Original Six recollections

August 19, 2022

To me, what will always stand out from being born in the early 1950s and being a National Hockey League fan from as early as I can remember are the indelible memories of so many players from the various teams of the Original Six.

The legendary era of the National Hockey League’s so-called Original Six, which spanned from 1942 to 1967, can aptly be referred to as the golden age of the NHL. At any rate, Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings were my preferred teams. I loved the Canadiens because they were my dad’s favourite team (and he didn’t give me much choice) but I also loved the Red Wings because my dad took me to my first NHL game at Olympia Stadium in Detroit in the early 1960s — and many more after that.

Terry Sawchuk

But while the Canadiens and Red Wings were my treasured teams, I also had favourite players on the other Original Six teams. Yes, I even had favourites who played for the despised Toronto Maple Leafs!

I can’t think of a player on Montreal or Detroit who I didn’t like during my Original Six hey day. I did, though, like some players more than others and at the top of my Canadiens hero list were goalie Jacques Plante, defensemen Jacques Laperriere and Serge Savard and forwards Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore, Yvan Cournoyer, Bobby Rousseau and, without question, Jean Beliveau. Later, when I became a radio sportscaster at CKCY in the Sault, I got to meet and interview Mr. Beliveau. Meanwhile, my favourite Red Wings were goalie Terry Sawchuk, defensemen Bill Gadsby and Marcel Pronovost and forwards Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe and Paul Henderson. Sawchuk, Pronovost and Henderson would all later play for Toronto, which was of particular annoyance to me, watching those three in Maple Leaf uniforms.

Frank Mahovlich

Notably, a favourite player was also Frank Mahovlich, a big left winger of Croatian descent who wore no. 27 and was a big goal scorer for first Toronto, then Detroit, then Montreal. I loved watching the ‘Big M’ swoop down the left wing and blast a slap shot over the shoulder of an over-matched goalie who ducked his head, while not wearing a face mask. (I still can’t believe teams only carried one goalie back then and no one wore a face mask until Jacques Plante donned one while playing for Montreal.) Mahovlich’s younger brother, Peter, was also a hulking left winger who was a big favourite of mine and played for both the Red Wings and Canadiens.

Other favourites on the other three teams? Forwards Chico Maki, Stan Mikita, Eric Nesterenko, Bobby Hull and Dennis Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks, forwards Johnny Bucyk and Dean Prentice of the Boston Bruins and goalie Eddie Giacomin, defenseman Harry Howell and forwards Camille Henry, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Dave Balon (who later played for Montreal) of the New York Rangers. And since I was usually the goalie when we played road hockey on first Maple Street, then Retta Street, there was not a single NHL goalie who I did not like, though the aforementioned Jacques Plante of Montreal and Terry Sawchuk of Detroit were my favourites.

Road hockey on Maple Street included the likes of Keith Lefave, Brent Tombari, Sam Cristello, Michael Cronin, Terry Miron, Michael Proulx and Jim Pastushak. Road hockey on Retta Street (and neighbouring streets) featured Guy Fournier, Glen Stortini, Yves Gauthier, Mike DiAngelo, Dave Nocioli and a thug by the name of Charly Murray.

It has been written that the NHL was an exclusive enterprise in those days. Just over 100 players had steady jobs, and it was hardest of all to make it to the NHL as a goalie – indeed, until the 1965-1966 season, teams carried only one.

At any rate, it was my least favourite team, the Maple Leafs, who prevailed in many of the pre expansion Stanley Cup playoff battles of the 1960s led by general manager and coach Punch Imlach and the likes of goalie Johnny Bower, defensemen Tim Horton, Bob Baun, Larry Hillman and Allan Stanley and forwards George Armstrong, Dick Duff (who later played for Montreal), Red Kelly, Bob Nevin, Davey Keon, Bob Pulford, Billy Harris and Ron Ellis.

The last Stanley Cup of the Original Six era was contested by the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. Chicago had run away with the regular season, winning its first league title. But Imlach’s aging Maple Leafs sidelined the Black Hawks in six semi final playoff games before doing the same to the Canadiens in the finals.

And when was the last time the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup? 1967! Ha!

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