Tale of unrequited love

Tononto Maple Leafs Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly celebrate the Leafs last Stanley Cup vicotry in...

Tononto Maple Leafs Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly celebrate the Leafs last Stanley Cup vicotry in 1967. (Archive)

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 8:47 PM ET

While working on a book, some 20 years ago, Lanny McDonald turned to me at his kitchen table and said: "Turn off the tape recorder."

He was beginning to tell a Dave Keon story. Then he told another and another. None of them were nice.

"I don't want this in the book," he said. "I don't think it serves anyone's purpose to be (dumping) on Dave Keon."

Some eight years later, while writing his fine book called Captains, author and former Toronto Sun columnist Mike Ulmer questioned nice guy McDonald about his thoughts on Keon.

"If you want anything on Dave Keon, you'll have to ask someone else," said McDonald, who was a Leafs kid when Keon was the surly captain.

Tomorrow, after personal anger, bitterness against those who are dead and many who are no longer involved with the Leafs, and a built-in disrespect for the fans who adored him, Keon returns as a member of the 1967 Stanley Cup champion team.

Maybe the greatest of all Maple Leafs, at least on the ice, is finally home.

This is supposed to be a wondrous moment for the Leafs and a coup of sorts for John Ferguson Jr.

Ken Dryden tried to bring Keon back on several occasions. Cliff Fletcher tried. There was even talk of honouring his No. 14 jersey. Now, there is the rumbling that unlike most of the returning Leafs, Keon is being paid to be here.

Whatever the reason -- and I have been hung up on by Keon on more than one occasion while trying to find out what he has been so angry about -- he has never clearly articulated, in spite of his attempts to be media-friendly this week.

Dave Keon is 66 years old, 32 years removed from leaving the Leafs. Time should pass. The anger he has gripped on to has dissipated, if only for a few days.

The image of the past 30 years, at least of Keon, often spoils what we remember most from the first Leafs team we ever knew. Funny, the first year I can recall while following hockey was 1967.

Instantly, Keon became my favourite. How couldn't he be? When he spoke at a local father-son banquet, I forced my father to take me. When a bunch of us tried to get Keon's autograph on scraps of paper while dinner was being served, Keon gave us a get-out-of-here look, and we scrambled away disappointed.

Who knew then that what we were getting, instead of a scribbled autograph, was some insight into the future.

Back then, if you wanted posters of Leafs players, they were not easily available. But Sports Illustrated sold a small selection of NHL players: Keon was one of them. I ordered mine by mail and waited impatiently for it to arrive.

He remained on my bedroom wall until the mid-1970s, when he left the Leafs and Farrah Fawcett took his wall space.

To remember the '67 Leafs, in any meaningful way, you have to be 50 years old or more. The irony in my case is the Leafs get honoured on the day I turn 50. I still remember convincing my parents to let me stay up for the third period of that championship night. I can still see George Armstrong scoring into the empty net, then being rushed up the stairs to bed.

It didn't feel like it was something that wouldn't happen again.

Dave Keon played eight more seasons in Toronto after winning his fourth Stanley Cup, moved on to the uncertainty of WHA life with Minnesota, Indianapolis and New England before playing his final three seasons, the first three seasons of the NHL's Hartford Whalers.

The career statistics don't overwhelm -- just three 30-goal seasons in Toronto, only two years with more than 70 points, but that was not an era for numbers. Keon could never be accurately assessed by statistics -- just as he now can't be accurately assessed by 30 years of Leafs harrumphing.

The applause tomorrow night should tell Dave Keon what fans -- those who saw him, those who didn't -- think of him. The applause should be overwhelming.

It is deserving of the player, maybe not the person. Determining the difference between the two is much like Keon himself, not easily explained, never easily defined.


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