Game 608 – Maple Leafs 7, Canadiens 4

Game 608
Maple Leafs 7, Canadiens 4
Thursday, October 9, 1986
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

“I B’Leaf” said the button on the lapel of actor / comedian John Candy’s suit.

After two decades of unbelievable chaos, what the Toronto Maple Leafs need to do more than anything else is start believing in themselves.

And that won’t be difficult if they continue to perform as they did in last night’s National Hockey League season debut at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Before 16,385 delighted fans the Leafs blasted the defending Stanley Cup champion Montréal Canadiens, 7-4.

They did it the hard way.

The Leafs jumped into a 4-0 lead before most of the 48th Highlanders, who took part in the opening ceremonies, had shed their large bearskin hats.

But then they said “aren’t we wonderful” and before they finished congratulating themselves the Canadiens had tied the score at four.

However, unlike the Leafs of yesterday, this new collection fought back in the third period with three goals to get the season away on the right foot. Skate?

“That’s the sixth game in which we haven’t lost,” said a beaming, nattily-attired John Brophy, who had made his NHL coaching debut a successful one. “I know the other five were just exhibition games, but if this team needs confidence builders we’re getting them one by one.”

The Leafs almost put the skids under last night’s ego-stroker with their second-period lapse.

“The crowd,” said Brophy, when asked to explain the letdown. “You can get caught up in it very easily. You’re ahead 4-0 and you think you can make it 10-1. But it never happens.

“Anytime you give up a goal in the final two minutes of a period and in the first minute of the next, you’re going to run into trouble.”

The Leafs simply detoured from the game plan that Brophy has been attempting to hammer into their heads since training camp opened Sept. 13.

“We just got away from our game,” said defenceman Bob McGill, who scored the season’s first goal for the Leafs and only the third of his six-year NHL career. “We just haven’t got a team that can sit on a lead.”

McGill moved in from his blueline post to the end of the Montréal goal crease and banged in rookie Vincent Damphousse’s pass from behind the net past a started Patrick Roy.

Brophy’s plan is simple. So simple in fact that it’s scary. If a team executed the system game in and game out they’d never lose.

But, alas, the NHL owners haven’t gone to robots and human minds tend to wander as those of the Leafs did last night.

“Offensively, John’s got us dumping the puck into the other team’s end,” explained McGill, who is ahead of Wayne Gretzky in the scoring race this morning. “We send in one winger along one board and the other winger down the other boards and the centre stays high.

“That way when the other team breaks out we’ve alway got one man back to help the defence. We should alway have three men back and the other team shouldn’t have more than three guys attacking, so everyone should have a man. It’s basic and it works.”

The Leafs, however, began thinking attack after taking a four-goal lead and the forwards were not dumping the puck into the Montréal zone or coming back to aid the defence.

“The defence had to start skating back,” explained McGill. “We couldn’t stand up at the blueline.”

As a result the Canadiens began getting good shots at Leaf goalie Ken Wregget and four of them found the mark.

It was centre Tom Fergus’ second goal of the game six minutes into the third period that seemed to straighten out the Leafs.

He added a third into an empty net with 19 seconds remaining to collect the hat trick.

Steve Thomas, Rick Vaive and Wendel Clark scored the other Toronto goals, while Bobby Smith, David Maley, Brian Skrudland and Chris Nilan replied for the Habs.

The Fergus-Thomas-Miroslav Frycer line had a grand opening. The unit collected four goals and six assists, with Frycer getting three assists.

Fergus, in particular, was a standout. His fast break from the starting blocks was a direct contrast to last year when he watched the opening game – which Leafs lost to the Bruins in Boston – from the press box.

The next morning he became a Leaf in a trade for Bill Derlago.

“I was stale,” said Fergus, of his final days in Boston. “I needed to move. I don’t regret the move to Toronto at all.”

Brophy lauded Fergus’ performance and suggested there was no reason why he couldn’t become an NHL all-star.

“He’s a great, big, dominating person on the ice,” said Brophy.

The 24-year-old Fergus, who was the 60th player chosen in the 1980 draft, preferred to deflect the spotlight to the team.

“We all have to stay up and be ready to play John’s (Brophy’s) system each game,” he said. “If we do we can have a heck of a team. We came out so strong maybe we were due for a bit of a letdown. But you like those letdowns to be two minutes not 20. I thought we showed a lot of class to come back the way we did.”

NOTES: The Leafs’ lineup last night included 10 players who were not with the team for opening day last year. There were: Ken Wregget, Todd Gill, Bill Root, Al Iafrate, Terry Johnson, Mike Allison, Jeff Jackson, Vincent Damphousse, Tom Fergus and Brad Smith…Damphousse, Allison and Johnson were playing their first game as a Leaf and Damphousse, the Leafs’ number one pick in last June’s draft, got his first NHL point on his first shift when he set up McGill’s goal…The Habs were without captain Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Stéphane Richer and Steve Rooney. Gainey is out for up to 12 weeks with torn ligaments in his left knee. Robinson has a stretched groin muscle, but is expected to return for the Habs’ next game tomorrow night.

Story originally published in The Toronto Star, October 10, 1986

1st Period
TOR GOAL – 02:55 – McGill (Damphousse, Jackson)
TOR PEN – 03:57 – Iafrate, slashing
TOR GOAL – 06:17 – Fergus (Frycer, Iafrate)
TOR GOAL – 09:32 – Thomas (Frycer, Fergus)
MTL PEN – 12:02 – Ludwig, elbowing
TOR PP GOAL – 14:02 – Vaive (Fergus, Gill)
TOR PEN – 17:53 – Johnson, holding
MTL PP GOAL – 18:01 – Smith (Naslund, Gingras)

2nd Period
MTL GOAL – 00:31 – Maley (Gingras)
TOR PEN – 06:28 – Gill, cross checking
MTL GOAL – 13:08 – Skrudland (Gingras, Dahlin)
TOR PEN – 14:19 – Wregget, delay of game
MTL PEN – 16:32 – Skrudland, interference
MTL PEN – 17:42 – McPhee, roughing
TOR PEN – 17:42 – Courtnall, roughing
MTL PEN – 17:42 – Corson, roughing
TOR PEN – 17:42 – Clark, roughing

3rd Period
MTL GOAL – 01:34 – Nilan (McPhee)
TOR GOAL – 06:27 – Fergus (Frycer, Thomas)
TOR GOAL – 07:48 – Clark (Courtnall, Gill)
MTL PEN – 09:42 – Nilan, cross checking
TOR GOAL – 19:41 – Fergus
TOR PEN – 19:53 – Vaive, slashing

TOR – Wregget (W, 29-33)
MTL – Roy (L, 29-35)

TORGoaltenders: Ken Wregget. Defence: Jim Benning, Todd Gill, Al Iafrate, Terry Johnson, Bob McGill, Bill Root. Forwards: Mike Allison, Wendel Clark (A), Russ Courtnall, Vincent Damphousse, Tom Fergus, Miroslav Frycer, Jeff Jackson, Gary Leeman, Brad Smith, Greg Terrion, Steve Thomas, Rick Vaive.
MTLGoaltenders: Patrick Roy. Defence: Chris Chelios, Gaston Gingras, Rick Green, Mike Lalor, Craig Ludwig, Petr Svoboda. Forwards: Guy Carbonneau, Shayne Corson, Kjell Dahlin, Claude Lemieux, David Maley, Mike McPhee, Sergio Momesso, Mats Naslund (A), Chris Nilan, Brian Skrudland, Bobby Smith, Ryan Walter.

TOR – 1-0-0 (1.000)
MTL – 0-1-0 (.000)