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.
Read the first part
of this column.
The following year, 1981, brought another interesting holiday week. A 6-4 home loss on December 30 to St. Louis included injuries to Borje Salming and Laurie Boschman which only added to an already long Leaf injury list. The battered Leafs headed to Detroit for a New Year's Eve game played with roster callups and underage draft choices.
The expected disaster didn't happen and Toronto beat the Wings, 5-2. Midnight struck on the flight back home, champagne toasts and jubilation for one of the rare times that season made the flight uncharacteristically pleasant. Reality soon returned in 1982 and the Leafs finished out of the playoffs and in 19th place overall.
| Doug Gilmour was acquired by the Leafs just after the on January 2, 1992. |
(Credit: Glenn Cratty/Allsport)
Ten years later brought another eventful holiday week in Leafland. It was Cliff Fletcher's first season with the Leafs after nearly two decades in the Flames organization. An inconsistent start to the season hit rock bottom with a 12-1 pasting by the Penguins on December 26. Fletcher termed it the most embarrassing game by a team he had been associated with.
That was my first year in a four-year run as Joe Bowen's partner on the Leaf radio broadcasts. After a 5-2 loss in Quebec a few days later, we sat in the dark on the tarmac in our charter plane while we waited out a two-hour delay for some maintenance problem to be dealt with before we could take off for Toronto. Joe and I quietly lamented the plight of the Leafs and found too many similarities to the bleak days of the 1980s. Finally landing in Toronto four hours later did little to curb our pessimism. What could Fletcher do to turn things around?
Two days later we got our answer. A blockbuster 10-player deal with the Calgary Flames was completed bringing five players, predominantly Doug Gilmour. The desired turnaround in the Leaf season was instantaneous the moment Gilmour and company donned their blue and white sweaters.
The next season led to the great playoff run by the Leafs in the spring of 1993. What fans are quick to forget is that season also saw much indifferent play by the Leafs for the early part of the season. At the Christmas break the Leafs were a sub-.500 team at 13-15-5 including losses to the expansion clubs in Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
Pat Burns was in his first season as Leaf coach and decided to shake things up a bit. After Boxing Day, Burns' tactics seemed to work as the Leafs went undefeated on a three-game road trip. The Leafs post-Boxing Day record was 31-13-6 and provided the momentum for that great playoff run.
Now, another decade later, the current edition of the Leafs has a time for positive reflections on a great start to the season with no hint of the type of slump that plagued them for the last several months of the 2000-01 season.
Lets hope for more of the same in the New Year and particularly in the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs!!