Remembering a fallen Leaf
In a week when MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke upset Leafs fans and alumni with comments about phasing out the focus on the Leafs’ past individual and team successes, one such individual deserves mention: Hall of Fame defenceman Allan Stanley, who died this past weekend at the age of 87.
A Leaf from 1958-68, Stanley linked with legend Tim Horton to form one of the premier defensive units of the era, helping lead the Leafs to four Stanley Cups over seven years, and earning seven all-star appearances
Stanley played a vital role in securing what remains the last Cup in Leafs’ history, the 1967 title. With the Toronto holding a 2-1 lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the final minutes of Game 6 at Maple Leaf Gardens, and with the face-off in their own zone, Leafs coach Punch Imlach turned to his most senior players for what proved to their last hurrah. Over the boards came Red Kelly, George Armstrong, Bob Pulford, Tim Horton and Stanley, joining goaltender Johnny Bower on the ice.
Despite being a defenceman, Stanley was tasked with taking the faceoff against legendary Habs centre Jean Beliveau. Daunted by the task, Stanley opted to slap at the puck and bull his way into the surprised Beliveau. It worked, the Leafs cleared the zone and George Armstrong put the puck into a empty Montreal net to lock-up a 3-1 win and clinch the Cup.
For Leafs fans everywhere, Stanley will be missed.
Swedes conquering NHL bluelines
With Niklas Lidstrom retired from the NHL and awaiting induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, there might not be a Swedish-born defenceman of the same quality, but there is no shortage of quality Swedish defencemen in the NHL.
The player most likely to have an impact comparable to Lidstrom is 23-year-old Erik Karlsson of Ottawa followed closely by 22-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson of Phoenix. Now add 19-year-old Hampus Lindholm to that up-and-coming-prospects list, as Bruce Boudreau has used him more on Anaheim’s blue line, and toss in 20-year-old Jonas Brodin in Minnesota to complete the quartet of quality young defencemen.
And it goes deeper: While the jury is still out on 20-year-old Adam Larsson, who has been ordinary to date in New Jersey, the vote is certainly favourable when it comes to veteran Swedes 28-year-old Tobias Enstrom of Winnipeg and the steady Chicago duo of Johnny Oduya (32) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (26). Complete the picture with another veteran — Lidstrom’s former Red Wing teammate Niklas Kronwall (32)—and suddenly Team Sweden possesses arguably the best defence corps heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Goalies getting good karma
The old adage that good things happen to good people holds true for the three goaltenders owning the NHL’s best goals-against averages (as of Wednesday).
J.S. Giguere (0.67 GAA) is the classy veteran, a Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion who has found a role with the Colorado Avalanche, providing excellent goaltending on the ice and being a mentor to Semyon Varlamov off it. Josh Harding (0.96 GAA) has been an inspiration for all those afflicted with multiple sclerosis after being diagnosed with the disease in 2012; these days he’s also inspiring a Minnesota Wild team that has struggled to score goals of their own. Finally, Ben Scrivens (1.22 GAA) has quietly thrived in Jonathan Bernier’s former role as backup to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles. Leafs People in Toronto often forget the exceptional clutch goaltending Scrivens provided to help the Leafs reach the playoffs for a first time in almost a decade last spring.