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

This week looks at the 75th anniversary -- April 16, 1949 -- of the Toronto Maple Leafs becoming the first NHL team to achieve a Stanley Cup threepeat.

Had anyone suggested in the spring of 1946 that the Toronto Maple Leafs would win the Stanley Cup the following season, he or she would have been laughed right out of Maple Leaf Gardens.

All you had to do was look at the record.

Having played 50 games, the Hap Day-coached team finished the 1945-46 season 19-24-7, nowhere making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even more discouraging was the fact that several of the homecoming World War II veterans who enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces had grown older and, as far as some critics were concerned, lost their speed.

"It took half a season to get our bearings again," Toronto captain and center Syl Apps told author Jack Batten in "The Leafs in Autumn."

"While I was in the service, I had hardly been on skates those two years. I had a terrible time settling down."

Others who had starred for the 1942 Cup-winning Maple Leafs also found, at least for the moment, that their legs were gone. Goalie Turk Broda, forward Nick Metz and other veterans were slow to regain their pre-war form.

"When my vets returned," Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe said, "it appeared that they had run out of steam. It was time to rebuild."

Smythe had no idea whether future Hockey Hall of Famers like Broda and Apps still had the goods to keep pace in the postwar NHL, so he gambled on a bunch of rookies and when training camp opened in September 1946, you couldn't tell the players without a program.

Unknowns such as right wing Howie Meeker, left wing Vic Lynn and defenseman Jimmy Thomson were there to replace veterans from the 1945 Stanley Cup champions.

"It was a helluva thrill," said Meeker, who would up winning the 1947 Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

Another promising rookie was defenseman Gus Mortson, who found an unusual way to make the team.

"The Leafs had a terrific skate sharpening fellow named Tommy Naylor, who I sought out and had him do my skates," Mortson said. "But since we were in Hamilton the other players used some half-baked skate guy.

"When we went out on the ice that night, I was the only player who could stand up. Their fella buggered up their skates, so I looked like an all-star compared to everyone else. P.S. I wasn't out of the NHL for the next 12 years."

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Day sprinkled rookies with veterans who still had the goods. Youthful 22-year-old right wing "Wild" Bill Ezinicki proved the perfect complement to Apps while Day formed a "Kid Line" of Meeker, Vic Lynn and Ted Kennedy. Best of all, defenseman Bill Barilko was originally a short-term injury replacement but never was demoted.

None of the beat writers had any idea how good the Maple Leafs could be, but Smythe ventured a guess: "If Turk Broda stands up for us in goal, we may surprise a lot of people."

That they did by not only making the playoffs, but winning the Stanley Cup, defeating the defending champion Montreal Canadiens in six games. Smythe, though, was insightful enough to realize more was needed.

On Nov. 2. 1947, Toronto traded five players to the Chicago Black Hawks for superstar center Max Bentley. Strength down the middle became an asset with three future Hall of Famers, Bentley Apps and Kennedy.

The Maple Leafs won the Cup for the second straight season.

"This is the best Leafs team I ever had," Smythe, "The Little Major," insisted. Some observers heard him add that it was the best team in NHL history.

In any case it boasted the same nucleus and excellent balance that showed up at training camp two years earlier.

As for a third straight NHL title, no one thought it possible and for good reason. Not only did Apps retire, but so did four-time Cup winner Nick Metz, one of the best penalty killers in the NHL.

To Day, the team seemed jaded.

"It was the weakest training camp we ever had," Smythe said.

To fill the gap left by Apps' stunning retirement, the Maple Leafs traded for New York Rangers center Cal Gardner on April 26, 1948, a rugged playmaker but hardly a future Hall of Famer. The loss of Metz also was felt although his kid brother, Don Metz, was elevated from the minors.

"Their season never got on track," wrote historian Eric Zweig in his oral history of the Maple Leafs. "Injuries proved a challenge to the team's depth and they struggled along in fifth place (out of the playoffs) for much of the season."

Day blamed attrition and, ironically, Toronto's previous success.

"If I got on them again," he said, "they might say, 'What? D'you expect us to win every year?'"

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Nobody expected a third consecutive championship for the pure and simple reason that no team ever pulled off an NHL threepeat, especially one that barely squeezed into fourth place to secure the last playoff berth.

Toronto's first-round foe would be the confident Boston Bruins, coach Dit
Clapper and future Hall of Fame forward Milt Schmidt predicting a victory.

"We have the better club," Schmidt said, "but we have to beat them to the opening punch."

They didn't. The Maple Leafs won the opener 3-0 and took the series in five games.

Up next were the vaunted Detroit Red Wings, who led the NHL with 75 points compared to Toronto's 57.

"We were a better team than we showed," Meeker wrote in his autobiography, "Golly Gee -- It's Me!: The Howie Meeker Story."

"We really were not a below .500 team. Anybody who considered us that way was out of their minds."

Subduing Detroit's threatening "Production Line" of Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe would be the prime challenge. Unfazed, the Maple Leafs opened with a 3-2 overtime win with Joe Klukay scoring at 17:31.

The Red Wings high command was shaken after Toronto won the second game, 3-1 before moving to Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Maple Leafs won Game 3 by the same score. Although Toronto was on the threshold of a sweep, Day was concerned.

"We're still playing one at a time," Day warned, "and we still got to win one."

They did on April 16, 1949, another 3-1 win in Game 4 that crowned the first dynasty in NHL history. Nobody underlined the point better than the architect himself, Smythe.

Rushing into the Toronto clubhouse, Smythe bellowed: "You did it! You did something never done before. You've taken that Cup three years in a row!"