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NHL Centennial

Don Metz was unlikely five-time Cup winner

Toronto forward was outperformed by brother Nick except at playoff time

by Stan Fischler / Contributor

As part of the NHL's Centennial Celebration, longtime hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler, "The Hockey Maven," will write a biweekly scrapbook for The scrapbook will look at some of the strange-but-true moments from the NHL's first 100 years. Here is his first contribution:  

Hockey has had its share of famous brother acts, such as Hall of Famers Frank and Lester Patrick, as well as Bobby and Dennis Hull. But among the sibling stick-handlers who've come down the NHL pike, the most curious (or ironic, in this case), has to be the Toronto Maple Leafs' Metz brothers, Nick and Don.

Nick, by far the better of the two, played on four Stanley Cup-winning teams built by Maple Leafs owner-general manager Conn Smythe. He was one of the best defensive forwards and penalty-killers in NHL history.

During a nine-year span, Don never played a full season in the NHL. But 'Kid Metz' ranks along with only two other Maple Leafs players, center Ted Kennedy and goalie Turk Broda, each a Hockey Hall of Famer -- to have played on five Stanley Cup-winning teams

The younger Metz's main claim to fame is that he came through in the clutch, again and again. Here's how he won as many as Broda and Kennedy and one more than big brother Nick. "I was lucky that way," Metz told me during a telephone interview I conducted with him more than 10 years ago.

Don was more than lucky. He was the right Metz at the right time with the right team. His older brother excelled during 518 games for the Maple Leafs, compared with Don's 172. But Nick's kid brother went home with more championships.

How could this icy aberration have taken place? For one thing, Don was available for a cup of NHL coffee at critical moments and invariably delivered big-time. In 1942, for example, Toronto trailed the Detroit Red Wings 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final when coach Hap Day benched his leading scorer, Gordie Drillon, replacing him with the unsung Don Metz, who emerged as the playoff scoring hero (four goals and seven points in four games) and helped the Maple Leafs become the only team in history to win the Cup after losing the first three games of the Final.

Don celebrated by enlisting in the Canadian Armed Forces; he returned in time to suit up for the 1945 Final, when Toronto again defeated Detroit in seven games. But those heroics were small potatoes compared to Don's efforts in 1946-47. This time it was a blockbuster check that would pave the way for an upset Cup win two months later.

Throughout the 1946-47 season, the defending champion Montreal Canadiens seemed a sure bet to repeat. Armed with a spate of Hall of Famers, coach Dick Irvin relied on offense from his famed "Punch Line" of center Elmer Lach between Toe Blake and Maurice Richard. Subtract Lach, the theory went, and the line's punch would be acutely softened. That's precisely what happened, thanks to a thundering check by Don Metz on Lach that had long-term implications in determining the Cup champion.

The thumping was delivered Feb. 6, 1947, at the Montreal Forum. When Lach launched an attack from his zone, forechecking Don cut across the ice; Lach, doing an NHL version of the Titanic, swerved into him. The collision sent the helmetless Canadiens star tail-spinning, his head violently striking the ice.

"I hit Elmer from the side," said Don, who pleaded innocent and later was exonerated by NHL president Clarence Campbell, "but did not see him fall."

Long after Lach was hospitalized with a fractured skull, Montrealers continued crying foul. Charges of dirty play reverberated all the way into April, when the first-place Canadiens and second-place Maple Leafs met in the Final. Then, in a strange move, Irvin invoked God to referee the endless Metz-Lach furor once and for all.

"Irvin prophesied that the outcome of the series rested solely in the hands of Providence," wrote columnist Jim Coleman in the Globe and Mail. "He said that if the [Metz-Lach] accident was only an accident, the Leafs would win the series. If the injury was deliberate, Providence would intervene and the Canadiens would win the Cup."

With Don in the lineup, and without any known divine intervention, the rookie-laden Maple Leafs triumphed in six games. That was good for Don's third ring, but not good enough for Smythe to guarantee him a spot the following season. In 1947-48 Don paid another visit to Pittsburgh of the American Hockey League and played 26 games with Toronto. But he was a Maple Leaf again at playoff time and almost magically won his fourth ring, seemingly his last.

Meanwhile, big brother Nick retired in 1948 with his four rings. Since no NHL team had ever won the Stanley Cup in three straight years, nobody expected Don to add to his jewelry collection. This was especially true in 1948-49, when Toronto finished fourth with a record of 22-25-13.

Ah, but there was one lucky Cup remaining on coach Day's roster. Don had done his annual AHL service, having played 17 games for Pittsburgh, but he was a Leaf again at playoff time. With Don back on the roster, Toronto disposed of the Boston Bruins in five games and swept Detroit in four for an unprecedented third straight Cup title and a fifth ring for Don.

To this day nobody in hockey history can match the marvelous Don Metz, who played for five Cup-winners in Toronto without ever playing a single full season in the NHL.

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