Maple Leafs’ Fans Continuing Love Affair with Felix Potvin

When my son Jim was a youngster, as a thing to do together we started to collect hockey cards. Because I taught at the University of Alberta and lived in Edmonton, it was a glorious time for that hobby. The Edmonton Oilers were in the midst of their dynasty, with Wayne Gretzky and the usual suspects – Mark Messier, Glenn Andersen, Jari Kurri, and others.

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Because of my work, I even came to meet defenseman Randy Gregg, who was also a medical doctor, and got my picture taken with the Stanley Cup. As I say, it was a glorious time. Although my son Jim (who writes the Rumors column for The Hockey Writers) sort of quit collecting hockey cards until his own son came “of age,” I never did.

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Almost 40 years later, I still sell hockey cards (and can’t help buying some as well – don’t tell my wife) and now, as I get older, I hope I can sell them all before I pass because I don’t want my wife’s last thought of me to be about the “mess” I left for her to clean up.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Fans Still Love Felix Potvin

If you buy and sell hockey cards for as long as I have, you start to learn what sells. There are teams and players who always sell – regardless of value of the cards. The Maple Leafs’ goalie Felix Potvin is one of them. His Rookie Card (RC), which is the first card printed of him from 1990-91 Upper Deck #458 in a Team Canada World Juniors’ uniform, always sells.

But his other cards in a Maple Leafs uniform through the early 1990s also sell. His later cards with the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Islanders, and his single season with the Boston Bruins (2003-04) sell. The fans loved Potvin, and that love hasn’t gone away.

In fact, former THW contribuor Shaun Filippelli told this past week that “Potvin is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Leafs and is why I wear #29 as a goalie myself.” Potvin had that impact.

Felix Potvin Came at a Time When the Maple Leafs Needed Some Success

Potvin was never one of the NHL’s best goalies’ statistics-wise, but the fans loved him. Part of that adoration was that, after Johnny Bower retired at the end of the 1969-70 season, the Maple Leafs went through a period of mostly forgettable goalies. When I looked up the list of Maple Leafs’ goalies, I didn’t remember that Jacques Plante played for the team for three seasons. Bernie Parent was even a backup goalie for a couple of seasons. Never knew.

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The goalie I recall best was Mike Palmateer, who played for the team for four seasons, from 1976-1980 (he was traded to the Washington Capitals in 1980, played there for two seasons, and came back to the team in 1982-1984). Then there was Allan Bester and Vincent Tremblay, and even Grant Fuhr played with Potvin for two seasons (1991-93).

But in general, the Maple Leafs goaltending wasn’t as strong during the 1970s and 1980s as it had been previously. By my count, during the decade of the 1980s the Maple Leafs played fifteen different goalies without many solid starters. Then came Potvin.

Felix “The Cat” Won Over a Generation of Maple Leafs’ Fans

Potvin was drafted during the second round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft (31st overall) by the Maple Leafs. His first game with the team came during the 1991-92 season and he became the starter during the 1992-93 season. During the 1991-92 80-game season, the team’s record was 30-43-7 (in those days there were ties). Thanks to Potvin in net, things changed.

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In his first season, he helped the team improve its record to 44-29-11 in 84 games. During that 1992–93 season, Potvin played 48 games, compiled a goals-against-average of 2.50, which was first in the NHL, and had a .910 save percentage. He finished third in the Calder Trophy voting in his rookie season – being beat out by Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau.

The truth is that Potvin was thrown in too quickly, given too much work, and didn’t have the strongest team in front of him during his seven seasons with the Maple Leafs. He didn’t win any trophies and his statistics weren’t amazing, but neither was the team’s defense. As a result, he regularly stood on his head to keep the team competitive, and those kind of games made Maple Leafs’ fans adore the young goalie.

Many Current Maple Leafs’ Fans Started with Potvin

Many current Maple Leafs’ fans, those who were first introduced to hockey during the 1990s, have a special place in their hearts for “The Cat.” After a long period of poor play Potvin was gold. From 1979-80 until 1992-93, the Maple Leafs didn’t have a winning season. Suddenly, with Potvin, long-suffering Maple Leafs’ fans had something to cheer for – a team that actually won games with a goalie who could help them win.

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The team was nowhere as good as it was during the Bower and Turk Broda eras, but it was so much better than it had been in seasons. During 1992-93 and 1993-94, Potvin helped his team get to the conference finals. They lost, but still.

Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender and 5 Time Stanley Cup Champion Walter “Turk” Broda.

Potvin wasn’t the best goalie in Maple Leafs’ history. But he was the goalie who helped them emerge from the darkness of losing season after season and suffering under the notorious Harold Ballard (who died in 1990). As a result, Potvin has become part of the cultural change of the Maple Leafs into a resurgent Maple Leafs team with a resurgent spirit.

Maple Leafs’ fans know that and love him for his part in that resurgence. He was amazing, quick like a “Cat.”