Leaf of the Day - Mar 27-29, 2009 - Tim Horton

Mar 27-29, 2009 - Tim Horton


For the most part, the only real use I have for LeafsTV is the old-time hockey they show.  I know a lot of people can't seem to get into watching a game that took place 40 years ago, but I find them fascinating.  Ususally, I'm watching as much for the opposition as anything.  It's cool to see Gordie Howe as a Wing, or a young Bobby Hull.  Anytime the 70s Bruins are on, I'm all over that, because watching entire games played by Bobby Orr is something any fan should do as often as possible.

The Leafs, of course, are interesting, too.  It's neat to see Keon, or Parent, Duff, and all the rest.  Since they're more common, though (oddly enough, the Leafs are in every game on LeafsTV), I pay a little less attention unless one guy in particular is on the ice - Tim Horton.

For whatever reason, Tim's play always surprises me.  I guess that having seen pictures of this guy who otherwise looks like an old Joe Wieder ad, I always expected him to be a bruiser and a brawler.  Instead, the strength is kind of an understated thing and he's really very mobile and incredibly efficient in his own zone.  We don't have anyone like that now and I can't think of the last one we had.  Maybe it was Horton himself.  Take Schenn and give him most of Kaberle's puck-moving ability and Kubina's shot and maybe we're close.

I recently read Horton's biography 'Open Ice.'  There were a lot of surprises there, too.  It's not so much Horton himself - Tim comes across as a pretty solid, decent guy whose two worst traits seem to have been a tendency to post-beer rowdiness in hotel rooms and a nasty habit of speeding.  The surprises came from everything around him. 

There's a tendency, I guess, to look at the 60s (and earlier) Leafs as some kind of golden age and to dump on Ballard at all times in the 70s, and both of those images take something of a hit.  There were a lot of things in Horton's Leafs that were quite some ways less than perfect and Ballard did have a soul - some of the time, anyway.  Nothing's ever as black and white as we tend to portray it.

Tim came out of the nickel belt in the late 1940s.  Born in Cochrane, the family eventually went to Sudbury and it was playing hockey there that Tim first came to prominence.  He was a rushing defenseman in those days, partly because of ability and partly because his eyesight was so bad he couldn't really find his teammates.

After he became part of the Leafs system, he moved on to St. Mike's and Pittsburgh of the AHL.  In Pittsburgh, he picked up a slapshot that really moved him forward as a prospect.  When he did make the NHL, he was the second big practicioner of that shot after Bernie Geoffrion.

The Leafs in the early 1950s had lost two of their key defensemen - Bill Barilko to the plane crash and Gud Mortson in the trade for Harry Lumley.  This opened up some spots on the roster for youth.  Horton was looked on to replace Barilko.  He wasn't as big as Bill and wasn't the same kind of hitter, but he made it work.

The 50s, though, weren't a good time for the Leafs.  They were really in transition and they typically were somewhere between 3rd and 5th in the six-team league.  There was no playoff success and then right in the middle of all that, Horton took a huge injury that set him back a long, long way.  He was caught in open ice (hence the title) by Bill Gadsby of the Rangers and the hit broke his leg and jaw.  It was really a couple of years before he was right again and in the meantime, he was almost traded to Montreal.  (Try to imagine that one.)

In the late 50s, though, the Leafs picked up Allan Stanley.  They were a defense tandem for the next 10 years and those were the best of Tim's career.  He never won a Norris, but was a repeat All-Star and was often near the top of the Norris balloting.  He never put up quite the offensive totals to win that trophy.

There's a lot more in the book about his early days in business - the car lots, the other restaurants and the eventual donut chain.  There's his departure from the Leafs, his stops in New York, Pittsburgh and Buffalo and the eventual crash.  It's worth a read.  You'll pick up a lot.  I find that it's the story of those Leaf teams that is most enlightening, but to each his own.

But to really get a sense of Horton the player, watch those old games on LeafsTV.  Watch Horton clear the zone.  It's really something to see.

The HHOF tribute to Tim:

Dressing room interview after the 1967 win:

Tim's stats:

1946-47 Copper Cliff Jr. Redmen NOJHA 9 0 0 0 14 5 0 1 1 0
1947-48 St. Michael's Majors OHA-Jr. 32 6 7 13 137
1948-49 St. Michael's Majors OHA-Jr. 32 9 18 27 95
1949-50 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 1 0 0 0 2   1 0 0 0 2
1949-50 Pittsburgh Hornets AHL 60 5 18 23 83
1950-51 Pittsburgh Hornets AHL 68 8 26 34 129 13 0 9 9 16
1951-52 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 4 0 0 0 8            
1951-52 Pittsburgh Hornets AHL 64 12 19 31 146 11 1 3 4 16
1952-53 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 2 14 16 85            
1953-54 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 7 24 31 94   5 1 1 2 4
1954-55 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 67 5 9 14 84            
1955-56 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 35 0 5 5 36   2 0 0 0 4
1956-57 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 66 6 19 25 72            
1957-58 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 53 6 20 26 39            
1958-59 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 5 21 26 76   12 0 3 3 16
1959-60 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 3 29 32 69   10 0 1 1 6
1960-61 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 57 6 15 21 75   5 0 0 0 0
1961-62 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 10 28 38 88   12 3 13 16 16
1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 6 19 25 69   10 1 3 4 10
1963-64 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 9 20 29 71   14 0 4 4 20
1964-65 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 12 16 28 95   6 0 2 2 13
1965-66 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 6 22 28 76   4 1 0 1 12
1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 8 17 25 70   12 3 5 8 25
1967-68 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 69 4 23 27 82 +20          
1968-69 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 74 11 29 40 107 +14 4 0 0 0 7
1969-70 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 59 3 19 22 91 +4          
1969-70 New York Rangers NHL 15 1 5 6 16 -7 6 1 1 2 28
1970-71 New York Rangers NHL 78 2 18 20 57 +28 13 1 4 5 14
1971-72 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 44 2 9 11 40 +5 4 0 1 1 2
1972-73 Buffalo Sabres NHL 69 1 16 17 56 +12 6 0 1 1 4
1973-74 Buffalo Sabres NHL 55 0 6 6 53 +5
Leaf Totals   1185 109 349 458 1389   97 9 32 41 135
NHL Totals 1446 115 403 518 1611 126 11 39 50 183
First All-Star Team Defense (1964, 1968, 1969)
Second All-Star Team Defense (1954, 1963, 1967)

- Traded to NY Rangers by Toronto for future considerations (Denis Dupere, May 14, 1970), March 3, 1970.
- Claimed by Pittsburgh from NY Rangers in Intra-League Draft, June 8, 1971.
- Claimed by Buffalo from Pittsburgh in Intra-League Draft, June 5, 1972.
- Died from injuries suffered in automobile accident, February 21, 1974.

The HHOF take on Tim:

Though it would be impossible to prove, the case could be made that Tim Horton was the strongest man ever to lace up skates in the National Hockey League. As a junior player with the St. Michael's College team in the Ontario Hockey League, Horton had NHL scouts and executives claiming he'd be the league's all-time great defenseman. But Horton's career, for all of its early promise, got off to a slow start. Though his attributes were obvious, he took a while to mature as a defensive player and spent several years moving back and forth between Toronto and its minor-league team in Pittsburgh. When he did find a regular job with the Maple Leafs during the 1952-53 season, respect was hard to come by, mostly because the expectations had been so high during his junior days.

In 1954, having just turned 24, Horton was selected to the league's Second All-Star Team and his career took off from there. With a few weeks left in the 1954-55 season, however, Horton broke his leg and jaw in a thunderous collision with the New York Rangers' Bill Gadsby. Gadsby later said it was the hardest hit he ever delivered. Horton, in traction and fed intravenously for days afterwards in the hospital, certainly agreed. When he returned to the ice after missing almost half of the 1955-56 season, he was slow to regain his form.

In 1958-59, Horton was paired on the blue line with Allan Stanley. Stanley's solid play allowed Horton to take a few more chances carrying the puck, knowing he had the speed to recover should he lose possession and that Stanley would be there to back him up. With Bobby Baun and Carl Brewer also starring on defense, the Leafs had a core of skilled, rugged and reliable defensemen. And the defense was the foundation of a Toronto team that won the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963 and 1964, with Horton earning a spot on the Second All-Star Team in 1963 and First Team honours in 1964. The team went through a minor slump in 1965 and for part of the season coach Punch Imlach moved Horton to the right wing on a line with George Armstrong and Red Kelly, another defenseman turned forward. Horton scored 12 goals, many of them with his huge slapshot from close range.

After the Leafs' last Stanley Cup win in 1967 - after which Horton was once again selected to the league's Second All-Star Team - the Maple Leafs went into decline. Many of the stars of the championship teams moved on or retired. Though he remained and was a First Team All-Star the following two seasons, Horton was tempted to retire in 1969 because of the success of his business off the ice, a chain of donut shops bearing his name, and of Punch Imlach's dismissal as coach of the club.

Horton claimed he wanted double his salary to even consider returning. Lacking any veteran leadership on its blue line, Toronto surprised Horton by giving him over $80,000, roughly double his salary of the year before. The team, so young that Horton was the oldest defender by 16 years, was dead last in the league in the spring of 1970. Horton's large salary was impractical for a team with little promise and he was traded to the New York Rangers. He spent a full season in New York in 1970-71, but was then selected in the next two intra-league expansion drafts, moving first to Pittsburgh for an injury-plagued season in 1971-72 and then to Punch Imlach's Buffalo Sabres.

Early in the morning of February 21, 1974, Tim Horton was killed in a single-car crash while driving home to Buffalo after a game in Toronto against his old team. Police who chased the sports car reported that it was traveling over 100 miles per hour before it crashed just outside of St. Catharines, Ontario. Toronto won the game that night, but Horton, even though he missed the third period with a jaw injury, was selected as the game's third star for his standout play. He left behind a wife and four daughters. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977. Today there are Tim Horton donut shops all across Canada.


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