Leaf of the Day - Dec 15, 2008 - 1978-79 - Ron Ellis

Dec 15, 2008 - 1978-79 - Ron Ellis

(Note: Mondays, we'll have players from the 1978-79 team, 30 years ago this year. They'll appear in alphabetical order.)

Going back at least as far as the Second World War, the image for the prototypical Leaf forward was a two-way player.  It didn't matter who you were, from Syl Apps to Teeder Kennedy to Dave Keon to Doug Gilmour, you were expected to take care of business in both ends of the ice.  It is for this reason that a lot of pure scorer-types found themselves on the outs with the coaching staff and often on one-way tickets out of town (in some cases, to fame and fortune elsewhere, but that's a story for another day). 

Ron Ellis fit this mold perfectly.  He was a winger with good speed who could be counted on for 25-30 goals at the same time as he'd be shadowing Bobby Hull or any of the other top Left Wings of the time.  The fact that he could do it without picking up too many penalties was that much of a bonus.

Ron joined the Leafs just after their run of three Cups in the early 1960s and was one of the young guys that helped win one more in 1967.  He buried a Red Kelly rebound in Game 6 of the final to get the Leafs on the board in the clinching game.  Again, for all the talk of the veterans in that series, it was a young player in Ellis to get the first goal, leading scorers Pappin and Stemkowski with the winner, and that set the stage for the Armstrong clincher everyone is familiar with.

Ellis' play was recognized enough in his own era that he was selected for Team Canada 1972.  While a number of "skill" guys found playing time hard to come by, Ellis dressed for all 8 games.  Alongside linemates Bobby Clarke and Paul Henderson, they were instrumental in checking the big Soviet names (not always legally - see Kharlamov, Valeri).  Henderson also managed to pot a couple goals, I think.

There were other forms of recognition, as well.  Former Leaf great Ace Bailey asked that his own number 6 be unretired so that Ellis could wear it.  As soon as Ron was done with it, it went back up into the rafters.

The thing that I find striking about Ellis, though, is that he was a lifer.  We simply don't have those anymore - players who came up through the system, played a long career here and then retired with the team.  Now, the way that Ellis' retirement happened was vintage Ballard and about as pathetic as one would tend to expect, but the fact that it happened with the Leafs is in itself remarkable.

Ellis is the last Leaf lifer to play 1000 games with the team.  Right now, Tomas Kaberle is at 710, and Antropov is at 475.  Both have had their names in trade talks.  As it stands today, the last Leaf to retire having had a career of at least 400 games - all in Toronto - is Peter Ihnacak.  Anything above 500 is Ellis, and he has been gone almost 30 years.  It's rare to spend an entire career with just one team.  To have that one team be Toronto is almost unheard of.

Post-retirement, Ellis struggled a bit.  There was a sporting goods store in Lindsay that didn't work out.  Now, though, he has been with the Hockey Hall of Fame for a number of years and things seem to be going the right way.  Good for him.



1960-61      Toronto Midget Marlboros      Minor-ON                                                       
1960-61     Toronto Marlboros     OHA-Jr.     3     2     1     3     2                        
1961-62     Toronto Marlboros     OHA-Jr.     33     17     12     29     16         12     6     5     11     4
1962-63     Toronto Marlboros     OHA-Jr.     36     21     22     43     8         10     9     9     18     2
1963-64     Toronto Marlboros     OHA-Jr.     54     46     38     84     20         9     4     10     14     10
1963-64     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     1     0     0     0     0                        
1963-64     Toronto Marlboros     M-Cup     8     5     9     14     6                        
1964-65     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     62     23     16     39     14         6     3     0     3     2
1965-66     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     70     19     23     42     24         4     0     0     0     2
1966-67     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     67     22     23     45     14         12     2     1     3     4
1967-68     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     74     28     20     48     8     +6                    
1968-69     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     72     25     21     46     12     +5     4     2     1     3     2
1969-70     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     76     35     19     54     14     +11                    
1970-71     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     78     24     29     53     10     +17     6     1     1     2     2
1971-72     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     78     23     24     47     17     +7     5     1     1     2     4

1972-73     Canada     Summit-72     8     0     3     3     8                        
1972-73     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     78     22     29     51     22     -1                    
1973-74     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     70     23     25     48     12     +8     4     2     1     3     0
1974-75     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     79     32     29     61     25     +9     7     3     0     3     2

1976-77     Canada     WEC-A     10     5     4     9     2                        
1977-78     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     80     26     24     50     17     +8     13     3     2     5     0
1978-79     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     63     16     12     28     10     +7     6     1     1     2     2
1979-80     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     59     12     11     23     6     -9     3     0     0     0     0
1980-81     Toronto Maple Leafs     NHL     27     2     3     5     2     -1                    
NHL/Leaf Totals     1034     332     308     640     207         70     18     8     26     20

OHA-Jr. Second All-Star Team (1964)
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1964, 1965, 1968, 1970)       

- Came out of retirement to play for Team Canada in the 1977 World Hockey Championships, April 21, 1977.

the HHOF take on Ron:


Born in Lindsay, Ontario, an hour northeast of Toronto, the swift right winger gained his amateur training with the fabled Toronto Marlboros. He was a prolific scorer in junior and starred when the Marlies won the Memorial Cup in 1963-64. The young winger impressed coaches and fans in his first NHL season by scoring 23 goals and narrowly losing the Calder Trophy race to Detroit netminder Roger Crozier. He was immediately a vital two-way performer playing on a line with stalwarts Dave Keon and Bob Pulford. The veterans were impressed with the fact that the youngster's zeal was as strong while checking as it was when racing in on the opposition's goal.

In 1966-67, he was one of the youthful troops that supported such legendary oldtimers as Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk and George Armstrong. This gritty squad overcame a mediocre regular season to win the Stanley Cup. Ellis provided the crucial first goal in the sixth game of the finals versus Montreal, which the team won 3-1 to take the series in six games.

Following the trade of Frank Mahovlich to Detroit, Ellis played on his most cohesive forward unit with Paul Henderson and Norm Ullman. This trio was adept at forechecking and opportunistic scoring. Ellis's role was crucial since he usually stayed back to guard against the counter attack while his linemates pushed forward.

Prior to the 1968-69 schedule, former Maple Leafs great Irvine "Ace" Bailey insisted that Ellis wear his retired number 6 because he admired his high-caliber yet clean style of play. One of the young forward's greatest accomplishments wasn't resorting to rough or dirty tactics while doggedly checking such stars as Bobby Hull and former teammate Frank Mahovlich.

Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden was another Ellis admirer. He was the impetus behind the Toronto winger's invitation to training camp when Team Canada 1972 was being assembled prior to the Summit Series against the Soviets. Despite a serious neck injury suffered in the opening game, Ellis played a strong checking role in all eight games of the series.

Between 1966 and 1975, Ellis recorded nine straight 20-goal seasons, but the stress of the NHL grind became too great for him to bear and he retired after scoring 32 goals in 1974-75. During his two-year sabbatical, Ellis pursued a business career that enabled him to gain valuable experience away from the hockey rink. He also focused on the Christian faith, which had become an important part of his life.

When Ellis first heard the news that Canadian professionals were eligible for the World Championship in 1977, he volunteered his services as a consultant. It turned out that he was asked to try out for the team, which he did successfully. Canada finished fourth, but many observers noted that Ellis played some of his best hockey in years.

Feeling spiritually recharged, Ellis agreed to come to the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp in 1977 under new coach and fellow Christian Roger Neilson. He reached the 20-goal mark for the team record of 10 straight years and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time since winning it all in 1967.

The following year he lost 17 games to injury and the team began to disintegrate because of the destructive antics of owner Harold Ballard. One of the most distasteful incidents in the mismanagement of the Toronto team during this period occurred when Ellis arrived at Maple Leaf Gardens to find that his equipment was locked away and that his services were no longer needed.

Following his retirement, Ellis continued to work in the business world and eventually returned to the game under the auspices of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992. His ability in public relations and involvement with the Hall's educational outreach programs have proven invaluable.


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