Post details: The Toronto Maple Leafs - Are They Cursed?

03/30/07

Permalink 12:13:04 am, by Email , 735 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, Sports & Sports Entertainment

The Toronto Maple Leafs - Are They Cursed?

Bill Barilko

Sue and I were both born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1967...then a large city, and now a megalopolis.

This ('67) was also the last year the beloved Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup... the National Hockey League's championship.

This has been a very long drought for a team that is considered one of the premier squads in the league... not to mention, one of the wealthiest.

It wasn't the only time, however, that the Leafs have had poor luck... and some would say, one of those "bad times" was with cause.

In 1951, game five of the "best of seven" for the cup, Toronto defenceman, Bill Barilko tapped in an overtime goal taking the buds to their seventh championship. Barilko's number, on the back of his team's jersey, was #5... so five won five.

Barilko had a reputation as someone who was always smiling... a practical joker. He was beloved by his team mates... and respected by his by his opposing numbers.

The team Toronto was playing for the cup that year was the venerable Montreal Canadiens... their boss, Dick Irvin, loathed Bill. "I hate that Barilko so much," he once said. "I sure wish we had him with Canadiens."

Barilko was bone fide hero... born in Timmins, Ontario to Russian immigrant parents, he was the shining star of The Toronto Maple Leafs.

The same year he tapped in the winning goal, on August 26, he joined his dentist, Henry Hudson, on a flight aboard a small floatplane to take a fishing trip to Northern Quebec. On the return trip, the single-engine plane disappeared.

The owner of the Maple Leafs at the time, Conn Smythe, a well known "skinflint", did an unusual thing... he offered a $10,000.00 reward, "Dead of Alive" for Barilko.

To quote an article in "The Beaver", a Canadian history magazine,

He (Smythe) had been golfing when he heard that Barilko was missing. It had cut him like a knife. As the search proceeded he had spent time watching films of the Leafs' Cup triumph and told the press gathered at camp: "I can't get over the way that Barilko stood out." The young man from the north had been his "bounce boy," the unflagging spirit of the team.

Barilko, Hudson, and the plane stayed missing... and during the time, the Leafs failed to win a cup.

For over ten years, the men were missing... the team's progression was faltering... and tales of "ghost planes" trickled through the Northern parts of Ontario... the yellow single-engined floatplane... buzzing overhead before vanishing into the sky...

Was it Barilko and Hudson letting folks know they were still "out there"? Was it wild imaginations? Was it wishful thinking for a home town hero?

Either way, the Leaf's losing streak seemed to stay on a downward roll... and much of it was said to be the curse of Barilko.

Finally, in the 1961/1962 season, under coach Punch Imlach, the Toronto Maple Leafs started to turn things around... curse or no curse, they seemed to be a winning team... and in Spring 1962, The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated The Chicago Blackhawks and regained Lord Stanley's mug.

Not incidentally, just five weeks after this win, a pilot named Gary Fields from the Lands and Forests office in Cochrane, Ontario, thought he spotted something "glimmering" in the brush below him while en route to James Bay... upon investigation, the wreckage of the small aircraft lost over a decade before and two skeletal bodies were discovered. Barilko and Hudson had been found...

Since then, Barilko's "number" (5) and jersey have been retired from the Leafs... he is still said to be (by those who remember) the greatest team-mate and defenceman in the history of the sport.

...but did the practical joker play a roll in a decade of sliding games and disastrous seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs? Did his spirit fly-over the heads of unwitting witnesses from Sudbury to North Bay?

...and also, as mentioned, who's responsible for the drought that has lasted Sue's and my entire life?

Some might say Harold Ballard... long time owner of the buds...

...but is it?

Either way, the superstitious in the 1950's and early 1960's had to wonder... was the lack of a championship team the "curse" of Number 5?

...and does it help that the Toronto Maple Leafs now play at Air Canada Centre in Toronto... known locally to many as "The Hanger" in reference to it's aviation moniker?

Enditall

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