Toronto Maple Leafs: Diary of a Dynasty, 1957–1967. By Kevin Shea with Paul Patskou, Roly Harris and Paul Bruno. (2010, Toronto: Firefly Books. Paperback. Pp. 480. $29.95. ISBN 978-1-5540-7636-9)
Now 45 years removed from the last Stanley Cup victory, the Toronto Maple Leafs struggle to approach the glory the team once had. The dynastic Leaf team of the 1960s has reached something of a mythic status. But those who weren’t around 50 or 60 years ago may not know that before the dynasty, the Leafs had fallen on some hard times.
Led by Syl Apps and Turk Broda, the Leafs were a dynasty in the 1940s, winning 6 Stanley Cups in the 10 springs from 1942 to 1951. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens ascended, and between 1952 and 1958, the Leafs could manage no better than 4 semi-final playoff exits. Something had to happen to turn things around.
Hockey historian Kevin Shea, along with colleague Paul Patskou and contributors Roly Harris and Paul Bruno, present what truly reads as a diary of Toronto’s resurgence beginning in 1957 and culminating in the last ‘Original Six’ Stanley Cup victory.
Change in Management
This is the story of how the Maple Leafs were transformed under George ‘Punch’ Imlach, hired in the summer of 1958 as an assistant general manager, but who quickly moved to assume both the general manager and head coaching duties. It’s the story of how the Leafs, who already employed George Armstrong and Tim Horton, began to add young players from the St. Michael’s Majors and the Toronto Marlboroughs to form a core group including Bob Baun, Bob Pulford and Dave Keon. And it’s the story of how Imlach added veterans like Bert Olmstead, Andy Bathgate and Terry Sawchuk to create a team that dominated a large part of the 1960s.
And the story is not without its lowlights. The friction between Imlach and some of his charges is documented. The struggle for some players to convince management they deserved to stay in Toronto rather than head back to Rochester of the American League. The trades and retirements and resentments of some of those who were moved to other cities. All is included here.
Like Reading a Diary
A well-thought-out, comprehensive history of the era, each chapter presents a season laid out in the same fashion. The player transactions of all 6 NHL teams are listed, with the Leafs’ moves last. Significant injuries or absences due to contract disputes are included. Then, a selection of key games from the season are summarized – some in more detail than others. Each provides a snapshot of the season – a win to break a losing streak; the return of an injured player; a standout performance by one of the call-ups. A chart of team scoring and goalie statistics for the regular season, game-by-game summaries of the Leafs through the playoffs, and then playoff statistics and overall summary follows.
But more than simply a fan’s observations, the historians who’ve put this book together have included interviews from many of the players of the time. As such, insider information and observation is included to present a very full picture of the team the Maple Leafs of the 1960s were. Players such as Pulford, Billy Harris and John Bower give their thoughts on their coach, teammates, and how Toronto was able to achieve the success it did.
A Detailed History
Each season is then followed by ‘Slapshots and Snapshots”, which provides insights into other aspects of of the Leafs, hockey and television of the era. Featured items include George’s Spaghetti House (which became an unofficial clubhouse for the team), and profiles on Ward Cornell and Murray Westgate, two men who may not be well known to the younger generation but were integral parts of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts.
At almost 500 pages, this is a fairly comprehensive account of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1957 to that (to date) final Stanley Cup victory. It goes well beyond the scoresheets, beyond the oft-repeated stories and puts the reader in the midst of what were truly the glory years.