Conn Smythe always said “if you can’t lick ’em in the alley then you can’t lick ’em on the ice”. Smythe felt that to win in the National Hockey League you needed tough bone jarring defensemen. So, it was no surprise when in February of 1947 a solid young defenseman named Bill Barilko was added to the Toronto Maple Leafs roster.
The Leafs already nasty defence core included Jim Thompson, Fern Flaman and Gus Mortson. Smythe must have known what he was doing as the Leafs won Stanley Cups in ’47, ’48 and ’49. Barilko, at 5′ 11″ , 180 pounds, was considered big in those days and he was there to hit people. Bill couldn’t put the puck in the ocean.
After giving up the Cup to Detroit in the 1950 season, the Leafs again fought their way back to the Cup Final against Montreal. In game five, on Saturday April 21, 1951, with Toronto ahead in the series 3-1, Montreal fought Toronto to a 2-2 tie in regulation time.
The Headline -1962
In the overtime Harry Watson took a shot that goalie Gerry McNeil stopped but failed to control. Barilko pinched in from his defence position and fired the rebound past McNeil for the winning goal at 2:53. Leafs had eliminated Montreal much like Washington will do this year. The Leafs had won their 4th cup in 5 years. (This is not fiction, this really happened).
The guy who was known for his defence had won the Cup with his offence. It would be the Leafs last Cup for 11 years. (Now, that sounds more like it).
That off-season Bill and a friend, Dr. Henry Hudson, flew to Quebec for a fishing expedition. On the return flight the floatplane disappeared and no one ever saw Bill alive again. After three weeks the search for the missing plane was called off. It was not until June 7, 1962 that the wreckage was found near Barilko’s birthplace of Cochrane, Ontario.
There was mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Barilko plane. Legend has it that Barilko and Hudson were carrying a load of gold in the pontoons of the plane and that the plane was hijacked and robbed. That tale is even harder to believe than the one about the Leafs winning 4 cups in 5 years.
This article is copyright 2010 by Mike Wilkins. No part may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.
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