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Larry Jeffrey: solid early ‘60s Red Wing helped Leafs to the Cup in 1967

Watching classic Leaf games on Leafs TV from the early ‘60s, one of the players I appreciate even more now than when I was a kid is forward Larry Jeffrey.

Originally from Goderich, Ontario, he came up in the (for him) nearby Hamilton Red Wing junior system. When I look back and see how he played—not a huge guy but plenty gritty—I’m really impressed. He helped the Red Wings get to the finals in 1963 and 1964 and the Wings, by all rights, should have won the Cup in ’64. In those 1964 playoffs, Jeffrey, then only 23, played all 14 games the Wings were in against Chicago and then the Leafs and earned 7 points while putting up 28 minutes in penalties.

Though never considered a “star” Jeffrey was, in my mind, an impact player in those early Red Wing years.

If you look back on those Detroit - Toronto playoff games, the Leafs had their best-ever line-up in the modern post-1951 era. They were strong all over, particularly up the middle with Kelly, Pulford, Harris and Keon—and had great depth.

Detroit played them tough, however. The Wings relied on three main defensemen, Doug Barkley, Bill Gadsby and Marcel Pronovost. They had high-end guys like Howe, Delvecchio and Ullman up front. Beyond that really had to rely on crafty, hard-working guys—Parker McDonald, Floyd Smith, Vic Stasiak, Val Fonteyne and later they integrated youngsters like Pit Martin and Paul Henderson. Jeffrey fit that mold of a hard-working, two-way player that complemented the big stars. But could also play on the power play, and was a pain to play against.

In those days, Red Wing coach Sid Abel, a former playing great himself as the center on the “Production Line” with Howe and "Terrible Ted" Lindsay, was a player’s coach. He favored an offensive approach and would often utilize five forwards on the power play, with Howe and Delvecchio on the points, even in the playoffs. Jeffrey was a key winger in that mix and earned some power play time. (We have included a picture above of Jeffrey in action against the Black Hawks, circa 1963.)

Those early 1960s playoff games are a treat to watch, especially the games at the old Detroit Olympia. The fans are right on top of the players and they’re boisterous—they didn’t need a P.A. guy or scoreboard encouragement to get them going.

I do seem to remember that Jeffrey dealt with a lot of injuries throughout his career. He never played a full season, and that may have been a part of his being included in the major trade between Detroit and the Leafs in the summer of ’65. That was the deal that saw long-time Leaf center Billy Harris go to the Wings along with ex-Ranger Andy Bathgate. In return the Leafs acquired Marcel Pronovost, Eddie Joyal and Jeffrey. (Joyal played well with Detroit, too, and went on to have some excellent seasons with the expansion LA Kings.)

It was a deal that helped Toronto win their last Cup. I’ve credited Pronovost in an earlier post (The trade that won the ’67 Cup) but Jeffrey deserves some of the accolades, too.

He missed most of the his first season in Toronto, but certainly contributed the following season (1966-’67), scoring 28 points in only 56 regular-season games—pretty good numbers in the old six-team NHL.

He was in good form in the first round of the playoffs against the Hawks, helping the Leafs upset the powerful Chicago club featuring Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote and Glenn Hall in 6 games.

If you ever have a chance to watch those semi-final games, you’ll notice that Jeffrey was a persistent presence for the Leafs. He was injured in the last game of the Hawk series, and couldn’t play in the finals against Montreal. He was on crutches when the Leafs celebrated their Cup victory on Gardens ice after Game 6 of the Montreal series (see photo at right).

He was lost in the expansion draft in the summer of ’67, but was dealt immediately by Pittsburgh to the Rangers. He played two seasons for New York and was then traded back to his original team, the Red Wings, in the summer of ‘69 for the legendary Terry Sawchuk, his teammate on the 1967 Leaf Cup-winning team. Sawchuk was at the tail-end of his career.

Unfortunately, Jeffrey was in an off-ice accident that fall before the 1969-’70 season started and never played again.

I remember Jeffrey fondly, and while he was the “enemy” as a Red Wing in the early ‘60s, he was a fine player who was instrumental in the Leafs attaining capturing their last Cup.

Toronto Maple Leaf Blog

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