by Mike UlmerLeafs vs Senators Preview
October 2, 2006
| More Than a Gentleman...
| Believing In the 'Big' Fellow...
Hap Day was the most prodigious winner the Toronto Maple Leafs ever had.
He was a great captain and a Hall of Fame player. Over a 10-year span beginning in 1927, his Leafs made four trips to the Stanley Cup finals. Day would become the first NHL coach to win three Stanley Cups in a row. In all, Hap Day captained, coach or managed the Leafs to seven of their 11 Stanley Cups.
"I think that's something you need to remember about my Dad," said Kerry Day. "How many Toronto players have their names on seven Stanley Cups?"
Clarence Day was born in Owen Sound in 1901 but grew up in Midland with his brother and twin sisters.
Clarence Day became Hap after a custodian at his school, impressed by his industry and cheerfulness, bestowed the nickname on him.
The most important figure in his life was his mother Elizabeth. His father Sid was often absent and his alcoholism would later shape his son's lifelong disdain for alcohol. "My father had seen enough damage done," said Kerry Day. Whenever the Champaign was poured into the Stanley Cup, Hap Day would dip just one finger into the bowl and stick it in his mouth.
Day's entrance into hockey was almost postponed for lack of money. Playing for his school team meant forking out $2.75 for a team sweater and the Day family didn't have the money. A neighbor stepped in and bought the sweater.
When Conn Smythe was fired as the general manager of the New York Rangers, he returned to Toronto and scooped up the local NHL franchise, the St. Patricks. By then, the team had two assets, Ace Bailey and Hap Day.
Smythe installed Day as his captain and moved him from forward to the blue line. Only two defencemen, Day's partner King Clancy and Boston's Eddie Shore were considered better offensive talents than Day and he brought a complete game every night to Maple Leaf Gardens.
The rule that players have to have palms in their gloves is a lasting homage to Day, who cut out the palms out to better grasp opposing players.
His four goals against Pittsburgh in 1929 stood as a record for Leafs defenceman for 48 years until Ian Turnbull scored five in 1977.
When Smythe began lobbying to return to military service at the outset of the Second World War, he turned the team over to the recently retired Day.
"Hap was everything I wanted," Smythe would later write. "He could do things I couldn't: fire people, bench then, live always on what a man could do today, not what he had done a few years ago."
Day was the architect of the Leafs well-earned association with defensive play.
Every new Leaf would undertake a tutorial on defence, on the train, at practice, during games.
"Two days should get you a win," he liked to say. "With one goal, you might have to settle for a tie."
Players such as Ted Kennedy considered Hap Day the best coach they ever played for. "We won five championships," said Kennedy, "basically because of our coaching."
Day's knowledge of the rules was unimpeachable. "If Day argues a call," Hall of Fame official Bill Chadwick once said, "you have to wonder if you were wrong."
Day left the Leafs in 1957. Smyth's son Stratford would soon be assuming control of the team and he was wary of the long shadow cast by Day.
But his imprint had been forged.
In 1969, 12 years after Day departure, Leafs coach John McLellan grumbled "the next person who tells me what Hap Day would have done is going to get his brains knocked out."
At 56, Day settled on the manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ont, where he continued to put in 12 and 14 hour days before his retirement at the age of 77.
Kerry was overseas early in 1990. When he returned he found his father had prepaid his taxes and readied his estate. Three days after his son arrived home, Hap Day died in his sleep at 88.
Clarence Day had risen to inconceivable heights. He had supported his mother and brothers and then later, his own family through hockey.
And he had set a standard that reverberate still... as the Leafs ultimate winner.