He is not ungrateful but sometimes Bob Baun wonders whether his iconic goal was a good thing or a bad thing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
April 23, 1964, the 27-year-old Baun, playing on a broken leg numbed by freezing, scores in the second minute of overtime as the Leafs beat Detroit 4-3 in an elimination game in Motown to even the Stanley Cup final at three games each.
Two nights later, the Leafs won Game 7 at home by a count of 4-0 to claim their third straight Stanley Cup, a feat up to then managed by only one team in the modern era, a dynastic Montreal club that won five in a row a few years before.
The goal, a wobbly shot from the blueline that caromed off Detroit defenceman Bill Gadsby and past Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuk, was named by Sports Illustrated as the 15th greatest sports feat of the 20th Century.
The Leafs will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Cup during Saturday’s home date with Vancouver. Aside from former defenceman Al Arbour and forward Andy Bathgate, every living member of the team, including Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Johnny Bower, Captain George Armstrong and of course, Bobby Baun, will be on hand.
But 50 years after his famous goal, Bobby Baun still wonders why the Leafs left so many chips on the table.
“We should have won at least two more Stanley Cups during that time period,” said Baun, ever dynamic and opinionated at 77. “That was the start of the downfall of the Maple Leafs. I think in 1964, everybody got so puffed up like we were peacocks. When you have that sort of success it goes to your head.”
The Leafs stumbled badly after 1964, losing twice in the first round to the Canadiens before Punch Imlach’s gentlemen’s geriatric club won the team’s most recent title in 1967.
The 1964 Leafs were a powerhouse driven by a core of young players. Baun was 27 when he struck for his famous goal. Dave Keon was 23. Frank Mahovlich was just 26 and Bob Pulford, one of the top two-way players of the era, was 27.
Hockey historians have long held Baun’s leg was broken by a Gordie Howe slapshot but Baun tells a different story.
“The slapshot from Howe started it but I really injured it in the faceoff circle. The defence used to take the faceoffs in that particular era. I won the face off and I spun on my right leg and it just went off like a cannon. The break was in the tibia, about two inches above the ankle. I fell to the ice and couldn’t get back up. They carried me off on a stretcher.”
“We had a doctor from Chicago in the dressing room, who was one of the top orthopedic guys. He said he didn’t think I could hurt it any more than it was. He taped it up for me and cut a little hole in the tape so they could put freezing in.”
Baun played two shifts in regulation then had the leg refrozen at intermission. The overtime had already started when he got back to the bench and jumped ahead of Kent Douglas, who was about to take his shift with Baun’s regular partner Carl Brewer. “You stay, I’ll go,” Baun told Douglas.
“I scored what I call a triple-flutter blast, a blooper that went off Gadsby’s stick and went the opposite way on Sawchuk,” Baun said.
Baun took a regular turn in Game 7 but would spend the next six weeks in a walking cast.
The goal, of course, while far from an artistic success represents courage and determination. Bob Baun understands that but he last skated as an NHL player 42 years ago. He played more than 1,000 regular season and playoff games but invariably, people ask him about the broken leg goal.
“That goal,” he laughed. “Sometimes even I wonder if I ever played another game other than that night in Detroit.”