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Leafs Centennial Legacy Includes Wondrous Women’s Hockey Lineage (Part One)


The following is the first in a three-part series highlighting the Toronto Maple Leafs and its linkages to women’s ice hockey

As the 2016-17 NHL season is highlighted by the Centennial of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the feeling of celebration and tradition have reinforced the standing of the blue and white as one of the signature teams in sporting Canadiana. With opening night at Air Canada Centre serving as the backdrop to retire the numbers of several Leafs legends, it allowed a new generation of fans to appreciate those who came before, contributing to Leafs lore.

Prior to NHL expansion, which allowed pockets of regions throughout Canada the opportunity to root for their own teams, the Maple Leafs were the jewel in Canada’s hockey crown. From the vast Prairies to the Pacific Coast, upward to the Territories, along with the Maritime nations out east, to Ontario serving as its heartbeat, hockey fans throughout bled blue and white, as English Canada truly was Leafs Nation.

With the Centennial evoking many powerful memories, a point of discussion has included current NHL competitors with ties to the Leafs of yesterday. From promising Phoenix forward Max Domi, whose father Tie skated at both Maple Leaf Gardens and Air Canada Centre, Kerby Rychel, son of former Leafs forward Warren, acquired from Columbus in an offseason move, along with Leafs rookie sensation William Nylander, a second generation NHLer, such hockey lineage adds a new dimension to the feeling of hockey heritage during the Centennial.

Undoubtedly, the number of women playing hockey who had fathers and/or grandfathers at the NHL level continues to grow. This season, the likes of Allie Granato, Loganne Rheaume and Liz Turgeon competing at the university level continue their families proud hockey legacy.

Equally important is the fact that the Maple Leafs hold, quite possibly, the strongest connection to women’s hockey. Names such as Apps, Armstrong, Keon and Sittler may hold a special place in the hearts and minds of the proud supporters of the blue and white, but those names also extend to women’s hockey as well.

Gillian Apps captured three gold medals in the Winter Games, while Kalley Armstrong, playing for legendary head coach Katey Stone, served as the captain for the Harvard Crimson women’s ice hockey program. Currently, both have extended their careers by entering the coaching realm. Apps serves on Katie King-Crowley’s staff with the Boston College Eagles while Armstrong is closer to home, working with the University of Western Ontario Mustangs.

Having worn her grandfather’s number 10 as a member of Canada’s national team), Apps felt a greater sense of pride when a unique list was released. In honor of the Centennial, a list of the 100 greatest players in franchise history revealed a remarkable grouping of names. Among them was Apps grandfather, who was recognized as the second-greatest player to have donned the Leafs jersey. To see him recognized in such a manner, which also included the retirement of his jersey number on opening night, resulted in an uplifting moment for Apps,

“I am incredibly proud. It is such an honour for our family to have him recognized in such a way by the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.” 

Kaitlyn Keon also graced the ice at the Ivy League level, competing with the legendary Brown Bears, one of the longest existing women’s ice hockey teams in United States hockey history. After graduation, Keon would compete professionally in Germany.

Throughout her career, she would don her grandfather’s number 14, a way of paying tribute to her proud hockey heritage. Recognized as the greatest player in Leafs history, Keon was on-hand to see his jersey number officially retired and raised to the rafter. With family joining him at centre ice, Kaitlyn and her relatives proudly donned their grandfather’s famous #14, a proud milestone which truly saw his career with the franchise come full circle.

Some on the periphery would also see their careers become part of this growing legacy. Maple Leafs farmhand Stan Smrke (who appeared in 9 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens) captured a Calder Cup title in 1966 playing alongside Al Arbour, Don Cherry and Terry Clancy. His great-niece Brittany Smrke would stand between the pipes as Team Ontario Blue captured their first-ever Canadian U18 National Championship in 2012. Having also captured an OWHA bronze medal in 2013 as a member of the Stoney Creek Jr. Sabres, Smrke is currently a goaltender with Montreal’s McGill Martlets, bringing her family’s hockey legacy full circle.

Selected by the Maple Leafs in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Tim Armstrong would appear in 11 games for the blue and white during the 1988-89 season. While his career would culminate with stops in Austria and the AHL’s Binghamton Rangers, the contributions of his daughter Hannah would add to this exceptional hockey legacy. Akin to Smrke, Armstrong experienced her own glories at the U18 Nationals, capturing the 2009 crown with Team Ontario Red. Currently, she serves in a coaching capacity with the Ontario Hockey Academy.  

Prior to garnering multiple Hockey East All-Academic nods as a captain with the New Hampshire Wildcats, Armstrong was a member of Canada’s first-ever team to capture the gold medal at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds. In commemoration of her gold medal, Armstrong was featured on an Upper Deck Hockey Card and gained the opportunity to meet members of Canada’s gold medal winning team at Vancouver 2010 as part of a Canada Day celebration in Edmonton, which featured Gillian Apps, the granddaughter of former Leafs captain, a subject of admiration in Peter Gzowski’s timless classic, “The Game of Our Lives.”

Meghan Sittler would star at Colby College before donning the Stars and Stripes as a member of the US national women’s team. As a member of Team USA, Sittler would compete in the TSN Challenge, the first-ever women’s ice hockey game held at Air Canada Centre. Like Apps, she would also play for the Brampton Thunder.

Among the women of hockey whose proud lineage can be traced back to the Maple Leafs, Laura Stacey enjoys a family history spans back the furthest. Akin to Apps, whose father and grandfather both played at the NHL level, Stacey also has a lineage that includes two generations of hockey heroes; great grandfather King Clancy and great uncle Terry Clancy.

King Clancy was not just a revered figure in Toronto, he held a significant part in the early lore of the original Ottawa Senators. The walkway to Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre brings with it a combination of advertisements along with posters featuring the legends of that era, which also includes Clancy. Among his greatest achievements with the Senators, he would make history as the first player to play in all six positions in one game. Fittingly, one of Stacey’s first games in her Hockey Canada career took place in the Ottawa area, competing in an U18 exhibition series against Team USA in Rockland.

“I think it is very special for my family and me to experience the Maple Leafs celebrating their 100 years (and) to honour all of the amazing players who have created such an unbelievable organization.”

Considering that the Leafs centennial also coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the last Stanley Cup triumph in franchise history, it was only fitting that Clancy was part of that legendary team. In February 1967, with Punch Imlach inactive due to exhaustion, Clancy filled in as acting head coach, resulting in a 7-1-2 mark. It would prove to be essential towards the club finishing with a winning record in the regular season and a third place finish.

Of note, Clancy would serve as interim coach for another time in his legendary time with the Maple Leafs. During the 1971-72 campaign, Clancy would spend 15 games behind the bench as John McLellan was hospitalized. Similar to his memorable run in 1967, there was no shortage of Hall of Famers that benefited from his tutelage.

Among the players that Clancy enjoyed the privilege of coaching that season included the likes of Dave Keon, recently recognized as the greatest player in franchise history, future Summit Series hero Paul Henderson, Ron Ellis (who would also play for Team Canada 72), along with a superior goaltending tandem in Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent. Enjoying a 9-3-3 mark as interim head coach, Clancy’s run as head coach proved to be just as important as 1967, with the Maple Leafs registering a winning season and enjoying a strong finish in the East Division, qualifying for the playoffs.

Clancy’s son Terry (who is Stacey’s great uncle), a Memorial Cup champion with St. Michael’s, would also play for the Maple Leafs. Like Stacey, who recently competed in the Four Nations Cup with the Canadian national women’s senior team, he would also don the Canadian jersey in his career. Skating for Canada at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, led by Father David Bauer, one of Clancy’s teammates, Roger Bourbonnais, would also have his own women’s hockey connection. Granddaughter Jaime would experience a PWHL championship with the Oakville Jr. Hornets, joining the Ivy  League’s Cornell Big Red in the autumn of 2016.

My great grandfather has always been a huge role model for me and being able to celebrate such a special year in honour of him is extremely special.”

Although Terry Clancy would eventually play for the Maple Leafs, the 1967-68 season saw him skate for the California Seals. While the Seals are part of expansion lore, despite no longer a team in existence, this season marks the 50th anniversary of NHL expansion.

Coincidentally, Stacey is part of another milestone as this is also the 10th anniversary of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where she is enjoying her rookie season with the famed Brampton Thunder, one of the longest running teams in Canadian women’s hockey history. Although Stacey had her own obligations with the Thunder, unable to attend the Maple Leafs’ opening night ceremonies, she was certainly in awe of the gratitude that defined that such an event,

“On opening night, my great grandfather’s jersey was retired and that was a very special moment for all of us. Unfortunately, I was not able to be at the ACC since I had a game of my own, but most of my family was able to attend and they said it was a moment they will never forget.”

Despite Stacey being born after Clancy’s passing, she remains highly respectful of her great grandfather’s legacy. The centennial has also strengthened that admiration, allowing Stacey a more profound connection to her descendant’s legacy while carving an empowering legacy of her own,

“I think the Leafs Centennial year has definitely made me feel a bit of a closer connection to my hockey roots, as I have continued to learn a lot more about my great grandfather and had the privilege to see him honoured by such a great organization.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, Clancy would become an elder statesman in hockey. Perhaps his greatest legacy with the Leafs is the fact that he was such a respected figure, never a source of controversy. His passing in 1986 had a profound impact not just in hockey circles, but it was a loss felt deeply with great personal grief among all Torontonians, mourning the loss of an individual who truly helped shaped Toronto’s sporting soul. The Maple Leafs would honor Clancy with a memorial crest whose visual impact still holds appeal to this day, with a bright green shamrock adorned by a stunning gold crown, complementing his heart of gold.

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits:

Dartmouth Big Green Athletics, Facebook, Hockey Hall of Fame, Jess Bazal


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