May 15, 2006

Tony Leswick

Few people remember Tony Leswick as one of the top players of his era. Never a prolific scorer, Tony was nonetheless one of the best players in the NHL in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.

Leswick was a fantastic little player - and we do mean little. Tony stood just 5'7" tall and weighed 160lbs, thus making him a smurf even in an era of smaller players. But despite his small stature, few played bigger than Tony. Nicknamed "Tough Tony" and "Mighty Mouse," Leswick quickly developed a reputation as a relentless checker, a tough as nails body checker, and perhaps the NHL's all time ultimate pest.

Leswick played the majority of his career with the New York Rangers. For 6 seasons from 1945 through 1951, Leswick was one of the few bright lights on Broadway. The team couldn't get out of their doldrums but the energetic Leswick kept things interesting.

Although he did chip in offensively while in New York, including 27 and 24 goal seasons, Tony was best known for shadowing the league's top players. Perhaps his favorite target was Montreal's fiery Rocket Richard. The long lasting feud between the two lasted for years. Leswick knew how to get under Richard's skin. Richard, who had a short fuse to start with, would often blow up at Leswick and assaulted him. Often Leswick would take Richard's shot and write it off as "taking one for the team." Richard would be banished to the penalty box while the Rangers would go on the powerplay. Other times Leswick was more than willing to answer Richard's battle cry, and the two would brawl it out. Both players were banished to the box, which of course would have to be a small victory for the Rangers. Anytime you could take Rocket Richard out of the game for a few minutes at a time greatly enhanced the Rangers chance of winning.

Now picking on the ferociously explosive Richard takes guts. The only player perhaps more dangerous to tick off was Gordie Howe - not only arguably the greatest player of all time, but perhaps the greatest fighter of all time too. Leswick fearlessly needled Mr. Hockey with great success. Like Richard, no one had as much success keeping Howe off of his game as Leswick did. So impressed by Leswick's performance were the Red Wings, they went out and traded legendary Gaye Stewart to get him.

Leswick played the next 4 years in Detroit, and was part of arguably the greatest team of all time. Leswick's ice time and offensive production went down on a deeper Wings squad, but he continued to be the League's ultimate pest.

The Wings won 3 Stanley Cup championships in Tony's 4 year stay in the Motor City. In 1953-54 Tony scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal in one of the more memorable goals scored in Stanley Cup history. An epic battle between the Wings and Montreal Canadiens went the distance - overtime in game 7.

The decisive match was a gem of a hockey game. Montreal's Busher Curry and Detroit's Red Kelly exchanged goals but no one else could solve goalies Terry Sawchuk and Gerry McNeil. The way these two teams played, it looked like the game could go a long time in extra time.

However the game was decided on a mistake instead of a great goal. Tony looped an easily stoppable shot at the Montreal Net. McNeil had the shot lined up for a simple glove save and would have likely smothered the puck for a stoppage of play. However at the last possible second, Doug Harvey, the Canadiens great defenseman who was standing in between Leswick and McNeil, attempted to knock the puck harmlessly out of the way.

Unfortunately for McNeil, Harvey only got a piece of the knuckleball shot. The puck deflected off of the blueliners glove and into the net at just 4:29 of the first overtime period. Detroit won the championship 4 games to 3.

Despite another strong playoff in 1955, Leswick was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the off season. He played just one season with the Hawks before joining the WHL's Edmonton Flyers. In 1957-58 Leswick resurfaced in the NHL with Detroit for 22 games after spending most of the year in Edmonton. That proved to be the last stint in the NHL for the courageous winger. He spent two more years in the WHL, one in Edmonton and one with the Vancouver Canucks.

Tony scored 165 goals and 159 points for 324 points in 740 NHL games. He added 13 goals and 23 points in 59 playoff contests.

No comments: