In the 1951 Stanley Cup finals the Leafs were up against Maurice Richard, Doug Harvey, Bernie Geoffrion and the rest of the mighty Montreal Canadiens. A huge challenge, to be sure, but the Leafs jumped to a 3-1 series lead with all of the first four games determined in overtime. In game five, also in overtime, an unlikely hero scored a dramatic, game-winning and series clinching goal for Toronto. It turned out to be a goal that would echo through the hockey world for generations to come.
Two minutes and 53 seconds into overtime, Bill Barilko, a defenceman who had scored just four goals in 46 playoff games to that point, rushed in from the point, sprawled for a rebound, and lifted a backhand over the shoulder of Canadiens goaltender Gerry McNeil. Barilko's goal clinched the seventh Stanley Cup victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Barilko's fourth since joining the team four years earlier. As a 19 year-old call-up in 1947, Barilko was a determined, tough and little-known defender. Four years later, with one sprawling backhand shot, he had achieved hero status in Toronto. Unfortunately it was the last shot Bill Barilko would ever take. That summer Barilko and a friend died in a plane crash while on a fishing trip in Northern Ontario. The Leafs didn't win another Stanley Cup until 1962 -- the same year Barilko's remains were discovered.
The Toronto Maple Leafs retire very few sweater numbers. In fact there are only two retired numbers hanging from the rafters at the Air Canada Centre: Ace Bailey's #6 and Bill Barilko's #5. Only players who have made a significant contribution to the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club and have experienced a career-ending incident while a member of the Maple Leaf team will have their numbers considered for retirement. Unfortunately for Leaf fans, Barilko meets these criteria. The 24 year-old defenceman died in a tragic plane crash while still in the prime of his career.
- Retired Jersey Number #5, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1992