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Kadri and the Montreal-Toronto clash evokes memories of Tiger Williams’ first NHL goal at the Forum

Some of the best Leaf hockey of the season, year in and year out, often comes when they face the Habs, especially in Montreal.  There’s something about the building, just like in the old Forum, especially on a Saturday night, that usually leads to goals, excitement and close games.

I went to my first Toronto-Montreal game at the Forum in the mid-‘70s, but I’ll chat about that another time.  As far as the rivalry itself, well, in my lifetime, it was at its best in the old six-team days in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, but even into the late ‘60s it was pretty strong.  When Montreal became dominant in the 1970s and the Leafs struggled some of those years, it was a bigger deal for Leaf fans, because our guys were the underdogs, especially when the Leafs visited the Forum.  But the games were almost always a treat.

This past Saturday’s game had, especially for November, quite an electric atmosphere.  Unfortunately for Toronto fans, it didn’t go the Leafs way.  The team missed so many good scoring chances.  Price was good, but sometimes it was simply good—or bad—fortune.  Young Kadri came achingly close to scoring his first NHL goal.

That ‘almost’ moment brought back memories of a game about mid-way through the 1974-’75 season between the Leafs and Montreal. The Leafs were having a very rough season.  Montreal, meanwhile, was a very strong team, though they didn’t end up winning the Cup in the spring of 1975 (the Flyers won again).

Early that season, Dave Williams, nicknamed “Tiger”, was a Leaf draft choice biding his time in the old Central Hockey League. I think he was with the Leaf affiliate in Oklahoma City. (Interestingly, Tiger was selected 31st overall, so in today’s terms, he would have been virtually a first-rounder.) Now, Tiger was not the fastest skater in the world.  In fact, he was not a fast or stylish skater at all.  He had a choppy stride and had to work hard to get where he wanted to go.  As the Leafs were a veteran line-up at the time, for the most part, he started his first pro season in the minors.

But Tiger was a fighter.  He put up huge penalty minutes in the Western junior league, and also in the minors.  The Leafs obviously liked his toughness, especially as this was in the midst of the “Broad Street Bully” era.  About mid-way through the season the Leafs brought him up.

I can’t recall for sure, but I believe it was a cold January night in Montreal, a Saturday, when the Leafs ventured into Montreal.  They had been losing a lot, and Montreal was expected to hammer them.  But lo and behold, the Leafs upset them that night, setting off a nice little celebration amongst a few of us Leaf supporters who were students (of a sort) at the University of Toronto at the time and hanging out at our buddy’s downtown apartment. 

I remember the game in broad strokes, but the one thing I definitely remember is that that was the night Tiger Williams scored his first NHL goal.  I think it was a wrist shot against, of all people, Hall-of-Famer Ken Dryden, who the Leafs usually struggled against.  And that was when Leaf fans were introduced to Tiger’s famous (or infamous) goal celebration.  He launched himself back toward center ice and swung his arm, (carrying his stick) widly, as I recall, for what seemed like forever.

Now, I’d never seen a goal celebration like that.  I’m not sure if any hockey fan had. In later years, Mike Foligno would jump up high after he scored, both legs up in the air at the same time.  But Tiger’s almost rink-long dash back toward his own goal was absolutely unique, at least as best I can remember.  Over the years, he modified it a back, and often would swing his arm around over and over like a fast windmill, or slide along the ice on his knees or ride his stick back to center ice.  But it was always funny (and a bit odd) to see Tiger skating literally away from his teammates as he celebrated in his own little world— much like some football players do nowadays before they finally join their teammates to embrace and share the achievement together.

Tiger went on to a productive career with the Leafs (part of the Roger Neilson teams that upset the Islanders and also faced Montreal twice in the playoffs in the late ‘70s).  Tiger also helped the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup finals in the early ‘80s before finishing his career with Detroit and the Kings in LA.  (If you’re interested in listening to an old interview from the early 1980s that I did with Tiger, check out the menu on the right-hand side under Audio “vintage” interviews.  He was a very entertaining guy to speak with and to listen to.)  he also spent a bit of time with the old Hartford Whalers.

Tiger was a character, and as a player, he had character, and was a tremendous team guy, could score goals (well over 200 in his career) and make plays—which is why he lasted so long in the league, despite not being classified as a skill guy.

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