Old Toronto memories of worst team in NHL .. Al Rollins & Black Hawks + Erin Andrews & Jarret Stoll

Mar 5th, 2016 | By Dominic Berry | Category: Sporting Life

MARCH 5, 2016. TORONTO, ON. For several days my morning TV news has been harshly reminding me that the Toronto Maple Leafs (in my hometown, I will quietly confess at the start) are the worst team in the entire National Hockey League/Ligue nationale de hockey.

The NHL/LNH is now a much bigger operation than it was when I was growing up in the 1950s. But for the past several days I have also been remembering my youth during the last stand of the old hogtown, before it became truly civilized as it happily is today. And I have almost been able to taste the hockey card for Al Rollins, goalie for the Chicago Black Hawks, 1952–57.

Throughout this period (from 7 to 12 years old in my particular case, I have just calculated) Al Rollins of the Chicago Black Hawks seemed the easiest hockey card to get. (Though I guess the height of my career as a purchaser of such things, at the small corner grocery on the way to school, was when I was 7, 8, 9, and 10, say.) And the Chicago Black Hawks were almost consistently the worst team in the NHL.

(Though again the six-team National Hockey League of those days was much smaller than the 30-team league of 2016. It was also arguably even more confusing politically. The six teams were from the two Canadian cities of Montreal and Toronto, and the four US cities of Boston, New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Look at a map and ask yourself : What nation is this?)

Queen Street at Yonge in Toronto, looking west, mid 1950s — heart of downtown. Note new Queen subway entrance in bottom right corner. Tks to Chuckman’s Other Collection.

Looking back on it all now in the magical age of the Internet, with snow still on the ground but spring in the air, I’m struck by two particular things. And they may or may not offer some hope for the future to the very truly much abused and neglected fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, current holders of the upside-down record of worst team in all of the National Hockey League.

First, just from a hasty reading of the Wikipedia article on Al Rollins, now in my aging wisdom, I was a little surprised at what an interesting and (from various angles) successful career he had.

He did not deserve the opprobrium his lowly status in my youthful world of hockey cards gave him. In that place it was  bad news whenever you got Al Rollins among the four cards that came with the gum. You almost certainly already had him. And you couldn’t trade him to anyone else, because they almost certainly had him too. And no one wanted the goalie for the worst team in the NHL in any case. (Now Rocket Richard, Montreal Canadiens, 1942–1960  …  Or even the Leafs’ Ted Kennedy, 1942–1957…  Only the best collections had things like that.)

Erin Andrews and Jarret Stoll with one of two Stanley Cups he won with the Los Angeles Kings, 2012, 2014.

And then, second, there’s the current case of Ms Erin Andrews — “I want to be the easy, breezy girl. I want to be the sports girl” — and her Canadian hockey player boyfriend/roommate, Jarret Stoll. Like Al Rollins Jarret Stoll was born in Saskatchewan. I stumbled across the notion of linking him to my musings here when I read the recent Canadian Press report headlined “Babcock rips officiating as league-worst Leafs drop close game to Wild.” Jarret Stoll, as it happens, is now playing for the Minnesota Wild, having won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014), and survived a subsequent rocky season with the New York Rangers. And at least the Wild’s defeat of the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs on March 3, 2016 “kept Minnesota in sole control of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.”

* * * *

Jarret Stoll and Erin Andrews at the third annual Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, August 2013 (Getty).

Erin Andrews, of course, is the sports journalist and Dancing with the Stars host who is currently suing “two hotel companies she accuses of disclosing her room number to and allowing close proximity for Michael David Barrett, who was convicted in 2009 of recording videos of her undressing and uploading them to the Internet.”

(And she feels “sad”  because she thinks her Canadian hockey player boyfriend/roomate Jarret Stoll “would’ve loved the girl more that was there before this happened.” He apparently just tells her “‘You’ve got to move on, you’ve got to go to the next game, leave it alone, who cares what people think?” And my guess is that this is pretty good advice, from a 30-something professional athlete on his own quest for career survival.)

I have just two further and final thoughts on worst teams in the entire National Hockey League/Ligue nationale de hockey — historical and contemporary.

(1) The first is that — as too little heeded by me and most hockey card consuming colleagues when I was 7, 8, 9, and 10, as best as I can recall (despite the writing on the back of the cards) — Al Rollins actually won a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951, before being traded to Chicago for Harry Lumley in the 1951–52 season!

Al Rollins as Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leaf.

Moreover, despite the Black Hawks’ last-place status during Rollins’s time with them, “hockey pundits saw Rollins as one of the league’s best goaltenders and in 1953-54 he played in the NHL All-Star Game and was awarded the Hart Trophy [for MVP], even though he only won 12 games and lost 47 that season.” (Rollins also won the Vezina Trophy for best goalie, btw, during his 1950–51 season with the Leafs.)

(2) Finally, I should confess at last as well that I am not really in all that good a position to voice any altogether justified long-term fan’s laments about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ status as worst team in all of the NHL/LNH now, in the late winter of 2016.

To start with, I’m no longer a big hockey fan. As the Leafs (and even the CFL Argos) have waned, Toronto has become a baseball and basketball town. (It’s the Raptors, and Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, etc, etc, who make you feel good when you hear the sports news in the morning at the moment.)

Even more important, I suppose, I was not a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs when I was a youthful hockey enthusiast back in the 1950s. Even though I lived in Toronto, my favourite team was the Detroit Red Wings — in the heroic age of  Terry Sawchuk from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ted Lindsay from Renfrew, Ontario, and Gordie Howe from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

I used to think that my youthful life as a child of Toronto who was a fan of the Detroit Red Wings just showed an inherited contrarian nature that I have learned to live with and even somehow enjoy in my adulthood. Looking over the List of Stanley Cup Champions today I am thinking there may be another possible explanation.

The Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup for three of the four years when I was 7, 8, 9, and 10 — 1952, 1954, and 1955. And they had also won the Cup in 1950 when I was 5 years old. Apparently it could equally be said that I was just backing who I perceived as the winner of the day. (Another instinct I have subsequently learned to live with, more or less successfully.)

There is still another wrinkle to the story (and I promise this will be the very last) that suggests somewhat more virtue on my part, I think. Even back then I must have had some admiration for the almost consistently last-place team in the NHL of  1952–57.

The first Toronto subway, along Yonge Street from Eglinton to Union Station, opened on March 30, 1954. The St. Clair station was and still is the second stop south of Eglinton. This is how it (and the original trains) looked brand new. Several stops further south was and still is College, only a very short walk from the old Maple Leaf Gardens where the NHL (and much else) played in the 1950s. Tks to Chuckman’s Other Collection.

I only ever had two NHL hockey sweaters in my childhood and youth — carefully selected by me from the Eaton’s catalogue, and then much more randomly purchased by my mother when she found the right sale etc. One of them was a Red Wings sweater, of course. The other was an old-style Black Hawks sweater, from the days before Glenn Hall replaced Al Rollins in goal.

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  1. Interesting article on my Father Al Rollins. He had a good career but never seemed to get the acclaim that others with his hardware achieved. Regards, Jerry Rollins

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