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Remembering Don Simmons, 1962 Maple Leaf Cup hero

A regular reader, Long Suffering Leaf fan, mentioned to me recently that the Leaf community lost another of its members relatively recently.

I wasn’t aware that Don Simmons had died, having passed away in late September.

Fans from the 1950s and ‘60s era will remember Don as a fine goaltender for almost 20 years at the professional level.  Old-time Bruin fans in particular will remember him because he was an integral part of some good Bruin teams in the late 1950s who played against the powerful Montreal Canadiens in the finals a couple of times.

Leaf fans knew him because he was one of Johnny Bower’s back-ups in the early 1960s.  He was around after Eddie Chadwick but before Bruce Gamble earned a toe-hold as the number one “back-up”.

I’ve posted about Simmons (see the great Harold Barkley photo at the top of this story, with Montreal's Henri Richard in front of Simmons in the Toronto net) in the past, and actually tried on a couple of occasions to set up an interview with him.  I spoke with one of his sons, who runs Don’s very successful goalie equipment store in Fort Erie, Ontario.  I also had the opportunity to chat more than a year ago with Don briefly and also later with his wife, but my impression was that Don was not well, and was, simply, a very private man and was not a person who enjoyed reminiscing about his old hockey days.  So I didn’t push it.

While I was sorry that I never had the opportunity to do an actual interview with him, I’ll always have a very vivid memory of Simmons in the last game of the 1962 Stanley Cup finals.  The Leafs were playing the defending Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks and led the series three games to two.  I was watching in the “sun room”, as we called it, of my family’s small house on our old black and white TV set.

Game six was in Chicago, and Simmons was in goal because Bower had been injured earlier in the series.  (I can’t remember if it was in Game four or game five.)  I was 8 years old in the spring of ’62, but I was an avid enough fan to know that Simmons played well that April night.  The game was scoreless into the third period, then Bobby Hull scored to make it 1-0.  The crowd went rather wild, throwing all kinds of stuff on the ice, and after the long delay the Leafs tied it up (Bobby Nevin, as I recall), then scored again (Dickie Duff, I think).  Simmons held the fort and the Leafs earned their first Cup under “Punch” Imlach, and their first since 1951.  (In those days people thought that was a long time in between Cups...)

Simmons was with the Leafs (or their minor-league affiliate in Rochester) for the next couple of years, and ended up with the New York Rangers in the late ‘60s, playing mostly in the AHL.

Interestingly, Don was one of the first after Jacques Plante (maybe the first) to wear the mask, donning one with the Bruins.  Besides being a fine goalie, he was a rarity in his day in that he caught with his left-hand. None of the first-string NHL goalies in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were lefties, at least none that I recall, other than when Don was playing a lot with the Bruins.  Later, I remember Roger Crozier in Detroit was a very successful “lefty”, beginning in the mid-1960s.   He replaced the legendary Terry Sawchuk with the Wings.  In the early expansion years, Les Binkley of the Penguins was another lefty.

As for Simmons, he was one of those players who made the game special for me as a youngster, and someone I’ll always remember fondly.

Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Blog 

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