Category Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs

R.I.P. Red Fisher

Red Fisher, the man we all knew had the best job on the planet, has died at age 91.

Red covered the Habs for the Montreal Star and Montreal Gazette, beginning in 1955 and ending in 2012, when he was 85-years old. He became one of the boys, part of the players’ and coaches’ inner circle, winning or losing money on card games while the trains took to the team to other big league cities.

His first hockey assignment was, amazingly enough, the night of the Richard Riot (March 17, 1955) at the Forum.

It had to have been an incredible time for Red, covering those Stanley Cup teams over the years and doing so in such fine and unique fashion, and at this time my thoughts go out to Red’s family and friends.

I can only add a bit of a personal story about Red.

In the early 1960s I was a kid at an exhibition game in Peterborough, Ontario between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks, and I approached Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, who were standing by the boards, for autographs. Hull was more than happy to oblige, but Mikita was surly and miserable. I’ve always maintained that he told me to go to hell (or worse) but over the years I began to hope that he didn’t really get that harsh, that it was just me, because I was young, making too much of something.

I would like to say this… In no way is this to be taken that Stan Mikita was a bad person. In the beginning he was a little rough, but as the years went by, Mikita became a fine, friendly gentleman, a class act, and a legendary and deserving Hall of Famer.

After this incident in Peterborough, I wrote a letter to Red Fisher at the Montreal Star about it, and this is his reply back to me.

Phone Book Families, Like the Orrs

Years ago my dad had this old 1959 Orillia and area telephone book hanging around the house which he was planning on tossing out until I asked him if I could have it because I knew Gordon Lightfoot’s family home is listed in the pages.

There are others too.

Paging through the Orillia section, I see the GM Lightfoot household at 283 Harvey St., and young Gordon, who would be about 20 when this phone book came out, had moved out of the house the year before. I used to have a couple of buddies who also lived on Harvey St, and my dad worked for a while at a dry cleaners in Orillia with Gordon’s father.

On the same page as Lightfoot is Norman Ley at 47 Wyandotte. Norman was the dad of Rick Ley, who went on to fame and fortune in both the NHL and WhA.

The book also has listings of the area surrounding Orillia, which includes Parry Sound, and I found Bobby Orr’s family home which you can see at Doug Orr, (his dad) on 21 Great North Road. Bobby’s grandfather, Robert Orr, is listed at 67 River.

Bobby would be about 11 at the time of the phone book.

Searching further, I went into Sundridge and found Bucko McDonald on Main St. Bucko had not only been a star in the NHL in the 1930s and 40s with Detroit, New York, and Toronto, but also coached Bobby Orr in squirt and peewee in Parry Sound. Bucko decided to make the young fellow a defenceman even though Bobby was small and had great skills up front. When dad Doug questioned Bucko about this odd decision, Bucko told him “Bobby is born to play defence.”

Sundridge is also where my mother came from.

Also listed in the pages of this old phone book is the Roger Crozier household in Bracebridge, writer Paul Rimstead’s dad’s farm outside of Bracebridge, and the family home of another respected Canadian writer, Roy MacGregor in Huntsville (who played minor hockey against Orr and the Parry Sound team).

In a Good Old Newspaper

The things you find in a January 6, 1940 Toronto Daily Star.

There’s an ad for a game at 8.30 between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens, with good tickets available at 75 cents, $1.50, $2.00, and $2.50.

There’s a nice photo of star left winger for the Canadiens, Toe Blake, and in the accompanying article, it says, “Last time Canadiens and Leafs met in Montreal it was a delirious donnybrook. If the boys resume where they left off it will be a show no fight fan can afford to miss.”

And last but not least – ‘The Letter Box’, which features some interesting letters, including this from Harry Donnelly in Toronto.

“If you would make a survey of hockey fans here in Toronto or anywhere else in the NHL you will find it 12 to one in favour of a more open game, meaning bigger score and less whistle blowing. After all, it’s the fans who keep the NHL in existence and it seems it is high time they were taken into consideration. Even if it is only to the extent of finding out if they want less whistle blowing and a more open game with more scoring. After all you must remember the sports writer’s opinions and the fan who pays are often of opposite views.
“I don’t say go back to the old seven man hockey but before the blue line was brought into effect there was some wonderful hockey played. Not all whistle blowing. Did you ever hear of a fan leaving a game that finished in a scoreless tie that felt he got his money’s worth?
Yours for whatever it’s worth.
Harry Donnelly

And then there’s this, from R.O.L.

“Well, here we are at the end of another sports year. Living as I do in “Hogtown” I glance back through the months to count the renowned trophies that are now being displayed in Hogtown. But I seem to have lost track of some of them, “or sumpin”!
“Can you help me out? Where is the Mann Cup, the Minto Cup, the Grey Cup, the Stanley Cup, the Allan Cup, the Memorial Cup, the Connaught cup, the Little League World Series trophy.
“Where, oh, where can they be?”

Well R.O.L., they just won the Grey Cup, that should be enough!

Club de Cleveland

Because of the 1930s’ Great Depression, with money being as scarce as Habs goals, it was decided that having two teams in Montreal just wasn’t economically feasible. So the Montreal Maroons, winners of the Stanley Cup in 1926 and 1935, folded after the 1938 season, leaving the Canadiens to carry on.

The entire 1930s had been a struggle. In the early part of the decade, the Montreal Canadiens were doing so poorly both on the ice and at the box office that they were considering moving to Cleveland. (At least they could have kept the same crest.)

And to make matters worse, the Canadiens were even thinking about folding a couple of years after the Maroons had bit the dust, leaving Montreal with no NHL team at all. So you know what that means? It means we could be Leaf fans right now. Or Bruins fans. Or cricket fans.

Sticks on Heads

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There’s nothing like some good, honest hockey violence to stir the innards. For some of us anyway.

The picture above shows just another in the ongoing saga of one of the nastiest, meanest hockey feuds in history that began in New York and carried on in Toronto. It involved the Canadiens’ Ken Reardon and Rangers/Leafs Cal Gardner, and went on for years.

If you’re not crazy about fighting, you might want to go to another one of my posts like when I went to the Atlantic City Pop Festival or something gentle like that. Because this post won’t be for you.

The Habs were in New York, late in the 1947 season, and with about thirty seconds left in the game, Gardner crosschecked Reardon in the mouth and Reardon lost a couple of teeth and was cut on the lip for about twenty stitches. Emile Bouchard hit Bryan Hextall over the head with his stick and Hextall and Bouchard proceeded to pound each other a bunch of times. Then Reardon said some bad words and some guy sitting behind the bench yelled that he shouldn’t swear because his girlfriend was with him, so Rocket Richard hit the fan over the head with his stick and blood was all over the place.

Reardon was not impressed with what Gardner had done to his Hollywood good looks and told a reporter that before he quit hockey he was going to get Gardner. And although he swore it was an accident, in 1949 he “accidentally” broke Gardner’s jaw on both sides in Montreal after Gardner had been traded to the Leafs.

The feud and the fights continued for years. In the above photo, the two lovebirds show some little playfulness at Maple Leaf Gardens. That’s Leaf captain Ted Kennedy on the left and Montreal’s Doug Harvey on the right, along with referee Bill Chadwick.

Ken Reardon went on to become Frank Selke’s right-hand man in Montreal’s front office. Gal Gardner eventually retired from pro hockey in 1961 and played senior hockey in Orillia for awhile. I remember seeing him play at the Community Centre when I was a kid.

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Card Abuse

We were sitting on a gold mine and just didn’t know it. Nobody knew it, not even the card makers.

beliveau cardWhenever we got a chance outside school, we’d throw Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe and Mickey Mantle cards against the school’s brick walls to see who would come the closest. All those helmet-less, legendary, magical names of yesterday, bang against the wall.

Winner takes all. Awesome!

In fact, we ruined pretty well every card we owned, because we’d also bend them and put them in our bicycle spokes and wrap tight elastics around them and pick food from our teeth with them.

In Orillia we’d buy our cards at a little kiosk at the corner where the two main streets meet, a place run by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the man who worked there couldn’t see a thing. I always wondered how he did it – taking money, making change, reaching for the right thing stacked among so many other things.

We could’ve taken anything within reach at that little store and that man would never know, but we didn’t. We were there to spend five cents a pack on cards and try to get our sets completed. And we’d usually get them all, or lose most of them by doing like I said; firing them against hard walls to see who got the closest.

These cards would be worth plenty now. Rookie cards of every name you’ve ever heard of from the NHL and MLB of the 1950s got dinged and bent and mud splattered on them. We loved our cards, but I guess you always hurt the one you love.

I remember when I was about eight years old and I needed only one card to complete my Montreal-Toronto set, and on a winter evening my dad came home from work with about fifty packs for me so I could finally find that one missing card.

I imagine what those fifty packs of unopened 1958 cards would be worth now and my eyes widen.

Of course, my mother and all my friends’ mothers eventually did their spring cleaning and threw our cards out. It’s what mothers did. They fed us, taught us, and threw our cards out. They were born to throw their son’s cards out.

We were just goofy kids throwing cards against walls until girls got interesting, and anyway, we were of a different mindset. For us, keeping Jacques Plante and Tim Horton mint, or even keeping them at all, didn’t really matter. It was the game that counted.

Getting rich just wasn’t in the cards.

Heroes and Dreams

001More than a hundred years of heroes and dreams. Of men donning the sweater and hitting the ice. The years of kids watching and reading about, dreaming and becoming. From the time Didier Pitre took a pass from Jack Laviolette and slid it over to Newsy Lalonde, little boys donned the sweater, the bleu, blanc, et rouge, and they became Pitre and Lalonde and all those who came later. kids-sweater1-150x150

From the days of Georges Vezina stopping pucks for Les Canadiens, little kids wanted to stop pucks too, on lakes and ponds and old rinks throughout, and when they wore the sweater, they made the saves with people cheering them, and for all those winter nights near their homes, they were Georges Vezina.

Like magic they became Howie Morenz and Aurele Joliat, Toe Blake and George Hainsworth. They wore the sweater on nights so cold it should’ve been illegal, slapping old rubber balls into snowbanks, stopping cow pies on slews, deking friends and sisters and little kids on the pond. wearing the red or white sweater with the simple and beautiful CH crest sewn on front.004

They became the Rocket, and Lach, Bouchard and Harvey, and they saw the game in their dreams. Behind the skaters they were Durnan and Plante crouched by the net, and when the time came, they were the Boomer and Big Jean scoring on the power play. It unfolded at the Forum and the Olympia and Conn Smythe’s old barn and the outdoor rink frozen in winter at the baseball field. And kids heard them on the radio and saw them in black and white and shuffled their bubblegum cards, wearing the sweater and becoming anyone they wanted to be, just when they wanted to be. 003

The wore the sweater when the Pocket Rocket wouldn’t give up the puck, when the Boomer boomed, and when the Gumper kicked out his pads. They opened boxes at Christmas and there was one to put on right away, and they were Ken Dryden and Lafleur and the Big Bird. And their kids and kid brothers wore the sweater when Patrick Roy and Carbo and then Kovalev and Koivu graced the ice. And now, new guard is in place, and kids are becoming them too.

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They said goodbye to the Forum and to the Rocket and all those others who went when it was time and when it wasn’t time, and they wiped little drops of tears from their sweater. And they smiled and clapped and looked above as they watched the sweaters of their heroes raised triumphantly to the rafters.

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Every night now, the Bell Centre is packed with young and old, still wearing the sweater of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s been a dream for more than a hundred years. We are Georges, Howie, the Rocket and Guy. We’re Patrick and Saku and Price and Gally.

We wear the sweater whether we have a sweater or not, and we continue to hope.002

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Three Orillia Guys

Getting pinned at an Orillia tournament.

Teammate John French was our best player and went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies, was drafted by Montreal, and skated with the AHL Montreal Voyageurs where his goalie was Ken Dryden.

After moving to the Baltimore Clippers for one season, John signed with the New England Whalers of the brand new World Hockey Association and became teammates with his old friend from Orillia, Rick Ley. He also played for The San Diego Mariners and Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, and ended his career with the AHL Springfield Indians.

In the late 1970s my first wife and I bought an old desk in a second-hand store in Ottawa, and in the drawer was a John French WHA hockey card.

Ron Clarke, on the left, got smashed so hard into the boards one night in Collingwood they had to remove a kidney. Ron’s one of my oldest friend, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, and we still keep in touch. It’s always a good day when I get to see Ron, who now lives in Kitchener.