Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wendel Moment #4 - Welcome Home

On November 22, Wendel Clark's #17 will be raised to the rafters as the team honours its former captain and arguably the most popular player in franchise history.

In the lead up to that night, Down Goes Brown will feature a countdown of Wendel's Top 17 Greatest Moments.

On March 13, 1996, Cliff Fletcher pulled the trigger on what would turn out to be the most controversial trade of his career. The Leafs sent Kenny Jonsson, two prospects and their first round pick (used to select Roberto Luongo) to the Islanders for Matthieu Schneider and Wendel Clark.

If the trade rings a bell, it may be because the Toronto media insists on bringing it up every day as an example of the sort of terrible, awful, gut-the-future trades that Leafs in general and Cliff Fletcher in particular were guilty of over the years. We'll leave the debate for another day, except to point out that Jonsson only mananged one above-average season and was out of the NHL by 30, and that the "veteran" Schneider is still going strong twelve years later, and that Clark scored 30 goals the next season in Toronto, and that the Leafs would have never drafted Luongo because they still had Potvin, and ... (Begins breathing heavily into a paper bag.)

Sorry, where was I?

Oh right. Wendel Clark.

Needless to say, Clark's first game back in Toronto became the hottest ticket in town. The Leafs were hosting the Dallas Stars, but the opponent was an afterthought. Actually, everything else was an afterthought too. Wendel was back. That was all you needed to know.

With the Gardens faithful chanting "Wendel, Wendel" from the moment the doors opened, the atmosphere was electric. The noise level soared when the Leafs took the ice, kept on soaring through the anthems, and seemed to peak when Wendel hopped off the bench for his first shift. And then, just like you knew he would, Wendel stormed to the net, took a cross-ice feed and fired it into the back of the net.


It wouldn't be an exageration to call the reaction to Wendel's goal the loudest moment in Maple Leaf Gardens regular season history. It might be exageration to call it the loudest moment in Toronto sports history, period. Then again, it might not.

The thing that still stands out about that moment was Wendel's reaction. Leaf fans were used to the stoic Wendel. Whether he'd just finished a fight or a scored a goal, he always seemed a little bored. An especially big goal might get a fist pump, and maybe, just maybe, a brief facial expression. Then it was back to the ho-hum, just-another-day-at-the-farm face.

Not this time. When the red light went on and the fans erupted, Wendel burst into an enormous, ear-to-ear grin. It was the happiest we'd ever seen him. It was probably the happiest we'd ever seen any Leaf. Wendel Clark was home.

So go ahead and pretend that Kenny Jonsson was a superstar and not a one-year wonder. Keep writing the same tired column about Roberto Luongo every few weeks. Mention "draft schmaft" every chance you get.

For at least one night, one moment, it was the best trade the Leafs ever made.


  1. I love that last line. It's bang on. Wendel came home again.

    And I too know much about that paper bag you mentioned.

    Another great post. Loving the series.

  2. Hey DGB, I was going to write a fanpost about this on PPP, as part of a list of most memorable games I ever attended. But then I noticed that you were doing your countdown of Wendel's greatest moments, and I knew that this would show up high on your list, so I thought I'd wait.

    I was at this game.

    I knew the Sundin trade was the right move - Cliff dealt Wendel at the peak of his value and obviously received one of the greatest Leafs of all-time in return. But oh, I was heartbroken.

    Wendel as a Nordique? Wendel as an Islander? It was unnatural, inconceivable and just plain wrong.

    It was a crazy time - Pat Burns had been fired just a few days before, as they had gone into the tank, going 6-18-5 since the start of the new year. The rumblings had been out there for a few days before Cliff pulled the trigger on the deal to bring Wendel home, and when he did, I was ecstatic. I knew it wasn't a great trade (though Schnieder turned into Karpovtsev, who turned into McCabe, who turned into Van Ryn, so the legend lives on). But I didn't care.

    I was in my last weeks as an undergrad at Waterloo at the time, but I called my girlfriend and told her that I was coming into town and we were going to the game that Friday. We bought tickets wayyyy up in the greys from scalpers - I don't remember what we paid, but it wasn't terrible. I had been to lots of games at the Gardens but I had never felt the place that electric.

    Wendel got a huge ovation when he came out for the warmup, but the place went crazy when the game started and he hit the ice for his first shift. And when he got the puck down low and roofed it, the Gardens exploded. I've never experienced anything like it. Wendel was home, and all was right with the world, at least for one night.

    I'm not gonna lie - it's gonna be pretty damn dusty over here on Saturday night. I hope the crowd gives Wendel the ovation he deserves. He was often the only thing worth watching on some terrible 80s teams, he was the heart and soul of some very good early 90s teams. He sacrificed his hands, knees and back for us and gave us 13 imperfect, incomplete and absolutely memorable seasons.

    Thanks for doing this DGB...

  3. Great job. It was a great goal and a great moment. Like a dream come true.

    I was always a little sad for Kenny Jonnson though. He deserved better then to have his talent wasted by the Islanders. I still believe he would have been a much better player somewhere else. Having said that, I wouldn't trade this Wendel moment for anything.

  4. One minor sidebar is that for some reason Mats always tried to kill Kenny Jonsson whenever the leafs played the Isles. I'd love to know why.

  5. This is a great series. Mostly because I think of myself as a gargantuan Leafs fan and as time passes I find myself remembering less and less of the past. It gets harder to pick out the great memories from the detritus. I wish there were videos readily available for some of these moments so I could re-insert them into my subconscious. This series is helping me love Wendel all over again and starting thinking about doling out $300 for a jersey top wear on Saturday nights when the going gets tougher. Thanks DGB

  6. Anon makes a great point. Sundin was a lunatic when he played Jonsson on the Islanders. And I loved every minute of it. I too would like to know why.

  7. Sundin also had a hate-on for Ray Bourque. I remember him almost dropping them mitts with him a few times.

    Apparently Sundin only hates people that nobody else hates.

  8. Didn't Mats get into it with Modin once too?

    I thought it was a Swedish thing.

  9. Great post! But there goes half of tomorrow's LotD. Oh well, I'm writing it anyway.

    "Wendel was home, and all was right with the world, at least for one night."

    Good gravy - that was part of tomorrow too! At least I know it wasn't just me....

  10. the above anonymous quote was mine

    -- 1967ers

  11. I still remember this goal like it was yesterday and would dearly love to see it again. Does anyone know where I might be able to find video of it online (I couldn't find it on youtube)?

  12. Does anyone know where I might be able to find video of it online (I couldn't find it on youtube)?

    I looked and came up empty. Hopefully somebody will post it someday. I thought I may have seen it during the montage for the banner ceremony so maybe that will be posted.

    I have a bad VHS copy of it, some day I'm going to get a converter and flood youtube with clips from the 80s and 90s.