Honorary 'C': Late singer Lightfoot served as honorary Leafs captain in 1991-92
TORONTO — When Maple Leafs brass held a meeting ahead of the NHL's 75th anniversary season, several big names — John Candy, Anne Murray and Mike Myers to name a few — were considered for the honour of serving as Toronto's honorary captain for the 1991-92 campaign.
"A lot of the U.S. (teams) went for comedians or people who were super-involved (with the team) or whatever," former Leafs public relations director Bob Stellick said Tuesday. "We thought there really was nobody more iconic than Gordon Lightfoot."
Lightfoot, a legendary singer-songwriter who died Monday at 84, was presented with a Maple Leafs jersey — complete with a 'C' — by former captain Darryl Sittler in a 1991 pre-game ceremony at Maple Leaf Gardens.
"I dropped the puck for Wendel (Clark) and for Steve Yzerman," Lightfoot recalled in a 2012 interview with CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada." "I remember it very well.
"I was so awestruck by the whole scene that I just dropped that puck and got the heck out of there."
The Toronto resident wore a black tuxedo for the occasion. Stellick, who helped co-ordinate plans with Lightfoot's agent, recalled the singer-songwriter was shy and rather quiet.
"These people that are backslappers or jock-sniffers or whatever they are, he was the absolute opposite of that," Stellick said. "He came in and was low maintenance and did his thing."
At the time, the Maple Leafs were coming off a last-place finish in the Norris Division.
Optimism was higher for the regular-season opener and Lightfoot helped make it a special night. The Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings 8-5.
"We thought, 'We're an iconic franchise,' and we were looking for someone who was an iconic Ontarian," Stellick said. "We certainly didn't want to do politicians or anything like that or someone who just happened to be hot that year.
"The 'Canadian Railroad Trilogy' and 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,' these are (songs) that resonated with Canadians and we thought it would be fun and relevant for the 75th anniversary."
Lightfoot told the CBC that he was a Maple Leafs fan and that he and his bandmates would follow the team's results when they were out on tour.
Lightfoot met with the team's directors before the pre-game ceremony, Stellick said, and got an "extraordinarily warm welcome" when he walked out on the ice.
"I didn't like the idea of being made an honorary captain, the jersey would have been just fine," Lightfoot told the CBC. "But they gave me the sweater and I kept that and I treasure that."
The Maple Leafs kicked off their second-round NHL playoff series against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
During a break in play in the first period, fans rose to recognize the life of Lightfoot as a video played on the large screens at Scotiabank Arena.
The in-house announcer noted the singer's many accomplishments and "If You Could Read My Mind," one of Lightfoot's biggest hits, played in the background.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press