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Conacher, Kelly, Mahovlich, Clark join Maple Leafs' Legends Row

Bring total to 14 statues outside Air Canada Centre

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- Fourteen statues of Toronto Maple Leafs immortals now stretch more than a quarter of a rink length through Maple Leaf Square outside Air Canada Centre.

Combined, these bronzed players won 38 Stanley Cup championships for this century-old franchise, the very elite among the many hundreds who have worn its jersey.

Late Thursday afternoon, under perfect October skies, the Maple Leafs unveiled statues of forward Charlie Conacher, forward Red Kelly and forwards Frank Mahovlich and Wendel Clark, adding to Legends Row.


[RELATED: Mahovlich, Clark help shape their Maple Leafs statues]


The four joined 10 others whose statues have been installed outside the Maple Leafs' downtown arena since September 2014. First came goaltender Johnny Bower and forwards Ted "Teeder" Kennedy and Darryl Sittler. Then, a year later, defenseman Borje Salming and forward Mats Sundin, followed two months later, in November 2015, by forwards Syl Apps and George Armstrong. Last October, the roster was brought to 10 with the addition of goalie Turk Broda, defenseman Tim Horton and forward Dave Keon, the latter chosen last fall as the Maple Leafs' No. 1 player of all time in a vote by fans and a 31-member panel.

Each of the 14 statues has come north from the studio of renowned Chicago-area sculptor Erik Blome, who was in attendance with his wife, Charlotte. Blome's work commemorating sports, social and political figures and events is on display throughout the United States. Among his statues is a towering Wayne Gretzky outside Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"Although our bench is now full with some of the greatest players of our first 100 years, it's always been our sincere hope that one day we can extend the bench to recognize future Leafs heroes," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said before the unveiling.

Sitting with Shanahan were general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock, across the aisle from a galaxy of champion Maple Leafs: Bower, Keon, Sittler and forwards Bob Nevin and Dick Duff -- as well as former Toronto GM Jim Gregory, a long-standing member of the NHL Hockey Operations Department.

Conacher, who died in 1967, played 326 games for the Maple Leafs between 1929-38 and won the Cup with Toronto in 1932. Known as The Big Bomber for his thunderous shot, Conacher twice led the NHL in points (1933-34, 1934-35) and was one of the game's greatest-ever right wings on the "Kid Line" with left wing Busher Jackson and center Joe Primeau. His statue was unveiled 101 years to the day of the birth of his brother, Roy, one of three siblings -- Lionel was the other -- to play in the NHL.

Brad Conacher spoke of his father's Depression-era Maple Leafs and how he became a legend in living rooms across Canada over CBC Radio, "when you either listened to the Maple Leafs or went to sleep."

Video: Charlie Conacher was known for his powerful shot

Kelly won the Stanley Cup eight times during a 20-season career split between the Detroit Red Wings and Maple Leafs, winning four titles with Detroit (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955), then four with Toronto (1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967). He was a brilliant, versatile skater between 1947-48 and 1966-67, as a defenseman and center. Kelly won the Norris Trophy in 1953-54 as the League's top defenseman and four times won the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL's most gentlemanly player (1950-51, 1952-53, 1953-54, 1960-61). Indeed, in 1,316 NHL games, he had 327 penalty minutes.

"I never dreamed about anything like this in all my life," said Kelly, 90, who seamlessly made a remarkable conversion from defense to center with the Maple Leafs. "I dreamed about hockey, the greatest game in the world. I dreamed about Stanley Cups and playing in the NHL."

Then, looking at the current Maple Leafs executives, he said: "We'll keep our fingers crossed, it looks like we're coming. The biggest thing to not to have a one-man team or a two-man team, but a team, all working together."

The silky-smooth Mahovlich, nicknamed The Big M, won six Stanley Cup titles, including four with Kelly in Toronto before winning two more with the Montreal Canadiens in 1971 and 1973. Mahovlich turned down a professional baseball contract offer by the Boston Red Sox to join the Maple Leafs for three games in 1956-57, then edged Chicago Black Hawks forward Bobby Hull the following season for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.

Video: OTT@TOR: Leafs induct four players into Legends Row

But forever at odds with Toronto coach George "Punch" Imlach, who tried to stifle his offensive style, he finally was traded to the Red Wings in March 1968, a move that he would say was like having "a piano … lifted off my back." Adored by Maple Leafs fans, Mahovlich scored 1,103 points (533 goals, 570 assists) in his 18 NHL seasons.

"I'm so delighted to honored with these guys," said Mahovlich, 79. "With all the great players we have, some aren't on the list but they should be. They shouldn't stop making these statues -- fellows like Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun, Bob Pulford … Eddie Shack was on all those teams. It takes a team and they were part of it."

If Clark doesn't have the championship pedigree of the three others he joined Thursday on Legends Row, he is no less beloved by Toronto fans. In 1991-92, playing with all the delicacy of a tank, Clark was named Maple Leafs captain, after having been their first-ever No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft in 1985. Earning the nickname Captain Crunch for his bulldozing style, he played 13 of his 15 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs during a career that spanned 1985-86 to 1999-2000.

Unlike the 13 others on Legends Row, Clark is not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he is enshrined by Maple Leafs fans and the organization as one of the most rugged and passionate skaters to play for Toronto. His No. 17 was retired to the rafters of Air Canada Centre last October, where the numbers of every player on Legends Row are similarly honored.

"I'm glad I got to be the only one in color," Clark, 50, said of his video highlights montage, shown last of the four. "There's nothing better than watching now, so keep that going," he said, speaking to Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock.

Clark struggled to get through his remarks, and choked up when he spoke of his family and then Chris Broadhurst, the former Maple Leafs athletic therapist "who kept my body together for 13 of my 15 (NHL) years. Even after I was traded, I was still coming back to the city just to get treatment to play in Detroit or New York or Quebec.

"This is huge. This is the best place and our players see it now. When you win these are the best fans, it's the best place to be a part of. There's no bigger honor than wearing the alumni jacket and being a part of these guys."

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