Custom Search

Remembering the last time the Leafs won the Cup: May of 1967

As regular VLM readers well know, one of the things I enjoy most here is sharing my memories of the Leafs of my youth—most especially the late ‘50s, the ‘60s and into the 1970s.  I rarely “look things up”, so virtually everything that I write about is from my own memory bank, which means that, on occasion, I may well have my facts wrong. (Whenever I see a game on Leafs TV from those days, it confirms if I was on the money or way off base.) Regardless, it’s fun to look back on the highs and lows of being a Leaf fan from those days.

Today, with the playoffs this year hitting an extra gear (Chicago looking awfully good heading to the semi finals; the Rangers and Caps in the midst of a great series; the Habs and Calgary desperately hanging in against the Bolts and Ducks…), I’m thinking back to the last time the Leafs won the Cup.  That, of course, was the spring of 1967.  Here are some things that I think I recall accurately from that last game against Montreal (Game 6, on May 2, 1967 at Maple Leaf Gardens) and the weeks leading up to that great moment:

  • That was the year Frank Mahovlich was hospitalized (nervous exhaustion, I believe they called it at the time). I seem to remember that Frank went to hospital twice during his decade with the Leafs, but I can’t say for sure when the other time was.
  • Then GM and coach Punch Imlach also spent time in hospital that season, some time in February.  I sometimes get the timing of this event wrong, but I believe it occurred as the Leafs were in the midst of the infamous 10 game losing streak in the second half of the 1966-’67 season. (Does anyone who was following the Leafs at the time remember if it was an actual 10 game losing streak, or ten games where they did not win any games?)
  • Given the age of the goalies (Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk were not kids—I believe Bower was in his early 40s, Sawchuk in his late 30s…) and injuries they faced, Bruce Gamble played a fair bit that year in goal.
  • The Leafs had lost to Montreal in four straight in the semi finals the year before, and the Habs were in the midst of another dynasty, so expectations were not that high as the season wore on and the Leafs struggled with what was seen as a pretty old team. (That said, they still had some younger players, including Ronnie Ellis, Mike Walton, Pete Stemkowski, Jim Pappin and Dave Keon.)
  • Once the playoffs started, the Blackhawks were the top seed, after a tremendous regular season. They had the usual stars to contend with: Glenn Hall in goal, Pilote and Vasko on defense, Stan Mikita, Ken Wharram, Doug Mohns, Bobby Hull, Red Hay, Chico Maki and others up front. (They also had Phil Esposito, Kenny Hodge and Freddie Stanfield, who all went on to be stars with the Bruins in the Bobby Orr era.)
  • The Leafs got absolutely clobbered in Game 1 of their semi-final series in Chicago. (Toronto had finished third that season, and in those days, first played third and second played fourth in the playoffs.)  The score was something like 6-2. The Leafs were outclassed in every way. I wasn’t very hopeful.
  • Things turned around somehow in Game 1.  I believe Bower replaced Sawchuk in goal, and Keon scored a shorthanded goal on a breakaway to fire up the Leafs.  I still have the goal in mind. They won to even up the series. (The score might have been 3-1.)
  • My memory gets a bit hazy here.  I think Bower was good again as the Leafs won Game 3 at the Gardens, but Imlach came back with Sawchuk and the Leafs were hammered at the Gardens in Game 4 so the series was even up at 2 games apiece.
  • Game 5 in Chicago, Bower started, but was hurting and left after the first period.  That was the game (I believe it was on a Sunday afternoon) where Bobby Hull unleashed a slapshot from maybe 20 feet away and hit Sawchuk around the collarbone.  Terry went down, but stayed in the game and was brilliant.
  • In Game 6 back at the Gardens, Brian Conacher had the finest game of his young Leaf career. He was finishing his checks, and scored a goal after he created a turnover at the Chicago blueline. Sawchuk was solid again and somehow, the Leafs had upset the mighty Hawks in 6 games.
  • Not many thought Toronto had a shot against Montreal, who had cruised past the Rangers in four straight. Rogatien Vachon came out of almost nowhere to take over from future Hall-of-Famer Gump Worsley (who had been injured) and was stellar against the Rangers. He was very good in Game 1 of the finals at the Forum against the Leafs. The Habs cruised, just as Chicago did in the earlier series.  The score may well have been 6-1 or 6-2 for Montreal.
  • But just like in the Chicago series, Toronto was way better in Game 2, and won at the road at the Forum.
  • Game 3 in Toronto was an all-time classic.  It went into overtime. In fact, I believe it went into double overtime.  I never saw the winning goal “live” on TV, because my Dad, a fervent Hab guy, was watching and it became too much for me to be in the same room.  I was lying in bed, listening to the game, when Bobby Pulford scored one of his many big Leaf goals in his great career to give the Leafs a lead in the series.
  • Bower was remarkable in Game 3, but he was hurt (I think it was in the warm up, but I’m not sure) before Game 4. Sawchuk had to play, and he was of his game, as were the Leafs.  Montreal waxed us, and the series was tied.
  • Back in Montreal on a Saturday afternoon (they played in the afternoon for American television) the Leafs somehow bounced back and won. Sawchuk was stellar and that set up Game 6 back at the Gardens.
  • Game 6 was one of the most nervous experiences I had as a then young sports fan.  I was thirteen at the time, and it seemed to matter a lot more than I suppose it should have.  I couldn’t focus on details, I was just so hoping the Leafs would win—like a lot of kids and people across the country. (Just as many no doubt were pulling for the Habs.)
  • Montreal's legendary coach Toe Blake (photo above right) went with a hunch, I guess, and started Gump Worsley for the first time in weeks after the injury that had kept Worsley inactive.  Gump was excellent, as was Sawchuk.  In the second period, Red Kelly carried the puck across the Montreal blueline and wristed a shot that Worsley stopped but Ellis pounded on the rebound and scored the game’s first goal.
  • Pappin scored an odd goal when his shot from the wing (as he was trying to get past a Montreal defenseman—Laperriere?) bounced in off a Montreal defenseman (Ted Harris?). At first the goal was credited to Stemkowski, but it was later changed to Pappin. (If you ever get a chance to watch that game on LeafsTV, you’ll notice Stemkowski telling the ref he did not touch the puck. Pretty unselfish on Stemkowski’s part…)
  • The Leafs led 2-0 heading into the third period, and former Leaf Dickie Duff scored a gorgeous goal on a fabulous solo effort, deking around Horton and Stanley and making the score 2-1. 
  • The Habs pressured, of course, but the Leafs hung on.  They iced it with the famous Armstrong goal into an empty net, though I’ve had to watch the “replay” many times over the years to figure out how Stanley (who took the face off against Jean Beliveau) “won” the draw and the puck ended up with Armstrong. (Kelly was in there digging for the puck, and Pulford made the pass to Armstrong.)
  • The Leafs had won, in what I think was the first ever NHL game played in May, though I would need to check that.

Other memories?  Larry Hillman filled in for Bobby Baun, and partnered with ever reliable Marcel Pronovost. They were really good in the playoffs, though I was so tense, I had no idea how good.  I didn't know until relatively recent times they they were evidently not on the ice for any regular strength goals against in the 12 playoff games that spring.

After the series, Keon was named MVL and given the Conn Smythe Trophy. He likely earned $1,500 for that, which would have been a huge bonus in hockey at the time. That was a Leaf team in transition.  Kelly retired after the playoffs, and Sawchuk and Bobby Baun were gone in the expansion draft. Allan Stanley stayed for a year after the Cup victory, then played a final season with the expansion Flyers.  Mahovlich and Stemkowski were traded the next season, and the Leafs missed the playoffs. Youngsters like Jim Dorey were brought into the lineup by 1968-’69, but the Leaf roster that won the Cup had had its last hurrah. 

It was the end of an era.

Some of you may have been around in those golden days and your memories may be different (and more accurate!) than mine. If you have some memories from that ’67 Cup win, I look forward to your reflections…


  1. Great write up Michael. I am curious about one point.
    "and in those days, first played third and second played fourth in the playoffs"

    That seems... odd. Do you remember the rational for it?

    1. I don't have a good answer, Pep. I believe it was the same back in those days in the NBA. The first place team had to play the "better" team in those days- a benefit for the second place finisher, for sure, who played the fourth place team.

      I also don't know precisely when that all changed and the NHL went to the concept of the first seed playing the bottom seed. (Back at the end of the 1974-'75 season, I believe the Leafs finished near last in the overall playoff standings, and had to play the LA Kings, who had finished first or second in the league standings during the regular season. So the league had definitely moved by then. It was a miracle, but the Leafs won that mini two out of three series against the Kings...)

    2. Remember guys that we are talking here about the NHL's "Original Six" where the two regular season bottom-place teams missed the playoffs. The Original Six era was often criticized for having a playoff system which was too easy and for featuring too many dominant teams (Montreal never missed the playoffs between 1949 and 1967 and Detroit and Toronto only missed three times each, leaving the other three teams (Chicago, Boston and New York) to compete for the one remaining berth. That was just the way the cookie crumbled, no seeding and no byes. First and third and second and fourth-place teams in a semi-final playoff series seemed to be the only fair approach in those days with (ideally) the two best teams ending up vying for the Stanley Cup in the championship finals. This all changed, of course, with NHL expansion the season after the Leafs won it all for the last time.

  2. Thanks for the write up, Michael. It's probably the closest I can come at this point to actually experiencing it.

    I hope one day I'll have my own memories to share. And I also hope that if I'm sharing some of them in 2065 they'll be a little more recent than yours are today.

    I guess Leafs fans are exhibit A in terms of proof that sports allegiances are not a matter of choice!

    1. Leaf fans can only hope a Stanley Cup will be more than just a dream before then, Oliver!

    2. Montreal's loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night ensured that, for the 22nd year in a row, a Canadian-based team will not win the Stanley Cup....What does this tell you about our Canadian Game folks? Misery enjoys company north of the border...Right fellow Maple Leafs fans?

  3. Yes, at least as Leaf fans we've all been sitting in the same leaky boat. I'm relieved the organization has finally realized they're almost out of buckets and younger fans just aren't willing to hop on the Leaf boat and bail. I hope whatever Shanahan eventually builds is sturdier than the past models.