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Just like it was yesterday

My wife asked me recently who won the World Series last year. I couldn’t remember.

That was something that happened less than a year ago.

But if someone started a conversation about who played for a particular team in the NHL in 1959, when I was 6 years old, I could drop half a dozen names per team with barely a pause.

And thankfully, exposure to digital TV, specifically Leafs TV, has allowed old hockey fans from the Original Six days like myself to, in recent years, watch the same games that were first seen on live TV. For me, it was on my family’s old black and white set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, when I was between 5 and 10 or so years of age. It brings back the great old names as though it were yesterday.

No doubt many of you have had the same experience.

One specific highlight recently was seeing games from the spring of 1959. I was a budding Leaf booster back then, surrounded by a house full of very rabid Montreal Canadiens fans. Those tilts, recaptured all these years later on Leafs TV, involved the Leafs and Bruins in Game 7 in Boston of their semi-final series, and Games 1 and 2 of the 1959 Habs-Toronto final series.

What a wonderful treat. There were so many names that I still remember, either from listening to many games on the radio, watching on television once a week (Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights, after watching Leave it to Beaver and then the Jackie Gleason show) or simply talking at length to my father about those players as a child.

The Bruins that particular night featured veteran goalie Harry Lumley, Leo Boivin, Doug Mohns, Fernie Flaman, Fleming Mackell, a young Johnny Bucyk and other stalwarts such as Vic Stasiuk and Bronco Horvath. The Habs featured an array of stars such as Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Dickie Moore, “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, the “Pocket Rocket”, Henri Richard,along with well-known foot-soldiers such as Tom Johnson, Claude Provost and Marcel Bonin.

The Leafs were then a mixture of the young talent that was to later help them win Cups in the early 60’s—Baun, Brewer, Horton, Pulford—and veterans such as George Armstrong, Allan Stanley and Johnny Bower, though Bower was still, despite his age, a relative newcomer to the NHL at the time.

There were many other great old names. Gerry Ehman. Larry Regan. As kids, we almost all knew almost every player in the league.

For those of us who were raised on hockey in the late 50’s and very early 60’s, there were - and still are - a few players stood out above the crowd. The big names jump out, such as the “Rocket” and Jean Beliveau in Montreal, Frank Mahovlich in Toronto, Gordie Howe in Detroit, Bobby Hull in Chicago, Andy Bathgate in New York and, a few years later, Bobby Orr in Boston.

Each of the “Original Six” clubs in those days had carved out their place in history in the NHL, which had officially begun in 1917 or thereabouts, and saw its first major expansion occur at the end of Orr’s rookie (1966-’67) season - the last season, as Leafs fans well know, that Toronto won a since- elusive Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens and the Red Wings were the dominant NHL teams in the 50’s, the Wings featuring talent such as Delvecchio, Lindsay, Pronovost, Kelly and Sawckuk. The Habs and Leafs similarly were the elite clubs of the 60’s, earning 9 Cups between them, though a young and powerful Chicago Black Hawks team earned the Cup in 1961, thanks to future Hall-of-Fame goalie Glen Hall, Hull and other outstanding players such as Pilotte, Vasko, St. Laurent, Mikita, Wharram, Hay and many others.

Watching those classic games recalled my days as a young and fervent Leaf fan in “the good old days”, prior to the onset of relative adulthood (mid-1970’s) and the eventual realities and responsibilities that often precluded being able to devote energy to hockey as an almost full-time rooting pastime.

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