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From the Archives: America's Sport Magazine Loves the Leafs

During the 1940s, North America's most famous sports magazine was a monthly publication simply called Sport. Today, Stan Fischler looks back at a piece from the great Foster Hewitt chronicling the Leafs' young talent.
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I speak firsthand when I say that there was nothing better than being a Leafs fan in the Winter of 1947-48. And I say that even though I did my rooting long distance from Brooklyn, and not Toronto.

For starters, my favorite hockey team was the defending Stanley Cup champs.

We had beaten Montreal in the spring of 1947. It was a major upset and now, a year later, the boys in Royal Blue and White were even better.

Boss Conn Smythe had added future Hall of Fame Center Max Bentley in a trade with Chicago, sending forwards Gus Bodnar, Gaye Stewart and Bud Poile to the Windy City along with defensemen Bob Goldham and Ernie Dickens.

Which was all well and good with me, but what appealed so much more was Smythe's second unit which had played so well in the two 1947 Cup rounds. It was called "The Second Kid Line" because the Original trio -- Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson -- had won a Cup in 1932 as the Original Kid Line.

But the updated one was just as good, if not better. It featured Ted (Teeder) Kennedy at center, between the crew-cut kid, Howie Meeker on the right side and bushy-haired Vic Lynn working the left. If simply one word could describe their playing style it was gumption.

At the time, North America's most famous sports magazine was a monthly publication simply called Sport. Fortunately, it recognized the NHL as a major factor and would feature a big, colorful hockey story in season.

But the particular issue shown here that highlights the Second Kid Line was extra special on two counts. 1. Sport's profiles almost always were limited to individual players but this time, an entire forward line got center stage; 2. The author was not merely a hockey beat man from Toronto, it was Foster Hewitt, the dean of all shinny broadcasters and one of the most significant NHL personalities of the century.

Hewitt, once a Toronto Star journalist himself, wrote about The Kid Line as he would, announcing, "HE SHOOTS! HE SCORES!!" Foster emitted a certain kind of love that those close to a group of athletes could. In fact, Hewitt began broadcasting hockey 'way back in the 1920's. In this case, Foster was the right guy, writing about the right team at the right time.

Sport magazine's editors splashed a headline -- HOCKEY'S TRICKY TRIO -- across the top. And right above Hewitt's byline was a subhead that essentially told you all about the Second Kid Line:

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THEY MAY NOT BE THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS YET, BUT THE THREE KIDS WHO PLAY UP FRONT FOR THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS ARE GETTING THERE FAST. THEY'VE GOT IT ALL -- PLUS YOUTH.

Of course that intro just whet my literary appetite for more. I soon learned that Kennedy originally was Montreal Canadiens property but came to Toronto in a trade for defenseman Frankie Eddolls.

Vic Lynn was a power forward who I had actually seen playing at old Madison Square Garden when he skated for the Rangers farm team, the New York Rovers. Lynn later was dropped by both the Blueshirts and Red Wings. But Vic impressed at the Leafs training camp in the fall of 1946 and so did Meeker, who previously had served in the Canadian Army.

In Jack Batten's superb book, "The Leafs In Autumn," Meeker recalled how The Kid Line succeeded almost instantly at training camp after coach Hap Day had been toying with an assortment of attacking units.

Meeker: "Hap Day put us on the ice on that first day of practice. Kennedy wasn't a skater, didn't have the legs, but he was very competitive and a heck of a puck handler. With him you had to have two guys who could skate. If anybody could make the two of us into something, it was Kennedy.

"Lynn was a good hockey player. He was always looking for a fight. Vic'd cut you from ear to ear if he had half a chance. But boy oh boy, he could skate. Me? I could skate and I could check but I couldn't pass. It worked for us as long as Kennedy had the sense to get up ahead of the play and cross the line ahead of Vic and me.

"With Kennedy firing the puck to us young scooters, we could pop away at the net. He was a great passer. He kept Lynn and me in the league."

In time, the trio would play on three consecutive Stanley Cup-winners -- 1946-47, 1947-48 and 1948-49, -- helping develop the NHL's first dynasty. It was evident to Leafs fans such as myself that Meeker and Lynn possessed the most pzzazz on an already pulsating lineup.

"They were both fast skaters," wrote Hewitt, "and good shots and as full of rollicking dash as pups and each was a born fighter."

As a trio, they throbbed with excitement and this was conveyed by three color photos in that special issue of Sport magazine, as well as a black-and-white action shot of them celebrating a goal against Montreal.

On any given night The Kid Line could inspire the rest of the Leafs with their vim, vigor, vitality and fighting spirit. "The tougher it got -- and that is the key -- the better the guys played," Meeker explained.

I eventually clipped out the Sport magazine story and pasted it in my scrapbook. Miraculously it has remained in its original form where it somehow stayed intact for 75 years. And, guess what; every time I take a look at it, I get the same goose pimples of joy that I did when -- for the very first time -- I turned to that page 18 of Sport magazine.

Take my word for it, even. long, long ago, in faraway Brooklyn, it was great to be a Leafs -- and Kid Line -- fan!

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