Thursday, July 27, 2017

REMEMBERING TOD SLOAN: 1927-2017


On July 12, 2017, Aloysius (Tod) Martin Sloan passed away. Born on November 30, 1927, in Pontiac, Quebec, Sloan, was predeceased by his wife Jean and his son Donald.

 In April 2016, at the Royal Canadian Legion in Sutton West, Ontario, Sloan was honoured with an afternoon dedicated to the man and hockey player. More recently, in April of this year, at the Legion, Tod Sloan was presented with his alumni blazer (pictured above) in recognition of the Toronto Maple Leafs Centennial season. In the top 100 Toronto Maple Leafs of all-time list, released in October 2016, Sloan held the number 38 spot. He was nestled between Tomas Kaberle and former teammate Harry Watson.

And at this same Legion, family and friends gathered ten days after his passing to remember Tod Sloan with a celebration of his life. On an overcast Saturday afternoon a packed house wasn't deterred by the weather. Included in the crowd were Sloan's former linemates on the Maple Leafs, George Armstrong and Dick Duff. The National Hockey League was represented by Jim Gregory, the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations. Also in attendance was Sloan's Chicago teammate and captain of the 1961 Stanley Cup champion Black Hawks, Pierre Pilote. Another NHL alumni player on hand was former Boston Bruin, Bob Beckett.

Left to Right: Dick Duff, Jim Gregory, George Armstrong & Bob Beckett.

Jim Gregory and Pierre Pilote.

Vanessa Leach, who is Tod Sloan's Goddaughter, was selected by Joanne and Marilynn (Sloan's daughters) to talk on behalf of the family. In her heartfelt and loving address, Leach captured the life and times of Tod Sloan.

"He was raised in a small mining community in Falconbridge, Ontario, near Sudbury," Leach stated in her opening remarks. "He was the youngest of seven children and as such knew the hardships of a young lad growing up in the 30's. Determination was something he learned very early. Aloysius became known as Tod roughly at the age of ten. An older man from the village thought that suited him much better."

On and off the ice, Sloan's boyhood was typical of someone that grew-up during the depression. "Tod's career (hockey) started when he strapped on a pair of old leather skates and headed down to the frozen pond." Leach noted that it wasn't all fun and games for the hockey-mad youngster. "Tod started his working career as a grocery delivery boy in Falconbridge using a horse and wagon."

Leach returned to her theme of "determination" in describing Sloan. "He left Sudbury at the age of fifteen and found work in Sault St. Marie (Ontario) as a merchant marine. He fibbed about his age and said he was sixteen so that he could get on the boat, once again, determination."

A huge life changing event occurred while Sloan was away from home. "It was around this time as a merchant marine that he received a letter from his parents informing that a "C Form" had arrived in the mail." In hockey terms, the "C Form" committed a player to one NHL team and essentially, he became the property of the organization. It was at their discretion where a teenager or young adult played. "It was from the Toronto Maple Leafs stating that he had to report to St. Mike's College and play for the St. Mike's Majors."

In an era when Conn Smythe and his local scouts knew every player with potential in northern Ontario, Tod Sloan didn't escape their radar. At the midget level, Sloan performed for the team in Copper Cliff, Ontario. A centre, Sloan led his team to the midget semi-final in April 1944 at Maple Leaf Gardens. After two periods, Toronto's Young Leafs held a commanding 4-1 lead over Copper Cliff. Their lone goal was scored by Sloan. Then, in the final frame, Sloan went to work and mounted a blistering offensive attack and burned the opposition with three straight goals. Bill Logan broke the 4-4 tie at the 14:04 mark and allowed the Young Leafs to advance to the Final.

No doubt impressed by Sloan's production in their own backyard, the Toronto Maple Leafs brought him south and assigned him to the St. Michael's Majors of the OHA Junior "A" league. A high school in Toronto, St. Mike's, along with the Toronto Marlboros, was part of the Leafs feeder-system that prepared prospects for life in pro hockey. Later, his cousin, Leaf legend Dave Keon, would attend St. Mike's and play for the Majors.

Determined to make an impact, Tod Sloan, did his talking on the ice. During the 1944-45 regular season, he accumulated 37 points in 19 games. He helped St. Mike's advance to the Memorial Cup Final and led all scorers in the post-season with 17 goals. St. Mike's defeated the Moose Jaw Canucks 7-2 on April 23, 1945, at Maple Leaf Gardens, to capture the Memorial Cup championship.

Sloan's second and final term at St. Mike's saw him go on a scoring rampage. In December of 1945, he produced two five-goal games. After his second onslaught, The Globe and Mail observed, "For the second time in six days the silent centre, or reticent right winger, depending on where coach Joe Primeau stations him, scored five goals in one game."

His scoring prowess in 1945-46 resulted in Sloan earning two special awards for his work. The first was the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy (scoring championship) as he scored 43 goals and 32 assists for 75 points in 25 games. This was followed by Sloan being awarded the Albert "Red" Tilson Trophy. This accomplishment recognized Sloan for his "sportsmanship and outstanding ability."

The big payoff for Tod Sloan came when he signed his first professional contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 30, 1946. Leaf coach, Hap Day, compared Sloan to sharpshooters Carson Cooper and Bill Cook. He told reporters, "Coop and Bill could pick their spots at any time and never be a fraction off their target...and Sloan is the nearest thing to them I've seen."

In an age when hot prospects weren't guaranteed an NHL roster spot, Tod Sloan spent the first two seasons of his pro career in the American Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Hornets. The one exception came on Christmas Night of 1947. When Don Metz went down with an injury, Sloan was summoned to replace him in the line-up. His National Hockey League debut was uneventful, but the Leafs did secure two-points as they blanked the Canadiens 3-0 at the Forum.

Sloan's opportunity for an extended run with the Maple Leafs came in 1948-49. He split the year between Pittsburgh and Toronto. He registered his first NHL point by assisting on a goal by Harry Taylor. A newspaper account of the goal observed, "Taylor's goal was the most spectacular. He took a pass from Timgren (Ray) on the fly and speeded in to blast a hard one past Brimsek...Sloan set up the play in Toronto territory."

Despite getting his skates in the door, Sloan couldn't stick with the Leafs and was assigned to the Cleveland Barons (AHL) for the 1949-50 campaign. As Stanley Cup champs in 1949, Leaf management didn't see the need for big changes and thus limited their moves. But it was a different story when the club was bounced in the opening round of the 1950 playoffs. While the Leafs streak of  three consecutive Cups ended, Sloan worked on his game in Cleveland. In 62 outings, he hit the twine 37-times and amassed 66 points.

Beginning in 1950-51, Tod Sloan remained in the bigs and never returned to the minor leagues.

The crowning moment in Sloan's time in Toronto came in the 1951 Stanley Cup Final. Going into game five the Leafs held a three games-to-one advantage over the Montreal Canadiens. During regulation time, Sloan scored both Toronto goals. His second of the night came at the 19:28 mark of period three. In overtime, Bill Barilko delivered his Stanley Cup winning-goal.

Sloan's most prolific season with the Leafs was in 1955-56. On March 10, 1956, at home against the New York Rangers, Sloan equalled the record for most goals by a Leaf in a single season. His goal in the second period tied Gaye Stewart's mark of 37 goals. Sloan's huge numbers and overall play put him in the running for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's most valuable player. When the ballots were counted, Jean Beliveau of the Habs was declared the winner with 94 votes. Sloan trailed Beliveau by 8 votes. In line with the Hart results, Jean Beliveau was named to the First All-Star Team and Sloan made the Second Team. Both played the centre position. One prize that didn't elude Sloan was the J. P.  Bickell Memorial Trophy. This was an in-house award given to Toronto's MVP.

In June of 1958, Tod Sloan's run with the Maple Leafs came to end when they sold him to the Chicago Black Hawks. In the Windy City, he notched his 200th goal in the NHL. This milestone goal was scored on December 23, 1959, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A UPI story mentioned "the 32-year-old veteran feinted goalie Marcel Paille to the left side and slammed the puck into the vacant corner at 13:59 of the opening period."

Nearing the end of his career, Tod Sloan went out in style when the Hawks defeated Detroit 5-1 on April 16, 1961, to win their first Cup since 1938. Rex MacLeod of The Globe and Mail wrote that Sloan "...played his best game of the series..." With another Stanley Cup under his belt, Tod Sloan hung-up his blades and retired from the National Hockey League.

But that wasn't the final chapter in his hockey story. At the age of 35, Sloan joined the OHA Senior "A" Galt Terriers in December 1962. The highlight for Sloan with the Terriers came when they represented Canada at the World Championships in Colorado. Although Canada settled for Silver, Sloan turned in an outstanding performance with 16 points in 6 games.

The one player most qualified to comment on Tod Sloan's skill and character is Dick Duff. I chatted with Duff one week after his former teammate passed away. In his rookie year, 1955-56, Duff along with Sloan and George Armstrong formed the Leafs most potent line. Like Sloan, Duff was a product of St. Mike's hockey program.

"Tod scored 37 goals and in those days a guy that scored 20 goals was considered to be an outstanding player," Duff noted about his linemate. "I think Tod was one of the most skilled players that came out of St. Mike's. He was a hardworking player and George and I were happy to play with Tod. We were all northern Ontario guys and hung-out together."

When asked to expand on his comment pertaining to Sloan's skills, Duff quickly responded, "His finesse with the puck." He explained that Sloan "took the puck through the defence and had good moves." Duff told me "the good players could anticipate when they had an edge or could create one." He included Sloan in this group. "Tod was good around the net. He could do things with the puck and do things that other guys couldn't do."

As for the character factor, Duff had nothing but praise for Sloan. "He was a good guy who stood up for the players." This is reference to the players attempt to set up a sustained players' association. Sloan's work on behalf of his brothers came at a high price. "When we tried to get it underway in 1957-58, the Leafs sent Tod and Jimmy Thomson to Chicago," Duff said of the consequences both endured in their attempts to improve the working conditions and financial standing of all players in the NHL. The Hawks were non-contenders and a destination that veterans tried to avoid. "He was a leader and I had the highest regard for him," Duff proudly stated of Sloan.

Joanne Sloan with (L to R) Jim Gregory, George Armstrong & Dick Duff
Vanessa Leach with George Armstrong


Vanessa Leach spoke about Tod Sloan's life after hockey.

"Even though he was retired, he did not sit idle. Tod moved his family to Jackson's Point, Ontario. It is still the family home. He purchased a hotel called the Kenwood in the heart of Jackson's Point. He dabbled in real estate and the stock market. Also, he was in the taxi business."

There were certain chores around the house that gave Sloan fits. "Tod was a lot of things, however, a handyman he was not. Mrs. Sloan was the handy-person, a wife, a mother and a jack-of-all-trades. One day the kitchen sink was leaking and Mrs. Sloan wanted to call a plumber. Tod, having won Stanley Cups, wondered how hard it could be to fix it. Sunday rolled around, which was Tod's day off, so she figured this was going to be the day (he fixed it). Well, Tod in his relaxed mode sat and watched TV all day. At around supper time, he decided to take a crack at it. Tod proceeded to take everything out from under the kitchen sink. He grabbed his handy wrench, probably from Mrs. Sloan's toolbox, and gave the pipe a good tug. There was one problem, he forgot to turn off the water off. The next thing you know, water was shooting left, right, centre and all over the place!"

One of Sloan's great joys was spending time on the golf course. "Like most hockey players, Tod traded in his skates for a set of golf clubs. This he took as seriously as hockey. As he was slick with a stick, he was just as cool with a club. He knew how to hit the ball and he knew the rules. In 2000, he won another trophy for his mantle as he won a seniors tournament. Determined as usual to be the best."

The hockey world mourns the passing of this determined player, teammate, husband, father and friend.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BRIT SELBY: THE CALDER TROPHY WINNER IN 1966


It has been a long time since a Toronto Maple Leaf won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. In fact, 51 years have passed since Brit Selby was awarded the prize in 1966. His streak ended tonight when Auston Matthews was named the top rookie at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

No stranger to the Leaf organization, Brit Selby played his pee-wee hockey in the Toronto Hockey League with Shopsy's a club sponsored by Toronto's NHL club.

In November 1961, Selby skated for the Lakeshore Goodyears in the Metro Junior "B" League when he was summoned by the junior "A" Toronto Marlboros to replace an injured Brian Conacher. In his debut as a Marlboro, Selby scored the second goal in a 4-0 victory over St. Mike's.

Selby remained with the Marlboros for the balance of his time as a junior. He became a Memorial Cup champion in 1964. The 1963-64 Marlboros were a powerhouse with many future NHL players in the line-up. In the mix were several teammates that would later join Selby on the Maple Leafs roster. Names of note included Pete Stemkowski, Mike Walton, Ron Ellis, Wayne Carlton, Jim McKenny and Gary Smith.

His big break came in 1964-65, when the Leafs called up Selby on a three-game professional trial. On January 2, 1965, Selby, who played left wing, made his first NHL regular season appearance against the Detroit Red Wings and Gordie Howe. And Howe welcomed the rookie in his usual manner. In his first shift, Selby received what he called a "sort of initiation, I guess" from Mr. Hockey. Right off the bat, Howe planted his stick on Selby's arm and left a large bruise.

The next night, Selby faced the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. In this contest, Selby scored his first National Hockey League goal when he tipped in a pass from Carl Brewer that eluded Rangers goalie Jacques Plante. In the third and final game of his professional trial on January 6, he scored the game-winner in Toronto's 3-1 win at Chicago Stadium. After this tilt in the Windy City, he was returned to the Marlboros.

Brit Selby turned pro in 1965-66 with the Maple Leafs. In an interview several years ago, Selby told me what it was like to negotiate his first NHL deal with Leafs general manager & coach, Punch Imlach. "When I signed my contract with Imlach in 1965, I wasn't allowed an attorney and I wasn't allowed an accountant to help me. My parents weren't even allowed into the meeting. It was just myself, a 19 year-old kid negotiating with Imlach, who was an officer in World War Two and coached three Stanley Cup teams."

Although he was silenced in Imlach's office, Selby did his talking on the ice during his rookie campaign. By February 1966, he netted 13 goals and led at the mid-season point in voting for the NHL's top rookie award. During this era voting for the major trophies took place in the middle and end of the regular season schedule.

One of the highlights during his first NHL voyage was a natural hat trick Selby recorded against Boston Bruins goalie Bernie Parent. With the good, also came the bad, as there were a number of mishaps that held Selby back. These included a groin injury, bruised ankle, influenza and a cracked bone in his right foot. This last physical impediment was kept under wraps to keep the opposition from causing further damage.

At seasons-end, Selby had posted 14 goals and 13 assists in 61 games. These statistics and his overall performance enabled Selby to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.

When the Maple Leafs opened up at home on October 22, 1966, Selby was presented the Calder Trophy by the Honourable John P. Robarts, the Premier of Ontario. To make the moment more special, Selby's dad and a few work pals from a wholesale plumbing company named Cunningham & Hill were in Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the presentation.



While everything fell into place for Selby in year one, the same couldn't be said of year two in 1966-67. In the first six games, Toronto only earned one victory and in this stretch, Selby's production only reached one goal and one helper. Imlach's response to Selby's slow start was to demote him to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. Out west, Selby's season came to a crashing end on December 7, 1966. The Canucks battled San Diego that night and when Selby collided with defenceman Jimmy Watson, he emerged with a broken leg.

Coming off their surprise win in the 1967 Stanley Cup Final, the next order of business for Leaf management was the expansion draft. No longer on the Leafs radar screen, Selby was exposed to the six new NHL franchises and on June 6, 1967, was claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. Determined to show he belonged in the big-show, Selby rejuvenated his game in Philly. In 56 contests, he produced career highs for goals (15) and assists (15).

Over two seasons in Philadelphia, Selby competed in a total of 119 games and soon found himself on the move to several NHL destinations. In March 1969, the native of Kingston, Ontario, was traded back to Toronto. Then, on November 13, 1970, Selby was shipped to St. Louis for former Leaf defender Bobby Baun.

All along, Selby knew his time as a professional hockey player had a limited shelve-life. "As a third or fourth line player, I knew my career wasn't going to last that long. That's when I started going to university. I was helped by people like Carl Brewer. He provided me with some guidance." Ultimately, Selby became a teacher and enjoyed his post-hockey life working for the Toronto Board of Education.



To underscore the importance of preparing for the cold realities after retirement from the game, Selby revealed details of his hockey pensions. "I got thirty-two hundred a year from the National Hockey League. They increased the benefit and called it a gift and I receive an extra eight-thousand. Also, I receive another thousand from the WHA (World Hockey Association). That's all I receive from my hockey wars. I only played for ten years, but for players who depend on it (a hockey pension), they'd be in financial difficulty."

Early in 1971-72, St. Louis sent Selby to the minors to play for the Central Hockey League Kansas City Blues. In the summer of 1972, he decided to change his focus. "I had just accepted a job in Switzerland in August. I must have had my head in the sand as I knew nothing about the WHA. A friend of mine in Philadelphia called me and said there was a lawyer who could negotiate a deal for me in Ottawa."

Though the deal with Ottawa didn't materialize, Selby was signed by Quebec. "We started out in Quebec and "Rocket" Richard was the coach. He was so positive with the players. He was a good guy." However, Richard's time behind the bench didn't last long. "One night I was coming home and there was a moving van. "Rocket" and I lived in the same apartment building. The next day, I found out he had quit. Around two weeks later, I was shipped to the New England Whalers. I ended up playing with Tommy Webster and Terry Caffery. I had more fun than any other season and we won the Avco Cup (1973). For some reason, they traded me to the (Toronto) Toros."

He hung up his skates in 1974-75 after playing 17 games with the Toros.

Looking back to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, Brit Selby has fond memories. "It was exciting. Punch Imlach didn't inform me (about the Calder). A sports reporter from the Toronto Star, Red Burnett, phoned me and told me I won the Calder. They can't take it away and I'm proud of having the distinction of winning the Calder in 1965-66."



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

AN AMAZING DOCUMENT



For the past while, the 30 NHL teams have been busy preparing for the Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. The Knights general manager, George McPhee, will select one player from each club. On Sunday, the teams submitted their protected lists to the National Hockey League and the Knights. They will reveal their selections on Wednesday.

While the final make-up of a protected list is the responsibility of the general manager, he has a staff of thousands to assist him. In a way, it takes a village to run an NHL franchise. And this village includes assistant general managers, a senior advisor and a director of player evaluation to name a few. All those working in these positions contribute to evaluating the talent in their organizations. When an expansion draft takes place, their collective input is of major importance.

And when it comes to player evaluation, times certainly have changed. I came across this fascinating document that clearly drives this fact home.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

It was prepared for Toronto Maple Leafs boss, Conn Smythe, by his assistant, Frank Selke. In his own handwriting, Selke provided Smythe with his evaluation of the players on the Leafs roster. Written on Maple Leaf Gardens stationary, the document contains numbers alongside each player, but there is no explanation as to the meaning or relevance of the figures.

 Although the document is not dated, there are a number of clues that help establish the 1935-36 season as the applicable period. For example, when writing about "King" Clancy, the Leafs assistant manager noted he "has very good since Hollett left." This refers to defenceman Flash Hollett, who was traded to the Boston Bruins on January 15, 1936. Another clue pertains to centre, Bill Thoms. "All things considered our best forward," Selke informed Smythe.

Looking at Thoms' entire body of work, there is little doubt that only the 1935-36 campaign would cause Selke to write such a glowing report of the Newmarket, Ontario native. Thoms' 23 goals in 48 games represented a career year for him and he would never come close to matching this number. Thoms and Charlie Conacher shared identical stats with both scoring 23 goals and 15 assists for 38 points. The only difference being that Conacher played in 44 contests. Selke wrote of Conacher "best forward in league with some bad nights."

Besides emphasizing a players hockey talent, Selke paid attention to work ethic. He revealed of Joe Primeau "he has done a lot of useful work." The 1935-36 season was Primeau's last year as a Maple Leaf before he hung-up his skates. As though looking towards the future, Selke compared second year pro, Bob Davidson, to Primeau. "Like Joe an honest worker doing his bit."

Selke wrote positive comments on several other Leafs. On Nick Metz he stated "at times looked like our best forward." Andy Blair, who usually played up the middle, took a turn as a defender in '35-'36 and his performance didn't go unnoticed by Selke. "Our best defenceman overall," Selke wrote of Blair.

One of the most critical reviews written by Frank Selke was of Red Horner. A rugged defenceman during his time in the National Hockey League, Horner's game was usually judged by his penalty-minutes. In 1935-36, Horner led the league in this category having spent 167-minutes in the penalty box. Horner's job was to protect his teammates when the opposition took physical liberties with them.  His high PIM was an indicator that Horner was up to the task. Unfortunately, Selke didn't elaborate when he wrote beside Horner's name that he "has had a disappointing year."

It is interesting to read Selke's evaluation of  Harvey "Busher" Jackson and his younger brother, Art Jackson. Selke knew his boss wasn't fond of Harvey Jackson's flamboyant lifestyle away from the rink, but in all likelihood this didn't influence Selke's scathing analysis as he observed that Jackson "has been very bad all year." It could be argued expectations were greater for Jackson since he was a proven veteran and First Team All-Star in 1932, 1934 and 1935. Also, his goal production dropped in half from the previous year. In 1934-35, Jackson connected for 22 goals and reached only 11 the next season. By contrast Selke offered this summary of Art Jackson's first full year with the Maple Leafs. "Started slowly improved steadily," Selke proclaimed of Jackson, who went on to win a Stanley Cup with Boston in 1941 and returned to the Leafs to capture his second Cup in 1945.

There were numerous circumstances that caused Selke to provide a reason for a players slip in performance. The most common one was injuries. "Wonderful form until injured," Selke explained of Hap Day. "Started brilliantly bad since injured," Selke noted of Pep Kelly. "Great work till hurt at Montreal fair sense," Selke declared of Buzz Boll. In the case of Frank Finnigan, who was in his thirteenth year in the NHL, Selke raised his age. Finnigan would turn 33 in July 1936. Still, Selke gave a fair appraisal of Finnigan's abilities as he described that he was "steady all the time has aged considerably."

All of the above makes this one amazing document.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

THE KID LINE, CLANCY & LEVINSKY


As the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate their Centennial Anniversary, one edition of the club holds a special place in their history. In 1931-32, the Leafs experienced success both on the ice and off. During the spring, summer and fall of 1931, construction crews feverishly worked day and night to have Maple Leaf Gardens ready for the Leafs home opener on November 12, 1931. Although they lost their first outing at the Gardens by a 2-1 score to the Chicago Black Hawks, Conn Smythe's warriors went on to capture the Stanley Cup on April 9, 1932, on home ice.


The Leafs offence was powered by the famed Kid Line - Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau and Harvey Jackson (pictured above left to right). At the end of the season, Conacher shared the scoring championship with the Rangers Bill Cook. Living up to his nickname -"The Big Bomber"- Conacher scored 34 goals in 44 games. Primeau played between Conacher (right wing) and Jackson (left wing) and led the NHL in assists with 37. "Gentleman Joe" Primeau was named the winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct.  Not to be outdone, Harvey "Busher" Jackson led all Maple Leaf point-getters in the regular season with 53 in 48 contests. In the playoffs, Conacher tied New York's Bun Cook for most goals scored (6) and Primeau tied Cook's teammate, Frank Boucher, for most assists (6).

On defence, "King" Clancy and Alex Levinsky protected the Leafs zone and cleared traffic in front of goalie Lorne Chabot. Noted for his Irish charm, Clancy could talk his way out of any situation and didn't hesitate to move the puck up ice. He contributed seven goals and fourteen assists in '31-'32. Toronto obtained Clancy from the Ottawa Senators on October 11, 1930.  Conn Smythe's determination to add Clancy to his blueline is evident in what he sent to the Senators to obtain the Ottawa native. In a massive deal for the time, Ottawa received two bodies (Art Smith & Eric Pettinger) and a cheque for $35,000. This was an enormous amount of cash taking into account North America was in the grips of a financial depression. Smythe's move paid off nicely for the Leafs as Clancy became one of the most popular Maple Leafs of all-time.

Levinsky, an all-round athlete, grew-up in the Leafs system. He won a Memorial Cup in 1929 with the Toronto Marlboros and the Allan Cup in 1930 with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. He turned pro with Leafs on March 2, 1931. Toronto fans got their first look at Levinsky in Leaf colours on March 5, 1931, at Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. Lou Marsh of the Toronto Daily Star provided this comment on Levinsky's home debut. "Levinsky of course did not set anything on fire with his performance last night, but when King Clancy and Hap Day get through teaching him how to hurl the hip he will make some of them go into second gear after they meet him." In 1931-32, Levinsky proved his worth and missed only one game and contributed five goals and five assists. Also, as predicted by Marsh, he excelled as a physical presence on the ice.

At an event hosted by Mike Wilson, descendants of Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher,  Harvey Jackson, "King" Clancy and Alex Levinsky gathered to share memories passed down by their famous family  members.

Left to Right: Mike Wilson, Howie Jackson, Bob Primeau, Richard Levinsky, Brad Conacher, Suzanne Primeau, Pete Conacher & Terry Clancy.

"We would always get together at Christmas," said Suzanne Primeau. "There are 12 grandchildren and I'm the eldest granddaughter of Joe Primeau. My dad, Joe Primeau Jr., is the eldest son of Joe Primeau."

Suzanne Primeau is proud that the family tradition of attending Leaf home games dates back to 1931-32. "At the time Conn Smythe was building the Gardens, he took Papa (Joe Primeau) around and told him to choose the seats he wanted. Papa ended up selecting eight seats and Conn allowed him not to pay for them. But that all changed in the Ballard era." Six of those seats remain in the Primeau family. "I remember Nana (her grandmother) telling me she went to the first game at Maple Leaf Gardens and the puck was dropped barely before the roof was put on."

Joe Primeau revealed to his granddaughter what he considered to be an important ingredient to winning games. "He told me that 75% of your success in the game was your goaltender." With two lethal scoring weapons as linemates, Primeau's job of distributing the puck between Conacher and Jackson often became a thorn in his side. Suzanne discovered how Primeau responded to this dilemma. "He'd say, 'I don't know how to keep those two happy. I'm going to have to cut the puck in half.'"

"I was born in 1931 and my first recollection of hockey was more in 1937," said Bob Primeau, who is Joe Primeau's son. "I don't remember anything about when Dad was playing. A big moment in my life was watching the Leafs win in 1942 when they came back from losing three games and winning the next four to win the Stanley Cup. I can remember him coaching." Joe Primeau is the only coach to capture a Memorial Cup, Allan Cup and Stanley Cup. Coach Primeau's Stanley Cup championship came in 1951. "I was at the game with my Uncle Jim when Barilko scored that overtime goal. I remember Sloan (Tod) tied the game with about a minute to go. Every game went into overtime."

Bob Primeau recalled a story his dad told him about the era when the train travel was the main means of transportation for NHL teams. "They spent a lot of time on the trains. Dad was talking about the kibitzing that use to happen on the train. It seems to me that Charlie Conacher was at the head of all the trouble. If anyone had a necktie on, Charlie had a pair of scissors and he would cut it off about halfway up."

One story both Primeau's shared concerned an injury Joe Primeau suffered on the road. "I remember him telling me about how he had part of his ear sliced," stated Suzanne. "The next game he took some old football helmet and put it on." Bob Primeau filled in the details. "He hit his head against the goalpost down in New York. He nearly knocked his ear off. They had trouble sewing it back on. He got an old football helmet and cut the top off it and wore it."

Above all, Joe Primeau was a family man and was called "Gentleman Joe" for a reason. "He was a good person and didn't bring the game home with him," explained Suzanne. "He never put anyone down and was always positive. There wasn't always nice talk about Harold Ballard, but Papa never said anything bad about him. In fact, Ballard sent 60 roses for their 60th wedding anniversary."

"When the Leafs won the Stanley Cup in '31-'32, I wasn't born yet," said Pete Conacher in his opening remarks concerning his dad Charlie Conacher. A standout in junior with the Galt Black Hawks, Pete Conacher graduated to the NHL and played for Chicago, New York and Toronto. "I always heard so many stories about the Kid Line. I'm sure that line played a big part in the 1932 Cup win. But I knew right from the start that my dad was a famous hockey player. I got to see more of him in action when he was coaching at Oshawa against St. Mike's and Joe Primeau. I would go to the practices in Oshawa."

Conacher delved into how his hockey playing family were humble when it came to discussing their amazing achievements in the game. "Dad and my Uncle Lionel and Uncle Roy, they all won Stanley Cups, Memorial Cups and are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but never once did I hear them talk about a special game or a special goal."

Charlie Conacher's other son, Brad, agreed with Pete's assessment of their father. "He never boasted about his hockey career," echoed Brad Conacher. "People recognized the name and it was always gratifying. In the 1930s there was no television or internet, but the one thing everyone seemed to do was sit around the radio and listen to hockey. They listened to Foster Hewitt call Toronto Maple Leaf games. The names Primeau, Jackson and Conacher were household names."

When Charlie Conacher and Francis Michael Clancy hit the ice together, adventure, excitement and mischief was bound to happen. Brad spoke of one such occasion and it involved New York Americans forward Eddie Convey. A native of Toronto, Convey was a member of the 1929 Memorial Cup champion Toronto Marlboros. His teammates on that team included Charlie Conacher, Harvey Jackson and Alex Levinsky.

"Convey was going to be sent down by the New York Americans so my dad and "King" Clancy decided to try and make him look good," Brad said in setting the scene. "They gave him the puck so my dad fell and "King" took a run at him and missed. Convey goes in on Lorne Chabot (the leaf goalie) and misses the net. The next time Convey came down, they both took a run at him and missed. Convey goes in and shoots the puck right into Chabot's pads. Dad and "King" decided to try one more time. This time, Chabot basically dives out of the way and gets hit in the throat. Then, they decided the next time Convey came down, they would break his legs!"

In the case of Howie Jackson, both his uncle and dad made it to the National Hockey League. His father, Art Jackson, won the Stanley Cup with Boston (1941) and Toronto (1945). His uncle was Harvey Jackson. "I don't remember a whole lot about Uncle Harvey," stated Howie. "Dad always talked about him and said there was no one in the NHL that had a harder backhand shot than Harvey. Also, Dad said Uncle Harvey was as tough as nails. You just didn't mess around with him. He had huge hands."

One bone of contention in the Jackson family is the fact Harvey Jackson was ignored during his lifetime when it came to his possible induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. And the individual responsible for setting up the roadblock to keep Jackson out of the Hall was Conn Smythe. "I fought for years to keep Busher Jackson out of the Hall of Fame," Smythe wrote in his 1981 memoir. Interestingly, Smythe's objections had nothing to do with Jackson's on-ice performance, but everything to do with his life away from the rink.

"Dad always thought Uncle Harvey should have included into the Hockey Hall of Fame around the same time as his linemates on the Kid Line. Everyone knows the problems Harvey had (with alcohol), but that has nothing to do with hockey." Conacher was the first of the three to enter the Hall in 1961, followed by Primeau's induction in 1963. Five years after his passing on June 25, 1966, Harvey Jackson took his well deserved place in the Hockey Hall of Fame as an Honoured Member in the class of 1971.

As one of the most beloved figures in all of hockey, no one knew "King" Clancy better than his son Terry Clancy. "He never talked about hockey, but he'd talk about Charlie (Conacher) and all the other guys," stated Terry. "He called the 1931-32 Leafs the best team ever. That's all he talked about. My father was the best and he loved his teammates. He talked about how tough they were and how good they were."

Terry Clancy was no stranger to the ice himself as he played in 93 NHL contests with Oakland and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, he played in the 1964 Olympics for the Canadian National Team under Father David Bauer. When asked if there was added pressure or expectations being the son of one of the greats, Clancy responded, "Not really, I played since I was a kid on Ottawa's open-air rinks. I just liked playing. I didn't care if the name was Clancy or Wilson."

On advice he received from his dad, Clancy said, "He never told me much." Surprisingly, this is a common reply by those with dad's that played in professional hockey. "He'd see me play in the Western and American Leagues and the NHL. One time, he told me, 'You know something Terry, I don't know what you're doing, but you are a better hockey player than I ever was. I think he was trying to build me up.'"

Clancy recalled an encounter he had with Charlie Conacher. "I remember Charlie one day was down in Ottawa. I was with my dad, he had a construction business in Ottawa. Charlie had just gotten his liquor licence for the Conway Hotel renewed. My dad said, 'Terry take Mr. Conacher to the airport.' I drove him out to the airport and he got out of the car and said, 'here kid.' He gave me a one-hundred dollar bill. I almost had a heart attack."

Richard Levinsky, like those that spoke before him, never had the chance to see his father perform in the National Hockey League. "I wasn't born until after my dad retired. He never really told me much about what he did."

Alex Levinsky's son filled in the blanks on his dad's career and accomplishments. "He won the Memorial Cup in 1929 and the Allan Cup in 1930. What was interesting with my dad was that in '29 he won the Canadian Amateur baseball and basketball championships. He wasn't ready to play for the Leafs, but they were paying for his university (law classes) and he was captain of the football team. When Dad signed with the Maple Leafs, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles (baseball). I have his original contract signed by Conn Smythe allowing him to play baseball in the summer. He signed for $3,500 and $500 in Maple Leaf Gardens shares. He didn't keep the shares very long."

After a brief stint with the Leafs in 1930-31, Alex Levinsky won hockey's greatest prize. "In 1932, he won his first Stanley with the Leafs." Levinsky also won a Cup in 1938 with the Chicago Black Hawks. "His defence partner on the Leafs was Hap Day. My dad and "Red" Horner were the enforcers on the Maple Leafs. He was tough and fought Eddie Shore (Boston) every game they played. In one fight with Shore my dad was near the goalpost. He ducked and Shore hit the post and broke his hand."

In his tough-guy role Levinsky was subject to countless physical hardships. However, one part of his body escaped punishment. "My dad never lost a tooth," Richard proudly proclaimed. "He had hundreds of stitches in his face, but never lost a tooth. When you got hurt, you played hurt, or you were sent down and never played again. There was always someone to replace you."

Levinsky told his son of the two players that impressed him most. "He felt Charlie Conacher was the best player he played with on the Maple Leafs. Howie Morenz was the best he played against. He told me that if Hap (Day) and him weren't halfway back to the blueline when Morenz took off, they had no chance of catching him."

On May 11, 1934, Levinsky's contract was sold to the New York Rangers for $12,000. "The reason  Conn Smythe sold him was that in his mortgage he had to have a certain amount in the bank at all-times," Richard said of Smythe's financial commitment. "He didn't have $12,000 in the bank at the time so he sold him to New York."

Born in Toronto, Levinsky's next NHL stop was in Chicago. In the Windy City, he encountered two very notorious characters. Richard explained a unique situation his dad, the first Jewish player in the National Hockey League, found himself in. "When he was playing in Chicago, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegle (both were underworld figures) were around. Dad was traded by Chicago and he told the story of how the guys in the Jewish Mafia wanted to take the coach for a ride. But, my dad wouldn't allow it!"

In a hushed tone, Richard Levinsky began his final comment. "It's really exciting to be here with these guys, it's really..." Overcome with emotion, Levinsky slowly began to rise from his chair, unable to finish his statement. It was obvious to all that the friendship and admiration had been passed down to future generations of the Kid Line, Clancy and Levinsky.

NOTES: A VERY SPECIAL SHOW & TELL


The above pictures show several historical pieces relating to the 1931-32 Toronto Maple Leafs.

 The first item comes courtesy of Suzanne Primeau. It is the miniature Lady Byng Trophy that was presented to Joe Primeau.

Below the first two photos is a plaque brought by Brad Conacher noting Charlie Conacher as the first Toronto Maple Leaf to score a goal in the newly built Maple Leaf Gardens. Conacher beat Chicago goalie, Charlie Gardiner, at the 18:42 mark of the second period. Fittingly, Joe Primeau was credited with the lone assist.

The final three photos reveal very rare items that Richard Levinsky displayed. The first shows Alex Levinsky's hockey jacket from the 1930s. The black & white photo of the Kid Line shows them wearing their jackets. The last two pictures show the front and back of a coin each member of the 1932 Stanley Cup champions received from Maple Leaf Gardens Limited. The "Pass" allowed the Leaf players "as world's champion to Maple Leaf Gardens any time."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SANDERSON TO ORR


On May 10, 1970, at 5:10pm, one of the most dramatic goals in hockey history was scored at the old Boston Garden. The occasion was game four of the 1970 Stanley Cup final between the hometown Bruins and the St. Louis Blues. Boston was well in control of the final as they won the first three contests.

In game four, the two clubs ended regulation tied at three goals apiece. The Bruins pulled even with the Blues when Johnny Bucyk potted the equalizer late in the third period. As is usually the case in overtime, one player takes his place under the spotlight and becomes the hero. Forty-seven years ago this afternoon, the knight in shining armour for the Bruins faithful was Bobby Orr.

"Swooping in front of the Blues' net, Bobby Orr took a swipe past old Glenn Hall in a move so rapid that there was a slight delay in the roar from the stands until a few moments after the red light flashed," noted Boston Globe writer Tom Fitzgerald.



In his story, Fitzgerald quoted Orr's teammate, Derek Sanderson, who set-up the goal. "That Bobby is the only guy who could do something like that. He blocked the puck away from the guy (Larry Keenan) over by the boards, then got it into me in the right corner. I waited just a little until Bobby busted for that net and put it into him."


Orr's Cup-winning tally, scored forty-seconds into overtime, topped off a banner season for the native of Parry Sound, Ontario. In addition to the Cup, Orr took home the Hart Trophy (MVP), Art Ross Trophy (top scorer), Norris Trophy (top defenceman) and the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP).


Friday, May 5, 2017

A PERFECT FIT


On Saturday, April 29th, former Leaf, Tod Sloan, received his alumni jacket in recognition of the Toronto Maple Leafs 100th anniversary. The event was held at the Legion Hall in Sutton, Ontario.



The presentation was made by fellow Leaf, Ron Hurst (L) and former NHL defenceman, Ivan Irwin, who played with the Canadiens and Rangers.

Tod Sloan scored his biggest NHL goal in game five of the 1951 Stanley Cup Final. The Montreal Canadiens held a one goal advantage over Toronto late in the period three. With seconds remaining in regulation, Sloan tied the contest at the 19:28 mark of the third period.

A story in The Globe and Mail provided readers with this description of Sloan's equalizer. Max Bentley "worked his way goal ward firing through a maze of players. The puck bounced out, Smith (Sid) smacked at it and it hit the goalpost, the disc landing at Sloan's feet. Tod did the rest."

It "took the heart out of the Habs, cost them a victory they had locked up. It was like having a man steal home on you in the ninth to tie the score," noted another newspaper article.

Sloan's crucial tally sent the game into overtime. What came next is one of the most important moments in Toronto Maple Leafs history. In the extra-time, Bill Barilko scored the Cup-winning goal and by summers end, lost his life in a plane crash.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

THE LAST CUP


Exactly 50 years-ago this evening on May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens faced-off in game six of the Stanley Cup Final. The game was played at Maple Leafs Gardens. The Cup was on the line as the Leafs held a 3 to 2 games advantage over the Habs.

Going into the third period, Toronto was able to keep their opponent off the scoreboard and had a two goal lead. Ron Ellis and Jimmy Pappin found the back of the net for the home team. But at the 5:28 mark of the final frame, former Leaf, Dick Duff, brought the Canadiens to within one goal.



Toronto Daily Star hockey writer, Red Burnett, in his report the next day, brilliantly described the action after Duff's goal.

"From then until George Armstrong pounded a long shot into the Canadiens net with 47 seconds left, it was a tense, gripping duel between a desperate offence and a stubborn, clever defence.

"Coach Toe Blake lifted Worsley at 19:05 for an extra attacker after the Leafs were called for icing.

"Allan Stanley beat Beliveau to the faceoff and cleared him out of the way with his body to allow Kelly to relay the puck to Bob Pulford, who fed Army in the clear."