I just read a piece by James Marsh for the National Post that gave me shivers.
James was in Maple Leaf Gardens that April 21, 1951 night Bill Barilko scored in overtime to win the Leafs the cup. Here's an excerpt from his article.
Foster Hewitt, broadcasting to three million listeners on the radio, described what happened at 2:53 of the aptly named sudden-death overtime: “He shoots, he scores! Barilko! Barilko has won the Stanley Cup for the Leafs!” Ignoring his coach’s constant imprecations to stay back and keep his position, Barilko had pounced on the centering pass, tripped over teammate Cal Gardner (who might have scored with the same loose puck) and backhanded the puck over the sprawling McNeil.
“You see! You see! Barilko!” I shouted to Granny. She was quiet. For her, the thrill of victory was always far less pervasive than the relief of not losing.
How much of the enduring appeal of that goal is owing to the subsequent tragedy is hard to say. The following summer, on Aug. 26, 1951, Barilko and a friend took off in a fish-laden, single-engine bush plane and disappeared into the tangled forest of northern Ontario. I was devastated. How does a seven-year-old sort out the mythic implications of the death of a hero? Barilko’s number five was etched onto my heart and even today is the nearest thing I have to a superstition. The site of the crash was not discovered until 1962, supposedly lifting a curse and allowing the Maple Leafs to win another Cup, as they conveniently did that year.
More certain is the effect on memory of the astonishing photograph of the goal snapped by Ned Turofsky on his Graflex camera, with such exquisite timing that he caught the puck in the net before the goal light had flashed. McNeil is planted on his seat, having stumbled trying to follow Meeker’s antics behind the net. Richard waits for a pass he will never get. Meeker will never see the moment of glory, as he is plastered against the boards by Tom Johnson.
Bill Barilko, my hero, is suspended in mid-air, frozen in time. Forever elated, forever young.
That was 59 years ago yesterday. I'm less than 59-years old, but I feel as if I saw that game. I've been enamoured by Bill Barilko for as long as I can remember.
I've got an online tribute to Bill Barilko here that I've maintained for a great deal longer than I've had this blog. I own a custom-made vintage white Maple Leafs jersey with Barilko and #5 on the back that I wear to every Leafs game and Tragically Hip concert I attend.
Next year, Bashin' Bill's goal turns 60. Let's do something special.