Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club’s greatest leaders.
I have a neighbour, Mark Askin.
He’s an office neighbour. My next-door neighbour just went into the Witness Protection Program, but that’s another story.
Mark Askin is 49 years old. He has attended Maple Leaf games since he was four or five. At least that’s when he started remembering them.
He is also Leafs TV’s Senior Broadcast Producer, a hockey producer at 26, a longtime veteran of Hockey Night in Canada and one of the most engaging, and engaged, guys in the hockey business.
So I asked him, “Marco, give me five good hockey stories we can share with the people at home."
This is what he told me.
The Rodeo Game:
“It’s the 1962-1963 seasons. My dad and I had season tickets at Maple Leaf Gardens. Section 67. Row B. Seats 11 and 12. You don’t forget stuff like that when you go with your dad.
“We would go every Saturday and Wednesday when we had the chance. The tickets were split between my uncle and my dad. One Saturday we went down and unbeknownst to me, there had been a rodeo the night before. It went a little late.
“If you know how they used to do ice, they would simply put dirt and whatever right over the concrete of the floor. After the rodeo was over, they would sweep it all up and put the ice down. This time, they didn’t have time to properly sweep up. The aroma was one thing, but the ice had huge dirty brown sports on it. It’s forever been known as The Rodeo Game. We have the video, they’re skating through the middle of the ice and all of a sudden it’s brown ice. I had never seen anything like that before or since.”
“It’s 1967-68, when Paul Henderson was a youngster playing with the Detroit Red Wings. Henderson did more than score three goals at the Summit Series in 1972. He was a heck of a player. He was a great skater. He was one of those guys, your eye was always focused on him.
“Paul had allergies and asthma. He thought there was something in the air in Toronto that affected his breathing. He decided to wear a surgical mask. He’s playing the game, with no helmet and he would be one of the first to use a helmet. I remember sitting in the crowd saying, ‘what is that on his face’? That is so weird.’ He played the whole game with it. If that happened today, it would be on every sports show on the planet.”
Clear the Track:
“It was the 1972-73 season. Eddie Shack was back for his second time with the Blue and White. Eddie was a pain at the best of times, mostly to his teammates, but he could be a real pain to the opposition. He got under everybody’s skin, he ran guys, he speared guys, and don’t forget he was a pretty darn good hockey player, he scored well over 20 goals in five different seasons.
“I was at the game at the Gardens when he took his life in his hands. The St. Louis Blues were the opponent. They had Bob Plager, Barclay Plager and Battleship Kelly who played for Cherry in Rochester. They had a lot of guys who liked to scrap and he was in their kitchen all night long. Finally, the television broadcast goes to commercial. For 40 seconds, the Blues chase Eddie Shack around the ice. It’s incredible to watch. The Leafs players didn’t try to grab any of the Blues. They were too scared; they just tried to get in the way. Eddie went from their blue line, into his own end, behind his net. Then he got a lovely block, sidestepped two guys and went to the bench with the players screaming at the referee. He was smiling at them. But he didn’t go out for one last shift. Even Eddie wasn’t that brave.”
The Hidden Truth:
“You know the story about Bobby Baun, the broken ankle in the 1964 final and the winner in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup final. Everybody remembers he came back in overtime, he jumped over the boards. The puck came to him and he scored.
“We got the Classic Games and started airing them in 2002. The Bobby Baun game was the first game I wanted to see. So they got it out, hooked it up to the film and I’m watching. Third period, he gets hurt. Then he shows up two shifts later, not hurt, standing out there.
“He plays two more shifts in the third period. I’m thinking to myself, ‘that’s not the story. That kills the myth.’ Then he starts the overtime.”
“I’m left with a real conundrum. Most people think Bobby scored the first time he got back on the ice. Do I want to be the person who takes down this bit of hockey mythology? But people are going to see this game and when they do, they’re going to notice. I said, ‘I better tell Bobby.’ So Bobby comes to the studio to film the on-air sections, I said “Bobby, the story about that night, it’s not right, it’s wrong. Did you know?
“He said he forgot, it was so long ago. “It doesn’t change the fact that he scored the Cup winner with a broken ankle, but we set the record straight. After that, you wonder about all the other stories and wonder about how many other stories got so exaggerated.
“I’ve never seen the video of Rocket Richard’s 50 goals in 50 games. Nobody has. I’ve never seen the Eddie Shore –Ace Bailey incident. I haven’t seen Lester Patrick going in goal for the Rangers in the 1927 playoffs. Did he really make 12 great saves? Stories get exaggerated. Now with video you can’t exaggerate. Everybody knows who played and did what but the story sounds better the old way.
“My third year at Hockey Night, the host is Brian McFarlane, one of the great legendary guys.”
“Montreal was playing Hartford and Larry Mize wins the Masters. We come on late, CBC is broadcasting the Masters. We get to air at 7:30. I had asked for Larry Pleau, the Whalers’ coach, in the opening. They said no. I said at the end of the first period. They said OK.
“In walks Larry Pleau at the end of the first period. He sits down. We had two lights behind them. About a minute into the interview, in the top right hand corner, I start seeing something. I realize its smoke.
“The gels are on the lights. In those days, gels were almost like a very fine sweater. That would dilute the light. Instead, it caught on fire. They’re live on the air and the smoke starts, but just a little. They can’t see it because it’s behind them. They are doing the interview and now there’s black smoke billowing and I say to Brian, ‘Brian, there’s a fire over your shoulder.’”
“And Brian, without missing a beat says ‘Larry, over your shoulder. Something is smouldering. I think we should go to commercial now.
“You can see the look of panic in Larry’s eyes. I’ll never forget it.”