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The Official Site of the Toronto Maple Leafs

A time to reflect, part I

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Gord Stellick

Gord Stellick is host of The Big Show, the popular afternoon radio program on the FAN 590. The former general manager of the Maple Leafs is also a hockey commentator on numerous local and national television shows.

It's not quite the halfway point of the NHL regular season but it does seem that the brief Christmas break can serve a two-fold purpose. One is the time to enjoy family and friends and reflect in a personal manner over Christmas. Professionally it is also an opportune time to look back and reflect on the first part of the NHL season and look ahead with optimism for the second portion.

The opportunity to enjoy Christmas to its fullest is not all that recent for NHL players. Christmas Day used to be a day with almost a full slate of action and if you didn't play Christmas day you were likely to see action on Christmas Eve.

The Leafs will play in Carolina on December 26.
The Leafs last played on December 25 in 1971, a 5-3 win at home over Detroit, and they last played on Christmas Eve in 1972, a 5-1 win in Chicago. One of my favourite childhood memories was an early Christmas present when I was nine years old, a gift to sit in the greys at Maple Leaf Gardens on Christmas Eve in 1966 as Johnny Bower and the Leafs shut out the Boston Bruins, 3-0.

After 1972, partly due to a few concessions given to NHL players after the formation of the World Hockey Association, games were no longer played on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Also, the week-long Christmas freeze on NHL transactions was a product of the 1992 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

There have been numerous eventful happenings for the Leafs around the holiday time. In 1979, general manager Punch Imlach swung two trades, most significantly on December 27 when popular Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville were dealt to the Colorado Rockies for Wilf Paiment and Pat Hickey.

The following year saw the Leafs embark on a five-game road trip after December 27. The club was in Edmonton on New Year's Eve but didn't play the Oilers until January 3. However Leaf coach Joe Crozier was very unhappy with the play of his team and scheduled a practice for 9:00 am New Year's Day. Crozier wasn't exactly winning a popularity contest with the players and a few of the veterans skipped the practice and took the $500 fine.

Crozier's tactics backfired as his disgruntled unit completed the road trip with losses in Edmonton, Calgary and Long Island. Their first game back at Maple Leaf Gardens was a humiliating 8-2 loss to the hapless Winnipeg Jets, one of only two road wins for the Jets that season, still an NHL record futility. The next day, Crozier was fired and replaced by Mike Nykoluk. ...CONTIUNED

Read the second part of this column.
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