Lord, it's quiet in here," muttered a newsman from Chicago, gazing fearfully around Toronto's cavernous Maple Leaf Gardens. Below him, in tense silence, a hockey game was being played between the visiting Chicago Black Hawks and Toronto's own lethal Maple Leafs. The Chicago man's ears were attuned to the din of dingy old Chicago Stadium, where the big, rough, tough Hawks have committed mayhem on their opponents week after week during the last few months to the high-decibel cheers and boos of the Chicago fans. Now the Hawks themselves were being slaughtered, and the cool appreciation of the Toronto fans watching the act was getting on the Chicagoan's nerves.
As befits the gentlemanly Maple Leafs, who brush their teeth twice a day and wear neat blue monogrammed blazers when they are not working on the ice, this was murder with class. When the Leafs kill, they do it like Mack the Knife—there's not a trace of red.
Even though they were watching the hockey game of the year, the 14,000 Torontonians on hand besmirched the mannerly occasion with no unseemly emotion. A local sociologist has suggested that the extraordinary good manners of Toronto hockey fans—long a matter of record—is due to: 1) the fact that most of them hold season tickets at the Gardens that can be lifted for misbehavior and given to one of the 8,000 customers who have been waiting for up to 10 years to get a permanent seat, and 2) the fact that it would take a Joe Di-Maggio to hurl a tomato to the ice or a Joe Humphreys to make himself heard, the seats are placed so far back.
True, there was a small flurry of booing when the Hawks' muscular Bobby Hull threw several haymakers at Maple Leaf Eddie Shack. But the outburst was prompted, in all probability, less by concern over Hull's attack than by regret at his bad manners. By the time Hull struck, Chicago was behind 3-0 and for all practical purposes as dead as Mrs. O'Leary's cow. Hull's belligerence seemed only a sort of vulgar spasm in the dying corpse, like the uncouth flopping of a headless chicken. When the spasm occurred, Toronto was already the prohibitive favorite to capture its first National Hockey Championship since 1947-48. The Hawks, who had seemed to have the prize firmly in hand only two weeks before when they led the Leafs by nine fat points, had almost certainly thrown away what would have been their first title ever in 37 long years of striving.
All through the season the Hawks had looked like winners. They had not been out of first place since December 2—a span of 42 games. Their individual stars had been exciting: Hull himself, the Golden Boy, the big, blond, handsome high-scoring Hawk hero: Stan Mikita, the sparkplug, the holler guy with the high stick, one of the best little men (170 pounds) ever seen on NHL ice; Defense-man Pierre Pilote, hard and canny; Goalie Glenn Hall, man of the big save. If Chicago Coach Rudy Pilous expected disaster, he concealed the feeling Saturday afternoon. "Physically and mentally we're as sharp as you can get a hockey team," he said.
Punch Imlach, the Leafs' manager-coach and a powerful positive thinker, was no less confident.
"We're a pretty good hockey club," he allowed. "Our little center, Dave Keon, is the best in the business. Frank Mahovlich is our home-run hitter, I think the schedule favors us. We have an advantage with three home games. Chicago only gets one."
Meanwhile, it must have lifted the hearts of Toronto followers to read in Maclean's magazine, a Canadian weekly, that Dave Keon was the best good player in the league. By "good" the writer meant wholesome—Dave is so whiter-than-white that he has amassed precisely two minutes of penalty time all season.
What did Maclean's readers learn of Chicago? In an article titled The Hairy Hawks of Chicago, by American Pitcher-Author Jim Brosnan. they learned, among other things, that Stan Mikita was no puritan. "There are rough players and there are dirty players." Stan was quoted as saying. "I'm rough and dirty."
With Keon and Mikita facing each other on the ice beneath a huge photograph of Canada's gracious Queen Elizabeth II. with the strains of the national anthem echoing from the walls, any Toronto fan who did not feel himself lined up on the side of St. George against the forces of evil had to be some kind of a kook. As if to prove Toronto's rectitude, the game itself turned into an eerie and unprecedented morality play in which the "good guys" seemed to play well-nigh perfect hockey and the "bad guys" were wretched right from the start.
"We broke from the gate like a racehorse." Imlach said later. Led by the swift, stylish Keon. the Leafs rained rubber on Hall, and when they lost the puck, badgered Chicago without mercy. Keon's stick check—a sweeping thrust at the puck—was magnificent to see.
Chicago couldn't claw out of its own zone for some seven minutes, or put a shot on Goalie Don Simmons for nearly 10. Whenever a Hawk did penetrate the enemy blue line he either got knocked about or found himself fenced in by a thicket of hostile sticks—jabbing, jabbing at the puck.
Only the inspired goaltending of Glenn Hall saved the Hawks from utter rout. And when the Leafs got a penalty as they did from time to time, it looked as if the Hawks were the penalized team, so deftly did the penalty killers wheel and steal.
The Maple Leafs scored their first goal while shorthanded in the first period and added a goal in each of the others. But the first Toronto goal was all that was needed to complete the slaughter of Chicago. Murder, Inc. could not have done it better with snub-nosed .38s and silencers.