The legend of Bill Barilko is the one of the stories that always floats around the Maple Leafs. It's been featured in many books, was the inspiration for the "BB16" caps the Leafs sported in the playoffs in 2004 (back when they did that kind of thing regularly), and is captured in song by The Tragically Hip:
This song is where I first heard the story, and I’m sure many others did as well. Let’s flesh it out a bit more.
Bill Barilko joined the Maple Leafs system as soon as he could, being a lifelong fan of the team. He was first sent to the Hollywood Wolves team of the Pacific Coast Hockey League, but midway through the 46/47 season, at age 19, he was called up to the Maple Leafs and after showing the brass what he could do, and that was clear a path for his line mates, he never skated anywhere else but in the NHL.
Over his 299 NHL games (regular season & playoffs) Barilko scored 31 goals and added 41 assists on defense. He was known at the time as "Bashin'" Bill Barilko, his style of play the kind that left his opponents on the ice because he put them there and they needed it to help keep the swelling down.
He would appear in three straight NHL All-Star Games, in 1947,48,49, and win the Stanley Cup each of those years as well.
He's best known, however, for two things. The first is this overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the 1951 Stanley Cup final:
On paper, since Game Centre Live took away my vault access to old SCF games, this looked like a great series. Every game going to over time, and the LEafs defeated the Habs. What more could you ask for?
Well a goal as dramatic as that one is a great way to cap it off.
In this video Ken Dryden breaks down the goal:
Scoring the goal to win your childhood team their fourth cup in five years would be a great way to end a season, and after celebrating with the team and the city, Barilko headed north with a Henry Hudson for a fishing trip to northern Ontario, for some quiet time near the end of summer. They went to a place so remote they had to fly in Hudon's float plane to get there.
It may have been a successful trip, maybe not, but when the two got into the plan to head home something went wrong and the plane went down about 100 miles north of Cochrane, Ontario.
At the time it was a complete mystery what happened and where it happened. There were no satellites to sweep across taking easily available pictures. No GPS on the plane. Recuse crews were sent to fly over the area looking for the crash site but nothing concrete was found.
The summer would end and the team would get back on the ice, missing their star defense man, and playoff hero. Coming off five cups in seven years, the team had high expectations, but the following seasons weren’t world beaters. They made the playoffs in seven out of ten seasons following the last cup win, losing in the twice in the process.
On June 6, 1962 the crash site was found by helicopter pilot Ron Boyd . The site was 56km off course. The best cause we could decipher was inexperience, overloaded cargo, and poor weather.
In the fall of 2011 the wreckage of the plane was removed from the forest, and detailed in a Toronto Sun story.
Now, the story everyone knows, is that the Leafs won the cup after Barilko was found, however it’s an exaggeration for song purposes. The Leafs did win the cup that year, but did so with the final game against Chicago being play on April 22nd, 1962, about 6 weeks before the discovery.
And now you know the story.
Oh, and a "fifty mission cap" is a hat that was worn by US bomber pilots, achieving a certain look after missions, with the weight of the headphones crumpling the hat over time: