Preseason Game 11 – Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 3

Preseason Game 11
Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 3
Saturday, October 2, 1976
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

What is a distressing situation for several gifted hockey players has been a perennial blessing for Montréal Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman.

Laden with enough talent to stock two excellent National Hockey League entries, Bowman has the enviable task of selecting the personnel for the Stanley Cup defending champions, knowing that the cures to any mistakes are dodging bodychecks in Halifax with the Canadiens’ American League affiliate, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs.

Saturday night at Maple Leaf Gardens, 16,485 spectators had a look at some of this excess baggage as the Toronto Maple Leafs tied the Canadiens 3-3 in the final preseason test for both clubs.

It was a commendable effort by the Leafs, who were taking a last look at their minor leaguers before shipping them south to the Central League Dallas Black Hawks. Unfortunately, the Leafs’ lack of depth could be their undoing this season, which opens tomorrow night in Denver against the Colorado Rockies (Kansas City Scouts last season).

Should injury hit the Toronto product, the names the team will be recalling are just that – names.

The Canadiens’ injury relief will come in the form of players sought by every general manager in the NHL.

Pierre Mondou, Chuck Luksa, Brian Engblom and gigantic Gilles Lupien all played Saturday and all are considered capable of playing elsewhere in the NHL. All will be heading to Halifax today.

In fact, the only new faces in the Canadiens lineup when they open Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Montréal will be Réjean Houle, a former Canadien who scored 51 goals with the World Hockey Association Québec Nordiques last year, and Mike Polich, a nobody until Canadiens scouts found the left winger in the wilds of Minnesota and invited him to apprentice in Nova Scotia last year.

“Heck, he wasn’t even drafted,” coach Bowman said. “Geez, this is a good position to be in.

“Everyone’s screaming about our strength. Well, everyone had a shot at Polich. Everyone had a shot at Bill Nyrop. Actually, teams had 51 shots at him. He went 52nd overall in the draft.

“We’re not going to drive anyone away, that’s for sure. We’re going to build it up and, hopefully, continue to have success.”

Polich is a short speedster who can play either centre or left wing and played both well for Team USA’s entry in the Canada Cup competition last month.

Saturday night, he cemented a spot in the Canadiens lineup when he caught the Leafs’ great defenceman Borje Salming flatfooted at the Leafs blueline and raced by him to give Montréal a 3-2 lead at 16:30 of the third period.

The game marked the end of a successful camp for the Leafs, whose preseason record was 5-3-1.

Coach Red Kelly probably will go with much the same lineup that forced the Philadelphia Flyers to a seventh game in their quarterfinal playoff win last year. Randy Carlyle, a junior defenceman from the Sudbury Wolves, and former Leafs defenceman Mike Pelyk, who played for the WHA Cincinnati Stingers last season, probably will be the only new faces.

Kelly and general manager Jim Gregory will have to ship several players to Dallas and Kurt Walker, Greg Hubick, Blair MacKasey and Scott Garland are obvious candidates.

Saturday’s 3-3 tie with the Canadiens and their 6-4 loss to the same team Friday indicate the Leafs are about three calibre players away from entering the NHL’s elite.

The goaltending of Wayne Thomas on Friday was, in the least, questionable, but backup Gord McRae turned in an excellent effort Saturday by stopping 29 shots. Ken Dryden, in the Montréal nets, made 32 saves, including breakaway stops on Lanny McDonald and Pelyk.

Larry Robinson opened the scoring for the Canadiens on a play that appeared offside. The big defenceman split the Leaf defence and fired a low shot by McRae at 8:49 of the second period, with Ian Turnbull in the penalty box for delaying the game.

Stan Weir tied the score for Toronto early in the third period on a backhander after Dryden gave up a rebound on George Ferguson’s shot. Guy Lafleur got that one back less than a minute later on a backhander with McRae caught out of the net.

At 3:26 of the period, right winger Pat Boutette made a fine move to get in front of Dryden at the edge of the goal crease and tipped Salming’s centring pass into a gaping net. Polich then sent the Canadiens ahead 3-2.

Bob Neely tied the score with six seconds left in the game. Neely forced his way deep into the slot and converted Darryl Sittler’s passout as the Canadiens defence was fast asleep.

NOTES: The Leafs signed Alain Bélanger and Gary McFayden, a pair of third round draft choices, to professional contracts and promptly shipped them to Dallas. Also banished were Bob Warner, Paul Evans and Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau will miss three weeks with a separated collarbone.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, October 4, 1976

1st Period
TOR PEN – 05:43 – McDonald, interference
MTL PEN – 11:43 – Savard, interference
MTL PEN – 16:51 – Lambert, hooking
TOR PEN – 18:35 – Salming, interference

2nd Period
TOR PEN – 07:03 – Turnbull, delay of game
MTL PP GOAL – 08:49 – Robinson
MTL PEN – 14:04 – Gainey, interference

3rd Period
TOR GOAL – 01:53 – Weir (Ferguson, McKenny)

MTL GOAL – 02:48 – Lafleur (Shutt, Mahovlich)
TOR GOAL – 03:26 – Boutette (Salming, Valiquette)
MTL GOAL – 16:30 – Polich (Robinson)
TOR GOAL – 19:54 – Neely (Sittler)

TOR – McRae (T, 29-32)
MTL – Dryden (T, 32-35)

TOR – 19+9+14 = 35
MTL – 9+13+10 = 32

TORGoaltenders: Gord McRae, Wayne Thomas. Defence: Claire Alexander, Randy Carlyle, Blair MacKasey, Mike Pelyk, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull. Forwards: Don Ashby, Pat Boutette, George Ferguson, Greg Hubick, Lanny McDonald, Jim McKenny, Bob Neely, Darryl Sittler, Jack Valiquette, Stan Weir, Dave Williams.
MTL Goaltenders: Ken Dryden, Dave Elenbass. Defence: Brian Engblom, Guy Lapointe, Chuck Lucksa, Gilles Lupien, Bill Nyrop, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard. Forwards: Bob Gainey, Réjean Houle, Doug Jarvis, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert, Peter Mahovlich, Pierre Mondou, Mike Polich, Doug Risebrough, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay, John Van Boxmeer.