Leaf (and Canuck) center Orland Kurtenbach. One of their best all-around players might have been the veteran Jerry Toppazzini, who was in his last NHL season. For all that talent, it’s a surprise that the Bruins struggled year after year. But the rest of the league was just that much better, I guess.
All this said, the game was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events. The Leafs couldn’t have been flatter and the Bruins played their best—at least their most offensively productive—game of the season.
Those of us from that ‘era’ of NHL hockey still bring up that game when we get the chance to talk about the ‘old days’.
You know what one of the most interesting twists about that game is for me (and what isn’t talked about nearly as often)? It is the fact that Don Simmons (right, in action against the Rangers and Camille Henry), who was in goal for the Leafs that infamous night, was going to be sent down to the minors by GM and Coach Punch Imlach after that disastrous 11-0 game. But the goalie that was supposed to replace Simmons (Johnny Bower was injured at the time; I cannot for the life of me remember who was supposed to be coming up for the Leafs that day) couldn’t make it to Chicago on time, so Simmons stayed on and played that Sunday night in Chicago, and shut out the powerful Black Hawks with Bobby Hull and Mikita by a score of 2-0.
The major turnaround twenty-four hours after the historic loss to the Bruins just reinforced yet again that it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in sports on any given night.
Having said that, as long as the Maple Leafs play, an 11-0 game—and the circumstances surrounding it, a Stanley Cup team losing to the last place team, at home, by 11 goals in a shut-out—will surely never happen again.