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Kent Douglas' extra-long stick helped save the Cup for the Leafs in the spring of ‘63

I posted the piece below during the Montreal-Boston game Saturday night.   In the first overtime, it was ironic, I guess, that Chara blocked a shot by Cammalleri which was more good fortune (for Boston) than anything.  A bit like the "shot block" in the story below...


Probably the best Maple Leaf team of my lifetime (I was born in 1953) was the 1962-’63 edition.  That team, under then GM and coach Punch Imlach, finished first in the regular season (the last times the Leafs finished first, believe it or not) and then went on to run through two pretty good teams at the time, Montreal and Detroit, in a total of only 10 playoff games to take home the Stanley Cup. 

It was the second year in succession the blue and white had won the Cup, having dispended with the very talented Black Hawks the year before in six games.  The Hawks had won the championship the season prior, in 1961, and Toronto won Game 6 right in the old, crammed Chicago Stadium.

But in ’63 Toronto won the Cup at home for the first time since 1951, the year of the famous Bill Barilko overtime goal against Montreal.

In ’63 the Leafs were pretty dominant.  They were really strong in goal with Johnny Bower, though Don Simmons (in the minors) was available if Bower went down with injury.  (Simmons, who died just a few months ago, was a hero in 1962.   He led Toronto to their last two victories against Chicago after Bower was injured. You can click on his name to read my earlier post on the fine lefty goaltender.)

Toronto had that core group on defense, Horton and Stanley, Baun and Brewer.  In addition they had rookie of the year Kent Douglas, a minor-league veteran who provided pugnacity and a good shot from the point, as a 5th defenseman. (Teams generally relied on only four defensemen back in those days.)

Up the middle they had four really good team fixtures:  Bobby Pulford, Red Kelly, Dave Keon and Billy Harris.  Three went on to the Hall-of-Fame.

On the wings, they were strong, too, with Dickie Duff and George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich (all Hall-of-Famers, too) and Bobby Nevin, former Chicago captain Eddie Litzenberger (that's Eddie in action with the Leafs on the far right-hand side of the game-action photo at right) as well as the versatile, smooth-skating Ron Stewart (who had been a defensemen in his early years in the league) and the ever rambunctious Eddie Shack.

For that era, it was a very, very good team.

They swept past Montreal in 5 games in the semi-finals, then took on a Detroit team that wasn’t supposed to even be there.  But they were awfully good too, with Terry Sawchuk in goal and Bill Gadsby and Marcel Pronovost and a young Doug Barkley their top defensemen.

Normie Ullman (a future Leaf) was a tremendous center along with Alex Delvecchio, and of course there was all-time great Gordie Howe, who played about 40 minutes a night— and that’s not an exaggeration.

I grew up near Detroit, listened to all their games on the radio so knew the team like the back of my hand.  They also had Parker McDonald, I recall, a good winger, along with youngsters like Eddie Joyal and Bruce McGregor.  Val Fonteyne and Gerry Odroski killed penalties.  Pete Goegan was on defense, and (I believe) the colorful Howie Young was still there, too.

In any event Toronto was leading 3 games to one heading back to Toronto for Game 5.  It was very close that night, 1-1 after two periods.  Eddie Shack scored on a re-direction (I think it hit him, or his stick, it wasn’t intentional) and bounced past Sawchuk, off a shot from the point by Douglas, to give the Leafs  2-1 lead in the third.

The Leafs were holding that lead when Pulford drew a penalty with just under two minutes to go.  The Wings buzzed around Bower.  They pulled Sawchuk and  had a 6 on 4 advantage.  In a flash, Ullman had the puck on a deflection of some kind, I think it was.  He was all alone in front of the net and Bower was out of the picture from an earlier save.  Ullman wristed it at the open net and everyone, me included, watching on our family’s old black and white TV, assumed it was a goal.

But Bill Hewitt, the play-by-play voice for Hockey Night in Canada’s Leaf games back then, screamed that Ullman had somehow missed the net.  After the game, Howe blamed himself for being in the way of Ullman’s shot, but what apparently actually happened is that Douglas had stuck his stick out and deflected the puck harmlessly away.  I mention this because Douglas was known at the time for playing with the longest, heaviest, thickest stick in the league, if I’m not mistaken. 

There was no “instant video replay” in those days, so there was no way of knowing what really happened in that flash of a moment.  Maybe some people in the stands knew what really happened, but I sure didn’t.

Maybe if Douglas had a thinner, shorter stick, he would never have been able to make that “save” against Ullman.  If the Wings had tied things up and gone on to win that game in overtime, who knows what might have  happened that spring—or to Toronto’s run of three Cups in a row and four Cups overall in the glorious 1960s?

Maybe the Leafs would have won anyway, but Douglas’ stick was sure part of the story that night, when the Leafs won their second Cup in a row.

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