Voices in Blue and White

493 Maple Leafs reflect on a 103-year-old hockey franchise

Posted 1/17/21

How much reverence can professional hockey players and veterans have for their team, which hasn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1967?

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Voices in Blue and White

493 Maple Leafs reflect on a 103-year-old hockey franchise

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How much reverence can professional hockey players and veterans have for their team, which hasn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1967? The answer is, plenty.

Best-selling hockey author Kevin Shea just released his 19th book, a compilation of hundreds of individual interviews with current and former members of the Toronto Maple Leafs. With a digital recorder in hand, Shea taps into his vast network of Leaf Nation contacts to capture hearts and minds at every available opportunity: Claire Alexander at a lunch, Zach Hyman after a practice, Jake Muzzin at a signing, Darryl Shannon at a fundraising event, etc.

With no more than 5 minutes allotted for each interview, Shea specifically asks his target audience what it meant for them to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a hockey franchise that was founded in 1917 and is one of the “Original Six” NHL clubs along with the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, and Detroit Red Wings. The writer then pored through the files at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s resource center to find comparable quotes from players going back to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s to assemble the most complete collection possible.

What the hockey historian and aficionado exposes through his extensive conversations and research is the deep passion and respect that his subjects hold for the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the club has hoisted the Stanley Cup 13 times, second only to the Montreal Canadiens, all of those victories predate the 1967 expansion when the NHL doubled its team members from 6 to 12 franchises.

Many of Shea’s voices grew up watching ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ where they tuned in to the Leafs every Saturday. Several had parents who bled blue and white, and that filtered down to them. Some dreamed of playing for their favorite team and they were incredulous years later when they pulled the blue and white jersey over their head to claim a rightful place in Leafs history.

Below is an extract of one of the interviews conducted with Russ Courtnall, a Right winger with the Maple Leafs from 1984-1988. Courtnall played 309 regular season games and 29 playoff games. He was especially valued for his speed on the ice, which created goal opportunities for his line-mates. The interview reveals the fond childhood memories of the Leafs that Courtnall shared with his father as he was growing up, and his respectful but seemingly personal decision to move on and join the Montreal Canadiens.

“My Dad was a huge Leafs fan, so I automatically became a Leafs fan myself. Saturday nights were the only nights that we were allowed to eat in front of the television. I don't think my mother and sister came down, but my Dad, Geoff (also an NHL alumnus) and I would watch 'Hockey Night in Canada' and he would make us stand for the anthem and then we would eat hamburgers and homemade French fries. Most of the time it was the Maple Leafs playing and then we'd play knee hockey. My Dad was a really good hockey player but his rights belonged to the Detroit Red Wings. He played one year pro and then quit and started working in the mill because back then, you could make twice as much working in the mill as you could playing hockey. When I started playing hockey when I was three or four years old, I played at Memorial Arena in Victoria, British Columbia and we were called the Maple Buds. We had home and away Maple Leafs uniforms, white and blue. I was a Maple Bud when I first started playing hockey and I got drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. My Dad's favorite team was the Maple Leafs, my favorite team was the Maple Leafs, my favorite player was Borje Salming. It was almost meant to be. Unfortunately, my Dad passed away when I was 13, so he never saw me play for the Leafs. I turned pro after the '84 Olympics. I had just got back from Sarajevo and we played a tournament in France after the Olympics. I got called up, so I flew from our home in Victoria to Vancouver (for a road game against the Canucks) and I played (for the Maple Leafs), jet-lagged and all. My Mom was there. In my first game, Tiger Williams hit me hard behind the net. You can imagine having that experience being a Maple Leaf fan, getting drafted, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and then getting traded to the Montreal Canadiens. My first game as a Montreal Canadien, I was just about to put my jersey on and I looked up to Heaven and said, "Sorry, Dad," and then put the jersey on”.

For hockey fans in general, and Toronto Maple Leafs fans in particular, “Voices in Blue and White: Pride and Passion for the Maple Leafs” is a light and enjoyable book, to be read in bits and pieces as time allows.

Kevin Shea sits on the Toronto Maple Leafs Historical Committee and is an award-winning member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR). His book is $25 plus shipping, and is currently available only directly from him. www.kevinsheahockey.com            Kevin_shea@rogers.com 

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