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On a slow August day, 12 treasured moments in Maple Leaf history in my lifetime…

Early to mid-August is inevitably the quietest time of year when it comes to NHL hockey.  It seems especially so nowadays with a cap in place—teams having already spent pretty much all their available funds heading into a new season.  Oh, there will be a signing here and there (I do wonder if Grabovski, for example, will land somewhere or whether he may end up in the KHL…) but my guess is there won’t be a lot of activity until we hit training camp in September.

So with this being a ‘slow’ period in terms of Leaf talk, I thought it might be timely (and maybe fill a bit of a void) to share a few of my fondest memories of particular moments in Maple Leaf history that have occurred since I was ‘hockey sentient’. (That happened in the late 1950s…)

At the same time, I hope you will share a few of yours.

Without further adieu, here are moments that stand out (in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance…)

  1. During the 1960-’61 season, a then young Frank Mahovlich was on fire.  It looked like he would, for sure, break Rocket Richard’s single-season scoring record of 50 goals.  In context, that was considered a major, major record.  But his playmaking center, Red Kelly, was hurt for a time and Frank cooled off over the last few weeks of the season.  I remember him scoring number 48 at home against the Bruins on the second to last night of the season, but he didn’t make it to 50.  Meanwhile, Montreal winger “Boom Boom” Geoffrion picked up steam at the season went on and actually passed “The Big M” (see a great old photo of a young Mahovlich at right), finishing the year with 50 goals to tie the Rocket.
  2. The night the Leafs first won a Cup in my lifetime, which happened in the spring of 1962—game 6 in Chicago.  Johnny Bower had been hurt earlier in the series and lefty Don Simmons was manning our net.  Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the third period of Game 6 and it looked like Game 7 would be needed.  But there was a huge delay after Hull scored because fans threw all kinds of stuff on the ice.  The Hawks lost their momentum and the Leafs scored twice, then hung on in the dying seconds to capture their first Cup since 1951.  I was praying hard that night—and it paid off. (The photo above is a shot of the Leafs after they won that night in Chicago. Don Simmons is on the far left...)
  3. I can’t ever forget the night Dave Keon scored three goals to help the Leafs upset the Habs in Game 7 of the 1964 semi-finals right in Montreal.  Beating the Habs at the Forum was never easy in those days, and Keon’s big night helped give the Leafs a change to advance to the finals.  They  ultimately won their third Cup in succession.
  4. In the very next game the Leafs played that spring, Game 1 of the ’64 finals at the Gardens against Detroit, Bob Pulford scored a breathtaking short-handed goal against Terry Sawchuk with about two second left in
    regulation time to give the Leafs a victory.  They needed it badly in the end, because they were life and death to stave off elimination in Game 6 in Detroit (when Bob Baun scored that famous OT goal on a broken ankle).
  5. Game 6 of the 1967 Cup finals is obviously a wonderful memory.  Only now can I sit back and watch the game (it really was a classic) and relax a bit. I still get tense, though, watching the dying minutes after ex-Leaf (and a Leaf I really loved) Dickie Duff, seen at right in his early Leaf days with the aforementioned Pulford, scored on a brilliant solo rush to bring Montreal within a goal.  The final-minute defensive zone face-off (taken by a defenseman, Allan Stanley—can you imagine that nowadays?) and the ensuing George Armstrong empty-net goal still stand out—and always will.
  6. The 1971 quarter-final series against the powerful New York Rangers (Giacomin, Park, Ratelle, etc.) became a near upset in favour of the blue and white.  The Leafs played such sound hockey in the first three games and actually led the series at that point.  Game 3 at the Gardens was a particularly fond memory, with Billy MacMillan and Garry Monahan combining for a beautiful tap-in goal to clinch the win.  I really thought the Leafs had a shot at advancing.  Unfortunately, they fell flat in Game 4, and never rebounded in the series. That ’70-’71 squad, however, was one of my favourite Leaf teams ever.
  7. I was at the Gardens (I know, I know, everyone says they were there) up in the ‘greys’ the night Darryl Sittler scored 10 points against the Boston Bruins.  I believe that was the winter of ’76.  Sittler was already a ‘name’ performer but that put him over in a big way, and he was named that fall to the Canada Cup team.
  8. The Lanny McDonald overtime goal in Game 7 against the favoured Islanders on the road against Chico Resch in April of 1978 was something special.  I was working up in Sault Ste. Marie watching the game with a buddy.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier as a Leaf fan.  We went out honking our car horns after that goal. (Hey, I was young…). Of course, we later traded him to the Rockies (lower right). Go figure.
  9. The ‘80s were not the best of times to be a Leaf fan, but it coincided with my wife and I having young children so it probably worked out for the best. (I didn't have quite as much free time to devote to following the Leafs.)  I do remember Mike Allison scoring an overtime goal in the playoffs against the Red Wings in the spring of ’87 (or was it ’88?).  The Leafs took a three-to-one lead in games but ended up losing to the Red Wings, unfortunately. Those were the days of the ever-volatile John Brophy behind the Leaf bench.
  10. The 1993 playoffs, but notably Game 6/Game 7 against the Kings may well have been at the top of this list had we managed to win.  That would have set up a final series against the hated Habs—a replay, in a sense, of the famous ’67 series.  Sadly, it wasn’t to be. But Wendel Clark's 'hat trick' in Game 6 is etched in my memory bank. What a game he had.
  11. Those early 2000s’ playoff series against Ottawa provided all kinds of special moments, but for me, the biggest one was the Gary Roberts (triple??) overtime winner.  If the Leafs had lost that game, as I recall, the series would pretty much have been over.  But they won and eventually beat the Senators—again.
  12. Sundin scoring in the last seconds to send Game 6 of the 2002 semi-finals against the Hurricanes into overtime was big, too.  I had almost lost hope that night, but the captain gave us a chance.  Losing that one in overtime hurt.  Still does.  We should have been in the finals that year.

A short list can’t cover almost 55 years of Leaf memories.  There was the Mahovlich trade in ’68; acquiring Bernie Parent in the winter of ’71 is something I’ll always remember.  Finding out Keon was leaving the organization in the summer of ’75 hurt, pushed out the door by then owner Harold Ballard.  Lanny McDonald being traded; Sittler being dealt in the early ‘80s to, of all teams, the Flyers. Defensemen with vast potential like Gary Nylund and Al Iafrati, who saw their Leaf careers curtailed by injuries.  The short but passionate Pat Burns era with that ‘no-name’ defense and a kid in goal, Felix Potvin.  Doug Gilmour. So many memories.

I know it’s a slow, non-hockey time, but if you happen to have dropped by VLM, by all means share a couple of your most treasured Leaf memories, whether “ancient” (like a lot of mine!) or relatively recent…


  1. Being a bit younger, mine are more recent:
    1) Anytime Borje Salming stepped on the ice
    2) Bill McCreary's hit on Gretzky
    3) Doug Gilmour's goal against Cujo from behind the net
    4)Wendel Clark knocking the mask right off Cujo's head
    5) Dad taking me to a Leafs / Canucks game and someone breaking the glass behind Richard Brodeur

    1. Thanks sportsgrl! For the better part of the '80s Borje "The King" Salming is the only good memory a Leaf fan can cherish. Whether pinching in from the blue line and becoming a fourth forward, or fearlessly throwing his body down to block a shot he never left the fans asking for more ... something that can't be said for the team he was surrounded with. It saddens me that the context of what he did, with what he had to work with, is lost on many.

    2. Thanks for the reflections on an outstanding Leaf, Randy. Salming was in a class by himself in that Leaf era,...

    3. Sportsgrl- to my comments below (and my post), I should add Salming's memorable goal against the Flyers at the Gardens in the playoffs in the spring of '76. He brought the house down...

  2. Fun list, sportsgrl. Salming was a heart and should Leaf, for sure, with sublime skill. That was a huge hit on Gretzky, the Gilmour wraparound was a classic, and few could should like Wendel.

    Brodeur was such a popular Canuck. You no doubt loved being there with your Dad, and the broken glass provided a distinct memory! Thanks for visiting...

  3. That game in Montreal in the '64 semi-finals was amazing. To beat the hated Habs in their own building was a treasured memory. Keon was on fire that night, shutting down Beliveau and scoring all the goals. Bower shut down the Habs at the other end. The game is frequently shown on Leafs TV's Classic games, it's a must see. For me, Andy Bathgate's breakaway goal in Game 7 of the '64 finals against Detroit was a highlight. I was at the game and the noise from the crowd was incredible. The Leafs never looked back after that goal and took the Cup at MLG. Amazing night.

    1. The Bathgate goal deserves to be in there, Dave. I sort of chose between Pulford's Game 1 last-second marker and Bathgate's quite similar rink-long dash in Game 7.

      What a feeling it must have been to be at the Gardens for Game 7 of a Cup final series. Thanks for taking the time to visit and share your recollections.

  4. Thank you, Michael, for all the wonderful memories supplied by you and your posters. Like an old classic song, when I hear it, I can only then remember the words. Your blog is by far my favourite.

    It's funny but I seem to remember the dysfuntional happenings more with the Leaf ownership and management during the early 70's. I was a 10 year old child and really couldn't put these things in perspective of an adult.

    Ballard refusing to stop eating icecream (forbidden by his doctor because of his life-threatening diabetes) and saying "When I see the 'Grim Reaper', I'll just spit in his face!"

    Roger Nielson wearing a bag over his head behind the bench. King Clancy smiling away while sitting beside Ballard in their special booth. (As a child, I viewed the two like 'good cop/bad cop). Later, Ballard's new wife became another plot in the story with his sons over his estate (how the Grim Reaper took all of this, I don't know).

    Truly, the Leafs at that time in my life were like a reality version of a soap opera. And my addiction still lasts today.

    1. It's so true, drgreg- our own personal memories depend so much on when we sort of 'hopped on the bus'. By that I mean, in your case, you were a youngster when Ballard's influence was the prevailing reality at the Gardens in the '70s and '80s, so your memories were shaped by a sense that he was the show. (As you no doubt recall, the Leafs had some nice teams at different points in that decade, but they went backwards quickly when Ballard brought Punch Imlach back to town, and much of the early '80s was largely a mess...)

      And you're right, there was a reality TV/soap opera element to how the Leafs functioned back then. We don't quite have that now, thankfully.

      Thank you, by the way, for your kind comments about the VLM site. I've posted a lot less than usual this summer but still try to add some commentary when the time feels right. Warm regards.

  5. Terrific post, Michael! So many of my Leaf memories were brought back to life by yours. In chronological order, a very personal list of my treasured moments:

    - Going to my first Leaf game at the Gardens with my Dad, sometime in the late 50's, and hearing the famous "C'mon Teeder!" being shouted by that guy from somewhere in the corner blues. That was the biggest crowd I'd ever been in, and I can still remember the adrenalin rush of it, having to stand and dodge the adults to see what was going on when something exciting was going on, the cheering.. and being with a lot of grown-ups, as if I'd been allowed into a club I wasn't really a member of yet.

    - Seeing Frank Mahovlich take those big strides down left wing and unleash that slap shot. Our games of shinny were never the same after that.

    - meeting Dave Keon in his rookie year. He'd come to a Christmas party at Central Neighbourhood House, and shaking his hand and talking to him for a minute remains a highlight on my personal fandom reel.

    - That Bobby Baun goal in Detroit. I'd been sent to bed, but was listening secretly on my radio. When he scored, I cheered out loud, which alerted my parents to my subterfuge.

    - Armstrong's winning goal in '67. That was such an unlikely series win, and I wasn't feeling secure about it until that goal. As you say, having Stanley take the face off is a move you wouldn't likely see today. I, too, saw that game on Leafs TV a while ago - and still got the same thrill from Armstrong's goal.

    - Borje Salming. He simply changed our idea of how defence could be played.

    - Lanny MacDonald's winner against the Isles is another fave we share. I remember jumping up from the sofa and leaping and hollering around the room in pure joy. (I think that feeling was only superseded when I happened to be at Skydome when Carter hit the World Series winning homer. It was a great time to be a Toronto sports fan in '92-'93. Even though we lost that LA series, those Leaf teams are among my favorites).

    - Wendel Clark.

    - Bob Neely's open ice hits.

    - Gilmour's 3rd OT wrap-around goal against St Louis. I was at that game, sitting in the end blues at the far end from the St Louis goal. My girl friend had fallen asleep (!) sometime during the second OT period. She woke up about 5 seconds before Gilmour scored. I've never figured out how she managed that.

    - Dmitri Yushkevich and Danny Mirkov hounding and pounding Jagr et al in the '99 playoffs, and Gary Valk's OT winner. I don't know why that stands out for me, but it does.

    - Gary Roberts taking the team on his shoulders in that Ottawa playoff you mention.

    - For both good and bad reasons, last season's playoff series against the Bruins.

    There are many more images, of course - like Eddie Shack dervishing around the rink, Tiger Williams riding his stick after a goal, Sittler's big night, or Mats on an end to end rush - but there are many smaller moments which had equal impact!

    1. Meeting Keon way back in 1960-'61 must have been a huge thrill, Gerund O'!

      I'm glad, along with the other wonderful recollections you share, that you mentioned players like Neely (I remember some big hits of his as well), Yushkevich and Markov. Yushkevich and Markov were true modern-era blood and guts Leafs. I hated to see them both go.

      Valk's goal, for sure. We both remember lots about Roberts, but as much as anything, I remember him hammering guys against the glass with big (usually legal, in those days) checks. He'd really throw himself at people (couldn't really do that today...).

      Shack, Tiger, as you say, so many memories, big and small but all treasured.

  6. Sundin's 500th goal for the hat-trick OT win vs Calgary was a pretty nice moment in an otherwise disappointing season.

    1. He was a special player, no doubt, Anon. Thanks for bringing that goal up...

  7. So... pretty much everything mentioned on your list (after '67 when I became 'Leaf Sentient' as you phrased it earlier, Michael!) and every comment by other posters (beyond that timeframe) are treasured memories...

    Another that really 'embedded' in my memory was Feb. 2, 1977 with Ian Turnbull's exciting 5 goal night (that has not yet been surpassed by any defenseman to my knowledge).

    Found a link to the 5th goal, still felt a rush of enthusiasm watching that again:

    Here is a 2012 article about finding that game and presenting a DVD to Ian:

    The link in the story is here:
    HOWEVER, the sports video link is not presently on the page.

    At least we can enjoy the brief YouTube memory, though.

    Thanks for spurring on good memories, Michael.

    1. Turnbull's 5-goal game was certainly out of the ordinary, InTimeFor62. Those are once-in-a-lifetime events. That Leaf team was pretty darn good. Too bad the Habs were that much better in those days!

  8. 1. Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup winning overtime goal against Gerry McNeil on April 21, 1951. I listened to the game with my family and Barilko instantly became my favorite player. The goal produced one of the all-time great hockey pictures. Barilko won 4 Stanley Cups during his career which ended abruptly when he lost his life in a plane crash the following summer. His number 5 (which he wore for only one year) is one of two officially retired Leaf numbers.
    The Video -
    The Photo -

    2. In the fall of 1954 I attended my first Leaf game at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Rangers were the opponents and it was quite an experience to walk the corridors of the Gardens and to see hockey players who had heretofore been just names or images on hockey cards come alive on the ice. Unfortunately the one lasting impression of the game was of Wally Hergesheimer of the Rangers breaking his leg and attempting to crawl to his bench while in obvious pain as the play continued. They didn't stop play in those days for something as minor as a broken leg.

    3. The entire 1958-59 season was a highlight for me. This was the year that the Leafs crawled out of the basement (they were 16 points away from a playoff spot in 1957-58) and beat out the Rangers by 1 point for the final playoff berth. This was the year that the Leafs established the core that would go on to win 3 consecutive Stanley Cups; Goal - Johnny Bower outplayed Ed Chadwick to establish himself as #1, Defense - Allan Stanley, Tim Horton and Bob Baun were joined by Carl Brewer to form the core 4, Forward - 5 of the top 9 in Bob Pulford, Ron Stewart, Dick Duff, George Armstrong and Frank Mahovlich were established. They would soon be joined by two centres in Dave Keon and Red Kelly who pushed them from contenders to champions.
    This team consistently outworked the opposition and was a joy to watch.

    4. It is difficult to single out one event during the championship run but the absolute highlight for me was George Armstrong hoisting the Stanley Cup on Maple Leaf Gardens ice in the spring of 1963. The 1962 cup was won on Chicago ice so this was the first time I had been able to witness a cup win in person.

    5. I was not at the Sittler 10 point game but I was fortunate enough to see it on television. A magical night providing one of the greatest individual sports performances that I have witnessed.

    6. The 1992-93 Leaf team rivals the 58-59 team as a favorite. The 1993 playoffs provided many highlights and a notable lowlight. What sticks out for me was 1-Wendel Clark going after tough guy Marty McSorley after McSorley leveled Doug Gilmore, 2-Gilmore picking himself up and challenging the Kings bench and 3-Pat Burns challenging Barry Melrose and trying to get over the glass partition to get at him. The lowlight of course was Kerry Fraser pulling his Sgt. Schultz (I see nothing...) while looking directly at Gretzky high sticking and cutting Gilmore. I will never forgive Fraser for preventing what could have been a great Canadian Stanley Cup final.

    7. This past season was a highlight for me. I cannot help but draw parallels between this team and the 58-59 team...tough defensive minded coach, young core forming, no quit mentality...

    8. There are two highlights that transcended a single event or season. One was being able to view games in a hockey mecca. Maple Leaf Gardens was one of the best hockey arenas ever built. The other was having the privilege of listening to Foster Hewitt. He was, in my estimation, the greatest hockey play by play announcer ever.

    1. Some of those moments were before my time, Pete Cam, but they are all such important parts of our Leaf heritage, especially the Barilko goal (I'm in awe that you went to you first game in '54).

      I was very young but that '58-'59 season was special, too, as Imlach was building a dynasty to overthrow the vaunted Habs. Their late run just to get into the playoffs was remarkable. (I, too, see similarities between the current squad and the '58-'59 team.)

      Thank you for mentioning Hewitt, Pete. He was such an important part of Leaf lore.

  9. hi michael, what a wonderful post... i also like some of the memories brought-up in the comments! my favourite series was when i was in... grade 6 i believe.. maybe grade 7... leafs vs. red-wings in the early 90's... red wings heavily favoured to win... leafs rally behind unlikely heroes such as mike foligno, and then that tip-in goal by nikolai borschevsky to seal the deal. what an amazing series! cheers!

  10. Thanks Alex- those early '90s series were indeed gold. My guess is they helped to bring a lot of then somewhat disgruntled Leaf supporters back into the fold. The players you cited were heroes, for sure.

  11. Two wonderful and exciting memories for me is, first, Lanny scoring that OT winning goal against the Islanders. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown because I was soooo happy and excited.
    Second, was,maybe, THE most exciting memory for me as a Leafs fan, since the early 60's I might add.
    May 1, 1993, game 7, in Detroit, Nikolai Borschevsky's winning tip-in deflection to give the Leafs the series win. I screamed so loud, I was hoarse for a couple days after. I can still see Pat Burns waving up to Cliff Fletcher high in the gondola, and, Cliff's reaction when the goal was scored.

    1. Thanks for posting on this topic, Hugh. The McDonald goal, for those of us around at the time (and who had 'suffered' through a decade of playoff frustration) was really a 'weight off the shoulders moment'.

      It was much the same in '93. The Leafs were not expected to win either series, which probably made the Game 7 overtime wins even sweeter.