Allan "Snowshoes" Stanley was born in Timmins, Ontario, in 1926. He wasn't convinced he wanted to pursue hockey as a career while showing a strong presence with minor teams in Timmins. In 1943 the Timmins juvenile club won the All-Ontario finals, a showcase for professional teams looking for young talent. Sixteen-year-old Stanley was one of several members of the team invited to NHL training camps and made a trip to Boston, though he had no strong interest in leaving home and school to devote himself to hockey as far away as Beantown. During the camp he received an invitation to play for the Oshawa Generals, but when he told Boston's general manager Art Ross and coach Dit Clapper of the plan, they strenuously objected to his playing in the back yard of the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadian Hockey Association became involved and young Stanley was convinced to stay with the Bruins for an extended training camp. He was assigned to the Boston Olympics, a senior team in the Quebec Senior Hockey League.
He spent the better part of three years in Boston and was slowly rounding into a solid defensive presence. In 1946, after an earlier trade, Ross owed the Providence Reds a player and the decision came down to Bill Shill or Stanley. Shill's career would turn out to be a short one, and Stanley's was just beginning.
He played two seasons in Providence and his steady play came to the attention of Frank Boucher, general manager of the New York Rangers. Boucher gave the Reds $70,000 for the rights to Stanley, a large amount for an untried player, and there was a great deal of hype surrounding the young defenseman when he arrived in New York.
In 1953-54, after five full seasons with the Rangers, he was sent to the minors. Boucher, who acknowledged it was the fans' ire that led to the demotion and not his play, paid Stanley a full NHL salary while he was with the Vancouver Canucks of the Western League. Stanley returned to the Rangers the next season and played 12 games before being traded to the Chicago Black Hawks with Nick Mickoski and Richard Lamoureaux for Pete Conacher and Bill Gadsby, who would later please the Ranger faithful when he developed into one of the game's tougher stars.
Stanley played one full season with Chicago before he was sold to a familiar organization, the Boston Bruins. Lynn Patrick, Boston's manager, had coached the Rangers in 1950 to a Stanley Cup final and knew Stanley's value to a team. Stanley was one of the best defensemen on the team in his first year, 1956-57. With six games left in the season, however, he landed awkwardly after a check from the Toronto Maple Leafs' Gerry James and damaged his knee, ending his season and forcing him to miss Boston's run to the finals. Bruins coach Milt Schmidt said losing Stanley was the main reason his team fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the finals. The next season Stanley was voted the team's most valuable player when Boston returned to the championship series against the Canadiens, though once again the Montreal squad took the Stanley Cup. Before the 1958-59 season began, Stanley was once again on the move, this time to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Jim Morrison. The Bruins felt Stanley's legs were gone and his time in the league was limited.
Stanley would prove yet another franchise wrong when he became a fixture on the Leafs' championship teams in the 1960s. He was often teamed with Tim Horton, another big veteran who knew a lot about positional play, and was a large part of the league's, and perhaps history's, best defensive unit with Carl Brewer, Bobby Baun and Marcel Provonost. Stanley also used his veteran savvy in the offensive zone and was placed on the Leafs' powerplay because of his accurate passes. Beginning in 1960, rumours began to circulate about his retirement. That season Stanley was voted to the league's Second All-Star Team. The next season there were more rumours and once again Stanley was an alternate All-Star. He ended up playing 10 seasons in Toronto, finally living up to his last name when the Maple Leafs won the Cup in 1962, the first of his four Cup wins with the team. His final title came in 1967, and after one more season with Toronto, he moved to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1968. He finally retired in 1969 at the age of 43.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981 along with John Bucyk, another survivor of many NHL campaigns, and Stanley's former teammate in Toronto, Frank Mahovlich.