(December 13, 2002) -- In a brilliant career that spanned 22 seasons and 1,446 games, it is near impossible to choose but one event that would serve as the pinnacle of a career. In the case of Tim Horton, we've chosen the 1967 Stanley Cup victory as the highlight of an outstanding career.
Few would have given the Toronto Maple Leafs much of a chance of winning the Stanley Cup in 1966-67. Although the team primarily iced the same lineup that earned three consecutive championships earlier in the decade, the players were that much older and battle-worn. The goaltending tandem of Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk was 42 and 37 respectively. The defense quartet was made up of 41-year old Allan Stanley, 37-year old Tim Horton, 36-year old Marcel Pronovost, and youngster Bob Baun, just 30. At forward, Red Kelly was about to celebrate his 40th birthday while George Armstrong was just shy of his 37th.
The team staggered through the long winter months, including a 10-game losing streak in February. But when Punch Imlach was hospitalized and the bench was handled by King Clancy, the Leafs went on a winning streak and was able to finish in third spot with 75 points. The Chicago Black Hawks finished first with 94 points, while the Canadiens slid into second with 77.
In the playoff semi-finals, the Leafs met the hotter than July-Black Hawks, but to the surprise of all, handled Hull, Mikita and Hall without a great deal of difficulty, taking the series in six games. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens knocked New York's Rangers out of the playoffs to set up an all-Canadian final between Toronto and Montreal.
Montreal had hoped; no - expected -- to win the Stanley Cup in 1967. After all, the city was at the centre of world scrutiny by hosting Expo 67 that summer. But Leaf coach Punch Imlach pushed his veteran-laden lineup to the extent of its capabilities, milking every ounce of effort out of his blue and white team. And his veterans stepped up for him. Possibly, they realized that with the arrival of expansion the following summer, many of them would be wearing different sweaters. One way or another, it was understood that this was the final hurrah of this Leaf dynasty.
The series was a seesaw affair, beginning with a Montreal victory in Game One, followed by Toronto victories in Games Two and Three. Montreal came back with a win in Game Four, but Toronto captured the Stanley Cup with victories in Games Five and Six. It was the eleventh Stanley Cup in Maple Leaf history, and possibly the sweetest since 1942's comeback from a three game to none deficit.
Tim Horton had a wonderful playoff, scoring 8 points through the two series. But where he was even more valuable was in his leadership. One veteran Leaf stated, "We let Punch (Imlach) talk to the media and run the bench because he was the master of both jobs, but to call him the coach of that team wasn't right. Guys like Tim Horton, George Armstrong and Red Kelly really called the shots on how we would try to handle the other teams."
Horton's widow, Lori, stated, "In many ways, that 1967 Cup was the most fun because it was so unexpected and seemed to have been won on sheer determination."
Kevin Shea is co-author of several hockey biographies. His most recent book is "Over The Boards - The Ron Ellis Story" (H.B. Fenn), released November 2002.