TORONTO (Sep. 30) - I will always fondly remember my decade-and-a-half covering the Maple Leafs for The Fan-590. It's the reason I didn't have a single bitter feeling toward the radio station when it cast me adrift in June... I am who I am (professionally) because of the opportunity accorded me by Telemedia and Rogers between 1995 and this past summer.
As I continue a photo-blog series on my sports collection, I return to my first season covering Leaf games at home and on the road: the lockout-shortened schedule that began in the third week of January 1995. Though I reported on the Leafs for The Fan-590 and contributed to the radio broadcast (which was still on our station that year), my travel was funded by Warwick Publishing for the purpose of a book I wrote (front and back-cover photos below).
The Leafs of '95 were essentially the team that advanced to consecutive Conference finals the previous two springs... with one big change. Mats Sundin had been acquired from Quebec in a trade that sent Wendel Clark to the Nordiques minutes before the 1994 NHL draft in Hartford. Engineered by general manager Cliff Fletcher and coach Pat Burns, the shake-up did not have the intended result - primarily because the team's best player, Doug Gilmour, could not maintain his phenomenal pace. Between January 1992 (when he was acquired from Calgary) and the Stanley Cup drive of 1994, Gilmour was the greatest player in Leafs history - establishing single-season club records for assists (95); points (127) and playoff points (35). Burns used Gilmour in every key situation during the '92-93 and '93-94 seasons and the smallish centre ultimately ran out of gas. His uncompromising determination never waned but Gilmour's stamina (owing to a pair of achy feet) decreased, as did a split-second of timing in his magical, play-making hands. It resulted in the Leafs becoming a very average team in the shortened '95 campaign.
Contributing to Gilmour's slide - undoubtedly - was the 103-day owners' lockout that postponed the '94-95 schedule until late-January. A precursor to the season entirely decimated by labor strife 10 years later, the initial lockout stymied momentum... individually (Gilmour being a prime example) and collectively (the NHL - a blazing property in the U.S. after the New York Rangers ended their 54-year Stanley Cup drought in the spring of '94, defeating Vancouver in a terrific final - could not reclaim its allure after the three-and-a-half-month interruption).
It was, however, a unique season, given its unprecedented delay and its last-minute salvation (by the width of a razor-blade) in New York when all seemed lost. Moments after the league announced its teams would play a 48-game schedule - entirely among Conference opponents - I received a call from Warwick Publishing, asking if I'd be interested in following the Maple Leafs through the abbreviated campaign. I ran the idea past Burns, who generously allowed me access to the team bus, and to charter flights (when desired). The aforementioned book resulted, as did a resumption of the travel-reporting gig (financed by the radio station) when The Fan-590 lost the Leafs broadcast rights in the summer of 1995. This role continued interrupted until the start of the 2009-10 season, when new management at the station felt it was no longer worthwhile to accord the Blue & White blanket coverage.
During my first few years on the beat, I maintained a scrap-book collection of all Leaf games, featuring newspapers from Toronto and rival NHL cities. I also found myself in the habit of buying programs from arenas on the road. These magazines and game-stories from the shortened '95 NHL season are displayed below. Please enjoy a reflection of my first year covering the Leafs.
END OF OWNERS' LOCK-OUT
My lifetime record for sleep deprivation - 37 hours and 50 minutes - was established during the marathon bargaining that ended the NHL labor impasse. I awoke in New York at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, January 9, 1995 and finally collapsed onto my hotel bed at 9:20 p.m. Tuesday. In between, the NHL (led by second-year commissioner Gary Bettman) and the NHL Players Association (led by executive director Bob Goodenow) held tenuous discussions that nearly wiped out the whole shootin' match. With either a breakthrough or total collapse of negotiation possible at any moment, reporters covering the talks dared not retire to their hotel rooms. Even the time invested by those with a full urinary-bladder created undue anxiety over a "missed" announcement.
THE CLOSEST I EVER CAME TO KISSING ANOTHER MAN WAS WHEN NHL VICE-PRESIDENT OF MEDIA RELATIONS, ARTHUR PINCUS, WALKED INTO A BALLROOM AT THE CROWNE PLAZA MANHATTAN (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS PHOTO ABOVE) AT 8:30 P.M. ON JAN. 10, 1995 AND TOLD REPORTERS THAT NO LABOR NEWS WOULD BE ANNOUNCED "UNTIL AT LEAST THE MORNING." IT ALLOWED ME TO QUICKLY CALL THE RADIO STATION AND KEEL OVER INTO BED ALMOST 38 HOURS AFTER AWAKENING. OTHER HEADLINE THREATS WERE FEATURED INSIDE THE DAILY NEWS (WRITER FRANK BROWN LATER JOINED THE NHL AS BETTMAN'S MEDIA LIAISON, A ROLE HE MAINTAINS) AND ON THE COVER OF THE TORONTO SUN - BOTH BELOW.
THE FACES OF THE MID-'90s MAPLE LEAFS - DOUG GILMOUR; CLIFF FLETCHER (ABOVE) AND THE LATE PAT BURNS (BELOW) - WERE ALL SMILES ON THE FRONT OF THE TORONTO SUN AFTER A SETTLEMENT WAS FINALLY REACHED IN THE HOCKEY LABOR DISPUTE.
1994-95 REGULAR SEASON
In 1995, the Maple Leafs were still in the Western Conference of the NHL (the club transferred to the Eastern Conference for the 1998-99 season). As such, all 48 games in the lockout-shortened schedule were played against fellow Western opponents. Programs and stories from the majority of road games are pictured below.
SEASON OPENER: TORONTO AT LOS ANGELES - FRI. JAN. 20, 1995
TORONTO AT SAN JOSE - SAT. JAN. 21, 1995
ABOVE PHOTO IN TORONTO STAR IS OF MATS SUNDIN'S FIRST GOAL AS A MAPLE LEAF.
TORONTO AT CHICAGO - FRI. JAN. 27, 1995
TORONTO AT DALLAS - MON. JAN. 30, 1995
TORONTO AT VANCOUVER - WED. FEB. 1, 1995
I REMEMBER HOW UPSET THE LEAF PLAYERS WERE AFTER SEEING THE ABOVE HEADLINE IN THE VANCOUVER PROVINCE... THAT THEY "LAUGHED" AT THE CANUCKS DURING A THIRD-PERIOD COMEBACK. "JUST RIDICULOUS," DOUG GILMOUR SAID. "HOW DO YOU WRITE A HEADLINE LIKE THAT?"
TORONTO AT EDMONTON - FRI. FEB. 3, 1995
TORONTO AT CALGARY - SAT. FEB. 4, 1995
TORONTO AT DETROIT - FRI. FEB. 10, 1995
LOS ANGELES AT TORONTO - SAT. FEB. 11, 1995
TORONTO AT SAN JOSE - WED. MAR. 15, 1995
TORONTO AT ANAHEIM - FRI. MAR. 17, 1995
TORONTO AT LOS ANGELES - SAT. MAR. 18, 1995
TORONTO AT VANCOUVER - TUE. MAR. 21, 1995
TORONTO AT WINNIPEG - SAT. MAR. 25, 1995
TORONTO AT CHICAGO - FRI. MAR. 31, 1995
TORONTO AT ST. LOUIS - MON. APR. 3, 1995
WOULDN'T THIS GUY BECOME A LEAF FAVORITE JUST MORE THAN THREE YEARS LATER?
LEAFS TRADE FOR TIE DOMI - FRI. APR. 7, 1995
TORONTO AT WINNIPEG - SAT. APR. 15, 1995
TORONTO AT CHICAGO - MON. APR. 17, 1995
THE INSULTING, LEGALLY-CHALLENGED YET HILARIOUS PUBLICATION (ABOVE) WAS SOLD ON PUBLIC SIDEWALKS OUTSIDE THE UNITED CENTER IN CHICAGO DURING THE MID-TO-LATE-'90s. IT WAS BLATANTLY DISRESPECTFUL TOWARD BLACKHAWKS' AGING OWNER, BILL WIRTZ, WHOSE ALLEGED PROBLEMS WITH ALCOHOL; ALLEGED FRUGALITY, AND UNWILLINGNESS TO TELEVISE HOME GAMES DREW THE WRATH OF HOCKEY FANS IN THE WINDY CITY. THIS "PROGRAM" PILLORIED WIRTZ (AND OTHER NHL FIGURES) UNDER THE GUISE OF SATIRE AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
TORONTO AT ST. LOUIS - FRI. APR. 21, 1995
TORONTO AT DALLAS - SAT. APR. 22, 1995
TORONTO AT CALGARY - SAT. APR. 29, 1995
TORONTO AT EDMONTON - MON. MAY 1, 1995
TORONTO AT ANAHEIM - WED. MAY 3, 1995
GAME 2: at CHICAGO - TUE. MAY 9, 1995
GAME 3: at TORONTO - THU. MAY 11, 1995
GAME 4 at TORONTO - SAT. MAY 13, 1995
GAME 5: at CHICAGO - MON. MAY 15, 1995
GAME 6: at TORONTO - WED. MAY 17, 1995
GAME 7: at CHICAGO - FRI. MAY 19, 1995
POSTSCRIPT: SUN. MAY 21, 1995
PROGRAMS FROM 1995 STANLEY CUP FINAL:
NEW JERSEY SWEEPS DETROIT IN 4