Former Maple Leafs player, 1951 Stanley Cup champion Danny Lewicki dies at 87

Danny Lewicki, a former Toronto Maple Leaf who won the Stanley Cup in 1951, has died at age 87.

Lewicki won the Stanley Cup with the Leafs but also fought for his release from the team years later

Danny Lewicki played for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1950 to 1954. (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Danny Lewicki, a former Toronto Maple Leaf who won the Stanley Cup in 1951 and who was known for being "ready to stick up for the underdog," has died at age 87.

Lewicki was among the last surviving members of the '51 team, according to the franchise, and the only player to have won hockey's three major championships as a junior-age player — the Memorial Cup, the Allan Cup, emblematic of senior amateur supremacy in Canada, and the Stanley Cup.

"The thing that really stood out about Danny was his unwavering commitment to, first and foremost, love and doing what is right," his great nephew James Lewicki told CBC Toronto.

Lewicki died in hospital in the early hours of Tuesday with his wife Shirley at his side. Family members say he died of complications from stomach cancer. He had been living in Mississauga. 

Current Leafs head coach Mike Babcock​ began his news conference Tuesday by offering condolences to Lewicki's family.

"When you're an Original Six team you've got a long legacy and you like to over time learn about the history of your team. And all those cup winners, we like to learn how it happened," said Babcock.

Grew up in northern Ontario

Lewicki was born on March 12, 1931 in Fort William, Ont. — now Thunder Bay. He was the son of Ukrainian immigrants and one of eight children.

His mother disapproved of hockey, but Lewicki would skip school to skate and hide his hockey equipment under the porch, family members say.

Danny Lewicki had four children, and was described as a jovial, genuine man. (Submitted by Gary Lewicki)

"Danny had great stories," said James Lewicki. "He'd be changing into his hockey equipment in minus 50 degree weather under the porch, just to keep it from his mother."

His mom's opposition notwithstanding, Lewicki would eventually play left wing in the NHL for nine seasons, spanning three teams. He debuted with the Maple Leafs in 1950-51 season, went to the New York Rangers in 1954-55, and ended his NHL run with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1958-59.

Lewicki played 461 games and scored 105 goals during his NHL career, according to the league. He is referred to as a "consistent scorer" on the Hockey Hall of Fame website.

"Although he weighed only 148 lbs., the tenacious forward drove hard to the net and didn't back down against enemy checkers," his page says.

'Always ready to stick up for the underdog'

Family members remember Lewicki as a jovial, caring man and a storyteller who made friends easily.

James Lewicki says his great-uncle was "always ready to stick up for the underdog," like when he gave his hockey stick to a referee to protect himself from threatening fans when he missed a call.

But he also was well known for sticking up for himself. He came into conflict with Leafs owner Conn Smythe when he was pushed to play through a groin injury during the Stanley Cup final, his nephew Gary Lewicki said.

Lewicki also got into the owner's bad books by marrying his first wife without asking Smythe for permission, Gary Lewicki said. He was pushed down to the minors, but would keep doing well and coming back up.

And he ran afoul of Smythe over the "C-form" he signed with the Leafs when he was 16, Lewicki said.

That document effectively gave Toronto sole rights to his services for his entire pro career, there being no such thing in those days as free agency. Lewicki didn't know what he was signing at the time, but later took legal action, his family said.

Lewicki spent most of his later seasons with the Leafs in the minor leagues, before winning his legal case and moving to the New York Rangers, Gary Lewicki said.

Bill Barilko of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores the overtime game winning goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1951. (Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Lewicki was proud of pushing back against the C-form and setting a precedent for other players, said James Lewicki. He also said that getting married and putting "everything on the line for love" was a defining moment of his great uncle's life.

Remaining friends with former players

James Lewicki said his great uncle often talked about his hockey career, and was involved with the Leafs alumni association until his death.​ He would go to events and monthly lunches with former NHLers, and remained friends with many ex-players — although he outlived many of them.

Into his 80s, Gary Lewicki said his great uncle would occasionally strap on his skates and do "the odd pirouette​," as he called it, on the frozen swimming pool in his backyard.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said Danny Lewicki was the last surviving member of the '51 team. In fact, Howie Meeker is the sole surviving member.
    Sep 26, 2018 10:44 AM ET