Editor's Note: Here's another Mount Puckmore this time from our resident historian.
I've tried coming up with a lead paragraph that cleanly explains my thought process in making these choices. They haven't worked. Instead, I'm going to jump straight into my list and explain each choice as I get there. (Apologies for the formatting, apparently you aren't allowed to centre things in fanposts anymore. The more one learns....)
My Mount Puckmore Four:
Hap Day instructs a young Tim Horton and (I think) one of the Hannigans - via www.legendsofhockey.net
Hap Day enjoys a Cup with Stanowski and Metz - via www.hhof.com
Clarence "Happy" Day was an original Leaf. A holdover from the St. Patricks, and one of the few Conn Smythe chose to keep around, he was the Leaf captain for their first full season and wore the C for a decade (though I don't think they actually wore a 'C' in those days, so it's figurative). The teams he played for sported names like Conacher, Primeau, Jackson, Clancy and Horner - hall of famers all, but it was Day who led them.
That's not the reason I chose him, though. Day is there as my executive. In choosing Day, I'm bumping Conn Smythe. Smythe is the owner who made so much happen. He bought the team, he changed the name (though this might have been in the works anyway), he set the tone.
Day, though, took the Leafs and made them champions. The teams of the 30's had a ton of flash and dash, but also had a tendency to get to the Finals and lose when it mattered most. Day was the one who developed and implemented the defensive system that would make them champions and that ultimately defined what winning Leaf hockey was all about. Succesive leaf coaches maintained this. Joe Primeau won the 1951 Cup with the Leafs still playing Day's system. Even Imlach owes a lot to Day.
It's all forgotten now, but Day was very well-known for his defensive systems. Late in his career, when asked how it was that he played defense so incredibly well despite his age, Tim Horton would remark, "Are you kidding? I broke in under Hap Day."
Ted Kennedy makes my list as the prototypical Maple Leaf. Gritty, intense, hard-working and both offensively gifted and defensively sound, he was a natural choice to succeed Syl Apps as captain. Fans who watched Kennedy play were convinced he'd never survive playing the way that he did. The strain of it would destroy him, it was thought. It never did, though.
I have long thought that the kind of love that Leaf fans held for Ted Kennedy has translated into a preference for players who in one way or another emulate him - guys who are visibly working out there, guys who aren't necessarily graceful in all that they do, but will tear themselves to pieces trying to succeed.
Doug Gilmour is kind of Kennedyesque, in that sense. Having read the comments in the FTB, I kind of conclude that my choice of Gilmour may be an age thing. People who grew up watching Sittler are Sittler fans for life. My mother swears by Dave Keon.
I missed out on the Leafs of the late 70s because we didn't live out here. For me, I knew the Leafs of the 80s, the ones where Ballard was at his worst, and where the teams were most in flux. I never saw a Leaf team that was actually good. The closest we ever came was in 1989-90, and then that was torn to shreds before our very eyes. It was a completely dismal time. It is because I lived through those teams that I'm not that perturbed about the recent streak of bad play. Compared to where we were in 1991, I'm positively thrilled about the team we have today. There is hope now. There was none then.
Into that mix came Doug Gilmour. The Leafs didn't make the playoffs that season, though they made a great run that ultimately fell short when the season was cancelled for a week (nobody remembers this). His 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons were the best that I have ever witnessed by a Leaf player.
The most dramatic thing, though, was what it meant to be a Leaf fan. He resurrected this franchise. Leaf fans, many of whom had disappeared into the woodwork hoping for an end to Ballard, got their first taste of sunshine in over a decade. It actually became possible to talk smack as a Leaf fan. The teams of '93 and '94 didn't win the ultimate prize - they weren't deep enough and the loss of Cullen and Borschevsky to injury was crippling, but they restored the honour of this team.
Gilmour, to me, played the best hockey I have ever seen a Leaf player play. Add to that his role in killing the Ballard era and he merits inclusion on my mountain.
Apparently, in choosing Gilmour, I have to explain why I'm not choosing Sundin.
Let's be clear - I I like Mats Sundin. A lot. If I had a seven person mountain, he'd be on it. I'd probably have to add Conn Smythe back in as my fifth, and at 6-7 I have to start looking at the Hortons, Salmings, Clancys and Apps(eses) of the world, but I don't think I'd get past seven before Mats was there. I choose Gilmour over Mats for two reasons: First, Gilmour, though for a shorter duration, was the best player I ever saw here. Second, he was the catalyst behind the end of the Ballard era.
Mats was a fantastic player for a long time. I watch a lot of old games on LeafsTV and I'm always stunned by just how good Mats Sundin was. The guy was money. I think Mats Sundin suffered from "big player syndrome" much like Frank Mahovlich did. Big guys, just by virtue of their size and shape, don't appear to be working as hard. They don't look like they're skating as hard or as fast and they rarely get the credit for the effort they put in.
I never held the "traded for Wendel" thing against Mats. Besides, Wendel was back twice after that. I made the comment that I never believed in Mats and his teams the way I did in Gilmour and his. That comes off as a shot at Mats when it really isn't. I never believed in anything again that way. Again - that might just be an age thing. Or I can blame Kerry Fraser, which is easier.
For my last choice, I'll start this way: there are three photos in hockey that I think are truly iconic. There is Bobby Orr scoring against Glenn Hall in 1970. There is Yvan Cournoyer bear-hugging a jubilant Paul Henderson in 1972, and there is this one:
Bill Barilko, apparently, isn't to be included on the mountatin because his tenure was too short, he wasn't the dominant defenseman of his era (though Turk Broda would beg to differ) and he's primarily remembered because of the circumstances of his death. Some of this is true, I suppose. His four Cups in five NHL seasons is a matter of happenstance, to an extent. And the mystery surrounding his death, the whole bit about the Leafs not winning another Cup until they found his body - well, that's nothing to do with him, really. Again, it's just circumstance.
At the same time, ask yourself this - if there is one figure in Leaf history who truly is wrapped in legend, can you come up with one bigger than Bill Barilko?
Obviously, his death plays a part in it - but so does the death of Georges Vezina and Howie Morenz. It's that layer of tragedy that makes the story so compelling. Bill Barilko was an up and comer. He'd come to the Leafs out of nowhere to make the team in 1946. He was brash, good-looking and hit like a freight train. If he hit you, you were "Barilkoed." Everyone knew who he was.
And yet he could play. Turk Broda called him the best defenseman he'd ever played behind. His game was become more rounded, more polished. He was poised to anchor the Leaf blue line for another decade, at least.
The goal he scored in 1951 was risky, a gamble. He left his position on the left point to chase a puck in no man's land with the Richard line on the ice for Montreal. Hooking skates with teammate Cal Gardner (heading to cover him at the point), he was prone and out of position if that puck went back up ice. And this was overtime. It worked, though. Bill was the conquering hero. And then he was gone.
His disappearance occupied the minds of Leaf fans for a decade. While it was generally assumed he had perished, all kinds of crazy rumours floated. The plane was overloaded because they were smuggling things. Barilko had survived and had gone back to Russia to train their hockey players. Anything. The only difference between Barilko and Presley was that Bill was never seen flipping hamburgers in innumerable roadside diners.
The players found out that his body had been located during the Stanley Cup parade in 1962. The significance was not lost on them.
This is the stuff legends are made of. Sometimes, legends trump stats, at least on my mountain.
So there you have it. That's my four. Too late probably, but out there just the same.