Friday, December 23, 2011

The King and I

I was in attendance at the ACC with my father on Monday night to watch the Leafs take on the Kings. He had given me the tickets for my birthday, so I insisted he accompany me. As we walked to Union station after the game, he mentioned that every time we go to see a game together, the Leafs seem to lose, and while this was certainly true of recent times, we had seen our share of victories.

One victory immediately came to mind, and I reminded him of a 10-8 barn-burner we'd witnessed against the Chicago Blackhawks, way back when, in Maple Leaf Gardens. I had to do some research to find out more about the game, and stitched it together with my own youthful memories.

I was two months shy of my 8th birthday on October 15, 1983. It wasn't my first live NHL experience, but certainly my most memorable. Mike Palmateer and Tony Esposito were the starting goalies in what would end up being the final NHL season for both.

The Hawks iced a relatively skilled squad, led by Denis Savard. He was accompanied by Darryl Sutter, Doug Wilson, Bob Murray, brothers Steve and Jeff Larmer, and future Leaf Al Secord.

The Leafs countered with Captain Rick Vaive, in the third consecutive and final 50+ goal season of his career. Joining Vaive were linemates Bill Derlago and Dan Daoust, Borje Salming, John Anderson, Jim Korn, Walt Poddubny, Bob McGill and Garys Leeman and Nylund.

This game is notable historically, as it set records for fastest 3, 4 and 5 goals by two teams which still stand, during an 84 second span in the second period. Goals by Gaston Gingras and John Anderson served as bookends for a trio of Blackhawk scores, by Savard, Steve Larmer, and Savard again, completing his hat-trick.

Noted pugilist Al Secord likely left an impression on Harold Ballard that evening, taking on Bill Stewart and Jim Korn in separate bouts. John Anderson and Miroslav Frycer put two apiece past the ageing Esposito, securing the victory. In all, 6 Hawks and 8 Leafs registered goals that evening, including Vaive's 5th in 5 games.

That season saw the demise of Palmateer, the dawning of the brief Bester era, and the emergence of rookies Ken Wregget and Russ Courtnall. It's sincerely amazing how thoroughly Ballard and GM Gerry McNamara ruined that team with absolutely terrible roster management.

My father and I reminisced about the game; the shoddy defensive play, the lousy goaltending, the ever-present sense that a bench-clearing brawl was imminent. We sat behind the visitor's goal, up in the blues, and we barely sat due to the rapid-fire scoring. My father recalled smacking his knees off the railings incessantly.

He took me to my first game, at MLG, and has been with me at the majority of the games I have been at since. In fact, since I never played the game on ice, I was made keenly aware on that evening that my love of the game came from those visits to the Gardens, from watching him yell at the TV screen and from watching him play goal for his men's league teams. That passion for the sport led me into officiating and, eventually, into blogging.

Watching Reimer that evening brought out the keeper in my father, long lost to a very badly broken leg many years ago. He picked apart Reimer's ability to handle the puck, and became livid as he completely lost the puck behind the net, unable to find it for an eternity in goalie time. Reimer did eventually acquit himself, and by the end of the game we agreed that he was the reason we had gotten the undeserved charity point.

The Leafs were hemmed in their own end for much of the game by the Kings, and failed to convert on many quality scoring chances. They also performed poorly in the shootout, Kessel being the only one to put a breakaway shot on goal. Still, it was hard not to come away from the game feeling like a winner.

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