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There’s no recognized April Fools’ Day in hockey, though Brian Burke used to joke general managers made more mistakes on free agent day than the rest of the year combined.
The origins of devoting the first of this month for pranks and unscripted events across world are hazy. Theories include the disputed calendars in many European countries in the Middle Ages, some with April 1 as New Year’s, or a passage in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales about a rooster being tricked into thinking March had 32 days,
Punking is prevalent throughout the NHL schedule and the Maple Leafs have certainly been part of many game-night shenanigans in their 102-year franchise history; some funny, some frustrating, if not embarrassing episodes of their own making.
There could be one unusual occurrence for each day of the Leafs Nation year, but we’ve narrowed it to these 20:
Jan. 5, 1918
This was the game where nobody came.
When the Montreal Wanderers rink burned down, it was decided not to send the team to Toronto for its scheduled match. But with tickets already sold at Mutual St. Arena, the hosts wanted to cover their legal obligations. At the appointed puck drop of 8:30 p.m., five players and goalie Hap Holmes came out at the near empty rink, referee Lou Marsh dropped the puck, Cy Dennenay skated to an empty net and scored and Toronto departed the ice.
The Arenas, Canadiens and Senators were left to complete the season.
Feb. 23, 1918
Today’s quote-starved fans craving colourful Leafs would’ve loved Ken Randall.
A member of the inaugural Toronto Arenas in 1917-18, who could play wing or defence, the Kingston native was already a terror in a couple of leagues before the NHL. He was constantly in trouble for swearing, reckless stick use and other misdeeds, yet his skill and sass helped make him the franchise’s first captain.
With a number of unpaid league fines on his tab before this game against Ottawa, referee Marsh warned Randall he’d have to cough up $35 on the spot or not play. Randall produced $32 in bills just before the face-off, but out of spite gave Marsh the balance in pennies.
As Marsh struggled to hold and count the 300 coppers, a player bumped into him and the coins flew everywhere, causing a delay while the Leafs and Senators picked them all off the ice.
March 15, 1932
If the foul was warranted, goaltenders in this era had to serve their own penalties.
Such was the case with Lorne Chabot, assessed a minor in Boston. And he couldn’t return when the opposition scored, so three Leafs defencemen, Red Horner, Alex Levinsky and King Clancy, went in net and allowed a goal each. Toronto lost 6-2.
Nov. 24, 1935
This tale involves the ‘other’ Scotty Bowman, (no relation to the coach), but who also was with the Red Wings, as a defenceman.
Penalized in this game, Bowman hid from the officials while Syd Howe (no relation to Gordie, but a great player in his own time) went to the box instead. The Leafs pointed out the chicanery to the ref and Howe was sent back in to serve another minor.
Dec. 1, 1949
Most people thought manager Conn Smythe’s threatened benching of stars such as Turk Broda for being overweight was a publicity stunt to distract from the Grey Cup hoopla going on in Toronto the last week of November.
But after a five-game winless streak, he did pull Broda and put Gilles Mayer in net for this 2-0 loss to Detroit, telling reporters “I’m not running a fat man’s club”.
Broda had to shed a few pounds, a ‘Battle Of The Bulge’, which the city followed every day with dietary tips for the roly poly goalie. A few nights later, Broda returned with a 2-0 shutout.
Jan. 30, 1965
Career back-up goalie Jack Norris thought his big day had finally come, a start against the three-time champion Leafs at the Gardens, no less.
Eddie Johnston, who’d played 160 straight games for Boston, was down with a bad flu and with no spare on the trip, Norris was flown all the way from the Bruins’ farm team in Los Angeles the night before the match.
But Norris’s equipment was stolen from the team’s Toronto hotel and the ailing Johnston had to go in anyway. Not long into the game, he was slashed and suffered a broken hand, but endured to finish the 6-1 loss.
The home-and-home the next night saw Norris in goal, wearing Johnston’s equipment, but losing 4-2 to the Leafs.
March 24, 1971
The Leafs were on a California road trip and a few members of the Golden Seals stopped by Toronto’s game day skate in Oakland.
They noticed an unfamiliar face struggling to keep up. It was actor Art Hindle, who’d been quietly invited along to get immersed in his role of Billy Duke for the upcoming Canadian-made movie Face-Off.
With no idea who Hindle was or the movie plan, the Seals began mocking his poor skill set. Paul Henderson overheard and warned them Hindle was a minor league goon who could snap at any moment and might be playing that night. The Seals were relieved not to see him in the lineup.
Hindle got so caught up in the role, he stayed out too long with the boys and missed a team flight, resulting in a fine.
Feb. 26, 1978
Embroiled in dispute with NHL president John Ziegler about refusing to put names on the back of players’ sweaters, owner Harold Ballard came up with a devious plan.
When his team played the Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium, the names were there, but in the same blue lettering as Toronto’ away sweaters, making them unreadable. Ballard, who had long claimed he was trying to protect home game program sales, was quite pleased with himself. The root of the issue was really his resentment of Ziegler telling him what to do in his own building.
After Toronto wore the controversial costumes a second night on Long Island, Ziegler threatened to increase the $10,000 fine, which got the frugal Ballard’s attention. The names appeared correctly for a March 1 game against the Flyers, while Gardens’ organist Ralph Fraser played Bobby Vinton’s ‘Blue On Blue’.
March 3, 1979
Coach Roger Neilson’s many attempts to circumvent NHL rules could fill volumes, but this night he narrowly escaped national embarrassment himself.
Neilson was fired two days earlier by Ballard, who then found none of his hockey office staff wanted the no-win job. When the players asked to have Neilson back, Ballard relented — if the coach would go along with a gag to wear a paper bag over his head before the home game against the Flyers. He was to remove it just before the face-off.
Exhausted by the whole affair, Neilson said yes, until assistant coach Al Dunford warned he’d come out of the crazy affair looking as silly as Ballard. Without the bag, Neilson and the Leafs won, but he was soon fired for real.
March 28, 1980
A lot was happening in this 8-5 loss to the Oilers, including Borje Salming called for closing his hand on a puck in Mike Palmateer’s crease.
Referee Ron Hoggarth awarded a penalty shot to Stan Weir, but in the absence of video review, a Leafs mob went after Hoggarth to argue. As that debate raged, an angry fan got to the gate (the benches were unsecured in those days at the Gardens) and released some mice on the ice. Maintenance men were sent out to round up the scurrying rodents to scoop with shovels (no, they didn’t play Three Blind Mice). Weir patiently skated around during this long delay and eventually scored on Palmateer.
This game also became a popular numerical trivia question, why only two of Wayne Gretzky’s goals counted in this game when No. 99 scored five times?
Because the Leafs had their own 99 at the time, forward Wilf Paiement, who recorded a hat trick in defeat.
April 1, 1989
This goalie gamble actually happened on an April Fools Day and the Leafs certainly confused fans in St. Louis.
As the seconds ticked towards a 3-3 overtime tie, which most teams would take on the road, coach George Armstrong suddenly called Allan Bester to the bench for a sixth man. It was motivated by the standings on the final weekend of regular play. The Leafs needed to pass Chicago, which was two points up and where they were playing next night to end the schedule, thus a draw versus the Blues meant nothing.
Yet not only did the Leafs become the first team ever to lose in overtime on an ENG, they fell in OT to the Hawks and were eliminated.
Oct. 11, 1989
Doug Carpenter will never forget his first home game as coach of the Leafs.
Many disgruntled fans wanted him to serve the minor penalty given the team right after the national anthem against the Sabres.
Toronto submitted a faulty starting lineup, spotted by ex-captain Rick Vaive on the Buffalo bench. Vaive noticed that Gary Leeman’s No. 11 had been circled on the sheet, but Vince Damphousse — No. 10 — was in the circle.
Vaive told the Sabres’ coaches, who alerted the officials. Dave Andreychuk scored on the ensuing power play to initiate a 7-1 beating.
Jan. 3, 1991
The Bloomington Met Center had one of the NHL’s first big-screen colour replay boards, but it riled old-school Leafs’ coach Tom Watt.
When the North Stars goals were replayed in full glory with broadcast commentary, an irate Watt declared it “cheerleading” and said by league rule the Stars should get a minor penalty. He even carried his protest to the league.
On March 11, 1992, after a few more Toronto losses there, a fed-up Watt had a plan to pull his team off the ice the first time Minnesota replayed a goal. The showdown was averted when the Leafs had a 3-0 shutout.
April 27, 1996
Mats Sundin was playing with a significant knee injury as the Leafs’ opening round series against the Blues reached the elimination stage, down 3-2.
The Leafs ordered a custom brace to be rushed in from California for the road game and it was duly delivered to the St. Louis Arena early that day. But the Blues, still sore than Nick Kypreos had run their goalie Grant Fuhr earlier in the series, left the brace in their mail room all day and didn’t hand it over to Leafs trainers to fit Sundin until near game time. Toronto lost 2-1.
Nov. 4, 1997
The Leafs were playing back-to-back in San Jose and Calgary in an unfortunate bit of scheduling and thought they were playing it smart by starting back-up Glen Healy and sending Felix Potvin ahead to Calgary to get a full night’s sleep. From across the continent, they summoned Marcel Cousineau from their St. John’s farm team to fill a seat on the bench.
Late in the scoreless game, Healy’s hand was cut by the skate blade of San Jose’s Bernie Nicholls. The cold, jet-lagged Cousineau was thrust in, but made a few saves to preserve quite possibly the last 0-0 result in team history.
March 21, 2001
The Leafs staggered into the playoffs in 2000-01, winning only 11 games in the final two months. This 3-1 loss to the terrible Florida Panthers was too much for one fan, who’d made it to the game and his seat despite a broken leg. In the late stages he fired one of his crutches over the glass.
Add that to the Leaf sweaters, waffles, and everything else fed-up fans littered the ice with. In the Gardens era, an angry usher even threw one of their famous white hats.
Nov. 13, 2003
Not much scared Darcy Tucker, except a ghost story.
The night before a game against the Kings, the Leafs were in the old Biltmore Hotel in L.A., scene of the Black Dahlia murder in the 1940s and supposedly still haunted by the spirit of the aspiring actress, last seen alive in its lobby. The story was casually told to Tucker by mischievous teammates as they checked in.
With help from his roomie, Bryan McCabe, Tucker was stalled downstairs long enough for Tom Fitzgerald and Ed Belfour to hide under his bed and in the closet, respectively. About a half hour after Tucker was tucked in, Fitzgerald started lightly tugging on the blankets to startle him awake and then Belfour scratched at the door. Tucker jumped so high he almost landed in McCabe’s bed.
Jan. 21, 2013
Coming out of the last lockout, the club had an ambitious home opening puck drop that required help from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Then in Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station, Hadfield was a big Leafs fan and agreed to be pre-taped letting a puck float weightless, then pretend to throw it downward where retired goalie Felix Potvin would be looking skyward to catch it on live TV and relay it to centre ice.
There was just one problem.
“I’m on a spaceship, where am I going to find a puck?,” Hadfield told the Sun, once back on terra firma. “But I told (the network) ‘we’ll figure something out’.”
Hadfield first tried the ship’s computerized inventory management system entering ‘puck’ and ‘hockey’, but came up empty.
“Then I thought the Russian crew had food cans about the size of a puck. So I grabbed a black Sharpie (to try and colour one). Then another crew member floated up with a camera lens cap, exactly the right size, flat black. It looked exactly like a puck if held the right way. I just had to make sure I didn’t tip it on camera.”
Nov. 20, 2014
It’s what happened after this 5-2 home win over Tampa Bay that grabbed everyone’s attention.
The victory came after three losses in which the whole character of the club and its accountability to the public was being trashed. But Leafs fans were quick to forgive of course and applauded the big win at the final horn. Cody Franson and Leo Komarov headed to centre ice for the traditional post-win crowd salute.
But captain Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel began calling everyone off the ice and into the room, a collective middle finger to their critics. For a team that had been roasted for its lack of unity, this was a bold move, though it eventually backfired when none of the plotters could get their post-game story straight.
Feb. 2, 2019
There was hardly a dry eye at SBA when the Leafs pulled this off on Canadian Forces Night.
The troops were honoured before the game, topped by Cpl. Jeremy Hillson with a video message from his base in Iraq. His wife Jen and children Mason and Dakota were then introduced for the ceremonial face-off with Major-General Omer Lavoie.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and Leafs alternate Morgan Rielly came to centre where Lavoie asked Jen for the puck. She was taken aback, thinking Lavoie must have it and then saw Crosby and Rielly back away.
It was then Jen looked around to see her smiling husband striding along the red carpet with the disc for a tearful surprise reunion.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020