Strange but True: How Punch Imlach led the Maple Leafs to their last Stanley Cup

Stan Fischler
Punch Imlach. (Barry Philp/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

So how in the world did the Toronto Maple Leafs ever manage to win their fourth Stanley Cup in six years in 1967?

For starters, the Leafs survived a mid-season 10-game losing streak and remained in playoff contention. When coach-GM Punch Imlach was hospitalized because of exhaustion and fatigue, president Stafford Smythe’s replacement choice, Rochester’s Joe Crozier, refused to undercut Imlach and take the coaching reins. Instead, Imlach’s sidekick, Francis ‘King’ Clancy, went behind the bench and inspired an unlikely winning streak.

Read more

Remembering the worst loss in NHL history

Stan Fischler
(THN Archives).

Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall once described the business of puck-stopping as “sixty minutes of hell.” Fortunately, Hall, the man who played 502 consecutive NHL games without a mask, never had to endure the hockey Hades that befell New York Rangers goalie Ken ‘Tubby’ McAuley one night in Detroit. Facing the Red Wings Jan. 23, 1944, McAuley allowed 15 straight goals in what was the most one-sided shutout in NHL history. “Tubby should have been awarded the Croix de Guerre,” said Rangers coach Frank Boucher, “if not the Victoria Cross.”

Alas, McAuley got neither prize, but he sure grabbed plenty of ink in the NHL Record Book. It included his involvement with the following: most consecutive goals, one team, one game; most points, one team, one game; most goals, one team, one period; and most points, one team, one period.

Read more

Strange but True: Jack McCartan’s quick and nimble career

Stan Fischler
Jack McCartan. (Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

As unknown goalies go, Jack McCartan was right up there – or down there, if you will – at the start of the 1959-60 season. After three years at the University of Minnesota, he seemed more destined for hockey oblivion than stardom on a world stage. Certainly no New York hockey savant could in his wildest fantasies picture this St. Paul product dislodging Hall of Famer Lorne ‘Gump’ Worsley or Stanley Cup-winner Al Rollins from the New York Rangers net. But McCartan did.

Even more far-fetched was the mere suggestion Jack would spearhead Uncle Sam’s Olympic team to gold at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif. “Before we even hit the ice, everybody said we couldn’t possibly win gold,” said U.S. coach Jack Riley. “We were up against powers like Canada, Russia and Sweden.”

Read more

How the Maple Leafs almost sold Frank Mahovlich to the Blackhawks for $1 million

Frank Mahavolich. (B Bennett/Getty Images)

Imagine if the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that 
management had sold Sidney Crosby to the Chicago Blackhawks for about $95 million in straight cash.

You say it couldn’t happen. Think again, because a genuine Chicago-Toronto deal of similarly outrageous proportions actually was consummated 53 years ago. After a week of negotiations, it caused massive cases of lockjaw around the NHL.

“PlayoffPreview”

The Maple Leafs’ version of Crosby at the start of 1962-63 was an oversized left winger named Frank ‘The Big M’ Mahovlich. Having already helped his club in April 1962 to what would become the first of three straight Stanley Cups, Mahovlich towered above every left winger but one: Bobby Hull of Chicago. And at that they seemed equal. During an evening of drinking revelry with his Toronto counterpart Harold Ballard, Black Hawks owner James Norris proposed having Mahovlich wear a Hawks jersey, and Pal Hal liked the idea.

Read more

‘Gump’ Worsley & ‘Fiery Phil’ Watson went to war. Who won the battle?

Stan Fischler
Gump Worsley (Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

If there was one mutual hockey hate that never diminished over time, it featured an English-Canadian goalie named Lorne ‘Gump’ Worsley and a French-Canadian coach, Philipe Henri ‘Fiery Phil’ Watson. The minuscule netminder got his nickname because he closely resembled a popular comics page character named Andy Gump. Watson’s moniker also was well earned because of his temper.

The seeds of their eternal enmity were planted by Watson after Worsley – then a glistening Rangers prospect – was invited to the Blueshirts training camp in 1949. The very first Watson-Worsley bout curiously was an unexpected liquor-drinking event. “Phil pulled out a jug,” Gump remembered, “and said, ‘I hear you’re supposed to be quite a drinker. Let’s see if you can drink me under the table.’ We matched slug for slug and, finally, Watson wound up under the table.” Read more

Rangers and Canadiens had the greatest fight of all-time

Kenny Reardon (THN Archives)

Kenny Reardon, the rambunctious Montreal Canadiens defenseman, had one thing in mind as he stickhandled across Madison Square Garden ice on the night of March 16, 1947 – freeze the puck. “Dick Irvin, our coach, had bawled me out for losing the puck and the game last time we were in New York,” Reardon said.

Montreal was leading the Rangers 4-3 with 32 seconds left. If the visitors could hold the lead they’d clinch first place and a new prize of $1,000 for each player the NHL was giving away that year. The downtrodden Rangers, on the other hand, needed the win to stave off elimination from a playoff berth.

As hockey games go, this one was ripe for mayhem. The teams had been nurturing individual and collective hatreds all season. Montreal’s Reardon and Maurice Richard squared off with Bill Juzda and Bryan Hextall of the Rangers in the second period. “They were out to get Richard and Reardon,” Irvin charged, “in order to ruin them for the playoffs.” Reardon, who in 1946 had declared war on Ranger fans by slugging a promenade customer, agreed with his coach. “But,” added Reardon, “I couldn’t afford a fight in that last minute. I wanted to stay out of trouble.” Read more

Forget the Stanley Cup – in 1971, the T.J. Rugg Trophy was the one to win

Stan Fischler
Action at the first Professional Table Hockey Tournament in 1971 (Courtesy of Stan Fischler)

Table hockey has had its exciting moments, but nothing like the first New York Professional Tournament played at the George Washington Hotel in March 1971.

Historians have argued for decades over the precise birth of hockey in Canada. But when it comes to when and where professional table hockey was born in Manhattan, I have no problem citing the site, players and purse. I even remember the championship silverware – known as the T.J. Rugg Trophy, because it originally was my wife, Shirley’s, antique samovar (a metal container used to boil water).

The first tiny puck was dropped in our living room. This premiere table hockey event happened by accident. Actually, it came about because of pure snobbery. To celebrate moving into our new Upper West Side apartment, my wife and I decided to throw a party, inviting two sets of friends. On one hand, there were the hockey nuts like us. On the other were pseudo-intellectuals who neither knew nor cared about our beloved ice game. With that in mind, we segregated the groups; heavy-thinkers in the dining room while puck-followers were around the corner where Shirley set up our brand-new table hockey set. Read more

Get married during the season? Not when Conn Smythe ruled the Maple Leafs

Conn Smythe (B Bennett/Getty Images)

If you were a smart player when Conn Smythe ruled Toronto hockey – and he paid your salary – you didn’t mess with the ‘Little Major’ of Maple Leaf Gardens.

Smythe had his rules, and woe to those who chose to break them. One of Conn’s canons had to do with weddings. Get married during the season and – uh-oh – brother you’ll get Zamboni-ed right out of the lineup. Johnny ‘Goose’ McCormack, who just happened to be the Leafs best penalty killer, couldn’t wait and wed Margaret Gordon during the 1950-51 campaign. Alas, the Goose was cooked. Faster than you can say mazel tov, McCormack was sold to Montreal. Read more