Until the Leafs send JFJ packing, I don’t know how much I’ll be writing about this team.
How bad is it? I have tickets for the Tuesday night game against the Habs and am seriously contemplating scalping them…I never thought I’d entertain that thought for a Leafs-Canadiens game, but do I really want to see a disinterested team get beaten by my most hated rival while Brylcream Junior scowls from the gondola? (And do I really want to pay $11 a beer while doing so?)
Less than 25 games into the season and it can be pretty much summed up by that great Seinfeld quote – if I continue to support this year’s Leafs club all I’m doing is cheering for laundry.
I was digging out the Christmas decorations on the weekend and I found a box full of my childhood stuff. Amongst the Star Wars comics, Darth Vader Activity books and old school photos, I found a stack of Leaf programs from games my dad took me to way back in the day.
In the spirit of 10 Cent Freeze Pops I thought it would be far more interesting to dedicate a blog entry to those old programs and have a laugh about what was happening with the Leafs 25+ years ago than to comment on Raycroft’s latest gaffe, Blake’s lack of scoring or to ever have to type Wozniewski again (unless it’s followed by the word “waived”).
First up, Saturday September 11, 1980 – Leafs vs. New York Rangers. A stylish Darryl Sittler in Leaf road blues graces the cover.
Page 2 of the program yields the first gem, a letter to hockey fans from Harold Ballard. Upon first read, it’s hard to believe the letter is 27 years old - the content is as fresh (and delusional) as the key messages coming out of this year’s training camp:
I am particularly enthused with this year’s Maple Leafs because I sincerely believe they can achieve a goal I’ve dedicated myself to ever since taking over the ownership of the club – TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP.
My aim is to provide an entertaining first class hockey club and I think you’ll be proud of this team. I am not kidding when I say we can win our division and who knows what’ll happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs. We surprised a lot of people in the 1960s and I think we’re again capable of upsetting the big guys.
If it weren’t for the awkward typewriter font and measly 48 characters per line, Ballard’s take on the upcoming season could easily pass as a JFJ blog entry or a certain pre-season remark from Coach Maurice.
As for those 1980-81 Leafs that Ballard could foresee challenging for the Cup, they went on to a 28-37-15 record (good for 71 points). Miraculously that club made the playoffs thanks to the horrific play of the Detroit Red Wings and Hartford Whalers (60 and 56 points, respectively). The Leafs playoffs were short-lived as the club was eliminated in three straight games by the New York Islanders (in the playoffs anything can happen, but very rarely does it).
The first story in the program is a preview of the upcoming 1980-81 season, for some reason called “Like Ali, Habs Keep Popping Up.”
The author John Iaboni tells us that the Islanders may be first-time defending Stanley Cup Champs but the Habs are set to challenge for the cup and to win it back. Other notables for the 1980-81 season: Howe and Mikita have retired, former players Cheevers and Magnuson make the move to coaching, and Calgary embarks on its first season with an NHL hockey team (led by a mutton-chopped Cliff Fletcher, I really need a scanner for this choice photo of the Silver Fox).
As for the Leafs chances back in that 1980-81 season…well…the more things change the more things stay the same, Iaboni writes:
The Leafs know they can score the goals keeping the goals against down will be a top priority.John Anderson and his burger empire are the next write up. I used to love the local John Anderson Burger joint when I was growing up in Scarborough (the bright orange fold-down benches in the waiting area were called the penalty box). By the time I was in high school it had been taken over by a Greek family and we’d go for late night souvlaki runs. Last time I drove by I think it had become a sushi joint…no word on those orange benches. The article ensures Leaf fans that no matter how succesful the burger empire becomes, John's main focus will remain the Leafs (and in an odd closing paragraph, maybe speedboats of which John had several.)
“New Rule Changes will hopefully eliminate mob scenes” – offers a look at how the NHL is trying to limit fighting to one-on-one situations. The 1980 season marked the debut of Rule 54 and the good old instigator penalty, a change that remains contentious nearly three decades later. Wonder if anyone things removing the instigator might bring back line brawls?
A slender Dom Deluise gets a three-page celebrity profile. He’s promoting a film called, “The Last Married Couple in America” with George Segal, Natalie Wood and Valerie Harper (I’m not making this up). What this has to do with the Leafs or hockey escapes me…Ballard must have had a stake in the film or owed someone a favour.
The middle of the magazine includes Tonight’s Starting Line-Up with the respective Leafs and Rangers rosters. Highlights for the Leafs include four goalies, none of them noteworthy – Vince Tremblay, Paul Harrison, Jiri Crha, and Curt Ridley (I remember the first three, but cannot for the life of me recall Curt Ridley). The only other name on the Leaf roster that left me scratching my head is Vitezslav Duris who it turns out played 58 games with the Leafs in 80-81. This version of the club didn’t last long - Turnbull (traded in ’81), Picard (’81), Sittler (’82), Boschman (’82), Paiment (’82), Saginuk (’83), Tremblay (’83)…
Next up, John Iaboni provides more filler on the relationship between Leaf coach Joe Crozier and GM Punch Imlach (who suffered a heart-attack in August, leaving Crozier as interim-GM). Not much here…Crozier would be replaced as coach by Mike Nykoluk mid-way through the 1980-81 season and Gerry McNamara would move into the GM role in 1982.
One of the oddest items in the program comes on page 55, it’s a full directory of the hotels the Leafs stay at in each NHL city, with the phone number conveniently listed. The program also list the hotels in Toronto where visiting teams stay (Habs and Bruins at the Sutton Place; Jets and Kings get the Harbour Castle Hilton; the rest of the league are evenly divided between the Hotel Toronto and Loews Westbury…). Not sure how the players’ wives felt about this addition, bit of an odd thing to tuck in the program between an ad for Nashua colour photocopiers and a Heineken spot.
We’re all the way up to page 63 in the program (with plenty of adverts for five-star rye, Export A cigarettes, and Reggie Jackson promoting a new Panasonic VHS portable recorder and playback system that’s about the size of a bathtub) when we hit an un-bylined article about Iron Man Streaks. Billy Harris of the New York Islanders had his streak end at 576 earlier in the 1980 season, so the article turns to the Sabres’ Craig Ramsay and Montreal’s Doug Jarvis as challengers to Gary Unger’s record of 914 games. [Jarvis would go on to break that record, setting the current mark of 964 games in the 1987-88 campaign.]
Here’s a shocker – hockey may not be a suitable subject matter for a Hollywood movie because Americans arent’ familiar with the game. This according to Ewy Yost, a Canadian film expert. The program has a short look at the role of hockey in the movies since 1937 (when John Wayne laced ‘em up in Idol of the Crowds) through to Paperback Hero and Ice Castles (can’t say I’ve heard of any of them…). Buzzy Deschamps, a former minor league hockey player and (in 1980) the Vice-President of Koho Sporting Goods does offer up this juicy quote on Slapshot: “The movie is degrading to hockey. Watching it, I feel embarrassed to have been a hockey player.” Wonder how Koho would feel about that quote now?
Following an advert for Hudson’s Bay Company Hooch (Treasure Island Rum, Moichev Vodka and HBC Gin – who knew?) there’s a two page profile on the “movie-star handsome” and “glamour boy of New York Hockey” Ron Dougay. Apparently, he’s a favourite at the Roxy Roller Disco and has signed a deal to promote “Oh-la-la” designer jeans…he likely lit up the Leafs that night too...(I have no memory of the game, I was 9). He does have really remarkable hair in the photo...I imagine there's more than a few kids in Dougay's hometown of Sudbury sporting that look right now.
The program closes out with three headshots of upcoming Leaf match-ups. The Penguins and Rick Kehoe (with his helmet of hair and one heckuva ‘stache), a surprisingly moustache-less Joel Quenville and the Colorado Rockies and a blurry Clark Gillies with the New York Islanders as the next teams to come to town to face the mighty Blue and White.