In the spring of 1966, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Allan Stanley suffered a season-ending knee injury. Stanley was 40 years old, had won three Stanley Cup championships and written himself into the history books of four of the Original Six NHL franchises. Billed throughout his career as a plodding, purposeful player, "Snowshoes" had grown even more labored with age. In short, the injury was clearly of the career-ending variety.
"Stanley was the best left defenseman in the business," coach Punch Imlach said at the time, with a touch of nostalgia.
"Nobody can be called indispensable in a team game. But if there was one guy we couldn't afford to lose, it was Stanley," added longtime defense partner Tim Horton, as if Stanley had already announced his retirement.
But he hadn't. In a career spent defying odds and ignoring naysayers, Stanley had one more comeback up his sleeve. The Hall of Fame defenseman returned in 1966-67 to provide a vital, calming dimension to the "Over the Hill Gang" in Toronto as they skated to their fourth Stanley Cup title in six seasons.
Stanley died Friday. He was 87.