Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for NHL.com. Fischler, known as “The Hockey Maven,” shares his humor and insight with readers each Wednesday.
This week, Stan looks at a few of the NHL’s forgotten heroes, players who played key roles in their teams’ success but have largely been lost to history.
Backup goalie launches Maple Leafs dynasty — The Toronto Maple Leafs’ second dynasty, with Punch Imlach behind the bench, began in 1961-62 and ended in 1966-67 with four Stanley Cup championships in six seasons.
Imlach’s title-winning teams featured two future Hockey Hall of Fame goalies, Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower. But there was an almost-forgotten third goalie who played a key role: Don Simmons. Nicknamed “Dippy” because of his penchant for bending in search of loose pucks, Simmons is the forgotten hero of Toronto’s 1962 championship, the first of three in a row.
Bower was in goal when the Maple Leafs won the first two games of the 1962 Stanley Cup Final against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in Toronto, and when they lost Game 3 at Chicago Stadium. Bower started Game 4 but was injured in the first period after giving up a goal. Simmons relieved him and completed the series-tying 4-1 loss. Word soon emerged that Bower was likely done for the series, but Imlach didn’t panic.
“I see no reason why Simmons can’t handle the goaltending assignment,” he insisted. “He’ll be better when we return to Maple Leaf Gardens. He’ll know ahead of time that he’s on deck and won’t be brought in cold.” As Imlach predicted, Simmons was equal to the occasion, winning 8-4 to put the Maple Leafs ahead 3-2 in the best-of-7 series.
The biggest game of Simmons’ career came at Chicago Stadium on April 22. For two scoreless periods and almost nine minutes into the third, Simmons and Chicago’s Glenn Hall went save for save. Chicago went ahead 1-0 at 8:56 when Bobby Hull scored, but Toronto’s Bob Nevin tied the game less than two minutes later, and a power-play goal by Dick Duff at 14:14 put Toronto ahead 2-1.
Then it was up to Simmons to hold the lead, and he did. The victory gave Toronto its first Stanley Cup championship since 1951.
Simmons remained with the Maple Leafs for three more seasons but never played another postseason game for Toronto. He was traded to the New York Rangers in 1965 and finished his career as the backup to another future Hall of Famer, Ed Giacomin, going 4-10 with four ties in three seasons before retiring. It was a far cry from those heroic moments in 1962, but the Maple Leafs’ 1960s dynasty wouldn’t have happened without Simmons.
Becoming an off-Broadway hit — The Rangers made news in 1948 when they sent three players and cash to Providence of the American Hockey League for defenseman Allan Stanley. “Blueshirts Get $70,000 Defenseman” was one of the headlines.
Rangers publicist Stan Saplin took responsibility for the price tag. “I asked (general manager-coach) Frank Boucher to put a dollar value on every player we gave up,” Saplin remembered. “It came to $35,000, so I just doubled the figure and gave it to the papers.”
$70,000 was a fortune in those days, so New York hockey fans expected a spectacular performer. But that’s not what they got. “Stanley was one of the great unspectacular players in NHL history,” historian Andrew Podnieks wrote in his 2003 book “Players: The Ultimate A-Z Guide of Everyone Who Has Ever Played in the NHL.” Stanley “was a superb defenseman who rarely looked superb.”
New York fans began calling him “Sonja,” after famed figure skater and movie star Sonja Henie. Stanley brushed off the insults and excelled for the Rangers in the 1950 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Rangers upset the Montreal Canadiens in the Semifinals and took the Red Wings to double overtime in Game 7 of the Final before losing. “Stanley was our best defenseman,” Saplin said, “but the fans just didn’t get it.”
The anti-Stanley jeers at Madison Square Garden became so intense that Boucher eventually played him only in road games, and sent him to the minor leagues briefly before trading him to Chicago on Nov. 23, 1954. He was traded to the Boston Bruins before the start of the 1956-57 season and was sent to Toronto two years later. Stanley soon became as popular in Toronto as he’d been unpopular in New York. His unspectacular but effective play helped the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup four times in a span of six seasons from 1961-62 through 1966-67.
By that time, most New York fans had forgotten the defenseman they had so vehemently reviled. But not all. After one game at the Garden, Stanley walked out of the arena and strolled along 49th Street. A local fan noticed Stanley and ran up to him. “Allan,” the fan asked, “why didn’t you play that way — so good — for the Rangers?” Stanley calmly replied, “But I did; but I did.”
No room for Cup hero — It looked like the Maple Leafs’ championship hopes were all but gone when they lost the first three games of the 1942 Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings. Instead, they rallied with three straight wins, setting up Game 7 at Maple Leaf Gardens on April 18, 1942.
The crowd of 16,218, the largest to see a game in Canada at the time, hoped one of Toronto’s stars such as captain Syl Apps or sharpshooters Sweeney Schriner and Lorne Carr would deliver big goals. Schriner did score at 7:47 of the third period to tie the game 1-1. But the Cup-winner was scored by unheralded forward Pete Langelle, whose 10 goals in 1941-42 were an NHL career high. Langelle scored at 9:48 to put Toronto ahead 2-1. Schriner’s insurance goal capped the 3-1 win that completed what is still the most remarkable comeback in the history of the Stanley Cup Final.
It was also Langelle’s last NHL game. He enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II, and when he returned there was no room on the Maple Leafs’ roster. He played professionally until 1953-54, but never saw action again for a NHL team.
Goat to hero to ‘lost in the shuffle’ — After the Red Wings’ loss to the Maple Leafs in the 1942 Cup Final, goalie Johnny Mowers was regarded by many in Detroit as the goat. “Part of the reason Detroit lost,” Ken Campbell wrote decades later in The Hockey News, “was that Mowers gave up 19 goals in the final four games. A humiliation like that might have felled a lesser man.”
But Mowers needed just one year to go from goat to hero. Not only did he win the Vezina Trophy after the Red Wings allowed the fewest goals in the League in 1942-43, he outplayed future Hall of Famer Turk Broda to help Detroit defeat Toronto in six games in the Semifinals. He followed that by getting the better of another future Hall of Famer, Frank Brimsek, in the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins. Mowers allowed five goals in a four-game sweep, had shutouts in Games 3 and 4 and finished with a 1.94 goals-against average in 10 playoff games.
However, Mowers soon became a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and was stationed in England. He played goal for an RCAF team, and his club won the Overseas Championship in 1944. But losing three seasons to the military effectively ended his NHL career; he played all of seven games in 1946-47, losing his job to Harry Lumley. As historian Bob Duff put it, “Mowers got lost in the shuffle.” Mowers remains a forgotten hero of Detroit sports.
Underdog Bruins upset Red Wings — The Bruins were given almost no chance when they faced the defending champion Red Wings in the 1953 Stanley Cup Semifinals. The Red Wings had finished first in 1952-53 with 90 points; Boston was third, 21 point behind them. “To say we were underdogs,” Bruins coach Lynn Patrick said, “would have been an understatement.”
Game 1 went just as expected, with the Red Wings winning 7-0. But the Bruins rebounded with a 5-3 win in Game 2, as unheralded goalie Jim Henry outplayed Sawchuk. Henry did the same thing in Game 3 at Boston Garden, and Boston won 2-1 when Jack McIntyre, a forward who had scored seven goals in 70 games during the regular season, beat Sawchuk at 12:29 of OT. The stunned-to-the-core defending champions never recovered.
McIntyre scored two goals in Game 4, a 6-2 win that gave Boston a 3-1 lead in the series. Detroit won 6-4 at Olympia Stadium in Game 5, but Henry was superb again in Game 6 and the Bruins closed out the series at home with a 4-2 win.
Neither Henry nor McIntyre lasted much longer with the Bruins. Henry was gone by the midway point of the 1954-55 season. McIntyre was sold to the Blackhawks on Jan. 20, 1954, and played in the NHL until 1960 but had just two more playoff goals — one less than he scored when he and Henry helped the Bruins pull off one of the biggest upsets in NHL history.