Bob Nevin once won two Stanley Cups in a row for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
You might have to look it up.
Robert Nevin lounges in his Toronto residence reminiscing on his past heroics with great clarity as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nevin was a key contributor to helping end the 11-year Stanley Cup drought that plagued the club form 1951-1962.
As incredible as that sounds, it was once the longest period of time between Stanley Cup celebrations for the storied franchise.
Nevin traces his original roots to the town of South Porcupine in Northern Ontario. The region is incredibly close to where Henry Hudson’s now famous Fairchild 24 single-engine floatplane and its passengers went missing on a fishing trip back in 1951.
One of the passengers was Maple Leaf defenceman Bill Barilko who had recently scored the Stanley Cup game winning goal in overtime earlier that same year to defeat the rival Montreal Canadiens. Barilko and Hudson perished in that fateful plane crash and the wreckage wasn’t discovered until June 6, 1962.
Now, fifty-four years to the day, Nevin, who subsequently wore number 11 for the Maple Leafs, recalls the unbridled level of excitement displayed by Toronto fans upon arriving back home after winning the 1962 Stanley Cup in Chicago.
“We managed to beat Chicago in their building which made it all the more sweet,” said Nevin sitting on a comfortable chair in Leaside. “I can always remember the plane ride home from Chicago, with the wine and the beer and everything else going. When we landed at Pearson there were probably three to four thousand people at the airport ready to cheer us on and welcome us back. It was something you never forget.”
Nevin and the Leafs dusted off Bobby Hull and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Hull scored in the third period of Game 6 and the Leafs were trailing by a goal and getting desperate when Nevin tied the game 1-1.
“Bobby Hull scored early in the third period, and that (expletive) building was going nuts,” said Nevin. “The organ was blasting, people throwing stuff on the ice, and everything else. Then I scored to tie it up. Quiet the building a little. And then Dick Duff scored the game winning goal that put us ahead 2-1. Dickie always says to me, ‘You got a pretty important goal Nevin, but I got the most important one.’ I say, if I don’t tie it up, you don’t have a chance to win it.”
The right-winger from South Porcupine had ties to Toronto all along. His father was from Toronto but had moved North during the tough economic times to work in the gold mines around the Timmins area. Leslie Nevin was a hockey player himself who initially taught his son the tools of the trade. The Nevins moved back down to Toronto when Bob was a young boy and that’s where he began getting recognized for his skill.
“I was playing minor bantam,” said Nevin. “One of the Leaf scouts came up and said I want you to sign this C-Form (Confirmation Form). I thought it over. I wanted to play for Toronto so why wouldn’t I sign this C-Form and make a hundred dollars. My Dad was probably making fifty a week and I come home with a hundred dollar check, he was like Holy (expletive)! Where did you get that?”
Nevin and the Leafs would repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in 1963, defeating Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings in five games. Nevin scored the game winning goal in the first two games of the series. Shockingly, Nevin would be traded the following year in a blockbuster deal that brought Andy Bathgate over from the New York Rangers.
Nevin vividly recalls King Clancy calling him before a game against the Rangers in 1964.
“Bob, when you come down to the Gardens tonight, go into the other dressing room. We just traded you to the Rangers. Thanks. Bye.”
When Nevin was traded from the Leafs for Bathgate, his teammate Dick Duff was also included in the deal. Duff spoke highly of Nevin and gave some insight into why he was underrated and so difficult to defend.
“Bob was a great player,” said Duff. “He was good win the puck. Guys who are good with the puck create situations for other players. When he’s creating space for Kelly or Mahovolich to come late to get the puck he’s drawing in the defense. Big Frank (Mahovolich) got 48 goals playing with Bobby and Red Kelly. Good plays came from him having the puck.”
Without Nevin, the Leafs would win a third straight Cup in 1964 on a Bathgate winner in Game 7 (there wouldn’t be another Game 7 in Maple Leaf Gardens until 1993). Nevin went on to captain the New York Rangers for a number of years and returned to haunt the Leafs when he eliminated them from the playoffs in 1971 on the strength of his game winning overtime goal.
Presently, Nevin occasionally frequents the Alumni box at the Air Canada Centre to hang with some of his old teammates and watch the current Maple Leafs play. He’s been so disheartened recently that he’s left a few times after the second period. The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series in 11 years and just finished dead last in the NHL standings. They also haven’t won a Stanley Cup for close to 50 years.
Out of the current Leaf misery there is slight optimism from Nevin who spoke of the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft and the current front-office staff, “It’s one thing to have the first pick, and it’s another thing to pick the right guy. If the front office can make you a Stanley Cup winner, I don’t know. But I think they’re on the right track for sure.”
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