Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Toronto Maple Leafs - 1961-67
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Toronto Maple Leafs - 1961-67

5 MARCH 2013
L - R : Maple Leafs Cesare Maniago, Bob Baun, Allan Stanley, Bob Pulford and Dick Duff celebrate following Game 6 of the 1962 Stanley Cup Final at the Chicago Stadium.
L - R : Maple Leafs Cesare Maniago, Bob Baun, Allan Stanley, Bob Pulford and Dick Duff celebrate following Game 6 of the 1962 Stanley Cup Final at the Chicago Stadium. (Photo by Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
After winning the Stanley Cup in 1951 on tragic hero Bill Barilko's overtime goal, the Toronto Maple Leafs went into a tailspin. Through the next several seasons, the team struggled. In the six-team National Hockey League, the Leafs missed the playoffs entirely in 1957-58 and 1958-59.

Changes were in order.

In August 1958, George 'Punch' Imlach was hired as assistant general manager. In fact, Imlach was the general manager without the title; a carrot held in front of him by team owner Stafford Smythe. By November 28, he had added the coaching reins to his portfolio, having relieved Billy Reay of his position.

Skates worn by George
Skates worn by George "Punch" Imlach during his first stint as the Toronto Maple Leafs bench boss from 1958-1969. Imlach led the club to four Stanley Cup championships, including three in a row from 1962-64.
The Maple Leafs had a fine core of young talent already on the roster and in the organization. Chief scout Bob Davidson was one of the finest judges of hockey talent in NHL history. His uncanny ability to secure much of the finest junior talent in the country was nothing short of incredible. With Stafford Smythe, Davidson established a feeder system that found talented players in their early teens and placed the boys within the Leafs organization, nurturing the best prospects so that they progressed upwards through a system that would eventually see them play Junior 'A' with the Toronto Marlboros and then turn professional, with a chance to play with the parent Maple Leafs. Among the Marlies who progressed through this system to the Leafs were Bob Baun, Carl Brewer, Billy Harris and Bob Pulford.

NHL President Clarence Campbell congratulates Maple Leaf captain George Armstrong at the conclusion of Game 7 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final at Maple Leaf Gardens.
NHL President Clarence Campbell congratulates Maple Leaf captain George Armstrong at the conclusion of Game 7 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final at Maple Leaf Gardens. (Photo by Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
But in addition, the Maple Leafs also had the rights to players on a junior team called the St. Michael's College Majors. Among the Majors that made their way to the Maple Leafs in the 1950s and 1960s were Dick Duff, Tim Horton, Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich. In fact, the Leafs had the most incredible scouting staff ever assembled...and it was free. "You had every priest in Canada keeping an eye on the best hockey players in his parish with thoughts of sending them to St. Michael's," stated Father William O'Brien, former archivist at the private boys' school.

The Marlboros and the Majors, both competing in the Ontario Hockey Association, were exceptionally strong. The Marlies, with squads that included several future Maple Leafs, captured the Memorial Cup in 1955, 1956 and 1964. The St. Michael's Majors won the junior championship in 1961, and then left the Ontario Hockey Association in a battle over length of schedule, long roadtrips hampering school studies and the aggressiveness exhibited in the league at that time.

Toronto Maple Leafs jersey worn by defenceman Al Arbour during the mid-1960's. Arbour would play 76 games for the Maple Leafs over parts of five seasons, but all were of a timely manner as he would be part of a Stanley Cup championship in 1962 and 1964.
Toronto Maple Leafs jersey worn by defenceman Al Arbour during the mid-1960's. Arbour would play 76 games for the Maple Leafs over parts of five seasons, but all were of a timely manner as he would be part of a Stanley Cup championship in 1962 and 1964.
While a terrific feeder system was locking up some of the finest young talent in Canada, once Punch Imlach joined the Maple Leafs, he infused the roster with reclamation projects that would prove to be invaluable to the club. He secured Gerry Ehman, Larry Regan and Allan Stanley, all players he knew from his time with the Bruins' organization. In addition, prior to the 1958-59 season, goaltender Johnny Bower was secured from the American Hockey League's Cleveland Barons, and Bert Olmstead was picked up from the Montreal Canadiens. "We had a really good mixture of young guys who had spent four of five years in the league and then, we had other guys who had been in the league ten or twelve years, so it was a good mixture and everybody contributed," explained Dave Keon. "We were all working to one end and that was to win the Cup. Everybody was happy to do anything that could be done to enhance our chances."

With a talent-laden roster and good team chemistry, Imlach discarded the highly defensive game that his predecessors in Toronto had established, and allowed the players more autonomy on the ice, as long as they played responsibly and within his rules. "Up until Imlach came along, they wanted everybody to be just up and down defensively," recalled Dick Duff. "To Punch's credit, he sensed that these young guys were gifted junior players and said, 'Let's not put the clamps on these guys. Let Mahovlich go with the puck. Let Keon go with the puck and let Duff do what he wants to do. Let them be artists out there.' He kept the game simple."

Dave Keon joined the Maple Leafs in 1960-61.
Dave Keon joined the Maple Leafs in 1960-61. (Photo by Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Maple Leafs finished fourth in 1958-59, sneaking into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. And then they went on a miraculous run, first eliminating the Bruins in the semi-final, and then facing the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. The Canadiens, who finished first and were 26 points better than Toronto during the regular season, persevered to win the Stanley Cup, but the dynasty was unfolding.

Once again, it was Toronto versus Montreal in the Cup final of 1959-60, but again, the Canadiens won. It was the fifth championship in a row for Montreal.

Punch Imlach shrewdly added Ed Litzenberger and Al Arbour, both Stanley Cup champions with Chicago the previous spring. Toronto finished second in 1960-61, just two points behind Montreal, but both teams were eliminated in the semi-final (Detroit defeated Toronto and Chicago surprised Montreal).

The Leafs earned a berth in the 1962 Stanley Cup final after defeating the New York Rangers in six games. Facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks, Toronto captured the Stanley Cup in Game 6, with Dick Duff scoring the Cup winner.

Frank Mahovlich in action here against Glenn Hall and the Chicago Black Hawks made his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1956-57.
Frank Mahovlich in action here against Glenn Hall and the Chicago Black Hawks made his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1956-57. (Photo by Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Leafs finished first overall the next season, dusted off the Canadiens in the semi-final and then met the Detroit Red Wings to see who would win the Stanley Cup. The series took just five games, as Toronto played near-perfect hockey. Eddie Shack scored the Cup-winning goal in a 3-1 final contest.

In 1963-64, Toronto was pushed to the limit all season. Imlach deduced that he needed scoring strength and traded Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and prospects to the Rangers, receiving Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney in return. The team finished third and met the first place Canadiens in the semi-final. It took seven very close games, but the Leafs emerged victorious. Once again, Detroit and Toronto met for the Stanley Cup that spring. And once again, it was Toronto presented with the Stanley Cup, but only after a gruelling series that went the limit and ended with a 4-0 shutout and Andy Bathgate's winning goal.

It took until 1967 for the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup again. By that time, the core of the team had aged and was nearing the end of outstanding careers. Goaltender Johnny Bower was 42, Allan Stanley was 41, Red Kelly was 39, Tim Horton and Terry Sawchuk were 37 and Marcel Pronovost was 36. Punch Imlach was hospitalized for several weeks in February and Frank Mahovlich also was hospitalized during the regular season. And yet, the Leafs surprised the hockey world (and no one more than the Montreal Canadiens) by nosing out Chicago in six semi-final contests and then taking Montreal to six games before collecting their fourth Stanley Cup of the decade.

Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower celebrate the Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup victory after Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup Final on May 2, 1967 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower celebrate the Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup victory after Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup Final on May 2, 1967 at Maple Leaf Gardens. (Photo by Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"To live with eighteen guys like that for ten years is an experience that one should have in a lifetime," said Bob Baun. "Very few people have that kind of emotional experience." Baun paralleled the experience to a battlefield. "It's like the old war movies where you have a bomber crew that lived through that whole experience. They bring tears to your eyes just talking about them; about one another. All I can say is that I love them all."

Dave Keon, one of the lynchpins of the dynasty, reflected on the dynasty. "We had very skilled personnel on the first three (Stanley Cup championships) that we won. Everyone worked well together and there was unity. We played for each other and won it as a team. And at that time, we probably had the best talent. In '67, our talent wasn't expected to carry us, but players came through in other ways and played very well. Our goaltenders played extremely well and everyone just picked it up from there. Everyone got the feeling that, 'yes, we could do it,' and once we got that feeling, we were very difficult to beat."

Pulford agreed that the 1967 Leaf team had something special. "There was a tremendous mixture of veterans and young players. You had Armstrong, Horton, Stanley, Kelly and Bower mixed with in with some pretty good young hockey players. It was the camaraderie that existed that made that championship team, not ability, but a bunch of guys coming together to play who really wanted it."

Punch Imlach must be given credit for the role he played in constructing and motivating the team, but there is a stirring debate about how much credit he should receive. Bob Pulford suggested, "A good coach doesn't win hockey games but a bad coach can lose hockey games. Imlach was obviously a good coach because he won with a good team. He was loyal. When he had the right mix of people, he knew how to get the most out of them. He was good at that."

George Armstrong holds the Stanley Cup for photographers at the conclusion of Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup Final at Maple Leaf Gardens.
George Armstrong holds the Stanley Cup for photographers at the conclusion of Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup Final at Maple Leaf Gardens. (Photo by Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Many have discussed whether the Maple Leafs might have won more championships during that era. Before his passing, Billy Harris recalled, "Bob Baun would kid Punch by saying, 'Okay, four Stanley Cups in the '60s, but if you had any knowledge about coaching, we should have won 10 or 11!' Baun said this in jest, but what is scary is, I don't think the Toronto fans ever saw Carl Brewer or Frank Mahovlich at their best. They were two of the most talented hockey players that ever played the game, but Punch never came close to getting the potential out of those two guys. They were two people who required a one-on-one relationship with the boss, but Punch treated the team as a regiment."

"Imlach was there for eleven years," commented the late Carl Brewer, who had been at odds with the coach through much of his tenure with the Leafs. "People said (Imlach) was great because he won four Stanley Cups in eleven years. A lot of us felt that he should have had eight."

Imlach himself believed that the Maple Leafs should have won more than four Stanley Cup championships during that decade. "We could have won in 1961," he claimed. "If we had gotten by Detroit, we would certainly have knocked Chicago out. What happened to us was injuries. Olmstead and Kelly were hurt and Bower got hurt."

The simple fact is that the Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967, have left an indelible legacy on fans; one that resonates all these decades later.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.