It’s January and as we flip the calendar forward to 2024, we go backward many decades to when the Leafs were featured on just about every wall in town.
The coveted Toronto team timetable wasn’t just a way to count the months to opening night, follow a regular season of 60 to 70 games in the NHL’s Original Six era, or plot a playoff path.
It was a combination keepsake, artwork, photo essay, advertising vehicle and promotional arm of Maple Leaf Gardens as THE place to be for major events.
At its height of popularity in 1965, between 115,000 and 150,000 were being produced.
“I got one every Christmas,” 68-year-old Leafs collector/appraiser Mike Wilson wrote in his 2016 book Inside The Room With The Ultimate Leafs Fan. “That was thanks to all the smokers in my family (MacDonald Tobacco became a huge calendar sponsor). I collected them through the years and later bought a whole set of them.
“Mostly, I loved the pictures, because there weren’t a lot of coloured ones and posters (in the early ‘60s). We didn’t own our first colour TV until ’66-67 when the CBC started broadcasting the Leafs in colour.”
Barb Tushingham, daughter of franchise goaltending wins leader Turk Broda, has one calendar from ’63-64, with the previous year’s first and second NHL all-star teams, including Carl Brewer, Frank Mahovlich and Tim Horton.
“I always remember Dad saying to me and my sisters Bonnie and Betty, ‘put your best foot forward every day,’” Tushingham said.
For two generations of hockey fans when there was a barber shop or diner on every corner, chances are there was a Leaf calendar. In the late ‘40s and between 1962-67, the cover always seemed to have the gleaming Stanley Cup front and centre.
Of course that visual sparked lots of hockey talk among the customers. Month by month, you could fill in the box which was set aside for scores, long before the internet.
“You got your hair cut the same day the Leafs played at home, as they never were away on Saturday,” hockey archivist Paul Patskou recalled. “Kids of all ages were off that day and Canadians of all ages watched Hockey Night.”
Frank Selke, assistant general manager to Leafs boss Conn Smythe, is generally credited with ‘inventing’ the hockey calendar, putting home and road games on top of dates and promoting MLG as it became a hub of other sports and entertainment, which were included if the building schedule was known in advance.
“If they don’t use four-inch nails to fasten them to the walls, they’ll be gone in a day,” executive vice-president Harold Ballard noted of the great demand for the calendars in the team’s last golden title era.
Selke had started with a modest run of 25,000 and quickly doubled it. When MacDonald came aboard, cigarette ads became prominent.
They eventually became gifts for season-ticket holders and the price rose from 50 cents to a dollar. The Leafs successful farm clubs, such as the junior Marlboroughs, would get a team photo page, as did other Toronto affiliations in the minors. Trophy winners were honoured, while a month such as March was dedicated for a charitable cause.
“As a kid, I always waited anxiously for the month to end and the page was ripped off to show the next one,” Patskou said. “That was the only way to collect the pictures.
“You’d always see one in old films of the Leafs dressing room. Hey, the players needed to know when the next game was as well.”
One calendar somehow found its way to a wall at the Montreal Forum the season after Toronto had beaten the Canadiens for the Cup. Rocket Richard spotted it and angrily tore it down as the main art was the Leafs with the trophy.
But after a falling out with Smythe post-World War II, Selke went to Montreal and brought his calendar know-how along. The Habs’ version thrived, though similar attempts in the four American cities did not fly without sponsors.
Post-’67, the lack of Toronto titles hurt calendar interest, while local newspapers began producing their own versions of the Leafs and NHL schedules. After going with pocket skeds and fridge magnets, the Leafs gravitated to using their own social media for the information.
If your family kept an old one in great condition, good for you as some sell for a few hundred bucks on-line.
Congrats to former Leafs play-by-play man Dennis Beyak, whose retirement after many years in the WHL, Toronto and Winnipeg becomes official after working this week’s world junior championship … One-time Leafs enforcer Colton Orr is an assistant coach with PWHL New York. “There’s still contact, this is still a physical game, it’s the game of hockey,” he said prophetically before a well-played bump-and-grind opening win over Toronto. “The collisions, the way they compete and battle. It’s pretty amazing, the tempo of the game” … John Tavares, with 1,008 points, has a chance to pass two former Leafs on the NHL’s top 100 list this season, Brian Leetch (1,028) and Alex Mogilny (1,032).
THE WEEK IN LEAFS HISTORY
In 1992, Doug Gilmour picked up his first points as a Leaf, a first-period power-play goal and assist in his debut in Detroit after the 10-player trade with Calgary … It was 80 years ago Monday that Babe Pratt became the first Leaf with a six-assist game, later tied by Gilmour … Born on Jan. 6, 1907, Carl Voss, the first Toronto player ever called up from the Marlies, during the ‘26-27 season.
ONCE A LEAF
Featuring one of the more than 1,100 skaters coaches and general managers who have played or worked in Toronto since 1917.
RW Derek Laxdal
Born: Feb. 21, 1966 in Stonewall, Man.
Years with the Leafs: 1984-85, 1986-89
Games played: 51 (9 goals, 6 assists 15 points, 84 PIM)
Sweater numbers: 15, 28, 35
Perhaps no one appreciated winning the John Brophy coach of the year award in the ECHL more than his former pupil.
Though Laxdal joked he’d be severely reprimanded in today’s social media age for using Brophy’s language and archaic practice drills in his current job with the OHL Oshawa Generals, his former Leafs boss certainly left an impression — and not just the welts.
“He taught me a lot about respecting the game and working hard. You could have all the skill in the world, but you had to apply it. As you become a coach, you realize why he tried to push your buttons like he did.
“I’ve saved some old practice video of him showing us how he’d box guys out in front of the net in his time. It’s classic stuff, he’s really chopping at us, high-sticking, cross checking. My defencemen are watching it, going ‘Oh my God.’ I laugh and tell them ‘we just need you to box out.’
“But you can see the passion John had. It meant a lot to me to win that award named for him.”
Laxdal arrived in a good 1984 draft crop, topped by Al Iafrate, Todd Gill, Jeff Reese and Jack Capuano, all but Iafate becoming coaches at some level. A 23-goal man with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Laxdal broke out for 61 after the Leafs chose him 151st overall.
“I was just a teenager when I first got called up. Wonderful memories. Being with star players, in the same dressing room with Borje Salming and going to a team Christmas party at his house. Now he’s passed, I see the TV series about him and realize how lucky I am to tell people I played with him.
“I also knew the Hound Line guys (Wendel Clark, Russ Courtnall and Gary Leeman) from playing against them in junior.”
But after several trips between the AHL and the Leafs, new Toronto GM Floyd Smith put Laxdal, Capuano and Paul Gagne into a trade package to the Islanders for Mike Stevens and Gilles Thibaudeau.
Laxdal played 12 more years in the NHL, and various stops such as Roanoke, Va., Ilves, Finland, the British league in Humberside, Nottingham and Sheffield and finally the Odessa, Tex., Jackalopes in 2001.
Taking pieces of advice from his many coaches and inspired in particular by Tom Rennie and the late Don McKee, Laxdal found new appreciation for the game as a mentor.
In the ECHL, he won the Brophy award with the Idaho Steelheads in 2007 and, after five winning seasons, moved on to the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. His four successful seasons there included the 2014 Memorial Cup.
While in the Dallas chain, his AHL Texas Stars made it to Game 7 of the 2018 Calder cup, losing to Sheldon Keefe’s Marlies. He was an assistant with Dallas for three years before getting the Generals gig.
“The game keeps evolving, the offensive side is changing so much,” Laxdal observed. “There’s so much parity that the defensive side of the puck becomes all that more vital and the team that wins is the one that wants to (commit) to defence the most.
It’s not so much the scoring, it’s the work elsewhere on the ice that led to the goal. I’d hate to see video of me in the old days trying to play now.”
Citing a few Western juniors who had great NHL potential, Laxdal lamented they didn’t realize what was required to permanently make the jump.
“We’re all wired for the NHL, but sometimes you don’t realize the window is passing by so quickly.”
Laxdal likes what he sees in that regard from Guelph Storm forward Matthew Poitras, the Boston second-rounder.
The Generals, in the thick of the playoff battle in the OHL East, play Kingston at home on Jan. 14.
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FAVOURITE LEAF MEMORY
Laxdal’s first goal came after a few call-ups, on Oct. 9, 1988, at Chicago Stadium, an 8-4 Toronto win.
“What a famous building to score it in,” he said. “I came down the wall, got a puck from Brad Marsh and beat Jimmy Waite five-hole.
“I think Smokey (assistant trainer Dan Lemelin) got the puck back for me and the team put it on a plaque with my picture.
“I’ve moved many times since then and lost a lot of my hockey memorabilia in the process. Thankfully, that puck has managed to follow me everywhere.”