Well, the 2021 NHL season has begun, which means that it is time for me to get out my trusted Leafs jersey and start cheering. A couple of years back, I predicted that my Toronto Maple Leafs would hoist the Stanley Cup in 2022, so we have one more season to go. That’s me, the eternal optimist, which is what you have to be if you are going to cheer for the blue and white.
Growing up in Toronto, I became a Leafs fan at a young age. My Dad was a diehard fan as well, and many a night, we would sit around watching Hockey Night in Canada, cheering on our team. Luckily for my Dad, he had the opportunity to cheer for the Leafs during their heyday, when Stanley Cups were a common occurrence. In honour of my Dad, and for all of my fellow Leaf fans who continue to keep the faith, I thought I would take a look back at the players from our community that won the Stanley Cup while playing for Toronto.
The first time a team from Toronto won a Stanley Cup was in 1913-14. At that time, the team was known as the Blueshirts, and one of the players on the team was Jack Walker, who was born in Silver Mountain, just outside of Fort William.
When the NHL was formed in 1917-18, it comprised teams from Ontario and Quebec. Toronto’s entry into the league was owned by the Toronto Arena company and would eventually come to be known as the Arenas. One of the players on the team was Fort William, born Jack Adams. Out west, it was the Pacific Coast Hockey Association that was operating. Each spring, the champions of each league would challenge for the Stanley Cup.
Claiming the 1917-18 NHL title, the Arenas team faced off against the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, winning the Stanley Cup in the five-game series 3 games to 2.
The Arenas eventually folded due to financial difficulty, and in 1919-20 the Toronto St. Pats were born with Jack Adams playing for that team from 1922-26. The following season was a milestone for Leaf fans because, in February of 1927, Conn Smythe headed up a group of investors to purchase the team and, midway through the season, renamed them the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eventually, the green and white of the St. Pats became the blue and white of the Leafs and the rest, as they say, is history.
Another player with ties to our region and the Leafs and the Stanley Cup was Lorne Chabot, who served as the goaltender for the 1925 and 1926 Allan Cup-winning Port Arthur Seniors who was a standout between the pipes for the Leafs from 1928-34. It was during the 1931-32 season that Maple Leaf Gardens was built, opening after just five months of construction. Included in the new design was the famous gondola high above the ice from where Foster Hewitt began his Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts. Capping off that historic season was the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup by defeating the New York Rangers in three straight games.
The 1940s were considered the heyday of the Leafs, with the team winning five Stanley Cups throughout the decade. Four players from our community contributed to those titles, the first of which came in 1941-42. At the start of the season, a young Gaye Stewart from Fort William was playing junior hockey with the Toronto Marlboros, moving up to the senior squad and eventually to the AHL Hershey Bears from where he was called up to join the Maple Leafs for the Stanley Cup playoffs winning his first Cup at only 18 years of age. In his first full season as a Leaf, his 24 goals and 23 assists in 48 games saw him beat out Henri ‘Rocket’ Richard to earn the 1943 NHL Rookie of the Year title, becoming the first player from northwestern Ontario to win the Calder Trophy. Joining him on the Leaf’s line-up that season was fellow Fort William player Norman ‘Bud’ Poile.
The next season it was a young Gus Bodnar that made his debut with the Leafs, and what an impression he left. In his very first NHL game, he set a rookie mark for the fastest goal by a player in his first NHL game, scoring just 15 seconds into his first shift in a game against New York. It marked the start of a very successful season, and NHL career, with his 22 goals and 40 assists earning him the Calder Trophy as the 1943-44 NHL Rookie of the Year. The following season Pete Backor joined the Leaf line-up and, along with Bodnar, claimed the 1944-45 Stanley Cup title.
For the 1945-46 season, Stewart, Poile, and Bodnar were all back on the Gardens ice and would come to form the famous ‘Flying Forts’ line, going on to win the Stanley Cup in 1946-47 by defeating the Montreal Canadiens. In November of 1947, Smythe shocked the hockey world by trading the entire Flying Fort line, along with two other Toronto players, to Chicago so they could acquire Max Bentley.
The last player from the Lakehead to have his name emblazoned on the Stanley Cup as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs was Danny Lewicki. However, his name was engraved incorrectly as Lewiski. An outstanding young player, he had won a Memorial Cup with the 1947-48 Port Arthur West End Bruins, an Allan Cup with the 1949-50 Toronto Marlboros, and won the Stanley Cup with the 1950-51 Toronto Maple Leafs, all while still of junior age.
Of course, as we all know, and as all of my non-Leaf cheering friends like to remind me, the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup was in 1967. Port Arthur’s Bruce Gamble helped contribute to the success of the Leafs during the 1966-67 season, playing 23 games while sharing the goalie duties with Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk. He did not, however, play any games in the playoffs, and although he is listed on the official team roster for that season, his name was not engraved on the Stanley Cup.
Over the years, a number of other players from Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario have donned the famous Maple Leaf, although they have not had the chance to lift Lord Stanley’s mug. Hopefully, one day not only will some more of our local players get the chance to play for the Leafs, but maybe one of them will help lead the team back to their days of glory and bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto. Like I said, if you are a Leafs fan, you also have to be an optimist. Until next time keep that sports history and Leafs Nation pride alive.
Photo Caption: Fort William hockey product Gaye Stewart, shown here with NHL President Red Dutton, won two Stanley Cup’s with the Toronto Maple Leafs and claimed the 1943 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year.
Photo Caption: Danny Lewicki
Photo Caption: Bud Poile
Photo Caption: Jack Adams Arenas Card