Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Leafs '65 (2015)

Forward by Stephen Brunt

The significance of the title takes a bit of time to register, at least outside of the Toronto area.

It really has been about 50 years since the Maple Leafs were consistently good.

Toronto won four Stanley Cups from 1961 to 1963, and added another one in 1967. They have flirted with success a bit at times after that, but for the most part times have been dreary for Maple Leafs fans for a half-century.

Therefore, books about this group tend to sell pretty well in Toronto, Canada's center of publishing. There certainly have been a lot of them.

Here's another: "Leafs '65." And it comes with a story.

Photographer Lewis Parker was a well-known photographer in the Sixties, and got the unusual assignment from a magazine of taking photos of the Maple Leafs in training camp in Peterborough, Ont., in 1965. The story fell through, but he still had the pictures ... and kept them for decades. A friend saw a folder marked "Leafs '65" that was full of negatives, heard the story, and suggested that they shouldn't go in the trash. Good decision.

Stephen Brunt, a top Canadian sportswriter, wrote an introduction of sorts as he covered where the Leafs were in the fall of 1965. They weren't the defending champions this time, as they had been in the previous three training camps, but they were still good. The Leafs for the most part had a bunch of wise veterans - Frank Mahovlich, Allan Stanley Dave Keon, Bob Pulford, Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, Marcel Provovost. A lot of those players are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, although the Montreal Canadiens had the Canadian market cornered on icons. Leading the team was Punch Imlach, an old-school coach and general manager who was crusty but knew his business.

Parker took a couple of hundred black-and-white pictures of whatever interested in him, and many are printed here. Thus, the era comes back to life for a little while, with pictures of Peterborough and its early '60s cars.The players look rather normal, hanging out together without entourages and showing no signs of wealth - because they weren't wealthy. On the ice, the workout sweats look primitive and  cheap. The locker room space was small, and some of it was only a step or two up from hooks on the way. Some of the players are shown smoking, a habit that hung around the sport until the 1980s.

This is mostly a picture book, of course. That means, according to my usual standards, it doesn't take long to go through, and it always a question about whether the price is worth it. In this case, $35 (Canadian) is a little steep. But it certainly gives an interesting look into an era that's long gone. Those who still love those Leaf teams of the Sixties, and their lot is always shrinking at this point, certainly will linger over this book and add a star (or maybe two) to the rating.

Three stars

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