“Official Centennial Publication” is a historical treasure

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Toronto’s NHL franchise, renowned hockey author and historian Kevin Shea has assembled “The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club Official Centennial Publication.”

Co-written with Jason Wilson, the magnificent 350-page volume documents the first century of the franchise, first known as the Arenas, then the St. Patricks, then of course the name we have all come to know, the Maple Leafs.

From triumph, to tragedy, to tribulation – Keon, Bailey, Ballard – the Battle of the Bulge, and Brian Burke’s belligerence, a hundred years of the franchise’s history is traced thoroughly from Armstrong to Zigomanis.

“One of the real mandates that I put on myself was making this book different, knowing full well that there are so many books about the Leafs and magazine articles, and newspaper stories,” Shea said from his customary seat in the 300-level of Air Canada Centre where the long-time season ticketholder has enjoyed, or been frustrated with, many a Leafs game.

“Of course you have to tell the opening of the Gardens, and Bill Barilko, and Darryl Sittller’s 10-point game. But in pouring through newspapers, and video, and books, I tried to find things that hadn’t been told too much or at all, so that –when people are reading it – they get the full story.”

This is Shea’s 14th publication, the latest endeavour in a resume that includes “Over the Boards, the Ron Ellis Story”, “Barilko: Without A Trace”, “Toronto Maple Leafs, Diary of a Dynasty 1957-1967”, and “Centre Ice: the Smythe Family and the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club.”

Having previously written a baker’s dozen of books certainly helped Shea get a headstart on the research for the centennial publication. However the volume is anything but a mere compilation of recycled material. Shea prides himself on uncovering golden nuggets of stories previously untold.

For example, in the 1930s, Leafs teammates and future Hall of Famers Red Horner and Hap Day drew fans to Maple Leaf Gardens not only for their hockey prowess, but also for a wrestling match, as previously told to NHL.com.

And, while the first NHL All-Star Game in 1934 is considered to be the model of the benefit game – first played in honour of Ace Bailey – in fact it was a regurgitation of an existing practice.

“There were a number of games that were fundraising games for players who were injured, or whatever, and not necessarily Leaf players,” Shea said. “The NHL All-Star Game that we all know as the Ace Bailey tribute game was actually preceded by a Moose Ecclestone game, a gentleman who was the manager of the Toronto Goodyears which was a local team here, and several Leafs played in that during the season – Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson and Red Horner too.

Also, a guy named Nels Crutchfield had a major head injury that ended his career, and several Leafs joined (the game held in his benefit). So they were basically All-Star Games that preceded the Bailey one.”

Of course, the eleven Stanley Cups captured under the Maple Leafs name are chronicled. And while there hasn’t been any post-1967 expansion success for the franchise, a multitude of names still resonate with fans, even on a first-name basis only: Tiger, Lanny, Wendel and Dougie, for example.

A vast collection of colour and black and white photographs is conveniently interspersed; from the Irish green of the Toronto St. Pats sweaters, to the blustery conditions at ‘The Big House’ in Michigan at the 2014 Winter Classic between the Leafs and Red Wings.

Any hockey fan, whether aged nine or ninety-nine, whether their first game in attendance was at Arena Gardens a.k.a. Mutual Street Arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, or Air Canada Centre, will thoroughly enjoy this compilation. And there was no more an appropriate author than Shea, a lifelong fan who wears a Maple Leaf on his sleeve.

“If there’s an iconic franchise in baseball, it’s the New York Yankees, and in football, probably the Dallas Cowboys. But in NHL hockey, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, unless you live in Quebec,” he said.

“The centennial publication documents just how Leafs Nation started in the 20’s, it isn’t a recent phenomenon…how the magnitude of this team – over a hundred years – it wasn’t always the Maple Leafs, but how it rose and fell through this time, and had great times and had some troubled times, but just to realize this iconic franchise, for good reason.”

“The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club Official Centennial Publication” is available from McClelland & Stewart.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca.

In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.