"Toronto Maple Leafs will be shorthanded for their game here at the Forum tonight against the Canadiens, bringing only 11 players instead of the customary 14. 'If Tommy Gorman has any players available around Montreal for use tomorrow night on a lend-lease basis we'll take 'em', Frank Selke was quoted."
Dec 14, 1944 was the night and the Leafs would play with less skaters than my beer-league team usually does. Sure times were different back in the wartime era NHL as teams usually only dressed 14 skaters, far less than today...but 11 skaters, that's a tough one.
Leaf coach Hap Day would have two forward lines to work with, one of Ted Kennedy, Bob Davidson and Tom O'Neill and the other of Mel Hill, Nick Metz and Lorne Carr. Absent for the Montreal game were 19 year-old scoring star Gus Bodnar who was ill, Sweeney Schriner who was out with long-term injury, and Wally Stanowski who was in the process of returning from military duty. Youngsters, Ross Johnstone and Bill McCreedy were unavailable as they only played home games due to schooling commitments. I wonder if 43 year-old Hap Day had thoughts of suiting up, having last played a game over 6 years previous.
The following day the Canadian Press headline proclaimed, "Leafs surprise! Canadiens held to 2-2 draw". The Leafs were described as "playing for the breaks throughout, apparently well content with the tie they gained. They checked persistently at every turn, and rarely did the Canucks get a chance to really hit their top pace." I find it interesting that the CP writer refers to the Canadiens as 'the Canucks'. Obviously merely an anglacized version of 'les Canadiens' but something I don't believe I have seen before.
Toronto scored first on a goal from Mel Hill, before Maurice Richard tied it four minutes later. Elmer Lach and Bob Davidson traded goals in the second and their was no scoring in the third, "thanks largely to some great goal-tending in the clutches by Frankie McCool."
The tie left Toronto in second place, three points behind Montreal and one up on Detroit. Leafs would finish 1944/45 with a 24-22-4 record in third place, 15 points back of Detroit and 28 behind Montreal. However, they upset the Habs 4 games to 2 in the Semis before besting Detroit in 7 for the Cup.