The history of the Maple Leafs is as long and storied as any NHL franchise - and that means there are countless elements of the team that can be explored and honoured. Team president Brendan Shanahan recognized one of those moments from his pre-NHL days, when he was a young Leafs fan watching the franchise on his TV: it was Feb. 2, 1977 - Shanahan would've just turned eight years old - and then-Leafs star defenceman Ian Turnbull erupted for a five-goal performance in a 9-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens.
"I remember watching it on TV and thinking what an outstanding accomplishment it was," Shanahan told NHL.com Saturday. "To me, it's never really got its due."
Shanahan aimed to change that by awarding Turnbull with the J.P. Bickell Memorial Award Cup prior to Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (one of three teams Turnbull played for in a 10-year NHL career). The ceremony, which took place in the the Directors' Lounge at Scotiabank Arena, comes on the 42nd anniversary of Turnbull's accomplishment, which set the league's single-game record for goals by a defenceman. The record still stands to this day, an indication of just how special that night was for Turnbull and his team.
"It was one of those nights everything went well," Turnbull said. "It was an honour, and I was very happy to receive the award. Surprised and happy."
The Bickell Cup honours the memory of the late J.P. Bickell, who served as Maple Leaf Gardens' president, chairman and member of the Board of Directors from its inauguration in 1931 until 1951. Bickell's legacy isn't everyday discussion fodder for Leafs fans, but Shanahan did his homework and recognized Bickell helped keep the Toronto St. Pats in the city in the 1920s and was instrumental in the building of Maple Leaf Gardens - and Shanahan believes that's a legacy that deserved more recognition.
That can happen through the awarding of the Bickell Cup, which can be bestowed on special occasion by the board for a single tremendous feat, a season of spectacular play, or remarkable long-term service. And for Shanahan, the childhood memory of Turnbull's feat made him an easy choice to be the latest recipient.
"There are certain days on this job…where - forget about my title - I get to be a fan," Shanahan said. "I would say calling Dave Keon a few years ago (to retire his jersey) was one of them, and calling Ian Turnbull this year was another one…We do have so much history, and some of it gets forgotten… This was a good story of an owner that kept this team in Toronto, and might not get the appreciation that he deserves for keeping the team in Toronto when there was a possibility of the St. Pats leaving. And on the flipside, in reintroducing this award for the Maple Leafs, Ian was a guy I thought didn't get the credit that he deserved for the kind of Maple Leaf he was."
Turnbull's appearance in Toronto is rare: now a full-time Los Angeles resident, he's 65 years old and has made three trips back to Toronto in 30 years away from the game. The Montreal native appreciates the gesture made by Shanahan and the Leafs, and when you consider he produced 302 assists and 414 points in 580 regular-season games for the Leafs from 1973-81, it's entirely appropriate the franchise found a way to tip its hat to a key member of the organization.
"It's been a great little trip here," Turnbull said.