Bob Baun didn’t need an X-ray to tell him his ankle was broken. And he knew it would take more than a broken bone to sideline him during the Stanley Cup finals.
"I got hit in the foot by a shot by Gordie Howe, so they took me to the Olympia infirmary,” Baun told the Hockey Hall of Fame of the 1964 finals. “The guys who looked at it didn't think I could hurt it any more than I already had, so they froze it and I went back to play the game.”
He never gave that decision a second thought.
"I knew it was broken; I didn't need any X-rays to tell me that,” Baun continued. “But I didn't want to miss the overtime. I told the trainer he had to do everything possible to get me out there. He gave me a shot of painkiller, which numbed the ankle, and taped it tight. Then I laced up my skate and went back to the bench."
Baun returned to the ice on one leg just in time for the overtime period. He wasn’t about to let his team down. It was Game 6 and the Maple Leafs trailed 3-2 in the series against the Red Wings.
The puck dropped.
Two minutes later, Baun became a hero.
The pass came from Bob Pulford near the blue line. Baun’s shot wasn’t perfect. The puck hit Wings defenseman Bill Gadsby’s skate first. Then it snuck by goalie Terry Sawchuck and found the back of the net one minute and 42 seconds into the overtime period.
Baun’s life would never be the same.
“I still get about 3,000 pieces of mail a year," Baun told the Canadian Press during a 2011 interview about his famous overtime goal. "It's amazing when you think of that and how many years ago it was, to still get that kind of mail. People don't forget it."
The Leafs certainly didn’t forget. Two days later, Toronto beat the Wings 4-0 to secure the team’s third consecutive Stanley Cup championship. And Baun celebrated on one foot. He refused to get an X-ray on his ankle after Game 6 because he wasn’t about to miss Game 7. Not until after the championship was it discovered that Howe’s slapshot had fractured Baun’s ankle.
The championship was more than worth Baun’s pain. It was his third Stanley Cup with Toronto and he would win one more in 1967 before being selected by the Oakland Seals in the 1967 NHL expansion draft. Baun was named the first captain in the team’s history, but asked to be traded back to an Original Six team after a disappointing first season. His request was granted, and Baun found himself playing for the team he scored his famous goal against.
Baun arrived in Detroit in 1968 and played for the Wings for two seasons. He was placed on waivers during the 1970-71 season and was quickly claimed by the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres immediately traded Baun to the St. Louis Blues, but he refused to report to St. Louis. One more trade brought Baun back where he started.
“Toronto has always been the best," Baun told the Canadian Press about returning to play in Toronto. "It has the greatest hockey fans, greatest sports fans. It doesn't matter what you do, if you play tiddlywinks, this would be the place to play because people just love you and they want to know what you're doing.”
The defenseman played in Toronto for three more seasons before suffering a career-ending neck injury. Forced into retirement, Baun decided to enter the agricultural world and ran a cattle farm. But he couldn’t stay away from hockey for long.
Three years after his playing days were over, Baun was hired as the head coach of the WHA’s Toronto Toros. His comeback was short though, as a disappointing first season caused Baun to retire from the game for good.
Baun finished his 17-season career having played in 964 games, scoring 37 goals and adding 187 assists for 224 total points. He only scored three goals and 15 points in 96 playoff games. Offense wasn’t Baun’s strong suit, but that never bothered him. He scored when it mattered most.
Baun has thousands of letters from fans and the 1964 Stanley Cup to prove it.