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Barilko, Pietrangelo play same type of game, Fischler says

Compares hero of Maple Leafs' 1951 Cup victory to captain of Blues' 2019 champions

by Stan Fischler / Special to

Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," shares his knowledge, humor and insight with readers each Wednesday.

Today, he compares two defenseman who scored Stanley Cup-winning goals: Bill Barilko, whose overtime winner in 1951 gave the Toronto Maple Leafs their fourth championship in five seasons, and Alex Pietrangelo, who scored the winning goal for the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the 2019 Cup Final.


Here's a rare comparison: Bill Barilko from the distant past and Alex Pietrangelo from the here and now.

Each is a Stanley Cup champion -- Barilko four times with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1946-47 through 1950-51, and Pietrangelo with the St. Louis Blues last season. Each scored a Cup-winning goal; Barilko in 1951, Pietrangelo this year. In addition, each was born in Ontario.

But those aren't their only similar traits.

From the time Barilko was called up by the Maple Leafs during the 1946-47 season, he became one of the most popular defensemen in Toronto history. Because of his body-checking ability, he was known as "Snake Hips" or "Bashin' Bill."

"Billy was better at giving the hip than anyone in the League," said longtime teammate Bill Ezinicki, who took a back seat to no one when it came to dishing out hits. "He could move sideways quicker than any defenseman. That was his ace."

Others marveled at the manner Barilko could launch a rush: He'd "run" on the tips of his skates. He was awkward at first but streamlined his game and added an offensive touch, capped by the Cup-winning shot in the 1951 Final against Montreal.

As popular as Barilko was in Toronto seven decades ago, Pietrangelo enjoys the same type of acclaim today in St. Louis, where he's celebrated not only for his Cup-winning goal but also his defensive play, his leadership as captain and his love of the game.

"Hockey is a place you go to where there's no pain and no problems," Pietrangelo wrote in The Players Tribune in March 2018. "Everything is just plain fun."

Pietrangelo learned to play on a makeshift outdoor rink his father built on a farm in King City, near Toronto. At one time his teammates on a youth hockey club included John Tavares and Steven Stamkos.

Like Pietrangelo, Barilko began playing outdoors; in his case, it was in the northern Ontario town of Timmins. In 1945, at age 18, Bill was starring for the Porcupine Combines and caught the eye of a Maple Leafs scout. He soon turned pro with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast Hockey League and was good enough to earn a promotion to the Maple Leafs during the 1946-47 season.

On his initial stroll into the Toronto dressing room, the brash rookie looked around and proclaimed: "Boys, the sun is really shining!"

Barilko helped it shine on the Maple Leafs, who won the Cup in 1947, repeated in 1948 and 1949, and won again in 1951.

During one of his early games, against the first-place Montreal Canadiens, the energetic rookie defenseman's vitality captured the imagination of media types such as The Globe and Mail sports editor Jim Vipond.

"Bill is a bright spot in the Leafs cause with his ability to hit the opposition," Vipond wrote. "Twice in the last period he sent (Montreal defenseman) Butch Bouchard flying."

Pietrangelo may not hit as much as Barilko, but his robust game was a big factor in the Blues' march to their first championship, capped by a seven-game victory against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final. Most impressive was the way he converted Jaden Schwartz's pass to beat Boston goalie Tuukka Rask late in the first period of Game 7 in the Final; that goal made it 2-0 and proved to be the Cup-winner.

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Pietrangelo beats Rask late in 1st

Barilko's Cup-winner 68 years earlier was even more spectacular. With Toronto leading the best-of-7 Cup Final 3-1, Barilko came to the fore In Game 5, which went into overtime -- as had each of the previous four games. With the score tied 2-2, Barilko charged over Montreal's blue line and went airborne as he let go a shot at Canadiens goalie Gerry McNeil. The puck hit the back of the net at 2:53 of overtime, and the Maple Leafs had their fourth title in five seasons.

"Billy was like Dagwood catching a bus," said owner Conn Smythe, referring to Dagwood Bumstead, who did plenty of bus-catching on the comics pages in those days.

Barilko was carried off the ice on the shoulders of his teammates after becoming an instant hero. At 24, he was just entering his prime and looked like he'd be a fixture for years to come.

Tragically, however, it was not to be. Barilko disappeared during a fishing trip to Northern Ontario bush country that summer. The seaplane carrying Barilko and pilot Henry Hudson was finally found 11 years later, in June 1962. Their remains were discovered strapped in their seats; investigators determined they'd been killed on impact.

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