In 1935, Conn Smythe headed to Hamilton to scout a McMaster football player, named Syl Apps. So impressed with his athletic ability on the field, Smythe offered him a contract to play for the Leafs. Apps initially turned down the offer so he could compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Apps would finish sixth in the pole vault and that fall, he joined the Leafs, taking Joe Primeau’s spot, centering the Kid Line between Charlie Conacher and Busher Jackson. He was named the NHL’s first Rookie of the Year.
Four years later, Apps was named Captain and the following season, he would face his greatest challenge wearing the C. In the 42 Cup, the Leafs fell behind Detroit three games to none and Apps had yet to record a point. History was about to be made as the Leafs would win the next four, to complete, what still remains, the greatest comeback in NHL history. In those four games Apps would record seven points and go onto to finish the post season as the Leafs top scorer.
Apps, a lady Byng winner, was always the gentleman. During the 42/43 season, he was injured and unable to play. Earning a $6,000 salary, he wrote a cheque to Conn Smythe for $1,000, telling him “I’m making more than I deserve”. Smythe refused the cheque.
Following that season Apps did what any great leader of the day would have done. He hung up his skates and joined the Army, with most of his teammates following suit.
Following World War II, Apps returned as Captain and had a chance to lead the Leafs to another Stanley Cup, this time over the Canadiens. With an opportunity to complete the upset in Game Six, the captain got up and headed for the door. “By hum, fellas,” Apps said on his way out, “this’d be a great game to win.”… and they did.
The following season would be the final one for Apps. He was fifth in the NHL in goals… he scored a hat trick in his final regular season game… and that spring he would once again lead his Leafs to Stanley Cup glory, sweeping the Red Wings in the Final.
So, at the age of 33 and at the top of his game, Apps… a five time First or Second Team All Star retired and took a job in the marketing department at Simpsons. He would of course enter the Hall of Fame… he would receive the Order of Canada… he would serve in Parliament for 12 years… and how fitting… a man with only 56 career penalty minutes, he became the Minister of Correctional Services.
Beyond his career accomplishments, Syl’s family has continued his success on the ice. His son, Syl Jr. would play 727 NHL games. Syl Apps the Third was once a member of the St. John’s Maple Leafs. His granddaughter Gillian has won three gold medals for Canada in Womens Hockey. His great grandson Sawyer is also the grandson of Darryl Sittler.
Of Syl Apps, teammate Howie Meeker would say, “I met a lot of important people: Winston Churchill, the Queen twice. But if anybody in this world had the right to think they were a little bit better than anybody else, Syl Apps did. But he didn’t. He was one of us. What a man.”