By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 12) - Hockey fans lucky enough to be at the Air Canada Centre tonight will undoubtedly witness one of the longest, loudest and most heart-felt ovations in the arena's 12-year history. When Doug Gilmour is introduced by P.A. announcer Andy Frost, the ACC audience will rise as one to salute the greatest Leafs player of all time over a limited, yet remarkable juncture. Among four players being inducted on Monday into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Gilmour will draw a standing cheer for his unparalleled exploits on behalf of the Maple Leafs in the spring playoff runs of 1993 and 1994 - astoundingly creeping up on two decades past. His regular and post-season statistical achievements remain club standards:
*95 assists and 127 points [1992-93].
*25 assists and 35 points [in 21 games of the '93 playoffs].
*Six assists in one game [Feb. 13, 1993 at the Met Center in Bloomington MN during 6-1 win over the North Stars - tying Walter (Babe) Pratt's team record].
A banner depicting Gilmour's No. 93 jersey hangs from a girder in the ACC, among franchise legends honored by the Maple Leafs. The headlines, photos and stories featured below stand as a testament to Gilmour's brilliant leadership throughout the intoxicating 21-games-in-42-nights Stanley Cup challenge of 1993. Though you have to be nearing 30 years of age to recall that six-week drive - ended by Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference final at Maple Leaf Gardens - those fortunate enough (like yours truly) to have attended each of the 21 matches find a way to keep the memory vibrant. It will only be eclipsed when the hockey club finally ends its long championship drought.
That said, a more objective appraisal of Gilmour's Hall-of-Fame career would likely not focus on the spring of '93. Instead, it would date four years earlier - to the successful 1989 Stanley Cup pursuit of the Calgary Flames - after which many still believe Gilmour was robbed of the Conn Smythe Trophy by teammate Al MacInnis. Of course, this is no blight on MacInnis - a Hall-of-Famer, himself - whose blistering slapshot and powerplay orchestration with defense-mate Gary Suter contributed largely to the Flames triumph (he led all playoff participants with 24 assists and 31 points). It's just that every time a big goal needed to be scored that spring, Gilmour was invariably the last man to touch the puck. He counted 11 goals and 22 points in as many games and almost all of his markers either rescued or put Calgary over the top
"No one came through for us in big moments more often than Dougie did that spring," recalls Cliff Fletcher, GM of the Cup-winning Flames; later to acquire Gilmour from his former team as manager of the Blue White. "I don't think he had a bad shift through that entire playoff run. 'Crispy' [Calgary coach Terry Crisp] put him on the ice in every key situation."
And that's why Gilmour, himself, would likely define his career by the 1989 conquest, rather than the eye-popping, largely-unexpected challenge of '93 with the Leafs that fell five games short of completion. It is always the athlete's ultimate and primary goal to play for a championship team and the Flames would not have won the '89 Stanley Cup without Gilmour.
Therefore, in spite of the images below, his achievement in red and gold stands by itself.
THE MAPLE LEAFS TOOK THIS HOCKEY-CRAZED TOWN ON A PHENOMENAL JOURNEY BETWEEN APR. 19 AND MAY 29, 1993.
FIRST, THEY REBOUNDED FROM A 2-0 SERIES DEFICIT TO KNOCK OFF DETROIT IN A CONFERENCE QUARTERFINAL - GILMOUR TYING THE DECISIVE SEVENTH GAME AT JOE LOUIS ARENA LATE IN REGULATION, SETTING THE STAGE FOR NIKOLAI BORSCHEVSKY'S WINNER (A DEFLECTION OF A SHOT FROM INSIDE THE RIGHT POINT BY DEFENSEMAN BOB ROUSE) EARLY IN OVERTIME.
TWO NIGHTS LATER - AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS - CAME GILMOUR'S DEFINING MOMENT IN BLUE & WHITE: HIS UNSCRIPTED, SIDE-TO-SIDE EXPLOIT BEHIND THE ST. LOUIS NET THAT ENDED WITH A WRAP-AROUND GOAL ON CURTIS JOSEPH IN DOUBLE-OVERTIME, GIVING THE LEAFS A 1-0 SERIES LEAD IN THE CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS. TORONTO WOULD AGAIN REQUIRE SEVEN GAMES TO DISPATCH THE BLUES.
THE CONFERENCE FINAL AGAINST L.A. IS BEST-REMEMBERED IN THESE PARTS NOT FOR GRETZKY'S VIRTUOSO HAT-TRICK PERFORMANCE IN THE DECISIVE MATCH, BUT RATHER HIS UNINTENTIONAL HIGH-STICK ON GILMOUR IN GAME 6 AT THE FORUM IN INGLEWOOD CA. HAD GRETZKY BEEN BANISHED BY REFEREE KERRY FRASER FOR SLICING OPEN GILMOUR'S CHIN, HE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN IN POSITION TO LIFT A REBOUND OVER FELIX POTVIN FOR THE OVERTIME WINNER THAT SENT BOTH TEAMS BACK EAST.
FOR THOSE THAT HAVE NEVER SEEN A NEWSPAPER FRONT, OR SPORTS PAGE, DETAILING THE LEAFS IN A PLAYOFF GAME, PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING REMINISCENCE FROM MY SCRAP-BOOK COLLECTION...
VETERAN MIKE FOLIGNO WON GAME 5 OF THE DETROIT SERIES WITH A GOAL FROM THE SLOT EARLY IN OVERTIME - CAPPING THE VISITORS' REBOUND FROM A 4-1 DEFICIT AT JOE LOUIS ARENA.
ROSIE DiMANNO'S FRONT-PAGE STORY (ABOVE) - AND THE FRONT SPORTS-PAGE (BELOW) OF THE TORONTO STAR - THE MORNING AFTER NIK BORSCHEVSKY'S OVERTIME SERIES WINNER AT DETROIT.
DOUG GILMOUR AND TEAMMATE TODD GILL EMBRACE ALONG SIDE-BOARDS (ABOVE) AFTER GILMOUR'S LEGENDARY DIPSY-DOODLE BEHIND CURTIS JOSEPH ENDED THE OPENER OF THE CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL WITH ST. LOUIS IN DOUBLE-O.T.
THE TORONTO SUN MAINTAINED A COMPARISON BETWEEN GILMOUR AND GRETZKY (ABOVE) THROUGHOUT THE LEAFS-L.A. CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP.
GLENN ANDERSON BATTED THE PUCK OUT OF MID-AIR PAST KELLY HRUDEY TO WIN GAME 5 OF THE LOS ANGELES SERIES LATE IN THE FIRST OVERTIME AT THE GARDENS (ABOVE AND BELOW), AND PUT THE LEAFS WITHIN A VICTORY OF CLASHING WITH MONTREAL IN THE STANLEY CUP FINAL.
ONLY ONCE SINCE 1967 HAS A TORONTO NEWSPAPER BEEN ABLE TO FLASH THE ABOVE HEADLINE. SADLY FOR THE LEAFS, IT DIDN'T COME TO FRUITION... THE GAME 7 "SHOWDOWN" WITH THE KINGS (BELOW) ENDING IN DEFEAT.