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“Old” Leaf games worth watching from years gone by

Depending on where you are located, you may well have access to a few TV outlets that, from time to time, show really old NHL games.

I’m not honestly sure how many stations offer such opportunities—Leafs TV obviously does, and TSN/ESPN Classic Canada on occasion as well, I believe. The NHL Network seems to show the occasional highlight “films” (some really good footage) but not many entire games of what I would refer to as the truly “vintage” games from the late ’50 and early 1960s.

From what I have been able to watch in recent years, there are some games that are particularly worth watching, if you can find the time. It’s really fascinating to see how the pace of the game has changed, the size of the equipment, the goalies and their styles—so much is vastly different.

Of course, the fierce determination is still there, the skilled players and the gritty guys, the fighters and disturbers. So many colorful coaches and real characters. Great stuff, and it allows us to see what the game was really like forty and more years ago.

I’ll highlight old games that come to mind, with a focus on Leaf “classic” games:

  • Game 7 of the 1959 semi-finals between the Leafs and the Bruins. This was the famous spring when the Leafs made an improbable run at the end of the season to surpass the Rangers, and earn a playoff berth on the very last night of the regular season. They then played the Bruins—who were a pretty good team with Lumley in goal, Boivin and Flaman on defense, the “Use Line” (Bucky, Horvath and Stadium) and a very young future Leaf in Larry Hillman. Game 7 was a fabulous game, with the Leafs coming from behind to win and advance to the finals against the powerful Canadiens.

  • This leads me to Game 3 of the subsequent series, the ’59 finals against Montreal. It’s the first game of the series at Maple Leaf Gardens, and I can give away the ending because it happened more than 50 years ago. Dickie Duff, one of my favorite Leafs, scores the winner in overtime against Jacques Plante.

  • 1964 semi-finals, game 7 against Montreal at the Forum. What a game. Listening to Danny Gallivan, almost five decades later, still makes my heart flutter. He had an unmistakable sound, a way of building to a verbal crescendo at key moments unlike anything I’ve heard before or sense. It was a tremendous game, the last in a back and forth series. Charlie Hodge and Johnny Bower were outstanding in goal. Billy Hick (traded the next season for Duff) was outstanding for the Habs that night. Dave Keon scored three goals and Toronto held on to win 3-1. Watch this game if you can.

  • Later that spring came one of the most famous OT games in Leaf history—Game 6 in Detroit. To me, the Red Wings should have won that game many times in regulation, but the Leafs hung in and, after seeing his ankle snap and being carried off on a stretch, Leaf defenseman Bobby Baun returned and scored the winner early in the overtime session against Terry Sawchuk. The goal was a fluke, and allowed Toronto to return home for game 7, which they won to earn their third Cup in a row.

  • In 1965, the Red Wings and Black Hawks went down to a deciding game in the semi-finals. This season marked the return of Red Wing legend Ted Lindsay after a prolonged retirement. The Wings finished first in the regular season, but the Hawks had Bobby Hull (pictured at right), Mikita, Pilote, Glen Hall and a host of others. The Wings led the game early, but the Hawks finished them off in a great comeback to move on to face the Habs in the finals. Hull scores a goal on one of his patended slap shots against Detroit goalie Roger Crozier.  You’ll enjoy watching Hull at his finest in this one.

  • In 1967, there were a number of key playoff games for Toronto’s “Over the Hill gang”. If you can ever watch the second game of the Chicago series, it’s great stuff. The ice looks awful—it was hard for some rinks to maintain good ice in the spring in those days—but the leafs rebounded after a terrible first game of the playoff in Chicago. This game turned the series around, and gave the Leafs the confidence that they could play with the big boys that playoff year.

  • In the '67 finals, there are two games that are sometimes shown that make the grade: Game 3 in Toronto is the famous double-overtime game won by the Leafs on Bob Pulford’s winner. Montreal goalie Rogie Vachon (who Punch Imlach famously called a Jr. B goalie before the series even started) and Bower were superb that night. It’s a great game to watch. If the Leafs had lost that one, I can’t imagine they would have stopped Montreal, who were coming off two Cup years in succession.

  • In the spring of ’71, the Leafs had a pretty good—and young team—on the verge of really solid things, until the WHA came along. They still had Keon and Norm Ullman, and Plante and Bernie Parent in goal. They played a great series against the Rangers. If you can ever watch Game 2, the Leafs played really well at Madison Square Garden, and tied the series. That was the night Vic Hadfield threw Parent’s mask up in the stands during one of several bench-clearing brawls. Eddie Giacomin left his crease to join the brawl. 

  • A couple of nights later, the Leafs played an almost perfect game in Game 3, and beat the Rangers at the Gardens 3-1. They had seeming control of the series, but had to play their fourth game in five nights (so did the Rangers, of course) and came out flat on that Sunday night and lost 4-2. They never rebounded and lost the series in 6 games. But Game 3 was one of the best all-around playoff games the Leafs played in the ‘70s.

  • It’s painful, but Game 7 of the finals that year between Montreal and Chicago was excellent to watch. The Hawks should have won that game, but Montreal came back from a 2-0 deficit, with Henri Richard scoring the winner in the third period.. You’ll enjoy this one, unless, like me, you hated Montreal intensely back then.

  • Game 6 of the 1974 final between the “Big Bad bruins” and the “Broad Street Bullies”- Bobby Orr versus Bobby Clarke. The difference in the end was Bernie Parent, but it’s a game worth watching for many reasons, among them the fact that Orr was still on top of his game—t hough not for much longer due to injuries. 

  • I’ve never agreed that it was the greatest hockey game ever played, but if you want to see the Canadiens almost at their best (they were about to embark on a run of 4 Cups in a row) watch the New Years Eve game at the Forum between Montreal and the Soviet red Army. The Russian club team was not at its best, but Montreal came out flying and Gallivan makes the contest feel even more electrifying. It ended in a 3-3 tie, though Montreal dominated the game for the most part.
There are many other great games during that era I could highlight, and a host of others in the later 1970s and ‘80s, but I wanted to focus primarily on the period between the mid-1950s and the mid-‘70s. To appreciate the game we have now, it can only help to understand how the game was played in earlier eras, and to watch some of the all-time greats—and the lesser-known role-players—who took part in some of these unbelievable games.

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