Bill Barilko's 1951 overtime goal. (HHOF Images)
There are two Bill Barilko Cup-winning pucks out there. One has been on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame for decades. But is it a phony? The Donohue family says it has been in possession of the puck since a few minutes after it was scored by the late Maple Leafs legend. Recent evidence suggests the Donohue Barilko puck may be legitimate.
Thursday, April 21, marks the 65
th anniversary of Bill Barilko scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which technically means we can commemorate that memory with a senior moment or two. Back in November, I wrote a feature in the print edition of The Hockey News telling the tale of the Hamilton, Ont., family who claimed it had possession of Barilko’s Cup-winning puck. Harry Donohue was a 16-year-old in attendance at that 1951 game against the Montreal Canadiens and he hopped on the ice after the overtime goal and fished the puck out of the net. Here’s a
link to that story entitled Harry’s Puck. The gist of the feature is the Donohue family were preparing to loan that puck to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 when they found out the Hall already had a puck designated Barilko’s Cup-winning puck. But, as was pointed out in the November story, the Hall of Fame’s Barilko puck was a Spalding-made puck, used in NHL games from 1920 to 1942. The Donohue Barilko puck has an emblem that was used in NHL games from 1950 to 1958, which fits the time period of that seminal moment in hockey history.
Could it be the Hall has been harbouring an imposter Barilko puck all these decades? Since that November story, there have been a few developments that give support to the theory the Hall of Fame’s Barilko puck is bogus. And that maybe the Donohue Barilko puck is legitimate. For more than six decades, the story of what happened to the Barilko puck, after it supposedly bounced out of the net, was one of these two versions: (a) A Montreal player in frustration whacked at the puck, amidst Toronto players celebrating, and it landed in the lap of fan Jimmy Main, who was seated in a wheelchair alongside the goal judge, or (b) referee Bill Chadwick picks it up and skates it over to Main in the front row. Here’s what we’ve come across lately. • Donohue’s son Dan has been in touch with the City of Toronto Archives to see what images are on file. One photo they found clearly shows the puck still in the Montreal net, just inside the post. That supports Harry Donohue’s story that he jumped on the ice and literally pulled the puck out of the net a few minutes after the goal, while Toronto players were celebrating and Montreal players consoling one another.
And what does the fact the puck didn't bounce out of the Montreal net do to the stories a Montreal player, or referee Chadwick, directed the puck in Jimmy Main's direction? Would a Montreal player, having just lost the Stanley Cup final, really think about pulling the puck out of the net with his stick and flip it into the stands? Or would he just drift away from the scene in stunned disbelief? Other published reports claim Chadwick and the linesmen skated off the ice immediately after the overtime goal, allowing the players from both teams to have the stage for themselves. Would Chadwick really have circled back, pulled it out of the net and given it to a random fan in the front row? And what about the arena glass behind the nets? How could a whacked puck go over the glass and end up in the first row? We're told Main was in the first row. Or how could Chadwick have gotten that puck in Main's hands through the glass? Dan Donohue enlarged that City of Toronto Archives image of the puck in the net, and although grainy and faint, you can see the octagonal shape of the crest on NHL pucks used in that era, which matches the Donohue Barilko puck. The Hall of Fame’s Barilko puck has a smaller, circular Spalding crest that hadn't been used in the NHL for almost a decade.
• Other new information sheds light on how the Hall of Fame came to get its version of the Barilko puck. It was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1985 by a man named George Fletcher (seen below holding puck). In at least two published reports, Fletcher claims the puck was given to him by his friend Jimmy Main. Fletcher said Main cherished that puck the rest of his life, then passed it along to him just before he died. Fletcher was 79 himself when he donated it to the Hall of Fame. But the Spalding logo on that donated puck was nine years out of date from the puck used in that 1951 game.
So how could one Barilko puck end up in the hands of Jimmy Main, then the Hall of Fame, and the other in the hands of Harry Donohue. Could there have been two "Barilko pucks" on the ice after the Cup-winning goal? Could one have come from a grassy knoll? Don't laugh, you'll soon see I'm not far off. Introducing, this next piece of evidence. And more and more, this is starting to get Zapruder-like. • Watch this surprisingly clear video of the Barilko goal on YouTube and see if anything strikes you as odd. Something strange happens shortly after Barilko’s shot beats Gerry McNeil in the Montreal net to win the Stanley Cup. It comes at the eight-second mark in the video and is as clear as day if you’re looking for it. What we see is a puck being thrown onto the ice – probably from the upper level of Maple Leafs Gardens judging by the path of its movement – and coming to rest in the high slot near the faceoff circle.
Your first reaction is probably the same as mine. Why would anyone throw a puck
onto the ice? And after an overtime goal? Or anytime, really. A disgruntled Canadiens fan perhaps? I don’t have an answer to that question, other than, what did people think the very first time someone threw an octopus on the ice in Detroit? Why would anyone do that? All it takes is for one strange person to do one strange thing and the rest of us are scratching our heads. But its clear in the video that puck was thrown on the ice from the stands – perhaps the grassy knoll section. Did the person who threw it bring a 1942-era NHL puck with him to that 1951 game? Was that thrown puck the one picked up by Chadwick or shot by Canadiens player into the hands of Jimmy Main? Who knows, but maybe that explains why there came to be two Barilko Cup-winning pucks. • After the November story was published, hockey historian Paul Patskou from the Society of International Hockey Research came forward with video footage from that game that was passed along to him in 2002. It has never been presented in a public forum of any kind. Footage shows post-game celebration with photographers and reporters on the ice capturing moments of jubilation and sorrow. For a few brief seconds, a tall young man with dark hair, perhaps in his late teens, walks into the lower right corner of the screen, then out again. He’s not holding a camera or notepad like the other on-ice journalists, and he’s heading towards the Canadiens net. Could that have been Harry Donohue on his way to get the puck?
Dan Donohue says the description fits, but he can’t be 100 percent certain that that figure is his father as a 16-year-old. He can’t quite discern from the few frames that that young man’s gait and body movement are those of his Dad. Historian Patskou says in that era of NHL hockey, players posed for photographs in dressing rooms holding the significant puck. "That was the thing to do," he said. "They did it for Howie Meeker, Bill Mosienko, Maurice Richard." There are no photos of Barilko holding that special puck. So that’s where we stand on the 65
th anniversary of the Barilko Cup-winning goal. It’s almost as mysterious as the disappearance of the Maple Leaf legend, who died a few months after scoring the goal. Dan Donohue’s intention to loan the puck to the Hall of Fame remains. He’d like to see it on display at the hockey shrine in time for the 100-year anniversary of the Maple Leafs in 2017.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN