Monday, December 28, 2009

My All-Time Leaf Team..(Okay, not All-time. Players I've Seen In My Life.)

So just so we're straight here. You're not going to find Ed Chadwick or Turk Broda on the list. You won't find Bill Barilko, Syl Apps or Teeder here either. Deserving as they may be, I am, although quite old, not that old, thank you very much. Instead you will find who I feel should be on the all-time Leaffans blogger (that's me) list.

This will be set-up like an actual team. 4 forward lines, 3 sets of defencemen, 2 goaltenders. Also a captain and 2 assistant captains.

Pre-requisites to being on this team are you must have played at least 3 seasons for the Buds and participated in at least one round of playoffs. Sorry Phil Kessel, Ian White and Vesa. Umm, actually Vesa, you had no chance anyway.

So without any further nonsense (I didn't know if the word was ado or adieu) here we go:

First Line:
Left Wing--#27Frank Mahovlich -- Without a doubt the best left winger ever on the Buds. The senator (the good kind) gets #27 because he wore it first

Centre--#9Darryl Sittler (C) -- Sitt gets the "C". First leaf in the 100 point bracket. #9 as a junior in London. Number in London retired. MLSE get the idea?

Right Wing--#8Lanny McDonald -- Lovable Lanny. Loved by everyone except Punch. The mustachioed marksman will always be a fan fave. Wearing number 8 because someone on defence has the rights to number 7 and Lanny wore number eight in Junior. He allowed Darryl to wear his Calgary number for this team.

Second Line
Left Wing--#17 Wendel Clark -- He of the big shot, big check, big mullet. Could he shoot? Just ask Cujo. Could he hit? Just ask Bruce Bell. Could he brush the mullet? Only his hairdresser knows for sure

Centre --#14 Davey Keon (A) -- The greatest skater the Leafs have ever employed. Straight stick, great shot, both wrister and back-hand. Power play, penalty kill, and never more than 12 minutes in penalties in a season while with the Leafs. But still, a very tough individual.

Right Wing--#6 Ron Ellis--Ronny could fly. 11 of his first 12 seasons with the Leafs he scored 20 or more goals and the season he missed 20 he potted 19. His whole career was spent with the Blue and White and retired when he was forced out by Punch. (What is it with Punch and right-wingers?)

Third Line
Left Wing--#25 Dave Andreychuk--Given his Sabre number of 25 because 14 is spoken for, Dave is a natural on this line with Gilmour. A true rugged veteran, Andreychuk parked himself in front of the opposition's net and battled. His best season was in 93/94 when he broke the 50 goal plateau

Centre--#93 Doug Gilmour (A) -- Killer joins a long list of terrific centremen and captains on this forever team. Acquired from the Flames in a lop-sided deal, Gilmour became the heart and soul of the Leafs in the early nineties

Right Wing--#22 Rick Vaive -- Another former captain on this team, came to the Leafs from the Canucks in the 79/80 season when the Punch cleanout was in full swing. 3 successive seasons of over 50 goals gets him the nod here.

Fourth Line
Left Wing--#22 Dave Tiger Williams -- I know Vaive is wearing 22 also, but it was going to come to blows, so I will let them duke it out later for the number. Tiger, all-time greatest fighter/scorer the Leafs ever had was traded along with Jerry Butler for Vaive and Billy Derlago.

Centre--#13 Mats Sundin -- Take all the centres on this team, throw their names in a hat and any of them could be the number 1 centre. Mats was an exceptional player for the Leafs playing 13 seasons before opting for free agency. Water under the bridge, Leaf fans, water under the bridge.

Right Wing--#10 George Armstrong -- Yet another former captain, Army played 20 seasons with the buds and won 4 Stanley Cups with them and was a 7 time all-star.

First Defense Pairing
Left Defence--#21 Borje Salming -- Best d-man the Leafs have ever had. Bar none. Great playmaker, great shot, great shot-blocker. Now he designs underwear in Sweden.

Right Defence--#7 Tim Horton -- Strongest player I have ever seen play the game. Great puck carrier, great defender, great haircut, GREAT coffee. RIP Tim.

Second Defense Pairing
Left Defence--#4 Red Kelly -- I know, I know, he was a centreman with the Leafs, but I couldn't fit him in there. And he was a d-man with the Red Wings before he was traded to the Leafs, so he's going back there for this team.

Right Defence--#21 Bobby Baun -- Anyone who scores a goal in overtime on a broken leg has to be on this team. As for his number, let him and Borje share it.

Third Defence Pairing
Left Defence--#2 Ian Turnbull -- 9 seasons with the Leafs, including two 20 goal seasons. A great puck-rushing defenceman who was a bit of a free-spirit. I'll never forget watching him pot 5 against the Detroit Red Wings. Great trivia question...who was in net that night for Detroit? Answer...Jim Rutherford and Ed Giacomin.

Right Defence--#15 Tomas Kaberle -- A close second to BJ Salming when it comes to puck carrying and vision on the ice for play-making. Not as strong defensively as Salming, but makes up for it with his ability to headman the puck

Starter--#1 Johnny Bower -- The China Wall. Toughest choices on this team were the goaltenders. Leafs have had a number of very good ones, but I have to go with the flagship of the franchise here. The recording star, "Honky, Honky the Christmas Goose", which may have a completely different connotation in today's market, was always my favorite as a young boy growing up

Back-up --#31 Curtis Joseph -- Cujo, on the strength of wins alone, gets on this team. One of the best at providing the save when you needed it (Vesa, please take note), Joseph was stellar in his first go-round with the Leafs

3rd goalie -- #29 Mike Palmateer -- I know I originally called for 2 goalies but,The Popcorn Kid is on this team just because I like him. He didn't have the greatest stats, but he would make some incredible saves. Probably the most "fun to watch" goalie in Leaf history

Coach -- Pat Quinn
General Manager -- Jim Gregory. Definitely not Imlach or JFJ.

As always, this list is very subjective and you may have other players/ideas/thoughts. Share them if you like. Or don't. Just remember...

Go Leafs Go and cheer like no one is watching you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Back In The Day...

Because I am old, the memory is failing. It's weird. I remember unusual things but forget things I should know. For example, for the life of me, I can never remember Ricard Wallin's first name. I had to look it up just now. But ask me who wore #11 for the Leafs in 71 and I know it was Guy Trottier. Some other memories are creeping up and therefore I ask, does anyone remember:

When hockey players had their sweater numbers on their skates?

When Paul Morris (the old announcer from the Gardens) would announce the goal/penalty, etc with just the last name of the players? Toronto Goal scored by Keon. Assist Baun and Horton.

When there was just one penalty box and the penalized players had to share it? It led to some interesting skirmishes in the box. And some poor old penalty timekeeper squeezed in between Fergie and Shack trying to break it up.

When the Leafs played Kladno of the Czech League? Tomas Kaberle's father played for the Czechs who beat the Leafs 8-5.

The Showdown Series...until Pal Hal refused to let Darryl Sittler compete in it with a Leaf sweater on.

When home games were Wednesday and Saturday night. CTV on Wednesday nights, Hockey Night in Canada on CBC on Saturdays.

Ward Cornell, Jack Dennett, Bob Goldham, Howie Meeker, and, of course, Foster and Bill Hewitt

Johnny Bower waving to the television camera whenever he skated out as one of the 3 Stars.

Eddie Shack's pirouette

Eddie Shack "fighting" all the St. Louis Blues. Actually skating away as fast as he could from all the Blues that were on the ice. Ending up on the bench and conducting the crowd with a "We Want Shack" cheer.

Tiger riding his stick.

Salming's horrifically cut face

Claire "the Milkman" Alexander

Brian "Spinner" Spencer

Bernie Parent leaving the Leafs for the Miami Screaming Eagles of the WHA

The CHUM witch? You'd probably have to be from Toronto in the 60's to remember her.

Tiger's "Done like dinner," quote.

Foster's "Henderson has scored for Canada" call.

Leaf fans booing the Superstar on the opposing team. Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, etc.

Table Hockey games with just the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leaf figures.

The Toros? The Ottawa Nationals? The Cleveland Barons? The Kansas City Scouts?

The Trans-Canada Line? Errol Thompson (PEI), Darryl Sittler (Ontario), Lanny McDonald (Alberta)

The HUE Line? Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman, Ron Ellis.

When hockey sweaters were referred to as just that, not jerseys.

When all the coaches wore fedoras.

When games were actually halted while goalies went for stitches.

January 18, 1964--Boston 11 Toronto 0....when the Bruins were the dregs of the league

When Saturday night games started at 8 o'clock

When Hockey Night in Canada came on at 8:30 p.m.

Trying to guess the score of the game as HNIC finally did come on at 8:30 p.m.

Lying in bed, listening to Foster call the Sunday night away game and dreaming that it could be you out on the ice.

Ahhh, memories.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Everybody's Doing It. Making A List and Perusing It

By the angle of the sun and a check of the calendar, I have discovered that we are at the end of another year and presumably the end of the first decade of the new millenium. Some people insist that the new decade doesn't start until the end of 2010, but, really, I don't care. What everyone is doing is making their "best of", "worst of", "top, bottom and somewhere in the middle" lists and Leaf fans are no different. Oh yes, we are called different by other team's fans...but then what do they know? They just want to be Leaf fans and haven't yet been allowed on the bandwagon. Here then is the "TOP TEN MAPLE LEAFS OF THE DECADE"
  • Number 10--Tie Domi. This isn't about talent, it's about notoriety. Tie was loved by all for a good part of the decade. He had a falling out with the infamous elbow, regained the love and then lost a lot of it again with his "Tiger-Woodsing" of Belinda. He recently was back in the spotlight and once again rekindled a little of the Leaffan euphoria with his showing in the CBC's figure-skating reality show, "Battle of the Blades." That's right, toughie Domi figure skating. In order to keep his "manly hockiness" he refused to wear figure skates. At least that's the reason we were given. Not that he wouldn't have been able to skate in figure skates.
  • Number 9--Nik Antropov. BOOOO!!!! OUCH! IR. BOOO!!! OUCH! IR BOO! OUCH IR. This seemed to be, no, make that this was the pattern that plagued Antropov throughout most of his Maple Leaf career. Booed for whatever reason, (and, frankly, I've never been able to figure out the reason) for most of his career with the Buds and the only applause he'd hear was when he was announced by Andy Frost as "not dressed for tonight's game", which happened a lot. I think Antro was treated unfairly by the fans in this city, who have a nasty habit of doing that to certain players. Larry Murphy, Bryan McCabe, Jason Blake. Nikky was a supreme forechecker, learned to play like a big boy late in his Leaf stint and one of the best shot-tippers you'll ever lay your eyes on. He's moved on to Atlanta, via the Rangers. Let's hope Kenny Ryan (the 2nd round choice the Leafs got for Antro) doesn't hear the booing that his predecessor received.
  • Number 8--Bryan McCabe. Speaking of booing, may I present #8 on our list. Quick now, what is your greatest memory of Caber? Great point shot? Power-play expert? Team Canada's #7 defenceman? Captain material? Nope, nope, nope and nope. The thing that is uppermost in everybody's brain is the "own goal" that McCabe scored in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres. 83 goals in 7 seasons and the only one that is remembered is the unfortunate one. Regardless, another player who was unmercifly and unfairly booed out of town.
  • Number 7--Eddie Belfour. Eddie the Eagle played only 3 seasons during the decade and amassed 17 shutouts....17 shutouts!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? And they were actually in his first two seasons. Holy Crap! And for those first two seasons somewhere around a 2.20 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Yet, in his third season, guess what happened. His gaa went up, his save percentage went down and the booing started. Sad. Nevertheless, Eddie has to be on our list. His stay was short and sweet, well, mostly sweet and he's now the goaltending coach for the Peoria Riverman and goalie consultant for the St. Louis Blues.
  • Number 6--Darcy Tucker. Ahhh, good old Darcy. The prototypical pest. If Darcy's on your team, you love him. If he's on the opposition, especially the dreaded Montreal Canadiens, you hate him. But not Leaf fans. Oh sure, they loved him for a number of years as a member of the Blue and White. Slowly, however, around the 7th or 8th year on the team, fans started commenting on his lack of value, his big contract, his no-movement clause, his membership in the Muskoka 5, his lack of intensity (?), his ability to crash into the boards right beside the player he was trying to hit and demanded that he be traded, moved, bought out, etc, etc, etc. Then, when he was bought out, and ultimately signed with the Colorado Avalanche, he was put back on his pedestal, remembered fondly by Leaf fans and actually honoured by the management of the Leafs when the Avalanche played a game at the ACC. Go figure. Darcy performed well during his tenure with the Leafs with seasons of 28, 24 and 21 goals highlighting his stay here as well as his truculent behaviour.
  • Number 5--Phil Kessel. As of this writing, young Phil has played just 22 games for the Leafs. I have no doubt that when next the decade's list is drafted, he will be higher up on the list. If he isn't, check out who the Bruins first pick in the 2010 draft was and compare the two, because if he isn't higher than 5th for next decade, Burkie got shafted. A major talent, so far, in the NHL, he has quickly become the go-to player the Leafs have needed for some time. He's battled and defeated testicular cancer, won the Masterton trophy (for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey), scored a hat-trick in the Young Guns All-Star game, he led the United States U18 Junior team to the Gold Medal in the U18 world tournament, and at 22 years old has become a leader on the Buds. And, so far, he hasn't been booed by Leaf fans. Boston fans, yes. But they all want to be Leaf fans, anyway.
  • Number 4--Tomas Kaberle. Drafted in the 8th round, 204th overall, in 1996. Now #2 in defenceman scoring, career-wise, with the Leafs, he has spent a grand total of 2 games in the minors. He graduated from the Czech League where he played for Kladno, in 1998 and fit in almost immediately in the NHL. Never a big goal scorer, he seems to frustrate the "experts" in the stands who constantly yell, "SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT" when he has the puck at the point, especially on the power play. His biggest asset, however, is his vision on the ice and his wonderful play-making ability. It's been a long time since the Leafs have had a puck-moving defenceman with his skills. Insert Borje Salming here. So, puck-moving, play-making, point-producing defencman and what did the fans want? Of course. They wanted him to waive his no-trade clause so the Leafs could move him. Wonders never cease. But, at least, they didn't boo him.
  • Number 3--Curtis Joseph. Cujo only played for three years of the decade with the Buds, but it was a stellar three years. Well, except for the last one maybe and the feeling he brought on Leaf fans when he left to "go win a cup" with Detroit. But, ummm....the Stanley Cup never materialized. The chants were loud in 2000 and 2001 when the Leafs were in the midst of playoff fever and the fans loved dear old Cujo. He returned for a very uneventful swansong in 08/09 and became only the second player in this list to leave the league as a Maple Leaf. Mr. Domi being the other.
  • Number 2--Gary Roberts. The very fit Mr. Roberts played 3 seasons and a bit with the Leafs and forever cemented his way into the Leaf's fans hearts by showing up to play every night and playing the same way every night. Like his life depended on it. And this is after coming back from an horrific neck injury. The former Masterton trophy winner never scored less than 21 goals for the Leafs when he played a complete season. Roberts left after the lockout with fellow Whitby alum, Joe Nieuwendyk (who could have made this list as well) for the warmer pastures of Florida and signed a contract with the Panthers. More because of his attitude, leadership and playing style is he put on this list and could just as easily been Number 1 on this list. Roberts retired as a player in 2009 but is still admired as a fitness consultant in the NHL.
  • Number 1--Mats Sundin. This obviously comes as no surprise. Captain Mats was the franchise through just about all of the decade, playing in all the seasons up to 2008/09. He of course played many years with the Leafs before the start of the decade and holds just about all the career scoring records for the team. He was both loved and hated by the fans (go figure) and when he refused to waive his no-trade clause in his contract he was called a traitor to the team by some of the fan base. Another captain in the long line of captains who didn't retire as captain of the Leafs (Armstrong, Keon, Sittler, Ramage, Vaive, Clark, Gilmour), he chose to test the free-agent market after spending a summer and half a season contemplating retirement. He re-surfaced with the Vancouver Canucks and played his last (we think) NHL season there. In a strange spectacle he was both booed and cheered upon his return to the ACC with the Canucks. Whenever he touched the puck, he was booed. After a video tribute on the scoreboard, he was cheered wildly. After the tribute more booing whenever he had the audacity to make a play. However, as poetic license and the fates would have it, the game came down to a shoot-out. Naturally, it fell upon Mats to decide the game with his shot. Naturally, he scored to win the game for Vancouver. Naturally, the Leaf fans went wild and stood and cheered while Mats blew kisses to the crowd.

Honourable mentions

  • Joe Nieuwendyk
  • Alexander Mogilny
  • Alexei Ponikarovsky
  • Matt Stajan

This list is obviously very subjective. It is my opinion and I don't really care if anyone or everyone agrees with it. It is here only for your enjoyment in reading it and mine in writing it. If you don't agree with what I've listed, write your own damn blog.
As always, keep the home fires burning, the home fries hot, and be a Leaf fan until Niagara falls.

Next time: