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Gustavsson saves a win on the first leg of a back-to-back

A good win (are there bad wins?) for the Leafs on the road in New York puts salve on the wound of back-to-back losses against the Bruins.  They struck first on the Franson blast and never lost their early lead, though there were certainly some nervous moments.

It struck me that the Leafs had their skating legs in the first half of the game and the Rangers seemed to be doing a fair bit of watching and standing.  That the Rangers made it 3-2 but could not finish their modest comeback was an encouraging sign for the blue and white.  I liked the effort in the third period. Steckel diving to save an possible icing call, bruising hits from Schenn and Phaneuf...lots of small things led to a big win.

But I'll credit Gustavsson with a big part of this one.  He could have struggled when it was 3-2, but he made some big-time saves in the third, including in the dying seconds.  The one against Brad Richards stood out for me.

It was just a better night all-around.  Rosehill seth an early tone with a scrap. Phaneuf played his usual key minutes.  Kessel earned two assists (and he could have had more).  Connolly went to the net and scored a big goal off a neat pass from Frattin on a hard-working (and smart) assist for the young winger.  Schenn was over 20 minutes.  Liles was plus 2.  Bozak skated miles.

I'm still of the view that the Leafs should fear no one, certainly no one in the Eastern Conference.

In any event, it was an uplifting effort on the front end of a back-to-back, which leads me into my post for today.


Every once in a while Leaf fans will suggest that the Leafs have a tough schedule (long road trips, some back-to-back games) but it strikes me that the Leafs don’t have an issue in that regard.

Take this year for example.  At the beginning of this season, they had an opportunity for a second "training camp" only two games into the regular season—time ostensibly to work on special teams and systems, etc.

Their western travel is limited, and they have generally had nice breaks between games on the road when they have faced an extended trip away from home.  All things being equal, they have not been hard-done by when it comes to the NHL schedule.  That includes the current back-to-back this week, visiting the Rangers and then hosting the Devils Tuesday night. (The Monday night victory should be a nice lead-in to the New Jersey contest...) 

This all got me thinking, however, about when travel really was an issue at times, in those olden days I probably talk bout too much.  Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, when it was a six-team league, games were generally played on Wednesday and/or Thursday and of course Saturday/Sunday.  You never saw a Monday or Friday game and very few on Tuesdays.  It just wasn’t necessary with that few teams.

But what you did have was the Wednesday-Thursday or the Saturday/Sunday games.  To add a little drama and ratchet up the rivalries, it was sometimes a good old-fashioned home and home two-game set.  For example, the Leafs would host the Rangers, Wings, Bruins or Hawks on a Saturday at the Gardens, and the next night, they would visit those cities for a Sunday night affair.  In between, both teams would hop on a train overnight, sleep on the train, pull into town the next morning, have a meal and a rest in the hotel and be on the ice for the game that night.  Then the Leafs would board the train again and head back home.  (In those days, Leaf home games on Saturday night started at 8pm, and games Sunday in U.S. cities began at 7—except in Chicago where games started at 8:30, Toronto time…It was a short turn-around, given the style of travel.)

I’m not suggesting it was a grueling life, but it wasn’t exactly the charter, first-class air-travel life-style that players get to experience nowadays.

By now, most modern-day hockey fans have heard all the stories about how intense the "Original Six" rivalries were in those olden days.  The Wings and Habs, for example, hated each other so much, they would avoid one another on the trains (they usually had to take the same train back on a Saturday night from Montreal to Detroit if they were playing a return match at the Olympia on Sunday night).  So much so, that Detroit players like "Terrible" Ted Lindsay (left) would wait until  the Toronto stop, get off the train and walk past the car where the Montreal players were, then get back on at the dining car.  All to avoid even minimal eye contact (and probably to prevent fisticuffs, too) while walking through the aisles of the Montreal section on their way to get some food. 

But when I talk about those days and how tough it was and the travel, etc., I’m also thinking about the way the game was actually played.  For sure, the game nowadays is played by big, strong men wearing armor for equipment in a sport now played at remarkable—and almost frightening—speeds.  I will certainly acknowledge today’s game is likely more dangerous than it has ever been, because of those very factors.  There has always been heavy hitting in the game, but the speed and the size of players (and that hard equipment) makes it potentially dangerous, for sure.

But we shouldn’t forget that the game was physically taxing on guys forty and fifty years ago, too.  Travel was tougher, as I mentioned, though they were simpler times (no security issues), to be sure.  But on the ice, the game, while certainly not played at the breathtaking speed the game is now, was indeed tough.

Leaf fans of the ‘50s will remember that Bill Gadsby hit a then young and promising Leaf defenseman (Tim Horton) so hard with a “clean” open-ice check (Horton was rushing the puck, as he liked to do, and crossed the Ranger blueline at full clip with his head down) that, if I’m not mistaken, Gadsby broke Horton’s jaw—and his leg in several places.  Gadsby (shown at right during his days with the Rangers) was a clean but rugged player who played the game tough.   Horton naturally missed a ton of time to recuperate but went on to a fabulous career.

I was very young when the Horton injury occurred, though the play has been captured on film and is shown on occasion on Leafs TV.  But I clearly remember watching a Saturday night game at the Montreal Forum, I believe it was during the 1970-’71 season, when Leaf defenseman Bobby Baun (back with the club for a second time) hit Serge Savard with an open-ice hip check and broke his leg.  Again, it was a legal check at the time, considered clean, but it was devastating for Savard.  (I seem to recall it was the second time Savard had his leg broken.   The first time he slid at high speed into those old-fashioned goal posts that wouldn’t budge…).  Savard was considered injury-prone as a result, but went on to a Hall-of-Fame career, like Horton.

I guess I’ve meandered a bit today, starting with a point about back-to-back games and morphing into this.  But I think I’m simply saying that the players today are certainly not hard done by when it comes to the demands of the schedule, for example.  NHL hockey has always been a tough game to play, physically demanding.  It was hard in the ‘50s and ‘60s to bring your best every night, and it certainly is today.  (As fans know, junior kids nowadays will often play 3 games in two and a half days; minor pro players quite routinely play three games in three nights, or four games in five nights…)

To me, today’s game is more like an explosion because of the speed and size of players involved in collisions.  The “old” game was slower, more like hand-to-hand combat you might say.  I don’t mean in the fighting sense, simply the way the game was played, including how the schedule was set up. I mention the old-time schedule in part because of those home and home weekend games.  We think the new Boston "TD Center" or whatever it is called this season is tough for visiting teams to play.  Believe me when I say it was really difficult for visiting players when they went to tiny road rinks like the old Madison Square Garden or Boston Gardens years ago.  Fans were so close to the ice, or hanging over from the balconies.  Players could feel the fans.   I remember the old Olympia in Detroit, having attended many games there as a kid in the 1960s.  Fans really gave opposing players a hard time.  Chicago was the same.

It is true that we seem to have way more serious injuries now because a) we know more and can recognize the potential long-term issues associated with certain types of injuries and b) the game is so fast, as I mentioned earlier.  But in those great old days, the one-on-one match-ups between players was just as intense in their own way as they are now.  Maybe even more so because teams played one another way more often (14 times a season in the regular season alone, before expansion), and you really did grow to hate the guy you went up against so often.

Fans felt the same way.

In any event, as Burke likes to say, “no excuses”.  Yes, the schedule is tough for the Leafs some times, but it’s tougher for the West coast teams—and it was tough in the old days, too.


  1. i searched for youtube for that tim horton hit... couldn't find it! disappointing!

  2. They say that a really good hit may or may not turn a game around, but I think the entire Rangers bench cringed when Sauer got killed. You could hear the hit all throughout MSG.

  3. Last night: yes, much better game. Schenn's using the body more, the Kessel/Lupul/Bozak line, plus defence, are a treat to watch, and the Monster is looking pretty darn good. Can you really choose between him and Reimer?

    Your shout out to the old arenas made me think of Maple Leaf Gardens as another of those old rinks where the fans were virtually hanging over the ice. I remember the first time I got season's tickets to the Gardens. The seats were in the end blues, directly behind the net, (and almost perpendicular to the ice surface!) You were close enough to see the sweat on the players' faces - and the players could see you, too, occasionally acknowledging a call-out. (Errol Thompson always used to look up and nod at us when we shouted "Spudsy!" as he skated by during the warm-up). Today's rinks push the fans away from the action - those old rinks made you feel much more a part of it.
    (Side note: when I sat in those seats for the first time, I was amazed at how I felt as if I'd been there for years, almost a deja vu experience. Eventually I realized that it was the identical vantage point to the one I had playing table hockey, one of my favorite pasttimes!)

  4. Alex....I believe the clip was shown a few years ago on Leafs TV...50 greatest moments in Leaf history, I think it was...but too bad it's not on You Tube.

    KidK...agreed. I will like it all the more when does does it against the Bruins!

    Gerund O'...great comment about the old "end blues". Unique angle to watch a game. And I love the table hockey reference. Brings back warm memories...

  5. Nice description Gerund. I noted a writer in the Barilkosphere comment (not sure if it was PPP or MLHS) that they would be tracking the Monster's save percentage by game now. I didn't get the sense that he was being catty, maybe bringing home a point about the only goaltending stat that really matters at the end of the day. Here's a sobering thought: Grant Fuhr's lifetime save percentage: .887. Here's another one: Jonas Gustavsson wins: 9, losses: 5.