Toronto Sun readers vote for their favourite Leafs captain

MIKE STROBEL -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

Mirror, mirror on the dressing room wall ...

Quick, for a pair of tickets, who was captain of the Maple Leafs from 1986 to 1989?

Ummm. Ahhhhh. Eeeeee. Sheeesh. Uhhhhh. Rob Ramage? No, wait, uh, Rick Vaive?

Nope. Nobody. A Harold Ballard decree. The ship was sunk. Terrible years. But at least the Titanic had a captain.

Now, FOR A PAIR OF TICKETS, FOR REAL, who was the greatest Maple Leafs captain?

Details in a minute.

First the list, 1927 to now: Hap Day, Charlie Conacher, Red Horner, Syl Apps, Bob Davidson, Apps, again, Ted Kennedy, Sid Smith, Jim Thomson, George Armstrong, Davey Keon, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Nobody, Rob Ramage, Wendel Clark, Dougie Gilmour, Mats Sundin.

How's that for an alpha-male pack?

Great men. All live in the heart of Leaf Nation. Nine actually live. Our man Zize covers the launch of their portrait, on Page S6.

The greatest of all?

READERS LIKE SITTLER

Sittler? A torontosun.com poll in June picked Darryl.

Hard to argue with gems like 10-point and five-goal games. Leafs' all-time scorer. Classy guy.

But he slashed the C off his sweater when Ballard traded Lanny McDonald. And, hell, he grew up a Canadiens fan.

Teeder Kennedy? Our Mike Ulmer thinks so. "Truly a great man." So does Ron MacLean. "Wonderful man," he tells me at the portrait unveiling at the Liberty Grand.

Kennedy's story alone is worth a vote. Grew up at a tiny rink in Port Colborne, where his widowed mom ran the hotdog stand. Teeder was no great shakes on skates, but he could make plays and he sure hustled.

Two months shy of 80, he is the oldest survivor. So, Cap'n Kennedy, who was the greatest?

"Syl Apps. He was a real leader and a good-living guy. Never cussed, except for 'jiminy Christmas' or 'by hum.'

"Syl could control his emotions and that rubs off on the other fellows."

And Apps skated on the wind, tall and handsome. The first of the glamour boys of hockey.

Teeder was one of the Leafs' pit-bull captains. Like Wendel and Doug. Never stopped coming at you.

"You put your skates on, your helmet on, and your face changes," is how Gilmour describes captaincy. "Your teammates see that and when you go, they follow."

But Wendel was hurt all the time. And Gilmour's tenure was too damn short.

Keon? Maybe the greatest Leaf player, though Sittler fans will argue. Two-way genius, with a Gretzky-like sense of the ice. I grew up adoring Davey Keon.

But cranky as a mule. Crusty, for a captain. Still mad at the Leafs brass.

He agreed to the portrait only because it wasn't their doing.

Only one of the living captains did not show, though he's in the photograph.

George "Chief" Armstrong. And I'm an Army man.

The greatest Leaf captain ever.

Twelve years with the C, 1957-69. Longevity counts for something, especially when your coach is Punch Imlach. Four Stanley Cups, including our last in 1967. Scored the final goal, though the net was empty.

No superstar, our Chief. Best season was 53 points.

But, remember, the Leafs had no superstars in those days. No Beliveaus or Howes. Yet they climbed peaks.

Army led them there, firmly, humbly.

'LIFELINE FOR LEAFS'

One way or another. He could be Capt. Clown, inspire you with a wisecrack or by hiding your false teeth.

His wit "was a lifeline for the Leafs," says Ron MacLean. "Imagine the pressures in this city, of Imlach and Conn Smythe and the legacy of the Kennedy and Apps era. You'd die on the vine without humour."

And Army has stayed true blue, coaching and scouting for the Leafs and doing charities.

La creme de la creme, if you ask me.

But, it's open to debate. On the way back, at Gretzky's bar, I poll a table of a dozen guys.

Ten pick Wendel.

Mind you, they are fertilizer salesmen from Saskatchewan, Clark's turf, in town for a workshop.

"Armstrong? Never heard of him," says Jeff Kirwan, 28, of Gull Lake.

Anyway, here's the deal. E-mail me, by 5 p.m. Monday, one sentence answering the question, Who's The Greatest Leaf Captain Of All?

For instance, Rob Ramage is the greatest because ...

Please include your phone number.

I'll choose the snappiest answer and award a pair of tickets to a Leafs regular season game.

Then you can get a closer look at one Mats Sundin, who is no slouch as a captain either. E-mail me at: mike.strobel@tor.sunpub.com


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