Wayne Karl is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. With a specialty in sports and sports business, particularly hockey. Karl publishes Hockey Business Report, a newsletter for the hockey industry. His freelance credits include The Hockey News, The Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail and other publications.
(TORONTO) -- When I was a young, hockey loving lad growing up a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf fan, my first boyhood hero was Dave Keon. The way he skated, his dogged determination, how he dropped his stick level to the ice to try to pick off passes on the forecheck, his quiet leadership, that wicked backhand, his straight-blade stick, even the funny way he chewed his gum, you knew there was something special about number 14, the Leaf captain.
Then along came Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and others to admire, while Keon moved on elsewhere in the hockey world.
But you never forget your first hero.
Keon was mine.
That's why it's especially exciting to hear that Keon has accepted the Leafs' invitation to attend a celebration of the 1967 Stanley Cup winning team on Feb. 17. The team will be reunited and recognized in a pre-game ceremony when the Edmonton Oilers visit Air Canada Centre on that date, which also marks the 80th anniversary of the Leafs first game in 1927.
Several of the 1967 squad will be on hand for what is sure to be one of the most heartfelt, loudest, genuine and most memorable celebrations in years. It will be a chance to say hello, and thanks, to the likes of George Armstrong, Bobby Baun, Johnny Bower, Ron Ellis, Red Kelly, Keon, Jim Pappin, Eddie Shack, Allan Stanley and Mike Walton.
Of the names on that list, Keon's immediately jumps out.
After years - decades, in fact - of estrangement from his former team, Keon, it seems, has finally agreed to take part in an official team function. This, after years of turning down repeated attempts to reconcile with the club and even to honour his jersey number 14.
Keon's attendance should bring down the house on Feb. 17, as fans will finally be able to let out more than 30 years of pent-up affection for the man who left town under sorry circumstances in 1975, bitter over his treatment by former owner Harold Ballard. The former captain has remained estranged from the Leafs ever since, and was noticeably absent to provide the only real kink in an otherwise perfectly celebrated occasion when the Leafs moved from Maple Leaf Gardens to the ACC in 1999.
Welcoming Keon back into the Blue and White fold would not only be a fitting end to the awkward separation with one of the franchise's all-time greats, but perhaps in some way it could begin a full organizational heeling and rebuilding toward someday repeating that 1967 success.
While we're at it, the Leafs should immediately begin preparations to officially honoUr jersey number 14, and raise the Keon banner to the rafters with the same pageantry they did for Borje Salming, Red Kelly and the late Hap Day on Oct. 4 before the 2006-07 home opener against the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs should also try to enlist Keon in some official capacity, as they have done with other former captains and greats Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler.
A lot of years have passed since Keon's days with Toronto, and many of today's Leafs Nation know him, and only by name, as the guy current captain Mats Sundin recently passed for second place on the franchise's all-time scoring list.
But the stories live on, Keon's legend continues to grow, and he deserves his place in Leaf history.
There would be no better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Toronto's last Cup, and the 1967 team itself, than to reconnect with number 14 and to show him the love he didn't get back in 1975.
Wayne Karl is a freelance writer in Toronto. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org