OK, in order to set the stage for this, I have to blather on a bit (sorry!) and go back to pre-internet times – some point in the early 1980s. I was a busy musician back then and I often took cabs to gigs because it was easier to be dropped off at the venue with my tuba rather than try to find cheap parking somewhere and then lug my big-ass horn a long distance. Besides, I could write-off cab fares and I really hated driving downtown!
So one night, after finishing a gig, I flagged a taxi just out front of the St. Lawrence Centre on Front Street. I opened the back door, tossed my tuba in on one side, and got in with it on the other side. “Where ya off to?” asked the driver. I had, by this point, learned that if I said; “Seventh Street, south of Lakeshore”, I would quite often get a blank stare or maybe a “I don’t think there are any numbered streets in Toronto” comment, so over time, I developed the response; “I’m headed west to Islington Avenue and Lakeshore Blvd. You can jump on the Gardiner or take Lakeshore all the way, it matters not.” However, on this particular occasion, the cabbie responded; “Cool, Seventh and the Shore. Heart of New Toronto! Got it.” This piqued my curiosity, so we talked during the ride. He informed me that he was raised in that neighbourhood, (which was also my childhood neighbourhood), and we quickly discovered that he and I had gone to the same high school in Mimico, although he was quite a few years ahead of me.
At some point, he mentioned that he had played Faustina hockey, which was the local league where kids from the Lakeshore played. I said; “Hey, cool. My older brother played Faustina hockey and he’d be about your age”, so I told him his name. “Know him?” Sadly, he didn’t, but then I proceeded to tell the cabbie with a certain amount of Lakeshore pride, that my brother used to talk about a guy he played with in Faustina who had made it to the big time as a goalie in the NHL. “Oh? Who was that?” he asked. I then launched into the Al Smith story, no doubt ending with; “…and not very many Leaf fans know that Al Smith was on the team when they last won the Cup in ‘67.”
We approached a red light on Lakeshore at Royal York Road and stopped. The cabbie turned around, extended his hand, and said; “Hi. I’m Al Smith.” Of course, I freaked. I don’t remember much after that. And I’m sure that he must have been blown away that some nerdy tubaguy from the same ‘hood knew all about him after all that time.
Much later, in the next century, post-internet, and after telling this story at a party, I decided to look him up on Wikipedia and discovered, sadly, that he had died in 2002. And it said that after bouncing around the NHL for a few years post-Leafs, he ended up driving cab for Beck Taxi to make ends meet.
But, more to the actual point of this story, I also discovered that in that Stanley Cup winning series in the Spring of 1967, he was on the Leaf bench, suited up, ready to play, backing up Sawchuk for two games because Bower was injured. They beat the Canadiens in 6 games, AND THEY DIDN’T PUT AL SMITH’S NAME ON THE STANLEY CUP! He qualified! I think the coach, Punch Imlach, may have had it in for him, but I can’t prove it. However, it’s a matter of public record that they didn’t get along in Buffalo when Imlach was GM there.
I recently told this story to a hockey-nut friend. He loved it and immediately came up with: The Curse of Al Smith. Could this be the reason that the Leafs haven’t gone the distance in over 50 years? Should we start a campaign to right a terrible wrong and get Al’s name on The Cup? It may lift the curse and help the cause.
Because nothing else seems to be working.