Great Obscure Moments in Leafs History - An ongoing series to honor the greatest, completely meaningless moments in Toronto Maple Leaf history.
All human beings agree that Wendel Clark vs Marty McSorley is pretty much the greatest thing that has ever happened, anywhere, ever. OK, maybe you could make an argument for the invention of the concept of justice. You'd be wrong, but you could make the case.
But here's a thought experiment: what would be the exact opposite of Clark vs. McSorley? What hockey moment would be so awful, so cringe-worthy, so embarrassing, that it would have the potential to cancel out the greatness of Clark/McSorley if viewed side-by-side?
Older Leaf fans don't have to wonder, because they saw it on December 23, 1989. That was the night that the Leafs and Hawks squared off in one of the most memorable line brawls of a generation. And the main event, such as it was, featured a pair of franchise players: Gary Leeman and Denis Savard.
Let's identify the participants in this ten-man rumble. For the Leafs we have Leeman (#11), Tom Kurvers (#25), Brian Curran (#28), Johnny McIntyre (#44) and Dave Reid (#14). For the Hawks, it's Savard (#11), Cam Russell (#52), Dave Manson (#3), Dirk Graham (#33), and a guy wearing #14 who I think might be
As far as background, let's just say that the Leafs and Hawks were both in the Norris division, which means they hated each other and wanted to fight. The Hawks and Leafs had several memorable brawls over the years (like this one, and of course this one).
But this particular incident was different. What makes this among the most entertaining five minutes on all of Youtube? Let's walk through it in excruciatingly obsessive detail and find out!
Camouflage Coat Guy
Right off the bat, we get a classic Maple Leafs Garden moment: a fan blocking the camera. And not just any guy, but a guy who appears to have worn a camouflage coat to a hockey game. And also seems to be nine feet tall.
This forces the CBC to switch to the overhead camera view, which somehow always made whatever came next seem ten times more awesome.
Right as things start to heat up, Bob Cole displays his excellent sense of timing by encouraging viewers to "listen to this!" and then going silent, just as the Hawks players start lobbing obscenities at Leeman.
And by the way, how is it possible that all the Hawks players are trash-talking Leeman and yet Al Iafrate's name never comes up?
The sucker punch
With Andy Van Hellemond yelling to "open the door up", Savard breaks away and lands a viscous sucker punch on Leeman, then scurries away like a rat. The only Leaf who sees it is under-rated tough guy Curran, who goes berserk. But he can't get at Savard, because he's being held back by...
And since it's Cam Russell, and since it's the Leafs, Russell immediately winds up flat on his back. (Just like here and here and especially here.)
If there was a stat for most times getting destroyed by a Maple Leaf, Russell would be the Phil Mickelson to Jim Cummins' Tiger Woods.
Savard's "Hold Me Back" routine
I called Stu Grimson's performance against Wendel Clark "the all-time greatest 'hold me back while I pretend to want to fight' routine", but I think we may need a recount.
Savard pretends to desperately want to fight, right up until the linesmen call his bluff and simply skate away. We then get a full 75 seconds of Savard backing away from Leeman.
So how do you fill over a minute of dead air? With a big dose of...
Neale is probably best known for his pre-prepared soundbites; if you like your color commentators to suddenly quote Edgar Allan Poe during an icing call, Harry is your guy. But here he shows that he's pretty good when going off-script too.
While Leeman and Savard stumble around, Neale starts firing off rapid one-liners like "This is the longest shadow-boxing match I've ever seen" and "If looks could kill they'd both be on their backs" and "They've been skating more on this shift than they have when the game was on".
But then he tops himself with this instant classic: "I've seen more hits when I take my kids to the petting zoo!"
What does that even mean? Who's getting hit when Harry Neale takes his kids to the petting zoo? Do his kids hit the animals? Does Harry hit his kids? What's he trying to tell us here?
Chevrier is the Hawks goalie. And do you know what he does during this long line brawl, which features multiple sucker punches, mismatches and two-on-one situations? Nothing. Nothing! In fact, he does less than nothing. He never comes remotely close to getting involved.
I will never forgive him for that. Because do you know who was in net for the Leafs that night? Allan Bester. How great would it have been to see Allan Bester skate the length of the ice to join a brawl? Tell me that wouldn't have been an instant top-five highlight of the decade for Leaf fans.
And besides, if Felix Potvin could wipe the floor with Ron Hextall, I'm pretty sure Allan Bester could take Alain Chevrier.
In the middle of Leeman and Savard's dance of futility, the camera pans by a young hockey fan wearing a #8 Leafs jersey that reads "Durno". This begs two questions: how bad were the camera angles in Maple Leaf Gardens that a small child could block them, and what the heck is a "Durno"? Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this.
Since nobody by that name ever played for the Leafs, I'm going to assume it's the kid's name. A few minutes of google research reveals a journeyman minor leaguer named Chris Durno, who at the age of 28 finally made his NHL debut this year by playing two games for the Avalanche. Chris Durno grew up in Scarborough, would have been nine years old when this game was played, and according to this interview he always wore #8 when he was growing up.
You know what? I'm going to go ahead and make the claim that that's future NHLer Chris Durno blocking the camera in the middle of this fight!
(Update: DGB commenter and Durno family friend "JDub" confirms that it is Chris Durno!)
And based on that, I'm establishing the Chris Durno Fan Club, and demanding that Brian Burke sign Chris Durno to play for the Marlies next year. Burke already knows Durno, having once acquired him when he was with the Ducks. And the Hockey News says Durno brings "plenty of physical toughness and intimidation". Just what we need in Toronto!
Who's with me? We want Durno! We want Durno!
No? Just me? OK, moving on...
Manson had already been escorted off the ice earlier in the brawl, but he makes a dramatic return just in time to execute a sunset flip onto Leeman and Savard, wiping out linesman Ron Finn in the process.
That earned him the ultra-rare triple game misconduct on a single play: one for coming back onto the ice, one for abuse of officials, and one for being third man in. This inspired Paul Morris's infamous announcement of "Number three, Dave Manson, two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting, a game misconduct, a second game misconduct, a third game misconduct".
Paul Morris dones't care how many penalties you got, he's announcing them one at a time even if we all have to stay here all night.
Bob Cole again
"Uh oh. UH OH! Baby... this thing... has come apart... at the seams!"
I love Bob Cole.
Carpenter doesn't actually do anything. I just like seeing him. Where does Carpenter rank on the list of great red-headed coaches in NHL history? I'm going to say behind Terry Crisp, but ahead of Dave Allison.
Wendel Clark almost coming off the bench
When Manson blindsides Leeman, Clark jumps off the bench before being grabbed by a teammate. If Clark had entered the fight, he would have been suspended for ten games, touched off a bench-clearing brawl, beaten Dave Manson to death with his bare hands, and then beaten Cam Russell to death with the corpse of Dave Manson.
But none of that happened, because Clark is grabbed from behind at the last moment by...
Think about that. John Kordic prevented a bench-clearing brawl.
Here's a rule of thumb: when you're relying on John Kordic to serve as a calming influence, you're dealing with a situation that is completely out of control. It may be time to call in the army. Or, failing that, hope that a jolly mythical character inexplicably makes an appearance.
Hey look, it's Santa Claus!
With the situation on the verge of complete implosion, the officials desperately try to usher the Blackhawks off the ice. What better time for Santa Claus to randomly make an appearance?
Seriously, what is happening here? When did David Lynch start directing NHL games? And why does "Santa" weigh about 140 pounds?
"I don't think Santa Claus has seen anything like this in a while," deadpans Cole. No, Bob, I suppose he hasn't.
Dave Manson was suspended for 13 games. More impressively, Savard managed to pick up two fighting majors on the same play even though he never fought anybody. As a side note, these were the first two fighting majors of Savard's career. He would later add two more, against Craig Janney and Dale Hawerchuk. Apparently, Denis Savard really hates marginally over-rated wimpy guys.
There were a total of eight fights in this game, including John Kordic delivering some payback by absolutely destroying Cam Russell in the second period. A young Damien Cox was so traumatized that all his hair fell out.
Leeman went on to score 50 goals this season, was traded for Doug Gilmour, and was never heard from again. Manson actually played for the Leafs for one year in 2000, although sadly he never tried to hurdle another linesman.
Chris Durno signed with the Leafs in the 2009 off-season, made the team out of training camp, scored the Stanley Cup winning goal during the Leafs' shocking playoff run, and dedicated the championship to this blog.