Category Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs

Goalie Don Head On The Point?

Powell River’s George Stephen figured he should probably just let it go. No one had heard about it, and most didn’t believe him. I figured he had probably inhaled too many fumes from the local mill.

But George insisted he’d seen it, only now he was thinking he might be the only one on the planet who had.

George would say often that one night, more than 50 years ago on Hockey Night in Canada, the Boston Bruins, in Toronto for a game against the Leafs, were issued a delayed penalty, and something odd happened. As soon as the referee raised his arm, Bruin goaltender Don Head, instead of skating to the bench for an extra attacker, smartly skated to the blueline, goalie pads and all, and played a short shift as a defenceman until a Leaf finally touched the puck, and back to his net Mr. Head went.

What, the Bruins didn’t have a defenceman handy?

George insisted, though. When Chicago goalie great Glenn Hall came to Powell River, George asked him, but Hall had no idea what our man was talking about. A letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame garnered a reply, and all they could say was they had no idea, but if it were true, it would make a great story. George even asked Powell River resident Andy McCallum, who had played with Head for the Ontario Senior Windsor Bulldogs, and Andy said he wouldn’t be surprised because Head was such a good skater, even with goalie pads on.

There was only one last thing George could do. Ask the man himself, Don Head. If he could find him.

Through Dick Tracy-like sleuthing, George discovered that Head was alive and well and living in Portland, Oregon, and picked up the phone. After mistakenly getting a few others of the same name in Portland first, the goalie was finally tracked down, and George asked that big nagging question. Did he leave his net and become a defenceman with his goalie equipment on?

Head thought for a second, and gave an answer George wasn’t really hoping for. “I don’t remember ever doing that,” he said, and after a few more pleasantries, George politely said goodbye. He was even more convinced to just forget the whole thing.

And that should be the end of the story.

But the phone rang the very next night at George’s house, and sure enough, Don Head was on the line from Portland. “Hello George,” he said. “If I’m ever in a trivia game and need an answer, I’m phoning you.” George asked why, and Head continued. “You were absolutely right. My daughter and I went through my scrapbooks and found the write-up of me skating up the ice and playing the point on the power play. It was a Saturday night, Hockey night in Canada, and we beat Toronto 4-3. I’d forgotten all about that.”

Head wasn’t finished there. He sent a copy of the news story to George and enclosed a little note that said: “Maybe this will convince everyone that you didn’t really inhale those fumes at the mill after all.”

It took more than 40 years, but George Stephen finally has proof that he saw what he saw. All it took was asking Don Head himself. It was true. The goalie played the point, pads and all.

Fan Favourite Fergie

John Ferguson was a lot of things.

He was one of the most popular players to ever wear the Montreal sweater, according to one who would know, Dick Irvin Jr. He was a serious lacrosse player, mostly in Nanaimo, BC. He was assistant coach on Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series. He was deeply involved in horse racing. He was coach and GM of the New York Rangers, and GM of the Winnipeg Jets.

But most of all, he was a great fighter for the Habs in the 1960s, who could also score goals. Twelve seconds into his very first NHL game with the Habs, Fergie got into a fight with Boston tough guy Ted Green and won. He was a coach’s dream.

Fergie was one those guys who would cross the street if members of the opposing team were walking his way. He avoided playing in golf tournaments if players from other teams were participating.  And he would only be involved in hockey schools if all the other instructors were Montreal players.

“We played for the sweater,” John Ferguson once said, and because he said that, he’s one of my all-time favourite Montreal Canadiens. I even saw him and Eddie Shack go at it once when I was at a game at Maple Leaf Gardens, and it brought down the house. It was one of those great, delicious bench-clearing brawls, and Shack and Fergie were the headliners, two rival gladiators with a glorious dislike for each other. They went punch for punch, Leaf fans screamed for his blood, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, right up there with Brigitte Bardot standing by the fence in  And God Created Women.

John Ferguson was one of the best. He died on July 14, 2007, at only 68.

Papa Got A Brand New Team

I’m a Habs fan, born and raised in Orillia, Ont, which is Leafs country I suppose, considering it’s only an hour and a half north of Toronto. I’m a fan and my old man had a lot to do with it.

My dad, who served in the Canadian army overseas in WWll, was a hockey fan most of his life, although his enthusiasm waned as he aged, which I understand more and more. He followed the Leafs when he was young, and once wrote a letter in the 1930s to Ace Bailey, who lay in a hospital after Boston’s Eddie Shore clubbed him over the head, ending his career, and nearly killing him.

Bailey’s wife wrote back and thanked him.

Later though, my dad began to change his mind about his team. The Toronto Star and Telegram both plastered their papers with Leafs stories and my dad would complain. It was always “Leafs, Leafs, Leafs” he used to say. Broadcaster Foster Hewitt was the definitive homer, and this rubbed dad the wrong way. And pops was a quiet fellow and wasn’t crazy about the brash, loud, and arrogant Leafs owner Conn Smythe.

In the 1950s, with television entering households, it was usually only Leafs game shown, and when the Montreal Canadiens played in Toronto, my dad liked what he saw on his TV. There was the Rocket, Beliveau, Harvey, and Plante. Magical names. Stanley Cups began to be won by the Habs on a regular basis, and the Leafs just kept plodding along. The Canadiens had something the Leafs didn’t.

When I was a boy he started a big Montreal Canadiens scrapbook for me. He helped me write fan letters to the Rocket, and at one point, Rocket sent me a Christmas card. He took me to Maple Leaf Gardens a couple of times, and once, when we were really early and stood at the gate, the Canadiens players walked right by us.

He bought me a hockey book for Christmas which he mailed to Montreal asking for autographs, and it was mailed back signed by the entire 1957-58 Habs – Richard, Plante, coach Toe Blake, Beliveau, Geoffrion etc, with Doug Harvey’s as the only signature missing. Later when we went to a game at the Gardens, he brought the book with him, took it down to the Montreal dressing room corridor, saw Toe Blake standing there, and asked Blake if he would take the book into the dressing room and get Harvey to sign it.

Believe it not, Blake did just that.

Thanks dad.

Habs Fall To Leafs In OT

The Canadiens fell 4-3 in overtime to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, and the hockey world is in utter disbelief that Montreal would give…

…a run for their money.

Yes, Montreal would take the lead just 2:19 into the first period when Jeff Petry blasted one from the point after a nice set up by Jonathan Drouin, they were outplaying the blue and white by a nice margin, the Bell crowd was happy, life was as it should be, but two goals in 44 seconds by the Leafs, who are…

in the history of the world…and the Habs looked to be in big trouble because the Torontonians can score and the Montrealers can’t, so we waited for the Bell Centre roof to cave in. But lo and behold, Alex Galchenyuk, with his first goal (and point) of the season while on the power play, the team’s first PP goal of the season, and it was hard to believe for all concerned.

How could the lowly Montreal Canadiens hang tough like this? Against a team that Central Canada hockey broadcasters, writers, analysts, hanger-ons, groupies, Don Cherry, Richard Simmons, Kim Jong-un, 5000 Syrian refugees, and many more, all consider to be…

Donald Trump can’t wait to invite them to Washington where he’ll have blue trim painted around the White House windows in honour of this juggernaut. Although he’s undecided about Nazem Kadri.

Montreal took the lead in the second period when Jonathan Drouin redirected a Karl Alzner hard pass from the blueline, but just 1:10 later, Patrick Marleau inched the puck just over the line, the teams were tied at three, and would remain so for the rest of the middle frame and all of the third.

Sadly in overtime, Auston Mathews notched the winner, Leaf fans rejoiced, and Sportsnet’s Daren Millard, who compares the Leafs to  Gretzky’s Oilers, had to be excused to go to the bathroom.

All in all, it was Montreal’s best outing of this young season, and now have 1 win, 3 losses, and 1 overtime loss/point racked up. Most importantly, three guys who had yet to score – Petry, Galchenyuk, and Drouin, did so, and maybe it’ll get them rolling. Rome wasn’t built in a day, a few others need to step up, and Max needs to stop shooting from far out at goalies who stop these type of shots while gawking at lovely ladies in the stands.

Another concern lingers, the sometimes mediocre backstopping of Carey Price. With this lineup we need Price at his best most of the time, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’ve seen some sensational stops from the guy, but because he’s Price, we need more than just some.

They fought valiantly but couldn’t get it done against the…

Random Notes:

The Canadiens now jet to California for games in San Jose on Tuesday, L.A. Wednesday, and Anaheim on Friday.  What a shitty October schedule for this team. Not that there should be any excuses I suppose.

Time now for…

 

Early Season Habs Blues

Four measly goals (and a shootout marker) in four games. Three straight losses after falling 3-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks on opening night at the Bell Centre. Another night of the power play shooting blanks.

If this keeps up, those wild and crazy Montreal Canadiens should be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs sometime around Christmas and we can concentrate fully on the magic of winter, spring, and early summer.

But they looked great in the first period, which should give us some hope. Maybe false hope. Tomas Plekanec handed the boys a 1-0 lead just 1:15 in, after letting loose a nice wrist shot, and they even ended the frame with 16 shots to the Hawks’ 7.

Really good. I was happy. Not happy the way Hugh Hefner was probably happy, but still pretty happy.

The problem was, Chicago scored twice in 19 seconds with only a couple of minutes left in the first, so all the good work that had been done was crushed like a beer can on a frat boy’s forehead.

And the main problem is, even though the boys are getting plenty of shots in each game, these are shots fired by guys not blessed with good hands, which is most of the team. Who on the Habs is blessed with good hands – Pacioretty? Sometimes he is. Drouin? Hopefully.

Who else, Galchenyuk? The guy who so far in this early season looks like he’d rather be back in his apartment with several lovely young ladies. Maybe he should be somewhere else. Maybe Marc Bergevin should’ve moved him when other GMs still thought he was good.

Chicago’s third goal was a power play marker in the second period with Philip Danault in the box for hooking. A cheap call I thought, but whatever, Montreal was toast, because they only score once a game and that had already happened back in the first.

Next up for the Habs is a Saturday night tilt at the Bell against the Leafs. The Leafs, who score more goals in one game than Montreal does in four.

This morning on Sportsnet Hockey Central, host Daren Millard blurted out like a 12-year old,”Do you think the Leafs are becoming the Oilers of the 1980s”? I almost choked on my 7 a.m Labatts Blue.

The 1980s Oilers are considered one of the NHL’s greatest-ever teams. Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri. The Leafs, I’m pretty sure, aren’t quite the 80s Oilers.

The Leafs-media love-in is causing a whole new wave of Leafs fans. Refugees are pouring in, turning on their TVs, and hearing how fantastic the team in Toronto is from groupies like Millard.  So they become fans even though they don’t know the difference between a puck and Auston Mathews’ used jock strap.

Speaking of Mathews, here’s a photo of him and his teammates today doing some dryland exercises at their training facility.

And now – for some post game bonus coverage of action on the water. The seas were angry that day, my friends.

We were at a restaurant outside of St. Petersburg, Russia, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, where I went fishing at a small adjacent pond and caught a large trout.

Then the folks in the kitchen cooked it up and we ate it.

 

Three Cool Autographs

When the original Hockey Hall of Fame, which was located inside the CNE grounds in Toronto, opened on August 26, 1961, I was there with my dad and my sister. I was almost 11 at the time.

I guess it was after the ceremony, after PM Diefenbaker and other dignitaries had said their speeches, when we went inside where there were all kinds of legendary hockey figures milling about. I had a HOF booklet with me, and I walked around getting autographs, with the help of my dad who would point people out. Later on, I cut the autographs up and displayed them against a black background, which I thought was cool at the time.

Most of the autographs are gone now, but I’ve managed to hold onto three from that day – Foster Hewitt, Conn Smythe, and Clarence Campbell, which you can see here.

The one clear memory I have from that day concerned Foster Hewitt, who was talking to people when he signed my book and absentmindedly kept my pen. I was too shy to ask for it back, so my sister went over and got the job done.

Habs Continue To Rock

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been fighting for their playoff lives, trying to catch Toronto for the final wildcard spot, and were winners of their last four games.

Then they met the Montreal Canadiens.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, they ran into a team that’s looking mighty fine these days, and for the Florida-based team, their plans of postseason action just took a major hit after Alexander Radulov bulged the twine in overtime, and the Canadiens skated away with a 2-1 win, their fourth straight.

Rock and rolling at the exact time we want them to be. My chest swells with pride.

Montreal has done serious damage to Tampa’s hopes of catching Toronto (who edged Detroit on this night), but that’s what happens when the Lightning come up against a team now firing on all cylinders, with Carey Price doing his thing and the boys as a whole looking sharp.

Like a playoff team ready to make a large dent.

It’s a fine feeling to see the team play well when it counts. They give us hope, something that was lacking when MT was behind the bench. And after last season in particular, we deserve it.

Four more games for the Canadiens, and then the real fun begins. We’ll be looking for them to shoot down postseason enemies the way scary warriors shoot down monkeys on giraffes.

Just a tight, goaltender’s duel in Tampa, with Price at one end and Andrei Vasilevskiy at the other coming up big time after time. A sensational back and forth game, with wondrous play in overtime that finally saw Max find Radu, and Lightning fans filed out of the rink, got in their cars, and drove palm tree-lined streets to get home and drown their sorrows.

At least I’m assuming that’s what they did.

Random Notes:

The game was scoreless in the first, but the middle frame saw Phillip Danault stuff it home to make it 1-0 Habs. Tampa would tie it in the third by someone named Yanni Gourde, but then Max and Radu went to work in the three-on-three overtime.

Shots on goal – Canadiens 36, Lightning 22.

The Canadiens’ final four games will be within the next week, with the boys bombing over to Sunrise on Monday to throttle the Panthers, then to Buffalo on Wednesday to embarrass the Sabres, then home on Friday to meet these same downcast Lightning, and end it all in Detroit next Saturday.

Canadiens Nail Leafs

A sweet pass from Tomas Plekanec to Andrew Shaw in overtime, and the Habs skate off with a 3-2 win in Toronto, thus ending Leaf fans and the HNIC crew’s dream of their beloved team crawling within two points of the boys from Quebec.

If only they could’ve won, sighed Leaf fans as they left bars or turned off the lights at home and tried to sleep, and the HNIC crew wrapped things up at the rink and sadly shook their heads and looked broken.

It was a back and forth game, one that had extra purpose considering the standings and the built-in rivalry, and for a change, one that probably kept many fans on the edge of their chairs and couches throughout.

Of course I don’t know for sure about the edge of chairs and couches. I’m only guessing.

A fast-paced affair which could’ve gone either way, and I could say that folks got their money’s worth at the ACC, except a bunch of lower seats probably went for a grand or so, so maybe the people sitting there didn’t exactly.

Depends on what a grand means to them I guess.

But it went Montreal’s way for a change, they keep their distance from a bunch of pretenders, including the Torontonians, after two sharpshooters and one Shaw raked the Leafs into the ditch.

A struggling team gets it done against a good young Toronto team that gets TV announcers’ libidos doing the watusi.

The Leafs would open the scoring in the first period when Habs rearguard Nikita Nesterov not only had the puck go in off him, but played his man in front so softly it was like he was up against Betty White.

Greg Pateryn sat while Nesterov dressed. Next game, in New Jersey on Monday, maybe that’ll change. Softness isn’t cool, unless it’s toilet paper and a few other things, like women.

In the second frame, with the man advantage, Max would bury a beauty pass from Alex Galchenyuk, and nine minutes later, Galchenyuk would bulge the twine with a great shot that gave the boys a 2-1 lead.

In the third, again with poor defensive coverage (this time by Alexei Emelin), Leafs super-rookie Auston Mathews would tie things and send it into overtime.

And that’s where Pleks and Shaw worked their magic.

This final photo shows the Rocket scoring his final goal, his 626th, on April 12, 1960 during the Stanley Cup Finals against the Leafs. I wrote to a Toronto paper after it happened, asking if they’d send me a photo, and they did.