October 20, 2013

Remembering Allan Stanley


News broke late Saturday night that Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Allan Stanley had passed away. The 87 year old had been suffering from Alzheimer's for several years.

Allan Stanley ranks as one of the greatest defensemen to ever wear Maple Leaf blue and white. A grizzled veteran by the time he arrived in Toronto, Stanley was a fixture on the Leafs' four championship teams of the 1960s. He often was paired along side big Tim Horton on a blueline that also boasted Marcel Pronovost, Carl Brewer and Bobby Baun. Stanley became a bit of an offensive presence in the era before Bobby Orr redefined a defenseman's offensive role. Stanley was a pinpoint passer and as a result he often saw time on the Leafs' power play units.

While his days in Toronto were truly great, Stanley can't say the same about all of his career. As a youth he didn't even want to play professional hockey. He intended to stay in his home town of Timmins, Ontario and continue his education. But that all changed when he was invited to a Boston Bruins training camp. He had no intention of committing himself to the Bruins, but wanted to attend the camp anyways. After he made his intentions clear to the Bruins, the team objected to his returning to Timmins which was considered Toronto Maple Leaf territory. Somehow Stanley was convinced to play in the Quebec Senior Hockey League with the Boston Olympics, although he never actually was Boston Bruins property.

After developing his skills with the Olympics, Stanley turned pro in 1946 with the American Hockey League's Providence Reds. It didn't take long for word to get around about Stanley's excellent play in the AHL. In total he played 2 seasons with the Reds before erupting in his third season. He scored 7 goals and 23 points in 23 games in the days when those numbers would be decent for a defenseman for the entire season. Suddenly Providence held one of the hottest assets in all of hockey.

The Reds cashed in on their star. They sold Stanley to Frank Boucher's New York Rangers in exchange for 3 little known players and $70,000 in cash - an extraordinary sum of money in those days, especially for a minor leaguer. But Boucher, a great judge of hockey talent, felt Stanley was worth every penny.

New York is hard place to play hockey. Just ask Allan Stanley. While Boucher loved his new player, the fans and media weren't always as appreciative. In fact they booed him right out of town.

It didn't help Stanley when he was promoted as the Rangers' savior. The Rangers were a particularly bad team in the post World War II days. In order to get New Yorkers interested in the Rangers again, GM Frank Boucher and press agent Stan Saplin created a myth that Stanley would be their superstar savior.

"One night," explained Saplin "Allan was a minor leaguer in Providence, enjoying a post game glass of beer with a few teammates at midnight. The next noon he was in Leone's restaurant and being acclaimed, in effect as the savior of the downtrodden Rangers."

Delighted by the prospects of this superstar named Stanley coming to the Rangers, the fans were in for a big disappointment. Stanley was a superstar - but not offensively. He was a solid defensive blueliner who eventually would become outstanding en route to a Hall of Fame career. But the fans never forgave the "$70,000 Lemon" for not living up to the impossible and unrealistic standards that they were misled to expect.

"They'd boo every time I touched the puck. Then they began to boo every time I was on the ice. Why, even the few games when I sat on the bench, they'd yell at me," said Allan.

The Rangers appreciated Stanley's fine play however. Boucher was upset with the fans reaction as he felt Stanley was an underrated commodity, doing so many small things which the fickle fans and media ddn't see and appreciate. Eventually Boucher spared Stanley the hurt of playing in front of those fans, and only played him in on the road. However this only lead to a rusty blueliner and increased the fans hostility.

Stanley's agony lasted just over 6 seasons. Finally Boucher reluctantly traded Stanley, much to the delight of the Ranger fans. Stanley and forward Nick Mickoski were traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for another future hall of fame defenseman in Bill Gadsby, as well as forward Pete Conacher.

Big Allan played two seasons in Chicago but soon was reunited his buddy Lynn Patrick, who was now working for the Boston Bruins. Not coincidentally with Stanley on the B's squad, the Bruins vastly improved. Allan of course always saved his best games for New York.

Feeling that Stanley was getting on in age, the Bruins traded Stanley to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is where Stanley achieved incredible high notes. Unlike in New York, Toronto fans were very appreciative of Stanley's textbook defense and subtle majesty.

Proving the Bruins wrong, Allan played for the Leafs for 10 more seasons during the 1960s - the Leaf's glory years. Allan was a big part of that too. Three times he was named to the Second All Star Team, and all together played in 7 all star games. More importantly he excelled in the playoffs, and helped the Leafs win 4 Stanley Cups. On a blue line that also featured Bobby Baun and Marcel Pronovost, Stanley would often team with the great Tim Horton to give the Leafs of that era 4 Hall of Fame defensemen.

Nicknamed "Showshoes" because of his plodding skating style, Stanley played one final season with the expansion Philadelphia Flyers in 1968-69 before retiring. When all was said and done, Allan scored 100 goals, 333 assists for 433 pointes in 1244 games.

Allan has to rank as one of the greatest defensive back liners in the history of the NHL, and it was eventually duly noted while he played. He is not your typical superstar, but a definite important star that every team needs.

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