Better late than never for Duff

George Gross

, Last Updated: 4:35 AM ET

As Sergeant Joe Friday used to say: "Just the facts, ma'am."

And, contrary to the opinion of some so-called experts, I fully endorse the selection of former Maple Leaf Dick Duff to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The following are the facts.

I watched Duff play for many years and score some big goals among the 283 he put behind the best goaltenders in his 18 NHL years. You don't wear six Stanley Cup rings -- four with the Montreal Canadiens and two with the Leafs -- without belonging in the hallowed Hockey Hall of Fame.

I'm not alone in endorsing Duff's selection. A number of hockey greats see the same facts I do.

"I think it's great that Duffy is getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame," said Red Kelly, former superstar with the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings who has eight Stanley Cup rings -- four with the Leafs and four with the Red Wings. "It's long overdue. I couldn't understand why he wasn't inducted earlier. Dick scored some big goals during his career.

"I remember when he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in our 2-1 win over the Blackhawks in the sixth game in Chicago. The fans pelted the ice with debris and the game was held up until they cleared the ice."

It's true that some star players such as former Leaf Doug Gilmour scored more goals than Duff, but they are still young and, no doubt, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at some point. But, sticking to the facts means looking solely at Duff's situation.

Dick Duff thrilled Toronto fans when he played on a line with George (The Chief) Armstrong and Dave Keon. He brought his level of play to its highest peak when the money was on the line in the playoffs. And he has waited 34 years for the honour.

Another great Maple Leafs centre and Hall of Famer-- Darryl Sittler -- also is a fan of Duff.

"It was wonderful news (the selection of Duff). I'm very happy because Dick had a wonderful career. He may have been forgotten, but he fully deserves it."

And Johnny Bower, the former great Maple Leafs goaltender and Hall of Famer said yesterday: "I'm thrilled for Dick. He certainly deserves to be in the Hall. I think the selectors did a good job selecting him. Other fellows, who also deserve to be selected, can wait a few years. Dick waited 34 years. And it's not only his on-ice performance that counts, but also all the charity work he has done over the years."

Some critics may not be aware that Punch Imlach, who guided the Leafs to four Stanley Cups in the 1960s, once said: "Duff is probably the best playoff player I have ever coached." And believe me, or anyone else who was around then, Punch Imlach coached some great players.

A great hockey player whom Imlach coached in Quebec City before he joined the Canadiens, is Jean Beliveau, the 74-year-old former superstar who played four years with Duff. Le Gros Bill also endorsed Duff's selection.

"There may be candidates for the Hall who scored more goals and have more points than Dick did," he said. "But there is no doubt that Dick deserved to be selected. I remember when he joined our team he gave his best in every game. Such a man deserves to be be honoured."

Fond memories

I remember with fondness Dick's performance in Chicago and the goal that enabled the Leafs to win the coveted Cup in 1962 after 11 years of failure. The following year Dick scored two goals in 1:08 at the start of the first period of a playoff game against Detroit, an NHL record at the time.

Moreover, when Imlach decided to trade Duff to the New York Rangers in 1964 as part of the deal that brought Andy Bathgate and Don McKenny to Toronto, Imlach's daughter, Marlene, didn't talk to her dad for three months.

Eventually Father Time caught up with Duff, who began his career with St. Michael's Majors in junior hockey, and decided his playing days were over in 1971. At that time he said:

"I remember a couple of great moments during my career. The first was when the Leafs brought me up on a three-game trial from St. Michael's and I walked into the dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens. Then came the last game of the 1958-59 regular season when we beat the Red Wings in Detroit and made the playoffs, although we trailed New York by 10 points a few days earlier. Third, it was our first Stanley Cup win in 1962 when I was fortunate to be the one to score the big goal."

Dick, the facts and witnesses speak for themselves: Welcome to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

george.gross@tor.sunpub.com


Photos