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Maple Leafs celebrate Top 100 players

Rankings include Dave Keon, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower has a million stories, and here is one of them:

"The Rocket would drive me up the wall," the Toronto Maple Leafs legend said with a laugh of sniper Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the Montreal Canadiens' Original Six superstar.

"I went to church and spent money to light candles and I asked God, 'Please don't let the Rocket score on me tonight.' Well, the Rocket scored two that night and we lose and I go home and my wife, Nancy, says to me, 'So you let in a couple on the Rocket again,' and I said to her, 'I'll tell you one thing, I'm not going to church again!'"

Bower and six fellow Maple Leafs legends were at a downtown restaurant Friday, among the 100 players announced on a list as the top players in their history as Toronto sets sail into its centennial season.

A committee of 30, spanning the hockey community, and a 300,000-plus ballot of fans that counted as a 31st member, chose a list that surely will stir debate among fans, especially because it's a ranked list.

Video: Shanahan on naming The One Hundred Maple Leafs

"As lists go, they are very controversial. I'm glad that I was not a part of making [it]," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said with a laugh before introducing a superb video that unveiled the 100.

"It's a great honor to be with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization at this time in their history, to be able to celebrate the centennial season, for us to be able to establish where we are going to go as an organization but also take the time to celebrate our rich history."

With Bower, ranked No. 7 on the list, were forwards Dave Keon, No. 1; Darryl Sittler, No. 4; Wendel Clark, No. 15; Ron Ellis, No. 24; Paul Henderson, No. 44; and Bob Nevin, No. 64.

A remarkable team-photo poster of all 100 players, in the uniforms of the Maple Leafs and predecessor St. Pats and Arenas, will be sold at 67 Canadian Tire stores in the Toronto area with proceeds going to three charities.

On Thursday evening, Keon was across Maple Leaf Square outside Air Canada Centre for the unveiling of his statue on Legends Row, which now features 10 team icons.

"I'm terribly, terribly pleased," Keon said of ranking No. 1 on the ambitious list.

He added that he was grateful to still be the fans' choice.

Video: Keon on being one of the The One Hundred Maple Leafs

"That's very nice," Keon said. "Obviously, winning Stanley Cups certainly helps your popularity (he won four with Toronto in the 1960s), so I'm sure that had something to do with it.

"It's really important that players from the 1920s and '30s and '40s are recognized. They're the people who made the franchise what it is. It's important that we recognize that. I'm happy that I'm part of it and that everybody who's here today is part of it."

A few weeks ago, Sittler was up the street at the Hockey Hall of Fame for the unveiling of a Canada Post stamp bearing his image. He had words of praise for Shanahan and the Maple Leafs organization for this initiative that will aid charity and put a spotlight back on many of the players long forgotten or, for some younger fans, never known.

Video: Darryl Sittler speaks with members of the media

"I think it's terrific," Sittler said. "A 100th anniversary only comes around once. Ronnie [Ellis] and Paul [Henderson] and I and the rest of the players respect what this organization means to Leaf fans but also to the NHL. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to win a Stanley Cup in my career but I was fortunate to play with guys like Dave and Ronnie and these other guys who had. We have so much respect for the game itself and its traditions and we're honored that the organization remembers us with Legends Row, the statues, and this event that will raise money for charity."

Ellis said, "When I joined the team in 1964, they'd just won three Cups in a row and you realized that you were joining tradition. It's wonderful to look at this history and hopefully it's going to give the younger guys who are playing here today the incentive to want to carry on that tradition and bring it back to where it should be."

Standing beside Sittler and Ellis, Henderson said jokingly, "I'm glad they did it while we're still alive. The good thing about this is that you run into guys you don't see that often. Obviously it's an honor to be part of this. And I looked good up there (on the video introduction). I've never looked better!"

Video: Ron Ellis meets with members of the media

Nevin was the first member of the Maple Leafs organization to go from Shopsy's peewees, a delicatessen-sponsored team that ultimately fed the Toronto Marlboros junior program, to the NHL team. After winning two Stanley Cups in Toronto, he was traded to the New York Rangers, where he served as captain for eight years.

"You see some of the guys on the (top 100) list, they've never had the pleasure of winning a Stanley Cup, some purely by circumstance," Nevin said, nodding in the direction of Sittler and Henderson. "My theory is that the ultimate thing for an NHL player is not to play 2,000 games but to win the Stanley Cup."

Anchoring Toronto for their four 1960s championships was Bower, who less than a month from his 92nd birthday remains one of the most popular Maple Leafs ever. He will be in Air Canada Centre with many alumni on Saturday for the home opener against the Boston Bruins.

"It's really wonderful to see so many of us still alive," Bower said. "A lot of guys have passed away. It's too bad they didn't live to see this day. But being on this list is amazing. This is my dream come true."

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