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When the Leafs would play Saturday night at 8pm—and Sunday at Noon—on the road!

Nowadays, when an NHL team has an afternoon game on Saturday or plays later in the evening, they usually don’t play again for at least 24 hours. That said, the Leafs have, twice in the last month or so, faced the peculiar scheduling situation where they play at home on Saturday night at 7, then turn around and play a late afternoon at 5 the next day.

But back in the early 1970s, television created some even odder scheduling.

Television still drives the bus, of course. The NHL will do anything it can to mollify its current network partners—Versus, NBC and the CBC.

Anything to promote the game. Fair enough, I suppose.

It was that way too forty years ago, when, in the early 1970s, CBS would televise one game a week on Sunday afternoons. Every once in a while the Leafs were the featured team for the Sunday afternoon contest.

But the odd thing was that, on occasion, even when the Leafs were scheduled to play the Sunday afternoon game on U.S. television (always in a U.S. city), they still had a home game Saturday night at Maple leaf Gardens . And to make matters worse, in those days, the Saturday games started at 8pm at the Gardens.

So you can imagine this scenario. The Leafs from 1970-’73 were a rebuilding team. They were still usually pretty good at home on a Saturday night. But when these scheduling oddities occurred, they would hop on a plane after their night game and go up against a U.S. based team—usually the powerful Boston Bruins in Boston—the next afternoon. They played in the old Boston Garden, the tiny rink where the “Big Bad Bruins” loved to bat about their opposition, including the often passive Leafs. (The Leafs did have a couple of young guys, Jim Harrison and Brian Spencer, who could take care of themselves, and Jim Dorey and Rick Ley on the back end, but not a lot else in terms of toughness.)

Now, back then, the Bruins may have played the night before, too, but they were either at home or close to home. The Leafs would have been on a plane until maybe 2 or 3 in the morning, hit the hotel, unwind, fall sleep at say, 4am, then have to be up and at the rink by 10am or so for a Noon or 1pm start. (I can’t remember for sure if the games started as early as Noon.)

It made no sense.

Junior hockey teams have that kind of weekend schedule, and that’s hard enough when you’re travelling by bus. But you can imagine why the Leafs usually struggled in these afternoon games

This was in the hey day of Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and tough guys like Cashman, Hodge, Sanderson and McKenzie. It was hard enough playing those guys when you were well rested.

The bottom line was that teams like Montreal and Toronto created decent TV ratings, even in the U.S., because of the longstanding rivalries involved with original teams like New York, Chicago and Boston.

I’d love to know Toronto’s record in those early 1970s afternoon games on CBS. It wasn’t very good, I know that.

If anyone can remember if the games started at Noon or 1pm, send a post!

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