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The Canucks at the ACC tonight

The Vancouver Canucks, the Leafs’ opponent tonight, may be building toward something they’ve never won before: A Stanley Cup.

They’re obviously a contender, with the Sedins in their prime, some strong two-way forwards and Luongo holding up the back end. But it wasn’t always this way.
The Canucks joined the NHL for the 1970-’71 season with a bit of a whimper. I say this not because there wasn’t a lot of excitement about it on the west coast, but because they joined at the same time as Buffalo, and the Sabres were much more successful in their early years than were the Canucks.
The Sabres hired former Leaf GM and coach Punch Imlach from day one. While he relied on some old guys (including ex-Leafs Eddie Shack, Floyd Smith and Dick Duff) and no-names, as most expansion teams had to in those days, he also utilized the draft very, very well. He built a contender that was good enough to reach the Cup finals in 1975- a remarkable four short years after their very first season in the league.
It all started with a “spin of the wheel” for both Buffalo and Vancouver. That was to decide who would get the first overall pick in the June, 1970 amateur draft. When the wheel stopped, it at first looked like Vancouver’s number had come up. They were celebrating, but it turned out that the Sabres “won” the spin, and so they had the first choice.
That one stroke of luck set the two franchises on very different paths. The Sabres grabbed junior phenom Gilbert Perreault with that selection, while the Canucks went with Toronto Marlies graduate, defenseman Dale Tallon. Both wanted Perreault very badly.
Tallon was a nice player, but Perreault was an absolute game-changer, the fastest skater of his generation (along with Orr), with amazing explosive speed. Like a modern-day Ovechkin, Perreault was a brilliant offensive player who could make great moves at high speed.
In ensuing years, Imlach shrewdly added draft selections like Richard Martin, Danny Gare, Jim Schoenfeld, Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay, while acquiring others like Don Luce and tough guys Jerry Korab and former Leaf winger Brian Spencer.
Despite their early success, the Sabres never quite fully got over the hump—in part because they were never able to acquire elite goaltending—and eventually fired Imlach in the late ‘70s. They brought in another multiple-Cup winner, Scotty Bowman. That didn’t work either, but that’s a story for another day.
As for the Canucks, they floundered for years. But late in the 1981-’82 season they got hot and made it all the way to the finals with “King Richard”, Richard Brodeur, in goal. Nonetheless, they lost in four straight to the Islanders who were in the middle of a string of four Cups in a row.
More mediocrity followed. The only other Canuck squad that made the finals was the 1994 edition under Pat Quinn. They lost a heartbreaker in 7 games to Mike Keenan, Mark Messier and the Rangers.
While they had other good teams in the Quinn and later Brian Burke years, they never won a championship.
So with the Leafs-Canucks on tap tonight, here are some historical reflections on the Canucks and some Leaf-Canuck tie-ins:

 • Ex-Leaf and Hab goalie Cesare Maniago, though best-known for his strong years in Minnesota, was a very popular Canuck at the end of his career in the mid-1970s.

• Another former Leaf, rugged centerman Orland Kurtenbach, a Leaf for one season after time with the Bruins (pictured), was an original Canuck and a fine captain for Vancouver until his retirement.

• Along with Maniago, Marc Reaume, a 1950s Leaf, is one of the few guys from that golden era ever to play with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in the NHL.

• A Toronto Marlie in his Junior hockey days, big defenseman Bob Dailey was a first-round draft choice of the Canucks in the early ‘70s, but had maybe his best seasons later in Philadelphia with the Flyers.

• Rosaire Paiement was one of the really tough original Canucks.

• The Leafs for many years owned a minor-league affiliate in Vancouver until then Leaf owner Stafford Smythe sold the team—after the Leafs won the Cup in 1967. Imlach was upset that Smythe did that, as it cut off a player supply channel for the big team.

• Long-time Leaf coach Pat Quinn played with the Canucks in their first season, before moving on to Atlanta and eventually becoming captain of the Flames.

• Charlie Hodge, who won two Cups with Montreal in the mid-‘60s, was the first “number one” goalie in Vancouver history.

• Former NHL player Hal Laycoe (pictured) was the first coach of the Canucks. An incident involving Laycoe, while with the Bruins, and Rocket Richard led to a lengthy Richard suspension, which in turn led to the “Richard riots” in Montreal in March of 1955.

• A member of the 1950s Boston “Uke Line”, Vic Stasiuk (pictured) coached the Canucks for one season – 1972-’73. He also coached in Oakland in 1971-‘72 and for the Flyers in 1970-’71- three teams in three seasons, which is likely an NHL record.

• Future Leaf goaltender Dunc Wilson played in the early ‘70s with Vancouver.

• Ray Cullen, the younger brother of Brian and Barrie Cullen who played with the Leafs in the 1950s, was an early Canuck.

• Defenseman Dennis Kearns (pictured) didn’t make it to the NHL until he was 26, but he was a well-respected Canuck. He had a solid 10-year career, all with the Canucks, beginning in 1971-’72.

• Ken Block, who the Leafs acquired from Los Angeles to allow Red Kelly to retire and coach the expansion Kings in 1967, was later picked up by the Canucks.

• Early ’70s Leafs John Grisdale, Garry Monahan and Mike Walton all played together for the Canucks in the mid-1970s.

• A very speedy and talented player, Bobby Lalonde, must have been one of the shortest players in NHL history. He was 5 feet, 5 inches.

• Former Marlie player (in the 1950s) Harry Neale was a GM and coach with the Canucks in the early ‘80s, after many years coaching in the WHA and U.S. college hockey.

• One of my favorite all-time NHL’ers, Stan Smyl, was a long-time Canuck who, if I’m not mistaken, went to the Memorial Cup four times as a junior player.

• When the Canucks made it to the finals in the spring of 1982, popular ex-Leaf tough guy/goal scorer Tiger Williams was a key performer for the Canucks that spring. The late Roger Neilson coached the team in the playoffs, after a suspension to the aforementioned GM/Coach Harry Neale.

• Rick Vaive, who came to Toronto from Vancouver in the Tiger Williams trade, scored 50 goals for the Leafs on three separate occasions in the ‘80s.

• Jim Benning, who Punch Imlach drafted for the Leafs in the early ‘80s, never really got the time he needed to develop properly in Toronto. He played with the Canucks late in his career.

• Leaf ‘80s “Hound Line” center Russ Courtnall played for the Canucks in the mid-‘90s.

• Jimmy Carson, part of the massive Gretzky to LA deal, also played with Vancouver in the mid-‘90s.

• Pavel Bure had to be one of the most exciting players I’ve ever seen.

• A one-time 70+ goal scorer with Buffalo, Alex Mogilny played for Pat Quinn in Vancouver and Toronto.

• I never liked the fact that when Mark Messier joined the Canucks in the 1990s, Trevor Linden gave up his captaincy to Messier. While everyone claimed it was Linden’s decision, I just didn’t like it. The Canucks never made the playoffs while Messier was with the team.

• Stanley-Cup winning coach Marc Crawford coached in Toronto’s minor-league system before coaching in the NHL.

The Canucks are embarking on a lengthy road trip, starting tonight. The Leafs should compete well. It may just be time for Kessel to break out

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