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NHL Centennial

Bob Baun goal for Maple Leafs legendary

On fractured ankle, defenseman scored in OT in Game 6 of 1964 Stanley Cup Final

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

The list of injuries grows with each team's elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As players pack up for the offseason, you learn that many were skating with torn muscles, damaged or even separated joints, bodies held together with equal parts medical science and willpower.

Montreal Canadiens legend Yvan Cournoyer said he played 17 games in the 1973 playoffs with a badly torn abdominal muscle that required freezing by injection before every game. Cournoyer didn't merely play, he scored 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) en route to a Stanley Cup championship and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason's most valuable player.

On April 16, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski took a puck below his right eye midway through the second period in Game 3 of Columbus' Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Badly cut, Werenski left the game to be stitched up, returning with a full face shield, but was unable to play in overtime, his eye almost swollen shut.

And then there is the legend of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bob Baun and his fractured right ankle, on which he scored in overtime in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final on April 23.

The Detroit Red Wings had led the series 3-2 going into the game, one victory from winning their first championship since 1955. They weren't getting ahead of themselves, however, even refusing to allow the Stanley Cup to be in the baggage car of their train from Toronto to Detroit for their possible coronation.

Toronto's Billy Harris scored late in Game 6 to send the nail-biter into overtime, setting the stage for Baun's heroics.

The rugged, stay-at-home defenseman had been carried off the Detroit Olympia ice at 13:15 of the third period, having blocked a shot from Red Wings forward Alex Delvecchio while Toronto was killing a penalty.

"It was numb then," Baun told Kevin Shea for the 2010 book "Toronto Maple Leafs: Diary of a Dynasty, 1957-1967."

"I couldn't figure what was wrong. Then when I went into the faceoff with Gordie Howe, I heard a snap and it caved in underneath me."

Play continued briefly before the puck went over the glass, Baun by then having crawled to the front of Toronto's net.

"I tried to get up but there was no way I could put any weight on it," he said. "My leg just turned to cream cheese. It was the most unusual thing I ever had happen to me."

In the Olympia clinic, Baun was told the damage would get no worse. After being frozen by injection and taped up, he returned to play one more shift in the third period.

"There was no sensation," he said. "You couldn't feel a thing from the knee down. You might say, 'How could you skate?' and I still think, well, how could I skate? You could. There was no problem."

Video: 1964 Cup Final, Gm6: Baun breaks leg, scores in OT

Baun wasn't the only Toronto defenseman in the clinic. Red Kelly hobbled in late in the third period with a wrenched knee after having been clobbered by Detroit defenseman Bill Gadsby. Back in the Maple Leafs dressing room, getting ready to return to the bench, Kelly heard the noise in the arena 1:43 into overtime.

In dramatic fashion, Baun had scored the winner, swatting at a rolling puck that sailed like a knuckleball toward the Detroit net until it hit the shaft of Gadsby's stick and caromed past goalie Terry Sawchuk.

"I've called it a triple flutter blast, with a follow-up blooper," Baun said of the goal.

"They froze my leg and it's all right now," he told "Hockey Night in Canada" after the game. "Of course, I can't feel it. I forgot all about the pain when I saw my blooper shot shoot up into the top of the Red Wings goal."

There are contradicting stories regarding when Baun was told of the severity of the injury; some say X-rays were not taken until days later, and others say he knew of the fracture before he returned to the ice.

The Red Wings wondered whether it was a bid by the Maple Leafs to buy time late in the game, if they didn't smell a full-blown conspiracy. In any event, they weren't buying the injury the way the media were selling it.

"I remember skating up to Baun before Game 7 and saying, 'Who do you think you're kidding?' and he just shrugged," Gadsby told hockey historian Brian McFarlane.

"I was suspicious when he came back so soon," Detroit coach Sid Abel said. "And where did that stretcher come so fast? Turns out the Leafs brought their own. Teams don't do that unless ..."

There was no question in Baun's mind that he would play Game 7 in Toronto two nights later. He was in the lineup when the Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings 4-0 to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

"You don't think I'm going to miss the last chapter over something like this, do you?" Baun said of playing on the fractured ankle, which after Game 7 was placed in a cast for six weeks.

He said his faith in the Red Wings doctors, and an ice bucket, made all the difference.

"I kept the ankle in ice for two days right after [Game 6], through to game time [of Game 7]," he said. "I never came out of an ice bucket. You know, that was more pain than the leg itself.

"Was it worth it? Sure it was. That's how much winning the Stanley Cup meant to me. Most hockey players would tell you they'd do the very same thing."

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