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The Leafs (The Original Six) Paperback – September 1, 1999
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A glorious tribute to Maple Leaf history. On February 14, 1927, Conn Smythe led a group of investors to purchase the National Hockey League's struggling St. Patricks franchise. The new team would be called the Toronto Maple Leafs, and over the next seven decades the Leafs would delight their fans with countless displays of the sort of hockey excellence that wins 11 league championships. The Leafs quickly established themselves as a potenet force in the league, thanks to the likes of Charlie Conacher, Ace Bailey, King Clancy, and coach Dick Irvin. Since those early days a host of hockey legends have worn the distinctive blue and white jersey or guided the team: Primeau, Jackson, Bentley, Selke, Apps, Day, Kennedy, Sawchuk, Imlach, Horton, and many more. Their stories are all here in THE LEAFS, from Toronto's 1942 comeback from three games down to steal the Stanley Cup from the Red Wings, to Darryl Sittler's incredible, never-bested 10-point night in 1976 against Boston, to the present day.
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Of course, I do have a couple of complaints. First, as I mentioned before, I was under the impression that this was going to be more of a detailed history of the franchise. Instead, we mostly get the obvious highlights and a few funny side stories. There are just way too many gaps in the Leafs timeline here (even the year-by-year synopsis at the end is painfully thin). It would be nice if someone went back, as McFarlane apparently attempted to do, and wrote a more thorough account of each of the NHL's "Original Six" teams. A few years ago, Dan Diamond put together a beautiful and fascinating book that chronicled this tremendous era in the NHL (called YEARS OF GLORY, I'm sure Amazon offers this book as well), and I believe the individual teams deserve a richer treatment than McFarlane provides here.
Second, as a Leafs fan, I was shocked that McFarlane didn't include one of the absolute greatest and most fascinating stories in Leafs history: the tragedy of Bill Barilko. Barilko, a defenseman for Toronto, scored a diving overtime goal in Game 5 of the 1951 Finals, clinching the Stanley Cup for the Leafs. A few months later, during an offseason fishing trip, the plane Barilko was traveling in disappeared. Leafs owner and GM, Conn Smythe, devestated by the death of one of his favorite players, personally financed a massive search for Barilko and ordered that no Leaf will ever wear his number 5 again. After Barilko's death, the Leafs would not win another Stanley Cup until 1962. A month and a half after that 1962 Cup victory, someone finally found the remains of Bill Barilko. McFarlane briefly mentions his death, but doesn't mention the rest of the remarkable story. However, he does spend a section talking about the death of Terry Sawchuk, the great goalie who spent just three short years with Toronto. Maybe Sawchuk means more NHL fans in general, but the name Barilko means a great deal to any Leafs fan with a sense of history. His story deserved to be included.
Still, it's a book all Leafs fans and fans of NHL history should enjoy a great deal. I am a little puzzled by Amazon's recommended reading level of ages 9-12. Sure, the prose is a little simple, but, if you've read anything by McFarlane, you know he's always like that! So don't let that age range fool you. It's a treat for fans of all ages. Definitely recommended!