Front and Centre in 2011 HHOF
With induction weekend getting under way and some of the all-time greats set to reunite on the ice at the ACC before the Monday HHOF Induction Ceremony, this year’s class stands out more in the eyes of Leafs fans
than many others in recent memory. While the Leafs have seen more members enter the Hall representing that Maple Leafs sweater than any other team, it’s rare that they see three former members of their club enter the Hall together. This year, that’s the case, with Doug Gilmour, “Eddie the Eagle” Belfour and Joe Nieuwendyk all receiving the honour alongside Mark Howe.
There are certain things all 3 players had in common when they were in Toronto and right at the top of that list is the support from the fans. All 3 men were fan favourites while they played in Toronto, regardless of how long their stints were. Nieuwendyk played just one season with the Leafs, Belfour played three and Gilmour played six but they left their lasting mark, each in their own way with moments that Toronto fans will never forget.
It’s those unforgettable moments as Maple Leafs as well as some stories that brought each of them into the conversation as hockey legends that I hope to share with you.
Doug Gilmour’s Career Statistics: GP: 1474 G: 450 A: 964 P: 1414 PIM: 1301
The most memorable of the trio was of course Doug Gilmour, who for 393 games as a Leaf left it all on the ice and quickly found himself in the hearts of the Leafs faithful. His stats don’t lie, with 452 regular season points and 386 penalty minutes in those 392 games Gilmour proved that he was not only perhaps one of the most dynamic offensive players the storied franchise had ever seen bust also one of the feistiest. Gilmour also set the all-time single season point record of 127 points that stands to this day. But when #93 really came to play, it was when it mattered, in the playoffs. In 52 playoff games as a Leaf, Gilmour posted an astounding 77 points and brought the Maple Leafs into one of the most historic playoff runs since 1967, scoring one of the most historic goals.
In 1993 before losing to the Los Angeles Kings just shy of that elusive Stanley Cup birth, Gilmour brought Leafs fans the infamous double overtime goal against his former team, the St Louis Blues in game 1 of the Norris Final as he faked a wraparound behind the net only to spin the other direction and tuck it in. Now we’ve all seen the moment played over and over again but it’s the moments that got him there that are forgotten and it wasn’t an easy road.
At the age of 16 and entering into his first year in Junior A with the Bellville Bobcats, Gilmour was a small and skinny 5’9 and 135 pound defensemen. After just 3 games on defense and not impressing, Doug was move to forward where he went on to play his remaining 3 years in junior. Note that 3 years in junior means he was passed on as an 18 year old in. After posting just 35 points in 51 games in his first eligible draft year, Doug showed critics that he wasn’t one to give up, posting 119 points in 67 games to earn himself what a seemingly “against all odds” selection as a 19 year old in the 7th round of the 1982 draft by the St. Louis Blues. Good selection? I think so.
Whether it’s the Stanley Cup winning goals, the Maple Leafs records or his ability to lead by example when it mattered, Doug Gilmour will get what he’s earned on Monday.
“Eddie the Eagle” Belfour’s Career Statistics: GP: 963 W: 484 L: 320 T: 125 SO: 76 GAA: 2.49
The above stats are proof to the fact that Ed Belfour is one of the greatest goaltenders the NHL has ever seen. Alongside his Stanley Cup, Calder Trophy, and his two Vezina’s, Belfour’s 484 wins put him 3rd all-time, 76 Shutouts put him 9th, 88 playoff wins put him 4th and 14 playoff shutouts leave him 5th.
All this from a goalie who played Tier Two Junior for the Winkler Flyers and went undrafted and unheard of until he played his first year of College as a 21 year old for University of North Dakota, taking College hockey by storm with a 29-4 record. The 29-4 record led him to being signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted 22 year old goalie. I doubt they knew the goalie he would become.
After establishing himself as a premier goalie, Belfour’s fiery personality quickly became what he was known for, perhaps more so then his production on the ice. Belfour’s clashes with teammates and coaches were often newsworthy. His conflicts with often coach Mike Keenan were evident each and every time he was pulled from a game and he was arrested twice due to intoxication.
One thing that can’t be denied though was his production and upon joining the Leafs he gave fans some moments to remember as well. After the departure of local hero Curtis Joseph, Belfour had big shoes to fill. The most memorable moment in the “Blue and White” being his three consecutive shutouts during the 2004 playoffs over the Ottawa Senators.
Joe Nieuwendyk’s Career Statistics: GP: 1257 G: 564 A: 562 P: 1126 PIM: 677
Unlike Gilmour and Belfour, Nieuwendyk was a dominant young hockey player and shoe in to be drafted from the get-go. Playing his university hockey with Cornell, Joe was a first team All-Star and All-American in both years as well as seen as Canada’s best lacrosse player before being drafted 27th overall by Calgary and choosing the hockey route. His lacrosse career began with another former NHLer Gary Roberts as they became the dominant team in the country. Today, annually, the Ontario Lacrosse Association awards the Joe Nieuwendyk Award to the top Junior A lacrosse Rookie. Nieuwendyk went on to win the Calder Trophy with a 51 goal rookie campaign and really did it all during his career, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, 3 Stanley Cups with three different teams, Olympic Gold and finally being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In 2003-04 after winning his 3rd Stanley Cup with New Jersey, Nieuwendyk join his hometown team, the Leafs (he grew up in Whitby/Oshawa just outside of Toront), to play one season alongside his good friend Gary Roberts, this time with a hockey stick instead of a lacrosse stick. In that season Nieuwendyk, partnered with Sundin, Roberts and Belfour brought the Maple Leafs past the Sens before losing to the Flyers in the second round. The lockout followed and Joe and Gary would join the Panthers the year after where Joe finished his career with back problems.
Three fantastic hockey legends.