Charlie Conacher, along with linemates Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson, were the undisputed hockey gods during the 1930s. Fuelled by the popularity of radio, the Kid Line became superstars to radio listeners across Canada. Their scoring exploits only partly define their popularity during the Depression era, when fans had little other positive hope to cling to than the success of their hockey team. 'Gentleman' Joe Primeau, winner of the Lady Byng Trophy in 1932 for his play at centre finished top ten in scoring three times. Harvey Jackson, nicknamed 'Busher,' was the line's leftwinger. Considered 'matinee idol handsome,' Jackson lived as fast as his skating, a fact that Conn Smythe used to keep Busher out of the Hockey Hall of Fame for many years. Yet, Jackson finished top ten in scoring five times during that decade. And then there was Charlie Conacher. The rags to riches story resonated with legions of hockey fans across the country, themselves as poor as the Conacher family had been. The 'Big Bomber' played right wing and finished among the NHL's top ten scorers on five occasions as well. Charlie also led the NHL in goal scoring five times.
|Leafs' 'Kid' Line - Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson reunite for an NHL Old-Timers game. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The trio's popularity contributed to overflow crowds at Toronto's home rink, the Arena Gardens (most often referred to as the Mutual Street Arena). Seeing an opportunity despite the desperate economic times, Leafs' principal owner, Conn Smythe, decided to build a new arena. After much searching, Smythe secured property from the Eatons at Carlton and Church streets, and within five months, he and his partners, defying financial logic, had orchestrated the completed construction of the magnificent Maple Leaf Gardens.
On November 12, 1931, the arena opened and, in spite of Charlie Conacher scoring the first goal by a Maple Leaf in the building, Toronto lost 2-1 to Chicago's Black Hawks.
Fast forwarding to April 1932, and the Kid Line christened Maple Leaf Gardens with a Stanley Cup championship, the first for the Maple Leafs and the first for the arena.
|The Kid Line - Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau, and Busher Jackson. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Maple Leafs finished second in the NHL's Canadian Division at the completion of the regular season. In the quarter-final, the Leafs won a two-game total goal series over Chicago, outscoring the Hawks 6 to 2.
Next up, Toronto faced the Montreal Maroons, pitting Charlie Conacher against his brother, Lionel. Charlie's team emerged victorious, although just barely. Toronto tallied four times in the two-game series, while the Maroons had three, but it took an overtime goal by the Leafs' Bob Gracie to provide the difference.
The Stanley Cup final came down to Toronto facing the New York Rangers, who finished first in the American Division, But more importantly, Conn Smythe detested the Rangers. He had been hired as New York's inaugural general manager in 1926-27 but after assembling a sensational team, was dismissed in favour of Lester Patrick before that season was underway. Most of the roster hand-selected by Smythe for the Rangers was still starring for that team, which made him fume. Nothing would have made Smythe happier than to win the Stanley Cup in the first season of Maple Leaf Gardens by defeating the New York Rangers.
On April 5, 1932, the series opened at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Leafs were victorious in Game One, outscoring the Rangers by a 6-4 count. Busher Jackson scored three goals in the second period for Toronto.
Two days later, Toronto again defeated the Rangers in New York, this time by a definitive 6-2 score.
The series reverted to Toronto for Game Three. At the time, the Stanley Cup Final was a best-of-five affair, so the Leafs were like caged animals, ready to finish off the Rangers.
Andy Blair scored twice in the first period for the Leafs. Busher Jackson scored mid-way through the second, with assists going to Conacher and Primeau. Frank Boucher scored for the Rangers in the second, his first of three goals. In the third stanza, Frank Finnigan, Ace Bailey and Bob Gracie scored for Toronto to give the Leafs a 6-1 lead. Credit goes to the Rangers, who battled back with three goals in the final 90-seconds; one by Bill Cook and two from Frank Boucher. Nonetheless, the final score was 6-4, giving the Toronto Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup, their first!
Longtime fan Tom Gaston attended the game and recalled the celebration in his collaboration with Kevin Shea, 'A Fan For All Seasons.' "Nobody hoisted the Stanley Cup and skated around the arena like they do today. Frank Calder, the league president, presented the Cup to Hap Day, who was the Leafs' captain. Hap cradled the Cup but didn't hoist it. Everybody gathered around, and Dick Irvin (coach) and Connie Smythe were right there on the ice, too. Then, they all skated off to the dressing room to celebrate. Knowing the reputations of that gang, I'll bet it was quite the celebration!" He added, "Each of the players received a gold medallion – a lifetime pass to any event in Maple Leaf Gardens. The city arranged for a parade to celebrate Toronto's Stanley Cup win. The Maple Leaf players rode the length of the parade route on the back of a fire truck."
Charlie Conacher had a strong Final, scoring three times and assisting on two others in the three-game series against the Rangers. While certain they would win several more Stanley Cup championships, this victory in 1932 was the only one attained by this version of the Leafs, and the only one ever won by Charlie Conacher. Toronto faced the Rangers for the Stanley Cup again in 1933, but on that occasion, New York was victorious. In 1935, the Leafs again reached the Final, but that time, the Montreal Maroons defeated them for Stanley Cup-bragging rights. In the spring of 1936, the Maple Leafs again vied for the Stanley Cup, but were defeated in that Final by the Detroit Red Wings.
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.