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.



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