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From the Archives: A Curious Trio of Opposites

Stan Fischler looks back at a hockey photo that has stuck with him for over 70 years, and just how different the careers were for everyone involved.
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Every so often a hockey photo appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail that -- superficially, at least -- seemed innocuous. Yet, upon further review actually had an interesting story behind it. This one is a perfect example.

I speak first hand, having subscribed to The Globe since 1946 to get my fill of Maple Leafs stories for my scrapbook at my Brooklyn home. This photo, taken at Maple Leaf Gardens during the 1949-50 season, features three thoroughly diverse but most interesting hockey players.

For starters, know that the home team -- white-jerseyed Leafs -- already had won an unprecedented three consecutive Stanley Cups and were aiming for an even more amazing fourth. At the time no other NHL team ever had won three titles in a row and thus Toronto owned the term "Dynasty."

The cornerstone of all those Cup teams was the pictured goaltender Walter (Turk Broda) who, ironically, was beaten by a left corner shot delivered from the stick of Montreal forward Grant (Knobby) Warwick. Looking on (at the right) and arriving too late was Leafs defenseman Frank Mathers.

Now here's why each character is interesting in his own fascinating way. The Canadiens scorer, Warwick, had a totally mediocre season that year. He played only 26 games, scoring a paltry two goals for Montreal-- this was one of them -- and six assists. You could call him a total bust.

But that's not how his NHL career began. A Junior hockey sensation in Regina, Warwick was promoted to the New York Rangers for the 1941-42 campaign and proved an instant sensation. Over 44 NHL games, he scored 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points, helping the Rangers to first place. To cap his superior season, Grant -- nicknamed "Knobby," -- was awarded the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Grant remained a Rangers offensive staple until midway in the 1947-48 season during which he was traded to the Boston Bruins. From that point on his big-league career went downhill until the Habs dropped him not long after this photo was taken.

Yet Knobby still had plenty of hockey in him and made headlines again helping the Penticton V's to an upset victory over a heavily-favored Soviet sextet in international play. He finally hung up his skates in 1958, 17 years after joining the Rangers.

By contrast, Mathers endured a bitter-sweet career. Considered one of the Leafs brightest prospects, Frank seemed un-enthused about becoming a Toronto star -- which explains why this is a rare photo of him in action as a Leaf -- and wound up in the American Hockey League. He ultimately hooked on with the AHL Hershey Bears and almost single-handedly turned the Chocolate Town Team into a powerhouse. He later graduated to the front office and did a similarly spectacular job. For his works, the once-reluctant Leaf not only won The Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in the United States but also was inducted into the Builders Section of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As for the goalie -- Broda looked unusually careless on this goal -- Turk has been acclaimed by many critics as the best clutch puck-stopper in NHL history. In addition to pacing the Maple Leafs to three consecutive Stanley Cups, he also goaled for Conn Smythe's 1942 Champs as well as the 1951 Cup titlists. A five-Cup man, Broda was an easy entrant into the Hall of Fame.

P.S. The twin disappointments for me -- as a keen Toronto fan that season -- was that Detroit eventually defeated the Leafs in a seven-game semi-final en route to the Stanley Cup. No less painful that 1949-50 season was the fact that I already had nurtured extremely high hopes for Mathers as an NHL star. He sure had a terrific build-up, yet for this 18-year-old Leaf fan, his quick exit was a huge letdown.

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