Good rather than lucky
"Every time I laced them up I loved it. You play for the love of the game and to win the Stanley Cup, but it doesn't always happen that way."
-- Five-time All-Star Murray Oliver finished in the scoring Top 10 three times, but never played in a Stanley Cup Final.
To exemplify the courage of hockey players and their relentless commitment to winning the Stanley Cup, several writers this year will recount Bobby Baun's heroics in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals. Baun was hurt when he blocked a Gordie Howe shot, went to the dressing room for painkillers and bandaging, returned and scored the winning goal in overtime to prevent his team from being eliminated. Two nights later, Baun helped the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
For every winner there's a loser in sports and there were 20 disappointed Detroit Red Wings not so thrilled by Baun's heroics.
"We led the series, 3-2, returned to Detroit and held leads in that game of 2-0 and 3-1," recalled Hockey Hall of Fame center Norm Ullman. "They scored a couple of lucky goals to tie it and Baun scored another fluky goal in overtime (it deflected off Bill Gadsby's stick past Terry Sawchuk). I guess it wasn't meant to be, but we had it right there in our hands."
Ullman is one of the greatest NHL players never to win a Stanley Cup, but the 11-time All-Star played in five Finals series. He joined the Red Wings in 1955, three months after they won their third Stanley Cup in four years and fourth in six years. After 13 years, Ullman was traded to the Maple Leafs, the season after Toronto won its fourth Stanley Cup in six years.
A lot of players get more desperate as their careers progress, but Ullman saw all his Stanley Cup Finals action in the first half of his career. A victory seemed increasingly remote with the Maple Leafs of the 1970s.
"As time went on I didn't think of winning the Stanley Cup too much," he said. "Toronto didn't have too good a team, but I should have won a couple in Detroit. We beat Montreal in the first two games of the 1966 Finals and were leading in Game 3 when Henri Richard slid about 15 or 20 feet into our net with the puck. They went on to win that game and sweep the rest of the series. We played the Blackhawks five times in six years in the early 1960s and they were always favored. We won three of the first four times we played them in the first round. They beat us in 1961 in the one time we met in the Finals."
Ullman and Henri Richard, the leader with 11 Stanley Cup victories, started their junior careers in 1951.
"They didn't have a draft then, you belonged to the NHL team that sponsored your junior team," Ullman said. "Had I played for Montreal-sponsored teams and he Detroit's, the roles might have been reversed."
Ullman led the Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals once, assists once and total points twice while with Detroit.
"You'd think if you were the leading scorer in the Playoffs, you'd win the Cup," Ullman mused. "I guess three or four times I had good Playoffs. I had two hat tricks in one series, which tied Doug Bentley until Jari Kurri got three hat tricks in a series against Chicago. I set a record when I got two goals in five seconds against Chicago and goalie Glenn Hall."
Oliver joined the Red Wings in 1959 and was traded in 1961 to a bad Boston Bruins team that he led in goals once, assists three times and scoring twice. Like Ullman, he was traded to the 1968 defending champion Maple Leafs. He thought his chance had arrived, but Toronto finished out of the Playoffs in two of the next three years.
"They won the year before and had basically the same team," recalled Oliver, a longtime Maple Leafs scout. "Unfortunately, anything can happen in hockey and it did."
Oliver was traded to the Minnesota North Stars in 1970 and played his final five seasons there. He was a big factor in the North Stars' trip to the 1971 semifinals, registering seven goals and four assists in 12 games.
Everyone remembers Ken Dryden and the Montreal Canadiens beating the defending champion Bruins in the opening round of the 1971 Playoffs and Tony Esposito and the Chicago Blackhawks in the Finals but the middle round has faded from legend. It shouldn't.
"That year, we became the first expansion team to beat the Canadiens in a Stanley Cup game," he said. "We split games in Montreal and Minneapolis. They won Game 5 and were leading Game 6, 3-2, when it appeared Ted Hampson scored for us just before time ran out. Referee Bill Friday called it no goal right away and it turned out he was right. We didn't think he was right for a long time, but he was.
"It was so much fun to play against them and we were on a roll," Oliver continued. "You never know what can happen in overtime and in a seventh game, anything can happen. Sure, everybody would like to win the Stanley Cup but a lot of good players have played in the League and not won it. It's not a knock against your career. It's just the way things go. Every time I laced them up I loved it. You play for the love of the game and to win the Stanley Cup but it doesn't always happen that way."