Saturday

Dick Duff

On June 26, 2006, hockey fans of a new generation learned about the great Dick Duff.

And collectively the generation asked "Who?"

On this date goaltending legend Patrick Roy, the late great coach Herb Brooks, builder Harley Hotchkiss and long overlooked Dick Duff were named as the 2006 class of inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Duff's inclusion, at least at this stage, was a definite surprise. Having retired in 1972, Duff's chances at eternal enshrinement seemed long gone. His inclusion was even more unlikely in 2006, with a seemingly impassable logjam of moderns stars including recent omissions such as Glenn Anderson, Dino Ciccarelli and Sergei Makarov, as well as first time eligible nominees Doug Gilmour, Mike Richter and Pavel Bure.

While his inclusion probably came as a surprise to the new generations, his exclusion may have surprised older generations just as much.

Dick Duff was known as one of the best "money players" of all time. He tasted the sweet smell of Stanley Cup success six times during a 18-year NHL career. He always seemed to reach his peak in the playoffs where he earned his reputation as one of the greatest clutch playoff performers of all time.

Dick himself had an easy explanation to why he always did so well in the playoffs:

" Many times, the regular season seemed to long to me. Toward the end of those long seasons, I couldn't play hard if the score was lopsided in the early periods. As long as it was close, I was in the game. I was fired up if the score was tied or one-goal apart. In the playoffs you can see the end in sight. The playoffs are a real test of desire and skill. Many times a player will score 30-40 goals in a regular season, but all too often he'll get those goals after the game has been decided. I feel it's more important to get the game-deciding or big goals. "

Duff was a small and fast player. His was also the ultimate team player. He never made an All-Star team or won an individual trophy; wins and Cup titles were more important to Duff.

Maybe his unselfishness came from the fact that he was the sixth oldest child in a family of 13 children. Born February 18, 1936, Terrance Richard Dick Duff was a hockey prodigy in the hockey hotbed of Kirkland Lake, Ontario. By the age of sixteen, Duff moved to Toronto to attend St. Michael's College. In 1953-54, his second year with St. Mike's, Dick led the Majors in scoring with 35 goals and 75 points, adding 120 penalty minutes. During his third and final year of junior with St. Mike's Majors, Dick led the team in scoring once again with 53 points, but also made his NHL debut, joining the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 10, 1955 for the first of three games with the parent club. Later that season, the Majors beat the Regina Pats to collect the Memorial Cup for 1955. Duff led the Majors in scoring. He was also noted as a gifted student.

He played in three games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1954-55 but didn't make the jump to the pros for real until the following season. Dick was placed on a line together with Tod Sloan and George Armstrong. The trio scored a fine 156 points between them. Dick continued with his fine play in his first years with Toronto, scoring 119 goals in the first five years, including a career high 29 goals and 63 points in 1958-59.

That 1958-59 season really established Duff's reputation as a clutch player. The Leafs were struggling to make the playoffs that campaign, but Duff's strong finish seemingly willed the Leafs into the final playoff spot on the final night of the regular season, with Duff scoring the winning goal. The Leafs momentum led them to a Stanley Cup finals appearance against the dynastic Montreal Canadiens. Duff scored 7 points in 12 games, including an overtime winning goal against Jacques Plante in the finals.

Duff played a pivotal role in the Stanley Cup championship won by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962, playing alongside fellow Hall of Famers George Armstrong, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, Red Kelly, David Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Bert Olmstead, Bob Pulford and Allan Stanley. Although he missed more than a quarter of the regular season suffering from a broken ankle, Dick scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal on April 22, 1962, as Toronto edged Chicago 2-1 to win their first Stanley Cup since Bill Barilko and his teammates celebrated in 1951.

The Maple Leafs repeated their Stanley Cup celebration in 1963, with Dickie Duff setting an NHL record by scoring two goals in the first 1:08 of game one of the final on April 9, 1963. The Leafs beat the Red Wings 4-2 in that contest.

By no means was Duff the most spectacular player on the ice, but when the game was on the line, Duff was the go-to guy. Though small he was scrappy and determined. He had a little bit of Glenn Anderson or Claude Lemieux in him with his flare for the big playoff goal.

But when Punch Imlach stepped in as a coach for the Maple Leafs, Dick's production fell off from 29 goals to 19 the following season, and it continued at that level. As a result of his decreased point production he spent more and more time on the bench. He was used sparingly and his future in Toronto grew bleaker.

At this point Dick entered a second phase in his career. He was traded to the NY Rangers in a huge seven player deal on February 22, 1964. A deal that involved the star Andy Bathgate. Things didn't go so well in New York, and after 43 games (20 points) and 10 months later Dick found himself on his way to Montreal for Bill Hicke

Duff had been on the Habs want list for some time as he seemingly always played well against Les Canadiens, but GM Frank Selke could never obtain him from the Leafs. When Sam Pollock took over the GM's job, one he was quick to retrieve the noted warrior from Manhattan after the slow start. At first it looked as if Duff's career was winding down even in Montreal after only scoring 9 goals (16 points) in 40 games for the Canadiens. But coach Toe Blake got some superb performances from Dick in the 1965 playoffs where he scored 9 points, helping Montreal win the Cup. After that the revitalized Duff became a vital cog in the Canadiens machinery. In the 1969 playoffs he finished third in playoff scoring behind only Jean Beliveau and Phil Esposito. In his five years with Montreal he helped the team win the Cup on four occasions.

At the start of the 1969-70 season Dick had a minor surgery and reported late to the Canadiens. When he returned to action, he was used sparingly and only scored one goal and one assist in 17 games, hardly great numbers for someone who at that time ranked 19th on the all-time NHL scoring list. He became a King in Los Angeles early in 1970 and he greeted the news with elation because he knew he'd be able to play regularly. He didn't have a great first season with the Los Angeles Kings and admitted that he wasn't in proper shape.

" I think after winning the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1969, I just spent too much time on the banquet circuit. I never got into shape and some minor surgery kept me out of training camp altogether. By the time I got through the summer and the surgery, I was exhausted and out of shape. "

LA's patience with Dick was non existent and they traded him to Buffalo Sabres on December 1, 1970 together with Eddie Shack for Mike McMahon. He provided some fine leadership to a young Sabres team that had an exceptional rookie in Gilbert Perreault. The following season Dick played another 8 games (1971-72) before deciding to hang up his skates for good..

With over 1000 NHL games and six Cups he had achieved more in the NHL than most players will ever do. He scored 283 goals, 572 points and participated in 7 All Star games.

While his inclusion in the Hall at this time may be a bit controversial, Duff is very appreciative of honor.

"I'm very happy to be selected, and it is extra special for me given that today is my mother's birthday -- if she were still alive she would have been 101," said Duff. "I'm happy for all of the guys that played in and around Kirkland Lake and appreciate my teammates in the NHL who taught me how to win at the highest level of the game."

6 comments:

Anonymous,  5:10 AM  

Wow what an amazing talent! Dick Duff has left his mark in the world of hockey and the hearts of many fans. Congratulations Mr. Duff

gene,  10:23 PM  

always liked dick duff,he was my favourite player for years ...it was about time he went into the hockey hall of fame...if he played today ,he would be on the stanley cup winning team for sure

Nancy in N.S.,  5:59 PM  

Always my favourite. Was a great role model growing up. Very exciting to watch rushing the goal. Congratulations Dickie Duff!

K McQ 9:55 AM  

I was so happy Duff got the hall call! He was my favourite player when I was a kid. My Maple Leaf sweater had a 9 on the back. The trade to the Rangers devastated me. I didn't have a favourite Leaf after that. Great that he thrived in Montreal though I remained a hometown Leaf fan until the first expansion playoffs in 1968 when Toronto stumbled off into the Ballard-Smyth desert and at that time only the Habs carried the hockey torch for Canada.

Doug L,  11:24 AM  

I too grew up with Dick Duff being my favourite player.I have scrapbooks full of all his feats as well as many team mates and the good old original 6 players. I finally had the honor of meeting him at Allan Stanleys' memorial service in Fenelon Falls and his autographed action photo hangs on the wall in my computer room.

Wayne Ackerman 4:43 PM  

Dick Duff was not only a Great Hockey Player he is a Great person as well I can tell you that because he helped my bother who had cancer and my mom & dad get through some very tough times and I want every one to know that Thanks Dick...

A great Fan
Wayne

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