With the passing of Wade Belak I thought it would be a good time to remember players we admired most. It’s a sad time that’s also perfect to remember the players who put a smile on our faces throughout the years because they, like everything else, wonâ€™t be around forever. Nothing makes that more clear than a loss.
Here are my all time top 5 favorite Leafs (sure some of them didnâ€™t make that much of an impact and are on the list because of entirely trivial personal reasons that might seem dumb, but hey, you donâ€™t choose who you remember). Here goes:
5. Steve Thomas
He spent a total of six seasons with the Leafs, starting back in 1984. I first watched him in the 1998-1999 season, when he returned to the blue and white after 12 years of playing for other organizations in the NHL. To me, he was a role model in every way. Thomas wasnâ€™t big, just 5 ft 11 in yet he never played that way. In the NHL that loved to punish the little guy he scored a total of 421 goals. He was also never drafted, which just made him more special in my young eyes. But what cemented â€œStumpyâ€™sâ€ appearance on this list is probably the fact he was born in Stockport, England. To me that meant if you tried hard enough, you can make it work anywhere.
4. Sergei Berezin
Whatâ€™s not to love? the Russian winger had speed to burn. He also shot the puck. A lot. Iâ€™ll never forget the 1999 Eastern Conference Quaterfinals when we beat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6. Leclair elbowed Mike Johnson which set up the stage for the Russian dynamo. Berezin scored the game winner, the only goal of the game by beating John Vanbiesbrouck on the powerplay. Leafs won the series 4-2.
3. Wendel Clark
Simply put, the most awesome player to ever lace up the skates. He would score two goals, then put your enforcer to shame. After that, heâ€™d probably put two guys through the boards and call it a night. Thatâ€™s the kind of player he was. To me, his image is an image of a hockey player, he is my vision of an ideal hockey player and a model to which all other players are judged upon. Only problem is, I never watched him enough (Iâ€™d probably say that even if I had watched him throughout his career, because you couldnâ€™t get enough of him), and thatâ€™s the reason why heâ€™s only the third ranked player on this list.
2. Doug Gilmour
Yes, the only player that could ever eclipse Clark. The Leafs acquired Gilmour along with Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Kent Manderville and Rick Wamsley in exchange for Gary Leeman, Alexander Godynyuk, Jeff Reese, Michel Petit and Craig Berube. The 10-player deal was the largest in NHL history and one of the worst/best deals ever. Again, this was not a guy that wasn’t producing for the Flames. In fact, many credit him the most for Calgary’s great cup run in 1989 although that team was loaded with talent. Doug Risebrough, who replaced Cliff Fletcher (who became the GM of the Leafs) wanted to mold Gilmour into a defensive specialist. A different kind of player (not to say Killer didn’t play a two way game already). According to some sources he didn’t like Gilmour’s popularity and star status, plus he thought Gilmour was just getting greedy. Whatever the case may be, he had a decent half of the 1991-92 season for the Leafs only to explode next year with 32 goals and 95 assist for 127 points. Killer then went on to be, in my humble opinion, the biggest and best idol of all the players that have worn the fabled Leafs uniform. Like Clark, I barely watched him play and am saddened by that fact. Got as many games as I could on video and on my pc but no matter how many games I see, itâ€™s still not enough.
1. Mats Sundin
Simply put, the greatest player I had a chance to see play throughout his NHL career. To a young kid loving the Leafs back in Croatia, he represented the club. Mats Sundin was the Maple Leafs during the years of his reign in Toronto. He was the top scorer, top assist man, top producer and a leader. His years in Toronto were the years when my love for the Maple Leafs grew in what you see, read today. I canâ€™t thank Mats enough for that, and although he probably isnâ€™t No1 on your respective lists, he sure is on mine.
Who are your Leaf favorites and why?