I was never much of a hockey kid. My mom was a lapsed Bruins fan (once Orr & Esposito were gone it wasn't the same) and my dad wasn't into it aside from playoff pools at work (He picked the Sharks to win it all in '96). I played 3 weeks in kindergarten, I liked the skating, but not the shinny in practices.
So who am I to decide the Leafs Mt. Puckmore? (I'm not but I heard there were prizes)
I will admit I was a bandwagoner through elementary school (I'll admit my 4th grade photo was taken with a Habs shirt on....) and thought I'd like the Sharks in Jr High (they had an awesome logo). By the beginning of high school I figured I'd watch a few Sabers games, since I considered them more of a home town team to St. Catharines than the Leafs (they had a team store here and played a pre-season game in the Jack)
Once I started working nights at a pizza place in '00 we listened to every Leafs game on the radio and that was it. I read the Star & the Sun everyday there as well, so I was pretty much submersed in Leafs at work and it spread to home and took over I life once I move doubt on my own for college. I read the hockey news every week and played numerous seasons of NHL 94 on my SNES as I sat alone in my rented room.
From then on I have lived and breathed hockey. Doesn't matter the level, just being in an arena is enough for me. I've been at NHL, OHL, Jr A and Jr B games these past few years. I even started playing again after a 23 year hiatus (now I'll even go after the puck).
One thing I've picked up is that the most memorable people from a team aren't always the best players. You'll always remember the point getters, but the most important players on the ice are the ones who commit to the whole team. The players who give their all night in and night out, netting a hat trick, or going pointless.
The men I want to immortalize are the ones who gave the fans hope. The ones who gave the fans a great night out, whether it was at the arena, a bar, or a friend’s house. These are the men who may not have won championships or individual honours but will be remembered for their contributions on and off the ice forever.
They've been part of other organizations, but those times will be forgotten over time. These men will be Maple Leafs for life.
Some will be agreed upon by a large majority and others will be contested, but these are the four I will always associate with the Blue & White.
1 )Mats Sundin
981 games played as a Leaf. 987 points, most by any Maple Leaf. 420 goals. Most by any Maple Leaf. Most OT Goals (15), most Shorthanded Goals (23) Most Power Play Goals (124), Most Game Winners (79), Most complaints lodged about a player not waiving his NMC (1,000,000+).
Ignoring that last stat that I completely made up (maybe), Mats Sundin was one of the greatest players to ever pull on the sweater. He was the teams captain for 10 years. He lead the Leafs to 2 conference finals and 3 semi-finals (for a team in a 43 year cup drought, that’s pretty good)
Mats shortest season as Leaf was 70 games, when he suffered an eye injury in the first game back from the lockout.
His durability and abilities on the ice make him, in my mind, a cinch for a spot on that mountain in, let's say, Muskoka.
Here's where I may be showing my lack of knowledge.
Pat Quinn was called up in 1968 by the Maple Leafs as a defenseman. He took out Bobby Orr in the '69 playoffs, leading Bruins fans to hang effigies from the balcony the next game, and the skated off to Vancouver, then Atlanta, then retirement.
As the saying goes, those who can't get jobs at the CBC ranting about Europeans.
As the other saying goes, those who play for the Maple Leafs will eventually end up as a coach.
Pat Quinn came to Toronto after leaving the Canucks organization, lead the team to the conference finals, won the Jack Adams then became GM.
It was the Pat Quinn era that the Maple Leafs were consistent Cup contenders for the first time since the NHL expanded to 12 teams.
8 seasons, 6 playoff runs with 2 conference finals.
I will admit that Quinn may not have had the best long term plan (picks for vets obviously didn't work as well as he thought), but he got results, and results are what matter most.
10 points in one game and a passion for the team and the game that probably cost him a full career in the Blue and White.
Darryl Sittler had the good fortune of playing under Harold Ballard. He was named Captain 5 seasons into his career after Dave Keon left for the WHA. Sittler stood up for his players and the name Maple Leafs by standing up to Ballard on issues such as coach Roger Neilson (Neilson was fired, then rehired in the same season).
When Ballard brought back Punch Imlach things worsened. Sittler would fight with management for his team to the point where he was threatened with a trade. When Sittler invoked his NTC, his friend Lanny McDonald was traded instead. Sittler dropped the C from his sweater stating "that a captain had to be the go-between with players and management, and he no longer had any communication with management".
Some would say that refusing to be Captain in a difficult time was turning your back on the team for not getting your way, but to me it told the fans that the problems with the team were with those behind desks and not those on the ice.
Sittlers time with the Leafs organization was not the greatest, but he joined the team again as an ambassador and appears at many team functions, starting the great tradition of waiting for jerk owners to die before rejoining the team.
I'll end it on an easy note.
I never followed hockey during his prime years as a Leaf. I never got to see him exhibit the most passion a player could give live.
I knew of Wendel, everyone in range of Toronto media did without even trying. I remember others getting upset at his trade, hearing people talk at school, and at family gatherings, but never paid any mind.
Yes, he was oft-injured in his career, he hit his highest game mark in his 2nd season playing 80, but from what I've learned the amount of games he played didn't matter.
Wendel played a physical team first game, playing hard and fast, always making the game changing hit, always trying to make the Leafs the best team he could.
When he was traded, the fans were always upset, and when he returned, he was always welcomed back with open arms, despite his current level of play.
I'm not the greatest writer, and it shows. But those 4 people will always be the first in my mind when someone brings up the maple leafs.
Yes, none of them won a championship with Toronto. But that’s the Maple Leafs. Post expansion the team has never been the greatest, but there's always been that one person who will give the fans hope.
And that’s what made these players great, and worthy of a monument.
Unless we win the cup this year, then it's Phaneuf, Schenn, Burke, and Kessel.