George (Punch) Imlach applied the "Old Fellows" label to his Toronto Maple Leafs when he coached them to the Stanley Cup in 1967. Imlach passed away many years ago, as did goaltender Terry Sawchuk and defenceman Tim Horton, but most of the others are getting together for two special events.
At least 16 have confirmed that they'll take part in ceremonies preceding the Edmonton-Toronto game Saturday, and most will be attending a dinner March 22 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The recognition is long overdue.
George Armstrong, the last Leafs captain to raise the Stanley Cup over his head in celebration, will be at both events, and '67 playoff MVP Dave Keon will be on hand Saturday after agreeing to participate in a franchise event for the first time since a bitter separation more than 30 years ago.
"I hope they realize they should introduce Davey Keon last," says 1966-67 teammate Ron Ellis.
In the dressing room after his team's Cup-clinching win over the Montreal Canadiens on May 2, 1967, Imlach lauded the determined efforts of his battle-scarred players during the last Original Six spring. It was the end of an era. The NHL was about to double in size.
"We won it with the old guys, the last year we'll be able to," said Imlach, affectionately and repeatedly referring to his players as The Old Fellows Athletic Club as he sipped champagne from one hand and held a cigar in the other.
For Johnny Bower, who at age 42 tended goal without a mask during those playoffs, it was a childhood dream come true to win the Stanley Cup in Toronto.
"I never dreamed at my age that I'd even be playing for Toronto so winning the Stanley Cup was just unbelievable," says Bower. "A lot of guys on that team were way over 30, and a lot of them had never had their name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
'They gave the best effort they possibly could. We played with a lot of injuries, too. Nobody said anything about it at the time. If we had to play one more game against Montreal, we would have lost because of all the injuries we had."
Ten members of that team are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Leafs had finished 19 points behind Chicago in third place during the regular season and were not expected to get past the Blackhawks in the first playoff round.
"They said we weren't going to win because of all the old guys on the team, but we had the experience it took to win it all," says Bower. "We said to the young guys: 'We'll carry you to a certain point but you'll have to take over,' and guys like Keon made the difference in the end."
The old-timers aren't viewing the two events as a 40-year anniversary, Ellis stresses.
"That's not the point at all," he explains. "We had a veteran team that wasn't supposed to win - it was sort of a miracle win.
"The team was made up of a lot of courageous guys. It was a very unique team. It was the last year of the Original Six. Whoever won the Stanley Cup in '67 was going to have a place in hockey history because it was the last year of an era. That's what we'll be celebrating."
Organizers of the March 22 dinner at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre expect to sell all 1,000 tickets, which would raise $250,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Ticket-takers will be wearing original Maple Leaf Gardens uniforms and will be stationed at turnstiles. Beliveau and Phil Esposito have hopped on board as guest speakers, Michael Burgess will sing the anthem and Andy Frost will introduce the players - just as he does at Leafs games today.
Information on the charity dinner is available at www.info1967Leafsdinner.com.