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Lots Of Blue And White Good Guys

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Rickard Wallin played 60 games as a Maple Leaf a season ago and currently wears the C for Team Sweden at the World Championships.

I am convinced that while his 21 points with Farjestads was nice enough, Wallin is the captain because a country famous for turning out nice guys has produced the nicest of them all.

If nice meant goals, they would have given Wallin the Rocket Richard Trophy every year. Alas, while the Rocket’s fiery temper made him a constant threat, it also made him surly, uncommunicative and prone to stormy weather. You take the good with the bad.

You read it here first: being a good guy does not make you a great player, just ask the ever-obliging Patrick Marleau. That said, personality does enter the mix. When the Leafs contemplate bringing back the oft-injured J.S. Giguere, the car rides to the rink and conversations on the road in which he mentored James Reimer will be weighed into the equation.

If you’re talented, being a good guy has no impact on your standing. If you are a middle of the pack player, it helps. If you are lousy, nothing will.

Wallin was one of the few hockey players who remembered your name. Hell, he remembered your wife’s name. His teammates loved him. They called him Wally.

Wally loved being a Maple Leaf and remembered an earlier stint in the NHL as a puck hog with great regret. When he got a second opportunity, Wally viewed every day as the chance to be the player he should have been. He spent his 60 games here playing the most diligent defence he could muster. In the end, he was a passable defender but two goals, one into an empty net, didn’t cut it.

Hockey is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Imagine a workplace with 50 per cent turnover a year. And most of the time, you remember a guy not by his goals or assists but by his demeanour and attitude. Invariably, the bad long outlives the good.  “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” Shakespeare wrote that. You can look it up.

Here is a list of Maple Leaf good guys broken down by category. I tried to include the actions and impressions of players when they were away from the camera. Ed Belfour and Mats Sundin said about the same thing, but they were described by their teammates in radically different terms. Draw no conclusions if some familiar names aren’t on the list. The need to limit each category to just a few names was paramount.

Good-guy captains: Mats Sundin carried himself with extraordinary grace and humility. Great person. Syl Apps was the clean-living model for all Maple Leaf captains to follow. Ted Kennedy was one of the most honest, upright people you could meet. Doug Gilmour was a model captain and an intensely sensitive person whose private altruism will never be brought before the public eye.

Good guy coaches: My friend Steve Milton once said there are two types of people: those who get the cosmic joke and those who do not. Pat Quinn, wry, Irish, and a bon vivant always got it. His garish ties, groundbreaking techniques and the use of his dog Mike as a frequent practice foil masked the fact that Roger Neilson was a brilliant iconoclast and a rare character. He was a visionary interested more in other people as his own ideas.  Paul Maurice was widely respected and possessed a wicked sense of humour.

Good guy Hall of Famers: Red Kelly eschewed alcohol and profanity and instead became his own man as a player and coach of the Leafs. He was and remains one of the game’s premier gentlemen. George Armstrong was a lousy coach because he didn’t think there was much to tell a hockey player. His refusal to pimp for publicity and outrageous sense of humour get him on the list. Few players are as loved by their contemporaries as The Chief. Mike Gartner was devout, humble and principled. Beneath Lanny McDonald’s mustache lived a true son of the prairie. He is decent, hardworking and loyal. Dick Duff is a plain-talking old time hockey guy who looks every questioner in the eye and is attentive to anyone who asks for a moment of his time. Booed wildly in his final days with the Leafs, Larry Murphy never lashed back at his critics and his private generosity was unparalleled.

Good guy gunners: Steve Thomas was beloved by teammates for his courage and decency.   Ron Ellis courageously spoke of his bouts with depression and epitomized gentlemanly, competitive play.  Kirk Muller easy nature and genuinely respectful attitude endeared him to fans, teammates and media. Wendel Clark’s understated self-respect, obvious courage and reckless game made him one of the most beloved of all Maple Leafs.

Good guy defenders:
Sylvain Lefebvre had a temperament every bit as grounded as his game. Jim McKenny’s self-effacing nature spoke to a gentled soul. Dallas Eakins brought a refreshing, straightforward and confident demeanour to the rink.

Good guys from away: Igor Korolev was a dedicated pro who held a position of esteem inside his team. Same for the compassionate, charmingly demented scrap heap that was Dmitry Yushkevich.  Borje Salming might have been the best Leaf ever but his regal countenance never seemed to slip into vanity. Those who knew him loved the gap between Alexander Mogilny’s confusing public persona and the brilliant, compassionate person he was behind closed doors. He refused to buy the reasoning that hockey was life and death. It was, to Mogilny, a wondrous way to make a living. Had his name been Alex Smith, no one would have doubted his commitment but he carried that slight with dignity.  Jonas Frogren, a scowling presence on the ice was cultured, puckish, and soft-spoken away from the rink.

Good guy playmakers: Start with Alyn McCauley, an unfailingly polite and kind player whose countenance never changed as a player or person. The late Peter Zezel never stopped viewing himself as the luckiest ever kid from Toronto.  Joe Nieuwendyk was as memorable for his classy demeanour as for his Hall of Fame calibre career.  Wayne Primeau had time for everyone and spoke with a heartfelt honesty about everything.

Current good guys: It takes three or four visits with James Reimer to suspend your disbelief and see he is actually as devout and gentle as he seems. Colby Armstrong is a stolid, kind, Western kid. Same thing with Luke Schenn, Clarke MacArthur and Keith Aulie.

Good guy goalies:
At the top of any list you will find the sweet Johnny Bower, everyone’s proxy grandfather.  Felix Potvin showed a remarkable calm even when Curtis Joseph, another solid-gold personality was imported to take his job.  Andrew Raycroft had a cocky side but he was immensely intelligent and well-grounded.

Finally, all those who belong on the list but are without category:  Luca Cereda, Kris King, John Pohl, Karel Pilar, Michael Peca, Mike Van Ryn, Jim Thomson, Tomas Kaberle, Tim Horton, Bob McGill, Scott Clemmensen, Derek King, John Mitchell and Christian Hanson.
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