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Video: 1932: Stanley Cup Winning Team | 1934: Ace Bailey Benefit Game

As the 1930’s began, the Toronto Maple Leafs were still playing in the old Arena Gardens (also called the Mutual Street Arena), with a capacity of only 8,000.  On the ice, the Leafs were having some success. The team finished second in the 1930-31 season in the Canadian Division, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals in two-straight games by the Chicago Black Hawks.

The Leafs of the 1930’s were called the ‘Gashouse Gang’ for their off-ice antics. These Leafs were a colourful bunch.  Pranks such as Charlie Conacher hanging King Clancy by his feet out of an open hotel window were common. As Conn Smythe saw the increasing popularity of the team, he knew that he needed a larger, more modern arena to house his hockey team. However, North America was in the midst of the Great Depression and finding funding for construction was difficult if not impossible.

The 30's saw the Leafs move to their new home, Maple Leaf Gardens

Undaunted, the well-connected Smythe arranged for a purchase of land from the Eaton family and convinced a number of the well to do of the time to invest in the team and the new building. When Smythe’s energetic assistant Frank Selke convinced union members of the trades to takes shares of stock instead of cash for their labour, the building of the hockey shrine got the go-ahead and unbelievably was constructed in only five months. It was referred to as a ‘miracle in engineering’

The Leafs opened their new arena on November 12, 1931 against the Chicago Black Hawks. Although the Leafs lost 2-1 with Chicago’s Mush March scoring the first goal in the new rink, the building achieved rave reviews. But the arena and the game itself were not the only important firsts.

Foster Hewitt, from his newly constructed ‘gondola’ high above the ice surface, began his famous Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts that would become the definitive Saturday-night tradition for Canadians coast-to-coast. Because of Foster’s description of Leaf games and his build up of their star players, the Leafs became ‘Canada’s team’.

To cap off the opening season at their new home, the Toronto hockey club won the 1932 Stanley Cup for the very first time as the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs defeated the New York Rangers in three straight games in the best of five game series.

The 1932-33 season saw the Leafs finish atop the Canadian Division with 54 points, four points more than the Montreal Maroons. The Leafs and Bruins matched up in the semifinals and the deciding Game 5 unbelievably went into six overtimes before Toronto right winger Ken Doraty scored to finally end the contest.

This overtime game started on April 3 and ended the next day. The problem was that the Leafs had to travel to New York by train to meet the Rangers later that night for the opening game of the finals. The understandably tired Leafs lost that game 5-1 to Lester Patrick’s team.  It was apparent that the Leafs were all spent from that long overtime game against the Bruins and they eventually lost the finals to the Rangers in four games, winning only one.

Conn Smythe was behind the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens

Throughout the 1930’s, the Leafs and Bruins had developed a fierce rivalry that started at the top between owners Conn Smythe and Art Ross, down to the players like Red Horner and Eddie Shore.

In one contest in Boston on December 12, 1933, Eddie Shore crashed into the Leafs’ star forward Ace Bailey from behind resulting in Bailey’s skull cracking when his head hit the ice. NHL penalty leader Red Horner then knocked Shore out with one punch in retaliation. This unfortunate incident ended Bailey’s hockey career and was actually almost fatal to him.

Local newspapers had daily accounts of Bailey’s grave condition until he finally recovered. Law officials had to prevent Bailey’s father from traveling to Boston to confront Eddie Shore with a firearm. On February 14, 1934, a benefit game for Ace Bailey was played between the Leafs and All-Stars from the other NHL teams, including public enemy number one, Eddie Shore. Prior to the game, Bailey and Shore clasped hands and spoke as the 14,000 fans in Maple Leaf Gardens let out a thunderous ovation.

Although the Leafs finished in first place in the Canadian Division in the 1933-34 season, and led the entire league with 61 points in the 48-game schedule, the Dick Irvin coached Leafs bowed out in the semi-finals to the Detroit Red Wings in the best-of-five series, winning two and losing three.

This talented Leafs team led the league again in points for the 1934-35 season, but lost to the Montreal Maroons in the finals in three straight games. They lost again in the finals the following year - falling three games to one in the best-of-five finals vs. Detroit. Remarkably, the Leafs lost in the finals three more times in the decade - versus Chicago in 1938, Boston in 1939 and New York in 1940.

In the nine-year span from 1931-32 to 1939-40, the Leaf powerhouse made it to the finals an amazing seven times, but won the Stanley Cup only once - in 1932.  Head coach Dick Irvin sensed that it was time for a change and resigned. Former Leaf standout defenceman Hap Day took over behind the bench to lead the team into the successful, but turbulent 1940’s.