In 1942, I became a crazy Maple Leafs fan; and got nuttier as the seasons went by through the World War II years.
With each NHL campaign, I wanted more and more to visit the cathedral of hockey on the corner of Carlton and Church Streets in Leafs County.
Maple Leaf Gardens, that is.
Finally, it happened. In that same spring, I witnessed – both in person and from afar – what amounted to a hockey miracle. An NHL team won eight straight games en route to The Stanley Cup. It was the 1951-52 edition of the Detroit Red Wings.
The wrap-up story, as it appeared in Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail of Toronto, is shown here.
As for me the entire 1952 playoffs saga was like nothing I ever had experienced before; from the auto trip out of my native Brooklyn all the way to a different country, Canada. And to visit what would be my favorite hockey rink of all-time.
To see Maple Leaf Gardens in person, I needed tickets. That was accomplished via a T.O. ticket agency. The next challenge was transportation. That was provided by my roller hockey pal, Carl Glickman, who borrowed his brother Marty's brand, new Pontiac, a gleaming 1952 four-door sedan.
In addition to Carl, my other buddies in the car were Fred Meier, Jim Hernon and Bill Coggins who either played for the Woodside Whippets or Brooklyn Wizards. We drove off at 3 a.m. from Marcy Avenue, while my Williamsburg neighborhood still was asleep.
Our first destination was the city of Elmira, New York for breakfast and playoff results since the Detroit-Toronto series already had begun at Olympia Stadium.
It was dawn and we had no idea how Game Two of the playoffs – played the night we left – had turned out. Detroit already led the series 1-0 and at the Elmira diner we picked up the local paper and turned to Sports.
Egad! Detroit won again on a Johnny Wilson goal, 1-0. We were crushed, of course, but figured the Leafs would get even at home. After all, they were the defending Stanley Cup champions and had won four Cups in five years.
Late Friday afternoon we drove up to Toronto's Ford Hotel, unpacked and then went to see the hockey cathedral. The Gardens did not disappoint. It looked just like the arena I'd seen so often in photos but was even more impressive in person.
Since Game 3, the one for which we had tickets, was on Saturday night, we spent game day touring Toronto including the beach at Sunnyside – fish and chips for the first time – and Casa Loma where Glen Gray's dance band became famous.
We got to the rink early and sopped up the atmosphere while praying for a Toronto win. Too bad, it was not to be.
Detroit scored first and then Joe Klukay beat Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk, high to his left side which was supposed to be that netminder's weakness. With the 1-1 tie, we felt that there still was hope. But it didn't last long.
The Wings went ahead, 2-1, and just cruised to an easy victory. In fact, it was no contest by the third period.
Before heading back to New York, we hung out with a bunch of fans at the garage where the Leafs kept their cars. I actually managed to see my hero, Max Bentley, pull out, and and then stop to sign a few autographs through his open window.
I'm sure that I saw tears in his eyes. I wept as well. I knew Maxie's days as a Leaf were almost over. Also, my favorite team never had been the same without defenseman Bill Barilko.
"Bashin' Bill," as he was known, had scored Toronto's OT Cup-winning goal a year earlier. It was a glorious time to root for the Maple Leafs. And then, it happened; the crusher or all crushers.
Later in the summer of 1951, Barilko disappeared after flying with a friend on a fishing trip to Northern Ontario. At the time, in 1952, neither the plane nor Barilko and friend had been found. (The wreck would be discovered ten years later with the Leaf hero and his pilot friend still strapped in their seats.)
As expected, the Red Wings swept Toronto in four straight and then faced Montreal in the '52 Final Cup round. It was a breeze for the Motor City sextet – one, two, three and four – the Habs were out of it, Rocket Richard or no Rocket Richard.
The Globe and Mail headline said it all: WINGS WIN CUP IN RECORD SWEEP –DETROITERS CROWNED WORLD PUCK CHAMPS; KAYO CANADIENS, 3-0.
This time I relied on a United Press story for the details. In addition, there was a Globe column by sports editor Jim Vipond for further commentary.
"No doubt about Detroit Red Wings being the best team in hockey, anywhere," wrote Vipond. "This was Detroit's year from the outset. They moved to the front early and were never seriously threatened."
Nor should they have been threatened.
From goaltender Terry Sawchuk on to the Production Line of Sid Abel, Gordie Howe and Ted Linsday, this was the best team in the entire history of the Red Wings. The defense – headed by Red Kelly, Leo Reise, Jr., Marcel Pronovost and Bob Goldham – was equally well-balanced and adept at both ends of the ice.
But Detroit coach Tommy Ivan had more than that. His so-called lesser players starred, beating both Toronto and Montreal.
Jim Vipond: "Against the Leafs it was Alex Delvecchio, Metro Prystai and Johnny Wilson who did most of the scoring. Against Montreal, Glen Skov, Tony Leswick and Marty Pavelich had their innings with invaluable assistance from the other combos."
In the fourth – clinching – game against the Habs, it was Prystai who opened the scoring against Montreal goalie Gerry McNeil. Skov scored in the middle frame and Prystai added the clincher and Cup-winner late in the third.
"The Red Wing players dressed quickly," noted the United Press dispatch, "and left for a victory reception party to drink champagne from the Cup they won in their record-breaking sweep."
A Globe and Mail photo between Vipond's column and the United Press story depicted Sawchuk and captain Abel embracing Lord Stanley's storied mug.
Among the many Detroit stars, a new ace emerged. Georgetown, Ontario native, defenseman Bob Goldham, earned accolades for his work on the Motor City blue line.
"He provided the necessary defensive balance to set off a productive offensive," Vipond concluded. "He rated raves as the solid man all season."
Some historians have suggested that Goldham belongs in the Hockey Hall of Famer for many reasons. That includes the fact that he became one of the NHL's best puck-blockers of all-time. But Bob never obtained enough votes to get into the Shrine.
Nevertheless, that 1951-52 Detroit sextet had no shortage of raves from all NHL points, north, east, west and south for its unblemished playoff run.
United Press; "The Red Wings became the first team in playoff history to sweep eight straight games without a loss in Cup competition."
I'm proud to say that I was there – in person at Maple Leaf Gardens for one game – to see that marvelous collection of hockey players in action.
P.S. That said, some 70 years later, I still feed a bit of sadness when I think of my hero, Max Bentley, shedding a few tears in defeat.
So was a 20-year-old passionate Leafs fan from Brooklyn who's writing this right now!