Thanks to Vintage Leaf Memories’ Michael Langlois for stopping by to share some memories ahead of tomorrow’s Alumni games, set to be played in Comerica Park at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
When Alec Brownscombe asked me if I was interested in developing a piece for MLHS about the Winter Classic Legends games, my first thought was: who is on the roster? Will I enjoy writing about these guys?
Earlier this month, Maple Leafs Hot Stove was asked to contribute to Puck Daddy’s National Hockey League of Nation Series. With the help of Michael Langlois from Vintage Leaf Memories, we identified who we felt was the best ever Leaf playerto represent each of the major nationalities in the league: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. The results are after the jump. Note that the vast majority of Leaf greats could not be acknowledged in this list as we could pick only one Canadian. It would’ve been nice to pick two Swedes, too.
There’s still no movement on either Nazem Kadri or Cody Franson, and training camp is still about a month away, so it’s time for another clip show!
The spin-o-rama has become a hallmark move in the NHL, even if it’s not without controversy. Here’s the 5 best in blue in white at twisting and turning heads.
5. Nazem Kadri is really, really, really skilled. Like damn skilled.
We’ll start of this clip show with a real beauty of a goal by Kadri during the 2011-2012 season. Kadri passes off to Joffrey Lupul in the left wing corner and sneaks through to the top of the crease. Lupul’s shot shanks off the Wild defender. Kadri, reading the ricochet, pivots on his right skate and bats the puck out of the air on his backhand to give the Leafs a 1 – 0 lead. Just incredible hand-eye coordination on this play, and totally worth a new contract… Dave.
4. Jason Blake… backhand
Jason Blake. Remember him? Seriously, do you? Do you remember when the Leafs made THAT free agent winger mistake in 2007? Anyway, I’m not saying you have to like the guy, but this is a pretty sweet shootout goal nonetheless. Blake carries the puck out to the right wing before taking a more direct line towards New Jersey netminder Scott Clemmensen.
Then, as if unbound by the laws of physics, Blake stops on a dime dead centre at the top of the crease and spins counter clockwise, backhanding in this beauty. Perhaps the most amazing part of this goal is seeing how tremendously underprepared Clemmensen was on that move. He’s like two feet out of the net and a foot off the ice.
3. James van Riemsdyk scores the first Leaf playoff game winner in nine years
May 4, 2013 was a special day to me for several reasons, and this was one of them. James van Riemsdyk cruises towards the net, slows and turns to receive a Mikhail Grabovski pass. He takes Grabovski’s pass with both feet firmly planted in the crease, standing almost on top of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. After trying to tap the puck in between his legs, he swings on his right foot and puts the puck to his forehand, barely sneaking the puck past Rask’s outstretched right leg before tumbling to the ice.
He probably would have scored higher on this list were it not for the dismount, but this was probably the most exhilarating goal of the 2013 season for me.
2. Mikhail Grabovski… forehand
Another shootout goal, but boy this one is a beauty by Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski, like Blake, cuts wide to the right wing as he prepares his attempt on Ty Conklin. But Grabovski chose to attack at an even wide angle, getting as far over to the hash marks before veering towards the net. He spins in a counter clockwise direction as he cuts to the left in front of the net, waits out a sprawling Conklin, and lightly flicks the puck into the top half of the net.
This goal is so incredibly because Grabo had the time, space and ability to complete the 360 THEN score. Absolutely masterful move and it would be the winner if it weren’t for…
1. Killer with the OT dagger in the Gardens
Clearly anyone can score on a spin-o-rama in front of the net. A real winner does it behind the net. An even real-er winner does it in a playoff game. And Doug Gilmour does all of that in double overtime.
Seeing Blake and Grabovski’s spin-o-rama goals in the shootouts, you think to yourself about the focus and timing required to make that play. Everything has to be moving in just about perfect order in perfect time on this risky play. What makes Gilmour’s so incredible is that he held the puck behind the Blues net for a full five seconds before making this dastardly move.
As Gilmour starts to move, the Blues left defenseman first breaks to intercept him. Then Gilmour cuts the other way, forcing the defenseman and the Blues net minder Curtis Joseph to cover the far post. Gilmour completes the pirouette, skates up and shovels the backhand just inside the near post to give the Leafs the victory. Just incredible.
So this week, I was going through another one of @MLHS_Mike’s fantastic write-ups and it brought back memories from my early 20s. Mind you, I’m not that old yet, but I’m getting there.
I used to be a cook. I got to meet a lot of people in my line of work. Hockey players, baseball players, celebrities, and even a girlfriend I was with for most of my early 20s. But the memory I think fondly back on the most as a cook was meeting the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs team.
From Conn Smythe’s likely-apocryphal quote, “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice” to Brian Burke’s tears for Colton Orr, the Toronto Maple Leafs have always encouraged fighting. There’s not much to report on in Leaf land right now, and instead of lamenting unsigned RFAs and the cap woes, let’s take a look at some of oddest fights in Leaf history.
The combatants are unusual, the results often surprising, and most of them leave one thinking fighting has no place in hockey (especially if you can’t fight). But they’re all still pretty hilarious, and ought to be remembered fondly by all Leafs fans.
It’s been a pretty awful nine years, but considering that we’ll be tuning in to CBC for a Leafs playoff game next week, I think it’s time to look back and exorcise some of the 2004-2012 Leafs’ demons that we’ve hopefully talked about for the last time. Well, at least without crying our eyes out.
Junior wraps up the MLHS ‘Memories of Mats’ series:
On June 28th of 1994, Cliff Fletcher, the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, traded Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a first round draft choice to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a 1st round draft choice.
I resolved that day to hate that bastard Sundin forever.
I was 27 years old and had been a Leaf fan all my life.Â I can remember the Dave Keon posters my Dad hung for me on my bedroom wall, around about the time I was starting kindergarten; inspiration for a smallish six year old wondering whether a little guy could play hockey against bigger opponents.Â When I got a bit older, and Keon had been lost to the WHA, Darryl Sittler was the Leaf player I focussed on, curly hair flying as he racked up his ten point night, suiting up with the game’s best on Team Canada – and beating the Czechs in the Canada Cup.Â I liked those players well enough, but my admiration for them couldn’t hold a candle to the way I felt about Wendel Clark.
You could see it, feel it â€“ even hear it. It was the complete overtime game-winning-goal experience, and in the playoffs, no less. Their first round opponent was the Ottawa Senators. It was here, in this newfound playoff rivalry, that the Battle of Ontario was truly born. And by the searing power of our Captainâ€™s blade, it roared off to a memorable start.
Game 1. The Senators were second seed in the standings and the apparent favourites, but the Leafs â€“ on the back of their oft-underappreciated gem of a leader â€“ fought out a tight 0-0 tie into overtime. Steve Thomas executed a fairly textbook give-and-go at the Ottawa blueline. As he dished the puck to his Swedish linemate and dashed toward the net, Thomas couldnâ€™t see Sundin step forward and take what has to be one of the most interesting shots Iâ€™ve ever seenâ€¦
With 987 points in 981 games as a member of the Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin created his fair share of memories for Toronto fans. While most can recall where they were when he achieved many of the moments of greatness which will long live in the lore of Leafs’ history, few can recall either his first goal or first assist in a Toronto uniform.
At the NHL draft in 1994, Cliff Fletcher shocked the Leafs’ fanbase with a blockbuster deal that sent fan favorite Wendel Clark, stalwart blueliner Sylvain Lefebvre, prospect Landon Wilson and the Leafs’ 1st round pick to Quebec for the then-23 year old Sundin, veteran defender Garth Butcher and the Nordiques’ 1st round pick.Â The Leafs subsequently dealt the Nordiques’ pick, along with winger Rob Pearson, to Washington for veteran centre Mike Ridley and the Capitals’ 1st round pick.
Since I didn’t have a chance to watch many Leaf games in Crotia prior to 2004 (ones I caught were on satellite TV on a German program called DSF and tapes I got from virtually everywhere â€“ thatâ€™s how I got to see Gilmour and Clark), I took every opportunity to watch Leaf players play international hockey. Occasionally, our national television took pity on us hockey fans and gave us World Championship games, like the quarterfinal in 2003, which featured Sweden and Finland in Helsinkiâ€™s Hartwall Areena.
As you are well aware, Sweden and Finland are big hockey rivals. To add to the flavour, the 2003 World Championships were held in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, all Finnish cities. Coming in you already knew it was going to be a really emotional game. It turned out to be one of the most memorable moments Iâ€™ve ever witnessed in hockey.
Mats announced that he would be exercising his no trade clause on February 25, 2008. Â It may not be a popularly shared sentiment at this time, but this decision should be considered one of the Swede’s great moments as a Maple Leaf. Of course, it almost certainly won’t be remembered as such, as it is one of the few contentious things Sundin did in his career in Toronto (perhaps the only contentious thing, aside from his January 2004 attempt to use a broken stick as a discus-like instrument of Swedish wrath and frustration).
Sundin made a difficult choice knowing that many would not understand it. Painfully aware that in a city like Toronto, many would also lash out at him for it. Â But as he said yesterday, loyalty was both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. Â The Swedish centerman was loyal to a fault, literally.
What more can possibly be said about the way Mats got his 500th career goal? Slapper from the blue line? Check. Top corner snipe? Check. Third goal of the game, shorthanded, in overtime no less? You bet. In one of the biggest games of his career, Sundin performed with style. On a fairly disastrous 2006-07 Leafs squad, Sundin remained the sole bright spot of an aging core.
The game was a high scoring affair. As has so often been the case in Leafs games, defence was nowhere to be seen. Toronto would dominate most of the first, seeing vast stretches of time in the offensive zone on the cycle. Running into some penalty trouble, Calgary suffered the first goal against on a Tucker tally. Picking up a secondary assist on the goal was none other than Sundin. Not merely content with helping someone score, Sundin added his first goal of the night 7 minutes later. Sneaking into open ice near the side boards, Mats fired home a wrister as Calgary was caught sleeping. Number 498.
I am a young Maple Leafs fan, even around these parts. Not many know this, but I was born in 1995, and a Leaf fan from birth. Naturally, I donâ€™t remember the hard-fought series against the Sabres in the spring of 1997, and Iâ€™ve only seen video of Sundinâ€™s overtime winner against the then-powerhouse Senators in 2001. A year later though, I can say I truly started to bleed blue and white.
Only 7 years old at the time, I was slowly learning what it meant to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan from my father â€“ whoâ€™d been one (and still is) for over 30 years. I received my first Leafs jersey that year, the same white home sweater Sundin scored in against the Hurricanes in that bittersweet game six. I remember gathering around the television in the comfort of my own home for game one â€“ like we had for every playoff game that year â€“ with my father and I on one couch and my mother â€“ the farthest thing from a Leafsâ€™ fan â€“ sitting opposite from us.
It was a brilliant moment of catharsis that just seemed to sweep away the bitterness of the previous year.
Imagine yourself in Sundin’s place leading up to this moment. For twelve seasons, you had brought a level of commitment and excellence that undboubtedly would have placed you among the most distinguished hockey players in the history of a storied Original Six franchise. You had given your heart and your career to a management team that had failed to pay you back in turn. Even still, your teammates and most of all, the wonderful city of Toronto had been behind you all the way. Then all of a sudden, things changed. You were now a trade chip, being publicly ushered out the door. A sacrifice for the long-term betterment of the franchise. Somehow, your reluctance to play anywhere other than where your heart truly belonged had earned you criticism and scorn from the same media and fans that once praised your dedication to the city. It was painful.
In the buildup to the Sundin’s banner-raising ceremony tomorrow night at the ACC,Â the MLHS bloggers will each be sharing their most memorable Sundin moment. Dan Santos is up first with his reflections on Sundin’s six point night:
When reminiscing about my favourite Mats Sundin moments, the two I instantly remember are his 1-0 overtime winner against Ottawa and his late goal to tie Game 6 against the Hurricanes. However, another game is just as memorable to me because I was lucky enough to be in attendance. I am talking about Mats Sundin’s 6-point night against the Florida Panthers.
April 11, 2006. The Toronto Maple Leafs are desperately fighting for their playoff lives. A late-season surge, led by Jean-Sebastien Aubin of all people, has given the Leafs a glimmer of hope with just a handful of games left.
The 3-headed monster that led the Leafs to their early-1990s success. (Image via ChangingOnTheFly.wordpress.com)
Following the unexpected success of the 1992-93 campaign, which saw the Maple Leafs take a 44-29-11 season to the Conference Finals, the stakes were high entering the 1993-94 season.Â Could the Leafs prove that history was indeed behind them, and the previous season’s success was not a fluke as some critics were wont to suggest?
Jaded by the disaster that was the decade of the 1980s, one could hardly blame the skeptics for questioning everything from scoring depth to injury concerns to whether goaltender Felix Potvin was a flash-in-the-pan or the real deal.Â After all, hopes had been raised, only to be suddenly dashed, not long before.Â Fortunately, each of these questions was to be answered in short order — much to the delight of Leafs Nation.
The early ’90s were an incredible time to be a Toronto sports fan. The Blue Jays captured back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, while the Maple Leafs, in those same years, traversed the road back to respectability following the tumultuous (and largely disastrous) Harold Ballard era.
Following successive seasons of seemingly-endless roster turnover (the 1991-92 Leafs closed out the year with only 4 members remaining from the 1989-90 squad) and less-than-stellar results, Leafs’ GM Cliff Fletcher felt he had finally established the right mix of youth and veteran experience to produce a legitimate contender. In fact, during the 1992 offseason, the man known as Trader Cliff somewhat surprisingly made only one deal of note: sending a future 3rd round pick (Martin Belanger) to Montreal for 25-year old shutdown defender Sylvain Lefebvre.
But Fletcher’s most impactful move would not prove to be a trade; rather, it would be the offseason hiring of former Montreal coach Pat Burns, whose fiery, no-nonsense approach would translate almost immediately to his players — especially franchise centrepiece Doug Gilmour.
Not even the mustachulence of Glenn Anderson could save the Leafs' 1991-92 season.
Twenty years ago … still feels like yesterday.
1991-92 was a season of note. In celebration of the NHL’s 75th anniversary, the Original 6 teams introduced throwback uniforms — the dawn of 3rd jerseys in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks entered the league as the first expansion team since the 1979 NHL/WHA merger. Top draft pick Eric Lindros refused to sign a contract with the Quebec Nordiques, leading to a controversial trade with the Philadelphia Flyers which would turn the Quebec franchise into a powerhouse. The league endured a 10-day NHLPA strike, resulting in the season ending in June for the first time. Following the season, longtime NHL President John Ziegler would step down, paving the way for Gary Bettman to take over as Commissioner in two years’ time.
It was a banner season for several players of note: Mario Lemieux captured the scoring title and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup victory. Nine players topped the 100-point plateau, including Brian Leetch — a feat no defenseman has matched since. Jeremy Roenick and Kevin Stevens topped 50 goals for the first time each, while Brett Hull hit 70 goals for the third straight year. Legendary blueliner Larry Robinson played his final NHL game, while a future superstar named Martin Brodeur made his first appearance for the New Jersey Devils … who drafted another future superstar, Scott Neidermeyer, with a pick acquired two years’ prior from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As for those lovable Leafs, change was in the air following yet another season in the cellar — with the team poised to take its first steps toward 1990s respectability.
Syl Apps was the face of the Maple Leafs during the franchise's greatest era.
On this Remembrance Day, 2010, I’d thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the Toronto Maple Leafs during the years of the Second World War.
Having been on the losing side of the Stanley Cup Finals for three consecutive years (Chicago, Boston, New York) to close out the 1930s, the Leafs remained on the verge of becoming a championship team. Unfortunately, pending greatness would instead be put on hold as the roster would be decimated while players answered their country’s call to duty in the early 1940s.
The following is a quick synopsis of the Maple Leafs’ successes and struggles during the war years, and the glory that would ultimately follow.