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100 Greatest NHL Players

100 Greatest Players

Darryl Sittler: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Popular, hard-working Maple Leafs captain scored record 10 points in game

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

There are 1,096 regular-season NHL games to Darryl Sittler's credit, 76 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But it is one unforgettable night for which Sittler will be best remembered, one game when he wrote his name into the record books, perhaps forever.

 

Video: Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in one game

 

People are bound to remember you when you score 10 points in a game, as Sittler did with six goals and four assists against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 7, 1976.

The hard-working former Toronto Maple Leafs captain also holds a share of a postseason record, scoring five times against the Philadelphia Flyers two-and-half months later.

Representing his country in the Canada Cup tournament in September 1976, Sittler scored one of the most famous goals ever in Canadian hockey, the series clincher against Czechoslovakia in overtime.

He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted in 1989, having scored 40 goals five times and finished in the top 10 in voting for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most valuable player, five times. One of the most popular Maple Leafs ever, in a select group with Dave Keon and Johnny Bower, Sittler had his No. 27 retired before Toronto's 2016-17 home opener, fighting back tears when the banner was unfurled.

 

DARRYL SITTLER CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats 
Games: 1,096 | Goals: 484 | Assists: 637 | Points: 1,121

 

Sittler had an excellent body of work through 15 NHL seasons, playing with Toronto from 1970-71 into 1981-82 before moving to the Flyers for two-plus years and spending his final season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1984-85.
But inevitably, any discussion about Sittler comes back to his historic night against the Bruins, when it appeared he could have put the puck in the net while sitting on the Toronto bench.

"I will never forget the record-tying point," Maple Leafs great Lanny McDonald told NHL.com in February 2016 on the 40th anniversary of Sittler's milestone game. "There was such a buzz in the dressing room in the second intermission, especially after [Maple Leafs publicity director] Stan Obodiac came in and told Darryl that he was one point shy of tying 'Rocket' Richard's record [of eight points in a game]."

Montreal Canadiens forward Maurice Richard had established the League's single-game record with five goals and three assists in a 9-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 28, 1944. Canadiens forward Bert Olmstead equaled Richard with four goals and four assists in a 12-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 9, 1954.

With history at his doorstep, Sittler tied Richard and Olmstead with a third-period goal, then scored two more to seize the record for himself and bring the roof down at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Video: Darryl Sittler's 10-point game record

In the past four decades, Sittler has never had an answer for why he was able to have that magical night.

"The Bruins were a good team," he told the Toronto Star on the 40th anniversary of his historic performance. "For us to score a lot of goals made it a lot of fun. … I just happened to be in on 10 of them. Why it happened? I don't know.

"I can honestly say there are games I felt I played as good or better. You have good chances and you don't score. You make a great pass to a guy and he doesn't put it in. That night, it all ended up on the scoreboard."

Sittler had arrived in the Maple Leafs family at the 1970 NHL Draft, selected at No. 8. There wasn't a celebration or a walk to the stage to pull on a team jersey, as happens today. Sittler heard the news on the radio as he worked a summer job, installing swimming pools.

His selection came without even an interview with his new team, the Maple Leafs quite happy with their scouting of the 6-foot center, who scored 42 goals with 48 assists for London of the Ontario Hockey League in 1969-70, his final season of major-junior eligibility.

Maple Leafs general manager Jim Gregory would give Sittler jersey No. 27 at training camp, a gesture that carried significant weight and expectation; Hall of Fame-bound Frank Mahovlich had worn that number with great distinction in Toronto for 12 years.

Their new draft pick grew up as one of eight children in the Mennonite farming community of St. Jacobs, Ontario, and had a number of unconventional jobs as a youth, including cleaning up after livestock.

"You were paid three bucks a day and you ate three solid meals," Sittler told author Michael Ulmer in the 1995 book "Captains."

"Picking potatoes and in the fall, picking apples, cleaning out pig manure in the barns. In a small town, the farms were only a bicycle ride away. …

"We grew up in a family where we all had to work. I remember paying room and board at 13 or 14. Part of the money I made had to go to the house."

Sittler recalled his first skates being hand-me-downs from Rod Seiling, an NHL defenseman who had been a neighbor, and paying for his own hockey equipment from what he earned shovelling the barns.

"Sittler came [to Toronto] with all the equipment - size, strength, the big shot, guts, a mean streak, great looks, a certain presence which earned respect," Jack Batten wrote in his 1994 book, "The Leafs."

"So he lacked sophistication? That came with time, and after he was named team captain in 1975, he had the loyalty of every player in the locker room."

Sittler didn't disappoint the franchise for its vote of confidence. He was a diligent worker who neither granted nor expected favors on the ice with teammates, breaking the nose of defensemen Brian Glennie at training camp and spending extra time with Keon -- the man he would succeed as captain in 1975 -- to improve every facet of his game. Sittler would spend no time on the Maple Leafs farm, jumping from juniors to the NHL. His strength would be his versatility, doing many things well if mostly without panache.

"He wasn't the best stick-handler in the world and he didn't have the greatest shot," McDonald said. "He wasn't the toughest guy in the League either but probably was in the top three-quarters of every division. You put it all together and add a huge heart and you've got a guy you'd like to go to war with. …

"What you see is what you get with Darryl. If you go down fighting, whether it be a seventh game or with friendships, when the final buzzer goes, you know he'll still be there."

Sittler was fiercely loyal to his friends and teammates and would go to the wall for anyone he cared for. But it was never easy in the dysfunctional days of the Maple Leafs, owned by Harold Ballard and managed by Punch Imlach. Sittler succeeded not because of Toronto's system but in spite of it, sparring with management. He had a span of eight seasons when he scored between 36 and 45 goals.

"Also giant-sized, and growing larger as the years passed, were Sittler's emotions," Batten wrote. "He was an extravagant guy in that department, big tears, big laughs, grand gestures. Talk about hubris -- immense pride carried Sittler to mighty feats on the ice in the 1970s, and it was this almost insupportable pride that would crash his hockey career in the early 1980s."

By the late '70s, Sittler was nearing the point of no return. Having cut the captain's "C" off his jersey on Dec. 30, 1979, in the minutes before a game, and with the Maple Leafs having traded his best friend, McDonald, to the Colorado Rockies the day before, Sittler's expiration date in Toronto was looming. And then the earth shook in Toronto on Jan. 20, 1982, when he was traded to the Flyers in a deal that to this day infuriates Maple Leafs fans.

The hugely popular center and one of the greatest character players in franchise history, the second-youngest to be named Maple Leafs captain (24), was traded for Rich Costello, Ken Strong and a second-round draft pick.

Sittler would have his fifth 40-goal season in 1982-83 with the Flyers, scoring 43 with 40 assists, then tailed off to 27 the next year. He scored 11 for Detroit, to whom the Flyers traded him on the day he was to be named Philadelphia's captain, before he retired.

In 844 games with the Maple Leafs, Sittler scored 389 goals and had 527 assists. He never sipped from the Stanley Cup but looks back fondly at his years in Toronto.

"The reality of it is, I was fortunate to play 15 years, making a living at something I really loved doing," Sittler said. "Had I played on another team through that period and did the same things on the ice, the impact and the career I left behind wouldn't have been as noticed as it was for me with the Leafs.

"To end up in the Hall of Fame, to score the winning goal in the Canada Cup and all of those other things that happened … even though we didn't win the Stanley Cup, I appreciated that."

 

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