February 24, 2012
When the Leafs were kingsCup-winning '61-'64 Leafs honoured Saturday night at ACC
By Lance Hornby, QMI Agency
As the jubilant Maple Leafs took the 1962 Stanley Cup from league president Clarence Campbell to their cramped dressing room at Chicago Stadium, Bob Baun recalled all but one player in full celebratory mode.
In his autobiography, Baun said he spotted warhorse forward Bert Olmstead, already a four-time Cup winner, sitting alone in his chair, wearing a dissatisfied look.
“He was shaking his head, as if he thought we could have done better,” Baun said.
It was Olmstead who’d been general manager/coach Punch Imlach’s sergeant-at-arms in the dressing room, making sure no one slacked at practice, keeping youngsters such as Eddie Shack in line. Olmstead cautioned the cocky Leafs “you haven’t won anything yet.”
Olmstead didn’t play in Toronto again, but Baun said his challenge not to be content with one Cup “left an impression on me and I believe all of us, for the rest of our lives.”
This was the same Olmstead who spotted some young Leafs leaving a Chicago bar the night before after just one drink, advising them to stay for a nightcap so they’d “sleep better” for the big game. Toronto hung on for a 2-1 win the next day, its first Cup in 11 years and first of three straight. That team remains the last to earn the dynasty label in Toronto, adding another in 1967.
Baun would be there for all four, scoring an overtime goal in the 1964 final on a fractured ankle. Titles were getting so routine in Toronto by 1967, that Baun skipped the last Cup parade to underline a personal dispute with Imlach. He went fishing with his family, confident that another celebration must soon follow. Almost 45 years later, he’s still waiting for another chance.
“Maturity,” summed up 80-year-old captain George Armstrong when asked what quality sent the Leafs’ motorcade down Bay St. every spring between 1962-64.
“We were young enough to play very well and old enough to realize you had to work together. We had no big stars, no Bobby Hull or Stan Mikita like Chicago, no Gordie Howe like Detroit. We just had many good players.”
The 1961-62 season was the culmination of work begun in the mid-1950s by head scout Bob Davidson. Toronto had lost ground to Montreal and Detroit in the ‘50s and Davidson set about channelling both local junior hockey stars and young talent from Northern Ontario and the West through the junior Marlboroughs and St. Michael’s College. Those great teams won Memorial Cups and bred a championship feeling that spread to the Gardens. From the Marlies came Baun, Carl Brewer, Bob Pulford and Billy Harris, while St. Mike’s produced Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Dick Duff and Tim Horton.
Imlach did the rest upon arrival in August of 1958. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the minor leagues and a keen sense of how much older players still had in the tank quickly earned him full-time status. He added Allan Stanley and Brewer to the defence right away.
“Those were the kind of backbone players you need,” said fellow defenceman Larry Hillman. “If the defence is too young and makes mistakes, then too much is left to the goaltender. What Punch did made lots of sense. He got the right combination of players, all the youth and experience we needed.”
When coach Billy Reay couldn’t motivate the Leafs to start the season, Imlach took his title and accelerated them into the playoffs his first year.
By the autumn of 1961, the Leafs were ready for a big push. Stanley, Pulford and Harris signed last minute deals in order to play in the season-opener, a 4-2 win at the Detroit Olympia. In late November, the Leafs were fighting for first place and didn’t lose at home until Dec. 23.
On New Year’s Eve, the team added centre Eddie Litzenberger, who two years earlier had survived a car accident that killed his wife and was looking for a new start. Though the Leafs didn’t have enough to catch first-place Montreal, they weren’t about to be first-round playoff victims again. They fought off the New York Rangers in six games, with Red Kelly scoring in double overtime in Game 5. The sixth game, a Leaf romp, was held in Toronto because a previously booked circus could not be moved from Madison Square Garden.
Top TV shows such as Red Skelton and Front Page Challenge were pre-empted by Hockey Night in Canada on April 10, 1962 as the Leafs-Chicago Blackhawks final got underway. The Leafs won the first two games 4-2 and 3-1, but generated just one goal on Glenn Hall and the defending champions at the Stadium, as Chicago knotted the series. Olmstead and goalie Don Simmons were essential in an 8-4 win that gave the Leafs the hammer in the series. Facing elimination, the Hawks were tough on home ice and scored first, but Bob Nevin tied it and drew the Eric Nesterenko hooking call that set up Dick Duff’s Cup winner.
Throughout the series Leafs were able to tie up Hull and Mikita, who were first and fourth in NHL scoring that year.
“In those days you could get away with a harder checking game,” Hillman said. “You just followed a guy everywhere. You could grab and hold a bit more. There weren’t as many power plays. Now the guys are faster and you can make longer passes.”
As the Cups piled up, Hillman said the Leafs could usually walk the streets in their glory years without being mobbed.
“I actually went home to work at the mine (in Kirkland Lake) every summer. The salaries weren’t the same as today and a lot of players had off-season jobs. I still get recognized up there more often than in Southern Ontario. At the same time, you know it’s much different now. Winning a Cup with 30 teams (and four playoff rounds) is a lot harder than with six.”
With no Cups since 1967, no playoffs going on seven years, the early 60s’ Leafs are more revered than ever. Of those three-time winners who’ve passed on, Horton is considered by many as the best Leaf defenceman ever, while Brewer was respected as a crafty player who became a tireless fighter for veteran pensions. Both Brewer and Harris helped make inroads in Europe as coaches and players. Litzenberger and Simmons are also deceased. Imlach and the entire management and coaching staff are gone, too.
The spry Armstrong is still a full-time Leaf scout, Mahovlich a Canadian senator, while Hillman, Pulford, Kelly, Duff, Bower and Al Arbour stayed in hockey in a variety of roles. Shack milked his fame as the Clown Prince of Hockey to sell everything from Christmas trees to soda pop.
Success on the ice made them successful in their own lives.
“We knew we had to play well every night to stay employed,” joked Armstrong. “I didn’t have everything I wanted in life from being on that team, but I realized I had everything I needed. I think others felt the same.”
LEAFS INSPIRED BY CUP STORIES
No need to hand out history books to the playoff-challenged Maple Leafs when their three-time Cup champion elders walk by the bench Saturday night at the ACC.
From the year-by-year plaques in the dressing room, to the motto on the ceiling, to the pictures on the walls on the runway, today’s Leafs know all about the three titles between 1962-64, with one in ‘67 for good measure.
The Leaf bench is right below the Cup banners and during the anthem, they stare up at the five honoured numbers for George Armstrong, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, Red Kelly and Frank Mahovlich. Eight of the top 25 Leafs since 1927 were voted from those 1960s Cup teams.
“That’s what we’re sort of living in right now, those expectations to win Cups,” winger Darryl Boyce said. “We all hope one day we can bring it home to Toronto as well.
“A lot of those guys were St. Michael’s College grads, so that’s a little connection I have with a few of them. When you see how few teams won it back-to-back like the Red Wings (the last to do it in 1997-98) you understand how hard it was.”
Colby Armstrong can’t wait to meet the veterans during Saturday night’s 50th anniversary salute to the team that started the three-year run,
“You hear a lot of stories about them,” Armstrong said. “As a Leaf going forward, you aspire to be like them. They’re a big reason it’s so cool to put on that jersey.”
For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs going on seven years, the concept of three straight Cups is hard to fathom.
“It must have been crazy in this city at the time,” goalie Jonas Gustavsson said. “It’s crazy sometimes now. I’m sure the fan will give them lots of applause. “Having a team like that, which keeps winning and winning, is a team I’d like to be a part of some day. I’m proud to be part of that tradition. But what happened here before I got here, the years they missed the playoffs, aren’t something I can control.”
MEET THE 1961-64 MAPLE LEAFS
(Leafs who played for all three Stanley Cup teams, 1962-64. X denotes deceased)
Johnny Bower, X-Don Simmons
Bob Baun, X-Carl Brewer, Larry Hillman, X-Tim Horton, Allan Stanley.
George Armstrong, X-Billy Harris, Red Kelly, Dave Keon, X-Ed Litzenberger, Frank Mahovlich, Bob Pulford, Eddie Shack, Ron Stewart.
X-GM/Coach - Punch Imlach
(Leafs who were part of two Cups)
F Dick Duff (62, 63), F John MacMillan (62, 63), F Bob Nevin (62, 63)
(Leafs for one Cup)
D Al Arbour (62), F Andy Bathgate (64), X-D Kent Douglas (63), X-F Gerry Ehman (62), F Don McKenny (64), F Bert Olmstead (62), F Jim Pappin (64),