Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the early days of Dick Irvin or a new supporter of Randy Carlyle, these are the 100 things all Maple Leaf fans need to know and do in their lifetime. Authors Michael Leonetti and Paul Patskou have collected every essential piece of Maple Leafs knowledge and trivia, as well as must-do activities, and ranked them, providing an entertaining and easy-to-follow checklist as you progress on your way to fan superstardom. From trivia on which players made up the "Kid Line" or the famous comedian who includes Maple Leafs references in all his movies to knowing the best places to catch a game, 100 Things Maple Leafs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is the ultimate resource guide for true fans of the Leafs.
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100 Things Maple Leafs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Mike Leonetti, Paul Patskou
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Mike Leonetti and Paul Patskou
All rights reserved.
The Maple Leafs' Top Problem
For years now, many in the Toronto media and sports analysts in general across Canada (and even in the United States) blame the Maple Leaf fans who fill the Air Canada Centre game after game despite years of mediocre play by their favourite team for the state of the franchise. It used to be written that the Leafs had sold out every game since 1946 and although that was never exactly the case (especially when the team was a wretched organization in the 1980s), it is true that Leaf fans have stayed a devoted and caring group to the team wearing blue and white. The argument goes that empty seats would spur management to do more to make the Maple Leafs a winning club. Two years ago the Toronto Sun newspaper listed the top reasons why the Leafs were constantly failing and at the top of the list were Leaf fans who buy tickets and go to the games year in and year out. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.
Any sports team wants and needs to sell tickets to survive wherever they are located. Loyal Leaf fans have taken away the main worry of any sports team with consistent sellouts (although not quite every seat) and that should free up management to concentrate on what they need to do to make the team a winner. Money is not a problem for the Maple Leafs as fans and corporations are quite willing to pay top dollar (if not exorbitant rates) to see their local heroes play every winter. As a result the Leafs are a wealthy team and should use their resources wisely to build the best management group and team possible.
If the Air Canada Centre (and before that Maple Leaf Gardens) was half empty would it really make a difference? It might cause alarm but would the management of the team now decide they should make good trades and sign top free agents as a result? The answer is that the people who have run the Leafs since 1967 have all tried to make the team better but with mixed or outright bad results. It's not that they did not try — they were just not competent enough to get the job done properly. Under the ownership of Harold Ballard for instance it would not have made an ounce of difference if the Gardens was completely devoid of fans. Ballard really had no clue how to put a winning team together, but he loved being the boss of the Maple Leafs and all that went with that position. A similar scenario has been in effect since the team moved to the ACC with an indifferent ownership group focused on profits and not wins.
The list of inadequate general managers and coaches who have run the Leafs since '67 (when Toronto last won a Stanley Cup) is far too long. One poor hire after another only gave Leaf supporters more grief as the beloved team sank lower in the standings most years. Ballard's passing brought some relief (ever so briefly) to long-suffering Leaf fans but only after a protracted battle for control of the team which was played out in board rooms and court rooms. Sure, many things did improve under new ownership but never enough to make the Leafs a championship team or even a consistent contender.
Fans are helpless to solve these issues but to blame them is ridiculous and an insult. In the modern era of the game fans, including loyal Leafs supporters, have become less relevant in any event considering that so much money is coming to the team in the form of broadcasting revenues mostly from regular television and cable contracts. The league-wide salary cap instituted by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners has also taken away an advantage. Toronto might have continued to enjoy by outspending others, but this had nothing to do with Leaf fans — they did not ask for it. Toronto fans deserve to be rewarded with a winning product — not chastised for being loyal to their favourite team. Poor ownership and management is where the finger of blame should be pointed at for the Leafs' largely inept record since '67. No Toronto fan should feel that shame. Fans should always be respected because it is their undying passion that not only keeps the great game of hockey alive and well, but also gives life to the premier franchise of the NHL.CHAPTER 2
"Hockey Night in Canada"
The question of why the Maple Leafs are so popular despite their unenviable record since 1967 is one that is asked over and over again, but there is really only one answer and that is Hockey Night in Canada. Read any Leaf history accounts or Canadian history books and you will find all these volumes with references to the iconic show that first began on radio and then made a seamless transition to television.
Beginning in the 1930s, the Leafs Saturday night encounter at home has been a staple of Canadian entertainment. People would gather around their radios to listen to Foster Hewitt's accounts and descriptions of games played at Maple Leaf Gardens. There was not much in terms of entertainment options in those days and Hewitt seemed to make every game the Leafs played an epic encounter no matter who was playing or what the score happened to be. It was great timing for the Maple Leafs who were a very good team throughout the decade of the 1930s even though they only took the Stanley Cup on one occasion. The 1940s saw the team win the championship five times and helped ease the anguish of Canada being involved in World War II. Hewitt's HNIC games were often taped, edited and then transmitted to the BBC in England to be broadcast to Canadian forces fighting overseas to bring the troops some good news about what was going on back home in Canada and provide an immense morale booster.
By 1952 the grand invention called television came into being and Hockey Night in Canada became a country-wide favourite with eventual coast-to-coast coverage. Now people could see what Hewitt was describing and even though the whole game was not shown, fans were thrilled to see even just some of the action. The Leafs were not very good in the 1950s (just one Cup in 1951), but by the time 1960 rolled around the team was back in contention. Once again the Leafs' timing could not have been better as most Canadians had purchased a TV sometime in the early part of the decade — just in time to see the team win four Stanley Cups. Leaf players became heroes to an entire nation and their performances on Saturday night were "must see" TV. It was here that the "Leaf nation" was born as the boomer generation saw the Toronto club as winners year after year.
If the last two seasons (1963–64 and 1966–67) that saw the Leafs win the Stanley Cup is any indication, it is easy to see why the team became so popular. In '63–'64 they posted a 19–2–4 record (all home games) in the regular season on Saturday night and then go 4–1 (featuring two home contests including the seventh game of the finals) in the playoffs on the same evening of the week. The winning percentage for the 30-game total was 77 percent and they gained at least one point 90 percent of the time. In 1966–67 the Leafs were 15–4–4 in the regular season and a perfect 3–0 in the postseason for games played on Saturday. Over those two seasons (including playoffs), the Leafs played a total of 56 games on Hockey Night in Canada and won 41 times (for a 73 winning percentage) while gaining at least one point 85 percent of the time. The funny thing is the team struggled both those seasons but they were great on Saturday nights and good enough to win the Stanley Cup both years.
The tradition of gathering around to watch the Leafs on HNIC was passed on to another generation and then again to other generations as time passed. In the 2013 playoffs the Leafs drew 5.1 million fans (a new record since audiences were measured more accurately) to their TV screen on a Monday night for the seventh game of a playoff series versus Boston. "We're thrilled at how Canadians have overwhelmingly embraced CBC's coverage and joined the yearly tradition that is the Stanley Cup playoffs on Hockey Night in Canada," said Julie Bristow, an executive director at the CBC. It proved once again that HNIC is the Leafs show and that is unlikely to change since their biggest part of the Canadian population still lives in southern Ontario. How many more people might have watched had the Leafs beaten the Bruins and advanced further?
A new television deal signed late in '13 takes control of HNIC from the CBC and places it with Rogers. It is unknown at this time how the new 12-year broadcasting deal will affect the Maple Leafs but Rogers Communications would be wise not to mess with a good thing. Generations of Toronto fans loyal to their team is proof positive that HNIC has a special place in the hearts of all Maple Leaf fans — and to think it all started in the 1930s!CHAPTER 3
Conn Smythe to Bell and Rogers
When Conn Smythe put together a group to take over ownership of Toronto's hockey franchise in 1927, the team known as the St. Patricks was not exactly doing well. It took a few short years with a name change to "Maple Leafs," plus building a hockey palace known as Maple Leaf Gardens to turn the fortunes of the franchise around. Smythe had proven he could put together a good hockey team when he successfully ran the New York Rangers for a short period prior to returning to Toronto and with the Maple Leafs he was ably assisted by Frank Selke, Squib Walker, Dick Irvin, and Hap Day. Soon the Leafs were loaded with great talent and won the Stanley Cup in their first season at the Gardens — the 1931–32 campaign.
Smythe was a crusty curmudgeon who was to say the least tight-fisted financially and he never hesitated to remind his players how lucky they were to be paid to play hockey. He was also a very shrewd businessman who realized that at times he had to spend money to make more (the purchase of star defenseman King Clancy is a good example). Smythe was in charge of the Maple Leafs between '27 and '57 and in that time they won the Stanley Cup seven times and should have won more in the 1930s when they dominated the NHL many times during the regular season. He would never let his team get embarrassed, and when it was time to make changes to the roster, Smythe always wanted what was best for his team to keep winning. He was also the one who gave assistant general manager Punch Imlach his blessing to go ahead and fire Toronto coach Billy Reay in November of 1958. That move started a new era of winning for the Maple Leafs under Imlach's guidance.
Smythe was formally bought out in 1961 by a group of three led by his son Stafford. John Bassett and Harold Ballard were the other partners and they reaped the success of the Leafs' great recruiting to win four more Stanley Cups by 1967. On the night the Leafs clinched the '67 championship Conn proudly boasted that the Smythe name was on the Cup a total of 11 times and no other family had such a distinction. The Leafs had been in the Stanley Cup final a total of 19 times between '27 and '67 and it looked like the good times could keep rolling. However as the new trio became more prominent, problems developed and soon it was down to Ballard (a man Conn Smythe never liked) running the show. Stafford passed away at age 50 while Bassett refused to stay on board after his partners had been charged with tax evasion and the Board of Directors at Maple Leaf Gardens would not let him take over as President. Ballard's reign of error began in 1971 and lasted until his passing in 1990. Ballard turned the once beloved team into his own circus and even though he wanted to win, he had no clue how to do so. He always refused to hire the best managers and coaches available and the one time he did (going after Scotty Bowman in 1979), the attempt was rebuffed because of his reputation as a buffoon owner. He could treat some people very well and others very poorly but there was no doubt Ballard wanted to be the owner of the Maple Leafs first and foremost. The wins and losses did not seem to bother him enough but what mattered most to him was having his name in the newspaper or on television. Ballard was not leaving as long as he was alive.
Steve Stavro took over the Leafs after much wrangling over Ballard's will and things did improve a great deal under his ownership. The Leafs came as close to the Cup as they ever had since 1967 during Stavro's time but ultimately came up a little short. Soon Stavro had money difficulties and brought in other partners to help but eventually he made an exit when the cost of running the Maple Leafs became too high. By all accounts, Stavro did not skimp financially but when he ordered payroll reductions it was promptly done and he also declined to sign Wayne Gretzky — a move so baffling it defies logic — but was justified by saying Gretzky would not sell any more tickets in Toronto! It was also an easy way to say Gretzky's contract with the Maple Leafs would not fit under the payroll cuts necessary.
The Teacher's Pension Fund (of Ontario) took over as main owners and they were most concerned about return on their investment (as a pension fund should for their members) and not enough on winning. Minority owner Larry Tanenbaum admitted this recently in a newspaper interview when he said winning still mattered to the Teacher's Pension but generating revenue mattered more. The Teacher's leadership would pop out of the background every now and then to deny this was the case when they owned the team but the fact is their ownership of the Leafs was just too public for them to deal with in a proper way with conflicting agendas.
The Teacher's eventually got tired of running the team and taking all the heat so they sold their interest (at a huge profit — which was their plan all along) to Bell Canada and Rogers Communications — two companies that are normally fierce business rivals. It has not exactly been smooth sailing since the change but upper management made a bold move by changing leadership (removing Brian Burke as general manager and president for Dave Nonis and replacing Richard Peddie with Tim Leiweke as head of MLSE). It is unlikely the two companies will retain equal ownership of the Leafs for too long but at least Leaf fans can say top business people are in charge of the team and they know winning is the best way to keep the organization strong and stable going into the future.CHAPTER 4
The 1963–64 and the 1966–67 Marlies
When the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1964 and 1967, it looked like their dynasty would go on for years but that was not the case. The 1963–64 junior Marlboros iced one of the best teams in history posting a 40–9–7 record during the regular season (notching 87 points in the process) before romping to the Memorial Cup championship. The team was filled with future Maple Leafs including the top three best point producers on the team which included Peter Stemkowski, Mike Walton and Ron Ellis. All three would go on to help the Leafs win the Cup in '67.
However there were other players on the team who were expected to be good NHL players. Some of those included wingers like Wayne Carleton, Brit Selby, plus defensemen Jim McKenny and Rod Seiling. Goaltender Gary Smith was also expected to be a Maple Leaf in the future with Johnny Bower getting older and soon to retire. These five players added to the other three surefire future Leafs would have given the team a total of eight new recruits to mix in with whatever veterans were held over on the big club. It seemed like everything was in place with a succession plan but it did not quite work out that way.
First, Seiling was lost to the New York Rangers in the trade that landed Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney in February of 1964. Another promising defenseman in Arnie Brown was also gone in that deal leaving the Leafs two defensemen short. Brit Selby was the NHL's rookie of the year in 1965–66 and he looked promising after his first year. An injury derailed Selby (who had 52 points in 48 games for the Marlboros in '63–'64) and he never recovered in Toronto and became a somewhat marginal player for the rest of his career after he left the Maple Leafs before returning for another tour of duty. The same thing essentially happened to Carleton (a 42-goal scorer for the Marlies who was anointed as the best junior prospect in Canada by Stafford Smythe) when he suffered a knee injury and was soon dealt to Boston for Jim Harrison, a player of some promise because of his aggressiveness but too slow to make any major impact beyond being a third line centre.
Excerpted from 100 Things Maple Leafs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Mike Leonetti, Paul Patskou. Copyright © 2014 Mike Leonetti and Paul Patskou. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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