Friday, April 1, 2016

A FAN FOR LIFE

Ray Mulley's passion for the game of hockey began when he was a youngster living in Cornwall, Ontario, in the 50's. His favourite player was Sid Smith of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The above sketch was done by Ray in 1997 and he clearly nailed Sid's image. A couple of years ago, at the Original Six Alumni lunch, I was introduced to Ray by Blaine Smith, who is Sid's son. Since then, we've had many discussions about Sid Smith and his career with the Maple Leafs. Listening to Ray share stories about his boyhood idol, one could tell the passage of time hasn't diminished his memories.

Blaine SmIth (L) with Ray Mulley
I thought it would be interesting to look into the past and examine what it was like for a young fan to follow his favourite team and player during the transition from games being broadcast on radio, then television. Also, to explore what happens when the fan gets older and seeks out the player who captured his imagination as a child.

Recently, I asked Ray to tell his story and here it is in his own words:

I first discovered the Leafs and Sid Smith while listening to games on the radio with my parents. To be more specific, this would have been during the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring of 1951. I was six years old. My Dad would show me pictures of NHL players and I fell in love with the Maple Leafs jersey. 

Two of the most prominent names heard over the radio during the 1951 Stanley Cup finals were Montreal's Rocket Richard and Toronto's Sid Smith, as it seems they took turns battling for the scoring lead. As history would reveal, this 1951 Stanley Cup final would go down in the league's record book as one of the most exciting finals ever, as all five games were decided in overtime with the Leafs prevailing. This was the only time, before or since, that all games in the finals were were decided in overtime.
From that point on, Sid Smith became my favourite hockey player, and I followed his career with great interest.

His second hockey card displaying his 1951-52 season record, also revealed his record setting goal in the first game of the Stanley Cup finals, which he scored just 15 seconds from the opening face-off. Of course, when I was listening to that game in 1951, I was too young to recognize the significance of that goal until I read the back of that hockey card.

The following season (1952-53) Sid Smith scored 15 goals in 66 games with four games to go on the Leafs schedule. By that time, I'm eight years old and fully aware that he had scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons. Scoring five goals in the remaining four games of the season appeared to be unlikely, however, I was thrilled with the end result. Sid scored the five goals in four games to reach 20 goals for the fourth season in a row. 

He would go on to make it six consecutive seasons scoring 20 or more goals, with the highlight of his career coming in 1954-55, when he scored 33 goals as well as making the First All-Star Team at left wing and win g the Lady Byng Trophy for the second time.
It was around this time that I found out about his heroics during the 1948-49 Stanly Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings, when he set a Cup finals record by scoring three power-play goals in game two en route to a record three straight Stanley Cups for the Leafs.

I closely followed his exploits as player-coach with the world champion Whitby Dunlops, helping bring Canada a gold medal in 1958. WOW! He scored nine goals, 14 points in seven games. Punch Imlach wanted to bring him back to the Leafs for the 1959-60 season, however, the league would not reinstate him.

Sid Smith helped form the NHL Oldtimers in 1960, and I continued to follow his career. Although I did get to see Sid play for the Leafs when television arrived, I finally was able to see him play live with the NHL Oldtimers at the arena in Niagara Falls several times during the 60's and 70's.

It was 1986 when I finally got the nerve to write him a letter asking to meet him in Toronto. He kindly extended an invitation to meet that summer at Druxy's Restaurant, and we communicated every year for the next seventeen years, getting together several times.

It was while my wife Nancy and I were attending a sports card show at one of the hotels in Toronto in 1988, where Sid Smith and Bob Goldham were the special guests, that both Sid and Bob thought it would be a great idea to invite me to the Leafs Alumni dinners each May. I attended the dinners and more recently the luncheons every year since 1988.

Our last get together with Bob occurred in early December, 2003. Together with Nancy, we sat and talked about his career and hockey in general for almost an hour. Sid brought with him all his newspaper clippings that his Mother and later his wife June would have clipped since the beginning of his career. He asked me if I would put the newspaper clippings together in a scrapbook for him. Of course, I accepted the task and told him that I would be delighted to put everything together.

Sadly, Sid left us on April 29, 2004, in his 79th year.

There are many fond memories Sid left myself, as well as all of his countless fans, not only in Toronto and Canada, but also from other parts of he world, most notably in Sweden where his biggest fan from that country is Kristor Ericcson, whom I have communicated with several times.

Now, I look forward to Alumni luncheons when I get to sit with Sid's son Blaine and talk about his Dad's career.

Sid Smith was a great hockey idol for all the kids growing up in the 40's and 50's. He was a true sportsman, a gentleman and devoted family man.

Obviously, Ray Mulley is Sid Smith's biggest fan and most of us, in some way or another, still remember the one player we idolized in our youth. This is what our grand game is all about, passing cherished memories and stories to family and friends, from one generation to the next.








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