Guest Post: History and inspiration for a young Leafs team
BY ROBERT HUTT
So, here I am sitting by the fire, sipping a glass of merlot, looking at a moth-eaten, torn and well-worn blue and white sweater. The neckline is frayed, the sleeves shrunk, tatters everywhere. The crest on the front, crisscrossed with tape marks from old sticks.
My father took me to Maple Leaf Gardens in 1942. A kid of seven, I will never forget that experience. This was the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. It didn't say so everywhere; it was just impregnated in the walls, the seats and certainly on the ice.
I wonder if this sweater, the one I now imagine, was around at that time.
That was when this crest was born – a maple leaf – a sign of a sports franchise that represented much of this country. A powerful logo, saluted near and far.
In those days, you worked hard to wear the Maple Leaf, a crest Conn based on an insignia he wore in World War I.
Or should this sweater belong to someone on the Kid Line – Busher Jackson, Joe Primeau or Charlie Conacher? Or maybe Ace Bailey, almost killed in 1933 when Eddie Shore checked him from behind into the boards, ending his illustrious career.
Damn this sweater, I can feel the excitement, the incredible history woven into the fabric.
I can still hear the chants of "Come on, TEEEEDER!" ring down from the greens in 1947 as Kennedy races down the ice. I can see Bill Barilko's Cup-winning goal, feel the excitement, before he disappears in a plane crash on a fishing trip the following summer.
Fast-forward to 1960. Smythe sells most of his shares to son Stafford, John Bassett and Harold Ballard.
Toronto goes on to win three straight Cups from 1962 to 1964. And the names that could be on the back of this sweater – all Hall of Famers – include Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, Andy Bathgate and Tim Horton.
In 1967, Toronto and Montreal meet in the final again. Montreal is a huge favourite. But Bob Pulford scores in double-overtime in Game 3. Jim Pappin nets the winner in Game 6. Keon is named most valuable player. And Bobby Baun finishes the series on a broken ankle.
The Toronto Maple Leafs win the Cup!
The last time those words are spoken.
All the players I mentioned had one thing in common: They wore the Maple Leaf crest with pride. The sweater on their backs was a symbol of the commitment in their hearts.
But in 1970, the decline begins.
Harold Ballard takes control of the team. There are running feuds with several key players, including Keon, Lanny McDonald and Darryl Sittler. The team has some success but they are, at best, inconsistent season over season.
More recent history has this franchise on a rollercoaster ride: Up, down, up, down... with very little significant success, at least not when measured by... the Cup.
There are so many names. There is so much history.
But at this point I am obliged to stop.
I want to pick up this sweater I can see but not touch. I want to hold it and feel the energy, the crowds I remember, the dreams of every player, of every fan, in every part of this staggering enclave known as Leafs Nation.
I guess I am concerned about this sweater.
As I watch the young colts take to the ice this season, I often wonder: Are they the renewal of this historic franchise? Will they fulfill the timeless optimism of every fan, young and old? Do they give everything to the game when they don this jersey? Are they dedicated? Do they know what the sweater... represents?
I don't want them to play well just for themselves. I also want them to play well for me, for you, for all of us. They wear The Sweater for all of us. It is a symbol of our shared past. And the crest will be there if and when the franchise finds a path toward the future glory of yesteryear.
What can we expect from the young colts over the next 19 games and beyond?
Perhaps the pride I feel in this sweater will be transferred to those I shall watch on the ice tomorrow night, just as I did in 1942, when I held my father's hand and entered Maple Leaf Gardens.
I know when the young colts feel this pride, once again, I will too.
Robert Hutt (aka Robert), a lifelong Leafs fan, lives up in the hills along south shore Nova Scotia with his wife and their dog. A former cameraman and executive producer with CBC Television, Robert has worked on films with Bobby Orr and Dave Keon.
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MAIN PHOTO: FRANK LENNON