Sunday, November 18, 2012

This Day in 1980's Leaf History; Nov. 18, 1981

Sick of waiting for the asses of the NHL and PA to solve their seemingly minscule differences, I'm going to delve into a topic near and dear to my heart...the Toronto Maple Leafs of the 1980's. Why this time period? The Leafs of the 80's were awful. They never had more than 71 points in a season and won only two playoff series. But, this was my childhood and for some reason I still loved them. In lieu of looking at current NHL hockey, let's look at this day in 1980's Leaf history; a decade of crap.

Wedsneday, November 18, 1981. Toronto rolls into the Hartford Civic Centre with a record of 5-9-3, last place in the Norris Division. The Leafs had however just beaten the Philadelphia Flyers at Maple Leaf Gardens by the score of 4-0 in their previous outing. The Whale was faring even worse than the Blue and White as they languished in the basement of the Adams Division at 2-8-7, a full 10 points behind fourth place Quebec. Despite their record, Toronto had surrendered only 3 more goals than they had scored to this point in the campaign, perhaps they were better than they had been showing.

Hartford sported a roster of ex-WHA stars Blaine Stoughton, Mark Howe, Paul Shmyr, John Garrett and ex-Leaf Dave Keon. Keon was in his final professional season and at 41 had a respectable 7 points in 17 games to that point. To this mix, the Whalers had just added 18 year-old Ron Francis.

On this day Francis was playing in his second ever NHL match after being recalled from junior Sault Ste. Marie where he put up 48 points in 25 games. The 4th overall draft pick from just a few months earlier would soon show he belonged, starting with this very game against Toronto.

Leafs Vincent Tremblay squared off in net against John Garrett and Toronto jumped out 1-0 on Borje Salming's seventh goal of the young season five minutes in. A minute later, Keon evened the score before Ron Francis collected his first ever NHL point with an assist on Doug Sulliman's tally. Then Hartford exploded in the second.

Sulliman and Garry Howatt beat Tremblay seven seconds apart less then two minutes into the period (Francis collecting another helper), then Ronnie 'Franchise' picked up his first ever goal two minutes later. Before seven minutes had elapsed in the middle frame Blaine Stougton scored his 13th to make it 6-1 Hartford. After two it stood 7-4 for the Whalers and Tremblay was yanked for the third. Teams traded a goal each in the third as 'Bunny' Larocque stopped 4 of the 5 shots directed his way. Francis ended up with a goal and two assists, Keon a goal and an assist and Doug Sulliman had four points.

Somehow, Toronto would play exactly .500 hockey from this point until the middle of January at which point Harold Ballard unloaded Darryl Sittler to the Flyers. They stumbled to a 5-24-4 record the rest of the season and 16 points out of a playoff berth. The Whalers would actually finish with 60 points, four more than the Leafs and Francis ended up a fantastic rookie year with 68 points in 59 games. Another day, another season in a Leaf decade of crap...again, my childhood.

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