It is with great sadness the Toronto Maple Leafs learned on Monday of the passing of Wally Stanowski
. He was 96 years old.
Before he became an NHLer, Stanowski enjoyed a decorated junior career with the St. Boniface Seals. In 1938, he was part of a Memorial Cup winning club. During the tournament he scored six goals and 10 points in 11 games from the back end. That came at the tail end of a productive season, where he had 21 points in 15 games and another 11 points in 10 playoff games.
As a player, "The Wherling Dervish" was known for his skating ability and offensive acumen. Greats like Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey are seen as paving the way for modern day mobile defenders like Morgan Rielly. In many ways, Stanowski's style of play was well ahead of its time. In an era known for its punishing defenders, he was known for trapping overzealous forecheckers and leading the rush.
Stanowski entered the fold for the Leafs in 1939, joining a highly skilled blueline in Toronto. In just his second season with the Maple Leafs he was named a First Team NHL All-Star alongside Boston legend Dit Clapper.
Stanowski's NHL career was interrupted by the Second World War. He served in the Canadian Air Force from 1942-45 and played hockey for the Winnipeg's RCAF team. He returned to the Maple Leafs during the 1944-45 season and played in Toronto until 1948.
The 1948 season was a tumultuous one for Stanowski as he had a handful of run-ins with Maple Leafs owner and general manager Conn Smythe. As a result, despite his many accolades, Stanowski may be best known for orchestrating a scene worthy of the film 'Slap Shot'.
During a lull in a game against the Bruins, Stanowski was ordered to go for a skate to warm up during the break. Rather than the traditional twirl most players take, he performed a figure skating routine at centre ice. The stadium organ provided musical accompaniment and the crowd provided applause.
The performance didn't amuse Smythe and ultimately played a role in his departure from the team.
He was traded to the New York Rangers following the 1947-48 season. He played for the Rangers until partway through the 1950-51 season. He was eventually re-assigned to the AHL's Cincinnati Mohawks where he played 40 games. A broken leg forced his retirement in 1952.
He retired a four-time Stanley Cup Champion. He won in 1942, 1945, 1947 and 1948, each as a Maple Leaf. Stanowski was a key cog of the 1942 Stanley Cup winning Leafs who famously came back from a 3-0 series deficit to defeat Detroit. He also took part in the NHL All-Star Game in 1947.
Stanowski is a member of both the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. He was the last living member of the Leafs Stanley Cup teams in 1942 and 1945.