Defenseman Todd Gill played for seven different NHL teams in the span of his 18-season NHL career. Of those seven franchises, it was the two with the bitterest rivalry that, to this day, remain his favorites.
“Toronto was my number one and Detroit was number two,” Gill said. “I was fortunate to get to play with both teams.”
A native of Cardinal, Ontario who grew up watching — but not necessarily rooting for — the Montreal Canadiens, Gill was drafted 25th overall by the Maple Leafs in 1984. After spending much of his first two seasons relegated to the OHL and AHL, Gill made the most of his third season in Toronto by registering 31 points (4 goals, 27 assists) in 61 NHL games.
In addition to the points he was picking up, Gill was also acquiring a reciprocated loathing of Toronto’s former Norris Division rivals, the Red Wings.
“I liked the fact that you played them so much in the old Norris that you got to hate certain guys,” Gill said. “I guess ‘hate’ is a strong word but I can honestly say that I think they hated us as much as we hated them and we had some good battles.
“It didn’t really matter where we were both in the standings,” said Gill, whose Leafs finished ahead of Detroit in the standings only two of the 10 seasons he played with them. “It was always a war. Every game, you’re going to come out worse for wear because of the battles you had with certain individual players.”
One of those individual players that Gill often found himself at odds with was former Red Wing Joe Kocur. Between 1986-90, Gill and Kocur fought four times — no record-setting statistic in the hockey world, but a common enough occurrence that it left Gill anxious whenever Detroit was next on the schedule.
“I didn’t get much sleep the night before Detroit because I usually knew that something between Joey and I would happen,” Gill said. “When you’re 170, 175-pounds and you know that you’re going to be taking on Joey Kocur, who’s 220, 225, and wants to knock your head to the other side of the rink, you get up for it, there was a very intense feeling going through the rink.”
Much of Gill’s lasting dedication to the Leafs stems from his team’s playoff run in the 1992-93 postseason.
“I think my favorite one was the ’93 (playoffs) when it went to game seven in there and we ended up winning,” Gill said of his most cherished memory of playing against Detroit as a Maple Leaf. “I’ve never played on another team that close. Everybody had a role, everybody knew the role, everybody accepted the role.”
The Leafs beat the Wings in seven games, then the St. Louis Blues in seven games, before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals.
In June, 1996, Gill was traded to San Jose. Despite playing in 10 more games than he had in his best season with Toronto (in 1992-93), Gill registered fewer than half as many points in his first season with the Sharks.
After a two-season, 39-game layover in St. Louis, Gill was claimed off waivers in December of 1998 by his former team’s biggest rival ... Detroit.
“I went there and was welcomed with open arms,” Gill said. “All these guys that you were taking some whacks at and then all of a sudden they’re you’re teammates and they treat you like gold.”
And as for sharing a locker room with Joe Kocur?
“I got to play with him in Detroit and he’s a great guy,” Gill said of his former opponent. “And that’s usually the case — you hate someone when you’re playing against him and love him when you’re playing with him. That’s the best thing about hockey: you can create such a rivalry and then go and play with the same guy and call him a brother-in-arms, so to speak.”
Gill played 1,007 career NHL regular-season games and 103 playoff games. Of those, he played 104 regular season games (seven goals, 10 assists) and 16 postseason games (two assists) with Detroit.