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An old Maple Leaf I really loved and wore the crest proudly: Jim Dorey

Those who have only recently been following the posts here at VLM won’t know something I’ve shared with readers over the years:  one of my favourite Leaf “teams” of all time was the squad from the very early 1970s—specifically, the 1970-’71 Leafs.

Why, you may wonder- especially considering I was also very much around for the four Cups in the ‘60s?

Well, as a young Leaf fans (born in 1953), after those 1960s Cups, I probably only fully appreciated those championships when I began to see the team slide.  Things began to fade under Punch Imlach (right) half-way through the 1967-’68 NHL season—the first year of expansion after the glory decades of the old “Original Six” franchises. The truth is, some of the difficulties from the Impach era had already been settling in as the ‘60s wore on.  Despite the surprise upset Cup run in the spring of ’67—and Imlach’s attempt to revive the team with youngsters like Ron Ellis, Mike Walton, Pete Stemkowski and Jim Pappin, etc.—things seemed to be going backwards.  At the same time, Montreal was awfully good.  The Rangers were building a powerhouse (in part from youngsters acquired from Imlach in the earlier trade for Andy Bathgate) and the Bruins were suddenly a great team, built around Bobby Orr and the acquisition of Phil Esposito.  They were fast, big and tough.

I’m not one of those who think Imlach simply let his old guard age and stuck with them too long.  There’s some truth in that, in my view, but he did try to address that by promoting the aforementioned young forwards and by moving out the enigmatic Frank Mahovlich in the massive deal that brought Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson over from the equally struggling Red Wings.

He also had to replenish the cupboard on defense, which by 1968 still had Tim Horton, Allan Stanley, Marcel Pronovost and former Hawk stalwart Pierre Pilote, all players near to or older than 40 years of age.  He brought in some youngsters on the back end, too, including the versatile (if infuriating) Jim McKenny and a name that seemed to arrive in town like a bolt out of the blue—Jim Dorey.

Dorey’s (left) first season in the NHL was Imlach’s last (of his first go-round here)—1968-’69.  The Leafs, a team very much in transition, made the playoffs in the newly-entitled “Eastern Conference” but had to face the emerging and very tough Boston Bruins in the playoffs in the spring of ’69.  We didn’t match up well and were hammered 10-0 and 7-0 in the first two games in Boston.  Though we came back and played well (losing by a goal each time) in the playoff games in Toronto, it wasn’t enough to save Imlach’s job.  Stafford Smythe, the Leaf owner, fired Punch and brought in a young individual who had been learning the ropes by running the Marlies (affiliated with the Leafs) junior operation—Jim Gregory.

The Leafs struggled in 1969-’70, Gregory’s first year in charge, but by 1970-’71, the Leafs were suddenly a competitive team again.  Ullman and Dave Keon had renaissance seasons.  Ullman teamed with Henderson and Ellis.  Keon made a strong line with two unheralded wingers:  Garry Monahan and Billy MacMillan.

Gregory acquired tough young center, Jim Harrison, from the Bruins, and paired him with another favourite of mine, rookie winger Brian Spencer, a whirlwind on skates.  He also brought up some of the young Leaf defensemen that were, in some cases, part of Imlach’s earlier efforts to rejuvenate the squad:  defensemen Rick Ley, Mike Pelyk, Brian Glennie and Brad Selwood joined McKenny and Dorey to form a really solid young (and quite physical) defense.

Gregory also acquired former ex-Leaf defenseman Bobby Baun, so dependable during the Cup runs in the early '60s, who was lost in the expansion draft in the summer of 1967.  Baun came on board and became the leader of the kiddie-corps defense.  Maybe most importantly, the young Leaf GM made a bold move to trade disgruntled forward Mike Walton in a three-way deal.  (Walton ended up with the Bruins.)  But in return, we got future Hall-of-Fame goalie Bernie Parent, who teamed with another Gregory signing—the ageless Jacques Plante—to provide the Leafs with some of the best goaltending in the NHL.

Goodness, I loved that team.

But one of my absolute favourites, again, was Dorey.  He had skill, could skate, move the puck well and he had a good shot form the point.  He not only could put up some points from the back end, but he was truly old-school—a guy who was, as they say, tough as nails.  He fought all the henchmen on the other teams, regardless of their reputation.  He wasn’t afraid of anyone. 

Dorey was one of the individuals who, you could just tell, was thrilled to be a Maple Leaf. A Kingston boy, it was clear he wore the Leaf sweater with pride.

That spring of ’71, the Leafs faced a really, really good—and experienced—Ranger team.  (They had a lot of ex-Leafs, like Ron Stewart, Bobby Nevin and Tim Horton…)  The Leafs played really well in the first two games in New York and were unlucky not to walk away with a 2-0 lead in games.  They outplayed the Rangers in Game 3 back home at Maple Leaf Gardens to take a lead in the series but had to play Game 4 the  very next night (a Sunday) in Toronto.  We came out flat and never found our legs and the Rangers won Game 4 by a score of 4-2.  We never fully rebounded, and the Rangers won the series in 6 games, with Nevin putting the dagger in our hearts with an OT winner in Game 6 at the Gardens against Plante.

But that Leaf team was on the cusp of being pretty darn good.  A Cup contender?  Maybe not, but they weren’t that far off.  Darryl Sittler was there and coming on, but after another solid season in 1971-’72, the WHA came into being.  New Leaf owner Harold Ballard (Smythe, right, had passed away after an illness) didn’t think the WHA would survive, and ended up letting many good young players, like Ley, Harrison, Selwood, Parent and Pelyk leave for greener financial pastures.

As for Dorey, one of the Gregory moves I didn’t like was that he traded the emerging Leaf rearguard to the Rangers before the deadline in the winter of 1972.   After the season, Dorey then jumped to the WHA himself.

Though Dorey was a Leaf for less than four full seasons, just the way he played—so intense, so tough—always made me a huge fan, and I still regret that he was traded away.  He had a really solid career in the WHA and actually returned to Toronto and played for the old Toros for a while in the mid-‘70s.

As for the Leafs, Gregory had to re-build them again, and he did so by drafting Lanny McDonald, Bob Neely and Ian Turnbull in the first round of the 1973 draft, while also signing European free-agents Inge Hammarstrom and that other guy, Borje Salming, who became a Hall-of-Famer.  That helped lead to some nice years in the late ‘70s when again, we fell just a bit short.

But Dorey was one of a kind.  To hear more, I invite you to check out our most recent “Leaf Matters” podcast, which features our conversation with the well-regarded former Maple Leaf defenseman, now a businessman in Kingston.  It is available (click) on iTunes and via the Podalmighty Nework.


If you are interested in some recent posts, we've touched on:
  • Renewed trade talk around Luongo


  1. Thanks for stirring up the old memories, Michael!

    As much as I only became 'Leaf sentient' in 67-68, that awareness was generated more by Foster Hewitt's voice (and Dad's obvious interest) than by viewing. I believe our first TV came in '69, when my imaginings took on the mediated reality of moving images that captured and held me to this day.

    Jim Dorey was amongst those first memories... I do remember liking him as my defenseman father also appreciated him. Though I would have to acknowledge I was a huge fan of Dave Keon and of Bobby Baun's thundering hip checks, I would have to say that my role-playing on the street (in the gym and in the basement) was predicated upon 'being' Jacques Plante (then Mike Palmateer).

    Being one of the only kids who liked playing goal (and having my own net - second best birthday present ever after my table-hockey game), it made the transition from centre to goal an easy one for me in my alternate street/floor/ball hockey world. I only actually played midnight ice hockey (shinny) a few times in 1980 (with Evander Kane's Dad and Uncle), then a few more games in the late 90's on a rink I 'took on' prepping and flooding for the neighbourhood kids.

    I just loved being the guy that 'saved' the day (even more than winning the day on a shot). I remember that in my transitional year (while emulating Keon and Plante), I led my floor hockey league in goals and goals against average (it was an organized league run by a stats freak!).

    I, too, loved the promise of that 70-71 team and remember the Rangers playoff games... that series was so close to going our way! I also loved Bernie Parent (knowing that Plante was nearing the end of his career) and was, so soon afterward, angry at the decimating losses of the many hopeful prospects you mentioned, dreaming of a future we never saw... it was the beginning of my frustration with Ballard which, fortunately, followed the inauguration of my lifelong love of the Leafs.

    Thanks for reminding me of a treasured time in my young life!

  2. I liked Dorey, too. I remember his toughness, his willingness to stand up to any player. (A quality sorely lacking on the Leafs today!) Interesting that the trading away of Dorey happened during the 72-73 season, my benchmark year of futility for the Leafs.
    I love these posts on the older, somewhat forgotten players of the past. I note that Jim Morrison, one of my earliest Leaf faves, just got elected to the AHL Hall of Fame. Sweet!

  3. Great article Michael. As a 24 year old I always love hearing about the leaf teams of old and especially any mention about Bob Baun. To me, he and Horton seem to have this sort of "superman" aura around them - guys so tough that nobody would mess with them.

  4. Michael,

    I had never heard of Jim Dorey. He went on from Toronto to score quite a few points in the WHA. I would have liked to see him play, your description of him sounds a lot like what I hoped Komisarek would be. Thanks for the great read.

  5. Thanks, InTimeFor62. Television, table hockey, flooding old-time outdoor rinks, playing goal with the Kane family- I think that's why a lot of us appreciate looking back sometimes. The memories are precious.

    And yes, that early '70s Leaf team was on the verge of being very good. The WHA (and Ballard) ended that.

    Glad Dorey's name brought by some memories of your time as a young Leaf fan, watching with your Dad!

  6. Thanks Gerund O'. Dorey was a character, in addition to being a fine player.

    I did a piece on Jim Morrison a while back. As I recall, one of the amazing things about Morrison is that he went about a decade between NHL stops- he had a fine AHL career, as you note, but played with the Penguins in the early expansion years. Thanks Gerund O'.

  7. Thanks Anon. Baun was very much a special Maple Leaf. One of the legends of our history, for sure. That he had two stops here only made him all the more beloved.

  8. Thank you, Jim. Dorey was truly an old-school player, and lots of fun to watch.

  9. Great article. Loved that Leaf's team though I was never a big Dorey fan. He always seemed a bit lost or behind the play. Clearly remember him setting a single game PIM record, pretty sure it was his first game!!

    Growing up as a goalie, the Parent/Plante tandem was heaven for me. Whenever the Niagara Falls Flyers came to town I was down at the Gardens watching Bernie do his junior hockey thing. When he arrived in Toronto it was the greatest thing imaginable for a die hard teenage kid.

    Vic Hadfield's tossing of Parent's mask into the barking-mad MSG crowd during that playoff series was one of the most bizarre happenings I have seen in the world of pro sports.

    Thanks for the article. Glad to hear Dorey has made a success of his life.

  10. Thanks Bmaximus. Jim was really young when he played in that 1968-'69 season. Had he not been traded at such an early age, I really believe he would have been a solid Leaf defenseman.

    Parent//Plante was a wonderful time. And yes, the infamous Hafield mask-throw!

  11. Just listened to the podcast and must say it's great to hear all the old stories... From the confirmation from the penalty box that Quinn's hit on Orr was a shoulder to the Horton request for Dorey to be traded to the Rangers - these are just great anecdotes to enrich our appreciation of Leaf History. Thanks for making that possible!

  12. Thanks for tuning in, InTimeFor62. Pleased that you enjoyed it!

  13. What a pleasure it is to read these recollections of that 1970-71 team, a Leaf squad that also ranks right up there in my own personal Leaf HOF. I was lucky enough to see the Leafs in person several times that year, as my dad and I traveled down to Buffalo, where the Sabres were in their first NHL season and tickets at the old Aud were easier to come by than at the Gardens.
    And I well recall Dorey from that time, beginning with his memorable NHL debut early in the 1968-69 season, when he sparked a wild 25-minute bench-clearing brawl against the Penguins by mugging the Pens' Ken Schinkel.
    As far as I remember, the knock on Dorey - and the reason he was ultimately traded - was his reputation for indiscipline, both on and off the ice, which often got in the way of his considerable talent.
    There was a funny and canny allusion to this reputation in the 1971 Canadian camp classic film Face-Off, which featured numerous cameos from the 1970-71 Leafs, notably George Armstrong and Jim McKenny, who was the on-ice stand-in for the film's star, Art Hindle. In the scene in question, Dorey calls out Hindle and the two get into a punch-up in the team's dressing room.
    Anyway. Dorey's act by the 1971-72 season had worn so thin on GM Gregory and coach John McClellan that he was dumped in the spring to the Rangers. The Leafs got back a slick winger named Pierre Jarry, who put up some respectable numbers for a season or two before he too jumped ship for the WHA.
    Dorey was, alas, another in a long line of Leaf prospects that the team just gave up on before they had a chance to develop and reach their prime. Like Garry Unger, Stemkowski and Pappin, Randy Carlyle, and numerous others, Dorey would go on to play his best hockey in uniforms other than blue and white.

  14. You raise great memories, Terminal City- the huge penalty minutes Jim put up in that home opener included!

    I almost forgot about that old Canadian 'classic"- amazing that they got the very shy Armstrong to be part of that.

    I think Dorey was one of many young Leafs over many years, as you cite, that could have prospered with time, patience and better coaching. Thanks Terminal City, great stuff.

  15. Hey Michael,

    Thanks for bringing to light this great player and period of leaf history to our minds. Being only 24 (there is another 24 yr old anon, go figure - :) ) I have no idea about these events or most of these people so it is great to here about them.

    Not sure if we see someone with that calibre on the leafs today - but like i have mentioned before it would be amazing to watch a true leafs fan like you describe Jim Dorey to be, that kinda emotional attachment brings something to the game that rarely comes without it.

    BTW, Ballard ended up being right about the WHA somewhat, but this part of the story reminded me of Burke and his insistance on not going with those crazy contracts. They were both right on principle but that hurt their club's competitiveness on the rink.

    Anon from Scarborough

  16. Thanks Scarborough Anon. I appreciate hearing from younger Leaf followers who still enjoy a discussion about the team's heritage.

    (I'm not sure Ballard's intransigence at the time was purely principle-based. He didn't want to spend money, and hated the the new league and thought it would collapse right away...)

  17. I remember that first Dim Dorey game like it was yesterday. As crazy as all that fighting was, he instantly became one of my favorite Leafs, and still is. I remember seeing him play once in the Montreal Forum and recall watching Tim Horton in that game as well – Horton was so textbook, all a coach would have to say to a young player is “do that”. And I remember Jim Dorey as being much more talented than I had realized from TV. I also recall a wiseacre in the stands who kept yelling at Jim : "You want to be my friend?" Which is still kind of funny, although I am not quite sure why. Loved the WHA too, that was a really interesting league. Fascinating interview.

  18. I know talking about the "old days" is not of interest to some younger-era Leaf fans, Bobby C., so I really appreciate hearing from someone like yourself, individuals for whom these stories and interviews are of interest. Thank you.

  19. Great article, Michael! Immediately returned me to a time when hockey was magical (at least to this 5 year old's mind). Look forward to reading more.

  20. Thanks for taking the time to visit- and write, David.