50 years: remembering the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs and the golden age of northern Ontario hockey
Players credit northern hockey hotbed to cold winters and fear of working underground
When you scroll through the roster of the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs — the team that, 50 years ago, won the franchise's last Stanley Cup — it reads a lot more like the Northern Ontario Maple Leafs.
Captain George Armstrong from Skead, superstar forward Frank Mahovlich from Schumacher, Allan Stanley from Timmins, Larry Hillman from Kirkland Lake, Eddie Shack from Sudbury, Jim Pappin from Copper Cliff, Bruce Gamble from Thunder Bay and Tim Horton, who is claimed by both Cochrane and Sudbury.
Even players who didn't learn the game on the schoolyard rinks and frozen ponds of the north have some connection, with Mike Walton born in Kirkland Lake, Wayne Carleton born in Sudbury and Kent Douglas originally hailing from Cobalt.
But the Leafs of 1967 don't remember anyone ever talking about how northern the team was.
"Oh, I don't know. I never thought of it that way," said Pappin, now 77.
"No I don't think so, because I think there were guys from northern Ontario on every hockey team," said Mahovlich.
Mahovlich, the hall-of-fame forward known as 'The Big M' who later became a Canadian Senator, said it was about ice.
"That's where all the ice was in those days," he said. "They didn't have rinks in every town and city they have today."
That allowed northern Ontario kids to get extra skating time in in the fall and spring on outdoor rinks, plus state-of-the-art indoor arenas built by mining companies in towns like Copper Cliff and Schumacher to entertain their workers.
Larry Hillman, whose two brothers also played in the National Hockey League, said there was another reason they and about a dozen other boys from Kirkland Lake became hockey players.
"Did you want to go work in the gold mines and go down underneath ground or play hockey?" said Hillman, now 80, and back living in the north, in the Haileybury area.
"It was fun and you got paid for it ... it was just the simple mathematics."
Hillman, like many of the Leafs from that 1967 squad, left Toronto on bad terms. His departure was over a contract dispute the following year, when he sat out over $500 extra dollars a season.
But he was the only ex-Leaf to put a curse on his former team, that some, including Hillman himself, believe might be responsible for the championship drought.
While it was clear the team was breaking up in 1967, after a great run of four Stanley Cups in seven years, no one imagined it would be 50 years and counting until the next championship parade.
"Any time you play on those good teams you always feel you're going to win," said Pappin.
But long-time Sudbury city councillor — and long suffering Leafs fan — Ron Dupuis is confident the next cup is a few years away.
His childhood was actually the reverse of the famous story The Hockey Sweater.
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