TORONTO - No. 5 came alive for the Maple Leafs last night in a touching pre-game ceremony for Bill Barilko and the 60th anniversary of Toronto’s 1951 Stanley Cup.
Barilko’s incredible career, his Cup winning overtime goal and the strange circumstances of his death were recounted in a video tribute narrated by Andy Frost. Dropping the ceremonial puck between the Leafs and Bruins were Barilko’s younger sister, Anne Klisanich, and teammate Howie Meeker, who assisted on the goal on April 21, 1951 at the Gardens.
“The only damn reason we played the game was to stick it to the Montreal Canadiens,” cackled the 87-year-old Meeker to the delight of the ACC during a break in play. “It was a great gang of guys, playing for everyone in (English) Canada.”
Barilko was a stay at home defenceman who made the momentous decision to move up on the goal and beat Gerry McNeil with a diving backhand. Though the picture is famous, film archivist Paul Patskou discovered footage of the goal.
Born in Northern Ontario and stuck in goal because he couldn’t skate, Barilko was a late-blooming defenceman who played minor hockey in Hollywood and eventually joined the Leafs in the late 1940s.
He was part of three Cup teams before his most famous goal in ’51, the fifth and deciding game of a series in which all the games went to overtime.
A few months after his big goal, Barilko and a friend went on a fishing trip on a small float plane and disappeared in the Northern Ontario bush around James Bay. His body wasn’t discovered until 1962, still strapped in his seat — and just a few weeks after the Leafs won their first Cup since he was last seen.
“I know the legend well,” said centre Tim Brent of the Leafs. “I’m a big Tragically Hip fan (the Kingston band recorded 50 Mission Cap in the early ’90s in tribute to Barilko) and you identify with a guy who likes to fish because I’m an outdoorsman.”
Two defencemen took the ceremonial draw, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and, in a classy move, Boston’s Zdeno Chara stepped aside for Tomas Kaberle, the ex-Leaf making his first return after 878 games in Toronto.