The curse of Jim Pappin? Leafs haven't won a Cup since 'fluke' goal in '67

The curse of Jim Pappin? Leafs haven't won a Cup since 'fluke' goal in '67

Jim Pappin doesn't observe May 2 as a significant date in his life. He doesn't uncork a vintage bottle of wine, or sip on a single malt, or smoke an expensive cigar.

Sometimes the date rolls around and he even forgets it's the anniversary of his game-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their 3-1 victory over Montreal in Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup final.

Since Pappin's Cup-clinching goal, the Leafs haven't celebrated another championship.

It's a good thing D'Arcy McAndrew never forgets. This year, like every year, Pappin's childhood friend from their days in Sudbury, Ont., will ring to remind the former Maple Leafs right wing.

"D'Arcy has called every year since the year after that goal," the 77-year-old Pappin says over the phone from his home in Southern California this week. "I guess this year will make it 50 times."

Yes, a half century has passed since Pappin charged down his off wing late in the second period. He saw linemate Pete Stemkowski skating toward the net, so Pappin made a hard cross-ice backhand pass, only to watch the puck bound off Canadiens defender Terry Harper and past goalie Gump Worsley.

"It was a complete fluke," Pappin says with a chuckle.

"A lot of people don't even know that I scored the game-winning goal. They either think that George Armstrong's empty-net goal was the game-winning goal or it's been such a long time that a lot of people have forgotten. Other than Bill Barilko's goal in 1951, it's hard to recall who scored the other Stanley Cup goals for the Leafs.

"You never could have imagined that, 50 years later, it would be the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. I figured that they would win one every two or three years back then."

Seventeen different teams have hoisted the prized trophy since 1967, including the other five Original Six teams, two clubs based in California (the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings) and another from Florida (the Tampa Bay Lightning). The Maple Leafs haven't even been back to the final, something another seven teams can claim.

In fact, this spring marked only the 28th time the Leafs have qualified for the playoffs since Pappin's goal.

Could it be the curse of Jim Pappin? He just snickers at the suggestion.

Not pleased with Punch

Pappin considers his seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks as the pinnacle of his career, not his time in Toronto.

He first won a Stanley Cup with the 1963-64 Maple Leafs in a limited role, then spent the next few seasons being shuffled back and forth between Toronto and its AHL team, the Rochester Americans.

Back in 1966-67, most teams played three lines and had a couple of extra forwards on the bench who didn't see much ice time. Pappin and Pete Stemkowski were those guys that season.

Pappin did not get along with Maple Leafs coach-general manager Punch Imlach.

"I hated Imlach and he didn't like me," Pappin says.

After just six goals, Imlach demoted Pappin to Rochester for six games in February 1967. He scored four times in his stint and was recalled to the Maple Leafs.

Then, Imlach fell ill. In stepped King Clancy to run a few practices and coach a few games. Clancy put Pappin and Stemkowski together with veteran Bob Pulford in practice and the new trio clicked.

Late in a game one night, Clancy put his newfound line to work. Down 2-0, the threesome scored twice to tie the game. Pappin flourished the rest of the season to score 15 goals in the final 22 games.

Shortchanged

His 21 goals in the NHL and four in the AHL gave him a combined 25 for the season. Pappin had a $1,000 bonus clause in his contract for 25 goals and he felt he deserved the extra cash.

After the Stanley Cup parade, Pappin ran into Clancy at Woodbine Race Track in Toronto. He told Clancy that after receiving his playoff money there was no $1,000 bonus cheque.

"Clancy told me to make my way to Maple Leaf Gardens the next day and the problem would be settled," Pappin says.

Imlach, however, refused to pay up. Pappin was upset. After all, all he did was lead all scorers in the Stanley Cup playoffs with seven goals and 15 points in 12 games.

"Everybody likes the playoffs," says Pappin, who scored 10 goals in 18 games when he helped the Blackhawks reach the 1971 final. "But the pressure never bothered me. I always felt comfortable in the playoffs."

Pappin's post-season play in the mid-to-late 1960s was incredible. For five seasons in a row, he celebrated championships, beginning with the 1963-64 Stanley Cup and followed up with back-to-back AHL Calder Cups in 1964-65 and 1965-66, another Stanley Cup and a final Calder Cup in 1967-68.

That Pappin was sent down to Rochester after his 1967 heroics was a final slap in the face from Punch, who obviously harboured a grudge with his young forward. Before the 1967-68 season began Imlach would only increase Pappin's salary to $22,000 — $3,000 less than he asked for.

Sweet home Chicago

The Maple Leafs did not make the playoffs the year after the Stanley Cup win. So Imlach demoted Pappin in time to play for Rochester in the AHL playoffs. That May, Pappin was traded to the Blackhawks for three-time Norris Trophy winner Pierre Pilote.

Pilote would play only one more season, while Pappin flourished in Chicago on a line with Pit Martin and Dennis Hull. In his seven seasons with the Blackhawks, he would never score fewer than 22 goals in a year. He passed the 30-goal mark four times and reached a career-high of 41 goals in 1972-73.

After his career ended in the mid-1970s, he became a scout. He still works for the Anaheim Ducks today. His duties are to keep a close eye on the team's performance in games and practices.

"I'm part-part-part time and they pay me less and less every year," he says, jokingly. "If you see I'm working for them next year I'll be paying them."

In regards to his old team, Pappin says he has never watched so many Maple Leafs games as he has this year. He admires the play of Toronto rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

"Matthews is awfully good and he gets it done in both ends of the rink," Pappin says. "Marner has so much skill and speed. His speed is almost at the level of Connor McDavid."

Lost and found

Up until a few years ago, Pappin would return to Toronto with his wife, Peggy, and spend summers in a waterfront condo he owned and would rent out in the winter. He recalled a few years ago, spending some time with his old Maple Leafs teammate Dave Keon.

Keon, Pappin and their wives decided one evening to make a pilgrimage to the renovated Maple Leaf Gardens.

"I asked David if he thought he was the best Toronto player to play in that building," Pappin says. "He was too humble and didn't really answer.

"But then this year at the outdoor game he was named the No. 1 Maple Leaf player of all time. I told him so."

Pappin was 89th on the list. He was disappointed because several of the players ranked ahead of him never played in a playoff game for Toronto.

But Pappin's story, when it comes to his time with the Maple Leafs, does have a happy ending. After he was traded to Chicago, he gave his 1967 Stanley Cup ring to his then father-in-law, Peter Kyrzakos.

Kyrzakos lost the ring when he crashed into a wave swimming off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

He didn't tell Pappin. Instead, he had a replica ring made up. But Kyrzakos did come clean after his daughter and Pappin divorced. Then, years later, a treasure hunter found the ring with his metal detector. Pappin paid $10,000 to get it back.

"My son [Arne] has it now," Pappin says. "He turns 50 on Friday. He has that ring and my daughter [Merrill] has the one from 1964, the year she was born."