So with this being a ‘slow’ period in terms of Leaf talk, I thought it might be timely (and maybe fill a bit of a void) to share a few of my fondest memories of particular moments in Maple Leaf history that have occurred since I was ‘hockey sentient’. (That happened in the late 1950s…)
Without further adieu, here are moments that stand out (in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance…)
- During the 1960-’61 season, a then young Frank Mahovlich was on fire. It looked like he would, for sure, break Rocket Richard’s single-season scoring record of 50 goals. In context, that was considered a major, major record. But his playmaking center, Red Kelly, was hurt for a time and Frank cooled off over the last few weeks of the season. I remember him scoring number 48 at home against the Bruins on the second to last night of the season, but he didn’t make it to 50. Meanwhile, Montreal winger “Boom Boom” Geoffrion picked up steam at the season went on and actually passed “The Big M” (see a great old photo of a young Mahovlich at right), finishing the year with 50 goals to tie the Rocket.
- The night the Leafs first won a Cup in my lifetime, which happened in the spring of 1962—game 6 in Chicago. Johnny Bower had been hurt earlier in the series and lefty Don Simmons was manning our net. Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the third period of Game 6 and it looked like Game 7 would be needed. But there was a huge delay after Hull scored because fans threw all kinds of stuff on the ice. The Hawks lost their momentum and the Leafs scored twice, then hung on in the dying seconds to capture their first Cup since 1951. I was praying hard that night—and it paid off. (The photo above is a shot of the Leafs after they won that night in Chicago. Don Simmons is on the far left...)
- I can’t ever forget the night Dave Keon scored three goals to help the Leafs upset the Habs in Game 7 of the 1964 semi-finals right in Montreal. Beating the Habs at the Forum was never easy in those days, and Keon’s big night helped give the Leafs a change to advance to the finals. They ultimately won their third Cup in succession.
- In the very next game the Leafs played that spring, Game 1 of the ’64 finals at the Gardens against Detroit, Bob Pulford scored a breathtaking short-handed goal against Terry Sawchuk with about two second left in
- Game 6 of the 1967 Cup finals is obviously a wonderful memory. Only now can I sit back and watch the game (it really was a classic) and relax a bit. I still get tense, though, watching the dying minutes after ex-Leaf (and a Leaf I really loved) Dickie Duff, seen at right in his early Leaf days with the aforementioned Pulford, scored on a brilliant solo rush to bring Montreal within a goal. The final-minute defensive zone face-off (taken by a defenseman, Allan Stanley—can you imagine that nowadays?) and the ensuing George Armstrong empty-net goal still stand out—and always will.
- The 1971 quarter-final series against the powerful New York Rangers (Giacomin, Park, Ratelle, etc.) became a near upset in favour of the blue and white. The Leafs played such sound hockey in the first three games and actually led the series at that point. Game 3 at the Gardens was a particularly fond memory, with Billy MacMillan and Garry Monahan combining for a beautiful tap-in goal to clinch the win. I really thought the Leafs had a shot at advancing. Unfortunately, they fell flat in Game 4, and never rebounded in the series. That ’70-’71 squad, however, was one of my favourite Leaf teams ever.
- I was at the Gardens (I know, I know, everyone says they were there) up in the ‘greys’ the night Darryl Sittler scored 10 points against the Boston Bruins. I believe that was the winter of ’76. Sittler was already a ‘name’ performer but that put him over in a big way, and he was named that fall to the Canada Cup team.
- The Lanny McDonald overtime goal in Game 7 against the favoured Islanders on the road against Chico Resch in April of 1978 was something special. I was working up in Sault Ste. Marie watching the game with a buddy. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier as a Leaf fan. We went out honking our car horns after that goal. (Hey, I was young…). Of course, we later traded him to the Rockies (lower right). Go figure.
- The ‘80s were not the best of times to be a Leaf fan, but it coincided with my wife and I having young children so it probably worked out for the best. (I didn't have quite as much free time to devote to following the Leafs.) I do remember Mike Allison scoring an overtime goal in the playoffs against the Red Wings in the spring of ’87 (or was it ’88?). The Leafs took a three-to-one lead in games but ended up losing to the Red Wings, unfortunately. Those were the days of the ever-volatile John Brophy behind the Leaf bench.
- The 1993 playoffs, but notably Game 6/Game 7 against the Kings may well have been at the top of this list had we managed to win. That would have set up a final series against the hated Habs—a replay, in a sense, of the famous ’67 series. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. But Wendel Clark's 'hat trick' in Game 6 is etched in my memory bank. What a game he had.
- Those early 2000s’ playoff series against Ottawa provided all kinds of special moments, but for me, the biggest one was the Gary Roberts (triple??) overtime winner. If the Leafs had lost that game, as I recall, the series would pretty much have been over. But they won and eventually beat the Senators—again.
- Sundin scoring in the last seconds to send Game 6 of the 2002 semi-finals against the Hurricanes into overtime was big, too. I had almost lost hope that night, but the captain gave us a chance. Losing that one in overtime hurt. Still does. We should have been in the finals that year.
A short list can’t cover almost 55 years of Leaf memories. There was the Mahovlich trade in ’68; acquiring Bernie Parent in the winter of ’71 is something I’ll always remember. Finding out Keon was leaving the organization in the summer of ’75 hurt, pushed out the door by then owner Harold Ballard. Lanny McDonald being traded; Sittler being dealt in the early ‘80s to, of all teams, the Flyers. Defensemen with vast potential like Gary Nylund and Al Iafrati, who saw their Leaf careers curtailed by injuries. The short but passionate Pat Burns era with that ‘no-name’ defense and a kid in goal, Felix Potvin. Doug Gilmour. So many memories.
I know it’s a slow, non-hockey time, but if you happen to have dropped by VLM, by all means share a couple of your most treasured Leaf memories, whether “ancient” (like a lot of mine!) or relatively recent…