Canada's Hockey Experience

The Leafs’ own dynasty

The last time Leafs Nation got to see their team hoist the Stanley Cup was at the tail end of their very own dynasty.

Though Leafs were not strangers to successive titles, winning four in five years between 1947 and 1951, under the general management of Stafford Smythe new life was breathed into Leafs Nation.

Life for the Buds in the 1950s was far from cheery. Missing the playoffs three out of seven season and bowing out in the first round in the remaining four, a front office shuffle was due.

Smyth in front centre with 1931-32 championship team

Also, during the early organizing of the National Hockey League Players’ Association by Detroit Red Wings’ Ted Lindsay and Montreal Canadiens’ Doug Harvey in 1957, Toronto Maple Leafs players associated with the group, like Jimmy Thomson and Tod Sloan, were traded away from the team.

Missing the playoffs again in 1957–58, the Leafs, with the help of future Chicago Blackhawks coach Billy, set about convincing future legend Johnny Bower to leave his American Hockey League team Cleveland Barons.

Bower had turned down previous offers by both Toronto and Boston, but was finally picked up in the Intra-League Draft.

The goalie was reluctant to move, saying, “I really didn’t want to go.”

The next crucial Leafs acquisition was Bert Olmstead, who was released by Montreal Canadiens.

Finally, in August 1958, George “Punch” Imlach was hired as coach and later as Billy Reay’s replacement as manager.

Imlach’s first plan was to swipe Allan Stanley from Boston for Jim Morrison and cash. The move was aimed at stabilizing the Leafs’ defensive unit featuring Bob Baun, Carl Brewer, Tim Horton, Steve Kraftcheck, Noel Price and Marc Reaume.

During the final games of the 1958–59 regular season the Leafs fought hard to qualify for the playoffs, winning their final game 6–4 over Detroit. The Cinderella story would not end there as the boys in blue beat the Bruins in seven to meet the Habs in the finals. Though Toronto would lose in five, Imlach was unflappable.

Leading the charge for a second straight Stanley Cup final were Bob Pulford, George Armstrong, Dick Duff and Frank Mahovlich. During the season the Leafs acquired Red Kelly after talking him out of retirement.

After losing to Montreal again, this time in four straight, and then bowing out in the semis against Detroit Red Wings in 1960–61, the Leafs would finally claim their first of three consecutive Cups in 1961–62.

In the previous season Dave Keon was named rookie of the year and several Leafs records were broken, including most goals in a season by Mahovlich and most assists by Kelly.

With that as a sign of things to come the Leafs finished second in NHL standings and eliminated New York in six games making it to the Stanley Cup final for the third time in four years.

Fans’ hearts were filled with joy as Toronto beat Chicago Blackhawks in six games, breaking the curse of Bill Barilko.

Leafs captain George Armstrong shows his teammates Stanley Cup 1967.

In 1962–63 Toronto beat Detroit four games to one. Completing the three-peat in 1963–64, they beat Montreal in seven games. It should be noted in February 1964 Andy Bathgate and Don McKinney were acquired from New York Rangers in exchange for Duff, Bob Nevin, Arnie Brown, Rod Seiling and Bill Collins.

Winning four times in row however would not happen, as the Leafs would lose in the semi-finals two years in a row.

Finally, to claim the final title of their sixties dynasty — also their last Cup to date — they defeated rookie goalie Rogie Vachon and Montreal Canadiens four games to two.

Along for this final ride were Bower and Terry Sawchuk in net, Jim Pappin, Peter Stemkowski, Pulford, Mahovlich, Horton, Keon, Mike Walton, Brian Conacher, Kelly, George Armstrong (captain), rookie Ron Ellis, Larry Hillman, Stanley, Marcel Pronovost, Larry Jeffrey, Baun and Eddie Shack.

Names that would remain in the hearts of Leafs Nation for the decades to come.

Sponsored by The Canadian Experience and Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment, “Canada’s Hockey Experience: The Sport of a Country” is a unique, 20-week online series on the history of hockey.

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