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Little-known Leafs from the early 1960s: John MacMillan and John Brenneman

You know how you remember certain names- they played years ago and you remember their names, but not much else about them? That’s how it is with me and some old-time Maple Leafs.  I don’t remember them all distinctly.  Some I recall in vivid detail—the number they wore, the way they played, their “stats”…

Others I remember but only kind of….just a bit, really.

Two of those individuals, however, both played on Stanley Cup teams—John MacMillan and later, John Brenneman.

MacMillan was very unusual for his era, in that he came out of the U.S. college ranks, like the much higher-profile “Red” Berenson a few years later, when that was very much the road less-travelled to the NHL.

MacMillan was a Canadian kid but likely took a scholarship to play State-side.  I really don’t know the details.  In any event, I was born in 1953 so I remember that he played for the Leafs a bit during the 1960-’61 season, and also during the playoffs that spring.  He did the same the following season.  While his “numbers” weren’t big, I recall that he could skate well.  MacMillan (seen in one of those wonderful old Harold Barkley photos at right, in early 1960s action at the Gardens.  He is rushing back to help out Leaf goalie Johnny Bower...) played in the ’62 playoffs enough that his name should be on the Stanley Cup.

The next season, in 1962-’63, he only played a handful of games for Toronto, but also played once in the playoffs, as the Leafs took out the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games that spring. (So he may actually have his name on the Cup twice…)

Ironically, he was picked up on waivers the following season by Detroit, and the Leafs and Wings met in the finals again—as they had the year before when MacMillan was with the Leafs. If you ever get to watch some of the old games on Leafs TV, the NHL Network or on ESPN CLassics, you’ll see MacMillan playing a bit for Detroit in that classic 7-game series against Toronto in the spring of ’64.  It was a series that could easily have gone Detroit’s way.  In fact, MacMillan had a hand in the goal in Game 6 that gave Detroit a 2-1 lead in the second period, I think it was.  Two young players (and future stars), Pit Martin and Paul Henderson, scored second-period goals to spur the Wings, who had trailed the Leafs 1-0.  Gordie Howe set up Junior Langlois when it was 2-1 but Bower made a huge save to keep the Leafs in the game.  The rest is hockey history. (That game of course is the famous Bobby Baun overtime-winner-on-a-broken-ankle game.)

That would have been something, to see a young utility player like MacMillan earn Cups with two different teams in back-to-back seasons.  He came awfully close.  But I was a big Leaf fan, and wasn't too concerned with that "angle" way back then.  I just wanted the Leafs to win their third Cup in a row.

MacMillan had some nice minor-league seasons until the early ‘70s, but never got another NHL shot, even with expansion in play in those years.

For his part, Brenneman was picked up by the Leafs on waivers from the Rangers before the 1966-67 season.  He played half the season with Toronto, and contributed, but I don’t think he had the opportunity to play in the playoffs.  (He may not have his name on the Cup, I'm not sure.)  He ended up in Detroit the next season, but eventually was traded by Detroit to the Oakland Seals for former Leaf teammate,  defenseman Kent Douglas.  I believe Brenneman played with ex-Leafs like Bobby Baun and Billy Harris in Oakland and was coached for a while by Bert Olmstead, the rugged ex-Montreal winger who helped the Leafs win their Stanley Cup in 1962.

Like MacMillan, Brenneman played minor-league hockey into the ‘70s.

Two names that I remember, both part of Leaf history- and the Maple Leaf family.

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