One day last May Jimmy Pappin was on a fairway at the Richmond Hill Golf and Country Club in Toronto when he was told there was a telephone call for him at the clubhouse. It was his wife, Karen, and she said Punch Imlach (the coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs) had just called to say that Jim had been traded to Chicago. "Honey," said Pappin, "don't cook dinner. We're going out to celebrate. I'm the happiest guy in the world."
This is an article from the Nov. 4, 1968 issue
Jim was happy for two reasons. First, he was getting off the elevator that had shuttled him up and down between the Leafs and the minors. Second, he was going to a club that liked to score a lot of goals and wasn't as grouchy about playing defense as Imlach. Last week Jim seemed to have found the perfect niche, for Chicago was matching powerful Montreal win for win in the new NHL season, and Pappin was the league's goal-scoring leader, with eight. Never mind that the Black Hawks were giving up three goals a game to their enemies, on the average. They were putting five goals into the nets.
"We've got some guys that can shoot," says Billy Reay, the dapper little coach of the Hawks. "Bobby and Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita, Pit Martin, Doug Mohns and now Pappin. When guys like that keep cranking the puck at your net it's going to go in sooner or later."
Pappin came to the Hawks in one of several deals that Imlach, the master trader, negotiated after the Leafs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1958. Before the season was even over Imlach swapped Frank Mahovlich, for whom Chicago had once offered $1 million, Pete Stemkowski and promising Center Gary Unger for a complete forward line from the Detroit Red Wings—Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson and Floyd Smith. Pappin was dealt for Pierre Pilote, formerly an All-Star defenseman.
The Hawks are off to their best start in years, defying tight-checking teams like Toronto to spike their high-scoring forwards. Last year the Hawks lost their first six games and made the playoffs only because of Toronto's difficulty with the expansion teams. This year Mikita and Bobby Hull both held out for more money, Mikita finally signing just before the first game and Hull—after "retiring" for 78 hours—dramatically coming to terms 90 minutes before the second game. However, both players were in camp, and when they put down their pens they were prepared to pick up their sticks. Mikita is leading the league in total points, while Hull—playing as if he is out to prove himself all over again—has six goals after seven games.
"Having everybody in shape has been the difference so far," says Reay. "When some are ready and some aren't it's impossible to be consistent." Reay was alarmed about the defense before the season started, and he is still seeking to improve it. (When Howie Young, a talented but temperamental defenseman, refused to report to Oakland after being traded by Detroit, Chicago bought his contract for $30,000.) But with the goals going in the way they are, Reay will do a minimum of tinkering; the object of the game is still to score more goals than the other team.
And Pappin is scoring more goals than anybody. "Before the season began I would have settled for 25," he said last week, "but now I won't, not with this start. Heck, I'd like to score 50. I'm not shooting for a specific number, but I'd like to average about seven or eight a month." (As who would not. That average would make him a superstar.)
In Pappin's best season with Toronto he scored 21 goals and always appeared capable of getting more. He is big (6'1", 190 pounds), he can skate and obviously he can shoot. He is now using a curved stick, which, he says, has made his shot even better.
Pappin's image as a goal scorer, coupled with his occasional tardiness at coming back to help on defense, is probably the reason he never hit it off with Imlach—a man who regards giving up goals as sinful—and why he spent most of his previous eight years as a pro commuting between Toronto and its minor-league affiliate, the Rochester Americans. The Maple Leafs play a tight, clutch-and-grab style; 16 men go out to get one goal and then spend the rest of the night protecting it. Pappin, in Imlach's view, was not a two-way player. "I'm not going to knock Punch," says Pappin. "A lot of people are just waiting for me to do it, but I'm not going to. Really, I don't think I ever fitted into his plans. What burned me up was being sent down when I thought he was keeping players that weren't as good."
Near the end of his 21-goal year—1967—Pappin found himself on his way to Rochester once more, but when the playoffs started he was back up again, and he led the Leafs to the Stanley Cup championship, topping all scorers with 15 points in 12 games. Last February everything was going wrong with the Leafs when Imlach, perhaps in a superstitious move, decided to ship Pappin out again, hoping to light a fire under him. Pappin had heard rumors that the elevator was descending and he blew up. "I know what he's going to say to me," Pappin recalls thinking. "Well, he's out of luck. I'm retiring. That's it." With that, Jim stormed out of the dressing room and took off on a skiing expedition in northern Canada. Eventually he cooled off and reported to Rochester, but Imlach, believing that Pappin had let his teammates down, had made up his mind to unload him at the first opportunity. That opportunity came when Chicago offered to trade Pilote.
Could Pappin have played in Toronto under a different coach? "I honestly don't know." he says. "Toronto is a good town. I'm settled there and I've got a good business going. But it's really hard to play for the Leafs. Since almost all the players in the NHL are from Canada, most of them have friends in Toronto. When they come in for a game they're always met at the airport, and when they get to the hotel their mailboxes are always stuffed with telephone messages and telegrams from friends and relatives. So when they go out to play the Leafs on Saturday night—and those games are always on television—they come out flying. They aren't going to look bad in front of all those people they know. Also, there are a lot of fans who don't care for the Leafs' organization, and when they come to the games they root for the visiting team. So, really, the Leafs don't have a home-town crowd at all; I know Bobby Hull and a few other guys have said they'd rather play the Leafs in Toronto than anyone else anywhere outside Chicago.
"Then comes the toughest part. Say the Leafs lose Saturday night. On Sunday they're going to be on the road, in Chicago or New York or Boston, trying to get well. I think that whole situation up there has something to do with the conservative style Punch coaches."
By contrast, Chicago is noted for its freewheeling tactics. "If you'd given me my choice of teams to be traded to, it would have been Chicago," says Pappin. "I fit right into their style. I didn't have to start out under a lot of pressure, either. I'd look over to my left and there was Bobby Hull putting on his skates, and on my right Stan Mikita was pulling on his pads. Just by being with those guys I felt confident before I even stepped out on the ice."
Reay has teamed Pappin with Pit Martin, a digging, playmaking center, and robust Dennis Hull, who is a good two-way player. At first Bobby was supposed to play on a line with Martin and Pappin, but he has turned up on a line with Chico Maki and Eric Nesterenko. As a result, the Hawks now have three bristling lines. "It doesn't really make that much difference who Bobby plays with," says Reay. "He has the puck most of the time, anyway."
If anyone deserves the credit for landing Pappin, it is Reay. Coaching Sault Ste. Marie in the Eastern Pro League nine years ago, Reay had been very much impressed by a big, strong right wing from Sudbury, Ont. "When you see a kid like that, you don't forget him—no matter who he's playing for," says Reay. "You just take his name and file it away somewhere. And if he ever becomes available, you grab him."
Still, there were several times during the past few years when Pappin seriously considered giving up hockey. He is a horse fancier, and summer usually found him on the backstretch at Woodbine or Fort Erie, cooling out horses and studying the trainers. After working for several years under Jerry Meyer, one of Canada's leading trainers, Pappin went so far as to apply to the Ontario Racing Commission for a trainer's license. After one memorable squabble with Imlach, Pappin exploded, "Why should I put up with him? Jerry earns close to $100,000 a year, and who knows, one day I could be making the big money, too—with a lot less aggravation." But Pappin is a hockey player, and in Chicago he is a happy one.