Thursday

Ron Ellis

Though he wasn't old enough to be part of the Maple Leafs' "Old Fellows Athletic Club," Ron Ellis was definitely a favorite of coach Punch Imlach. With his team-first approach and consistent game in and game out effort and production, Imlach could only hope all his young players could be as good as the stocky right winger.

Ron Ellis broke into the NHL in 1964-65 after being one of the mainstays on the powerful Toronto Marlboros team that won the Memorial Cup in 1964. Ron scored 159 points, including 86 goals, in 126 regular season games and another 43 points in 31 playoff games for the Marlies between 1961-64.

His NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs came on March 11, 1964 against Montreal (1-0 win). The following season Ron was a regular in the Leafs lineup. Playing on a line with veteran warriors Red Kelly and Bob Pulford, he scored 23 goals. With his fine performance he was the runner-up to Roger Crozier as the rookie-of-the-year.

Ron was one of the fastest breakaway skaters in the league, Ellis had a fine accurate shot. He was also a very sound player positionally. He scored 19 goals as a sophomore and 22 goals in his third year (1966-67). He played on a line together with Larry Jeffrey and veteran Red Kelly. They complemented each other very well, though following the 1967 Stanley Cup championship Red Kelly went on to coach Los Angeles Kings and Larry Jeffrey was lost in the expansion draft.

This didn't slow down Ellis, who got 28 goals in 1967-68 despite playing most of the season with a broken wrist. Bone graft surgery corrected that damage and Ron went on to score 25 goals the following season. By this time he was a well established NHL'er. Up to this point Ron had worn No.8 on his jersey, the same number as he used to have in the juniors. During the 1968-69 season the legendary Irwin 'Ace' Bailey, who was a penalty-box timekeeper at the MLG,
came to Ron and requested he wear No. 6.

The No. 6 had been retired by the Maple Leafs. It originally belonged to Bailey who wore it until his fatal accident in 1933 when Eddie Shore ended his career by a vicious check that left Bailey with a fractured skull. The number remained a source of pride to Ron because of the fact that Bailey himself approached him with the request to wear it.

"Wearing No. 6 was my greatest honor ever as a Maple Leaf. Ace Bailey personally asked me if I would consider wearing his number. He had followed me for a few years and considered our styles of play comparable," Ron said.

There was one provision, however. Bailey told Ron that once he retired, the number would go back into retirement. Which it did twice.

In 1969-70 Ron scored a career high 35 goals and was one of the best right wingers in the league. He formed a very dangerous line together with Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson, both acquired in the big Frank Mahovlich trade. He followed up the 69-70 season with 24 and 23 goals. His consistency was remarkable.

In 1972 he played for Canada vs. the Soviets in the classic 8 game summit series. His assignment was to neutralize the swift skating Soviet wingers, and he did it very well. He played mostly on a line together with Bobby Clarke and Paul Henderson. Around the NHL Ron had picked up the tag from rival players as the hardest working two-way forward in the league.

Ron scored 22 goals in 1972-73 and 23 in 19 73-74. Then in 1974-75 Ron scored 32 goals and a career high 61 points. At this point of his career he was playing the best hockey of his career. Suddenly he decided to retire from hockey, it seemed to be a strange decision. Even a $ 100,000 offer was turned down.

"I got to the point mentally where I realized I wasn't going to do any good playing and I couldn't be an asset to the team. I had just finished 11 full seasons and I retired for the good of my family," Ron said. " I took the game home with me too much. It was just part of my personality. But when I retired, I always left the door open to return."

The turning point for his decision to return came after he had been invited to join the Canadian team at the 1977 World Championships in Vienna. He had kept in shape by playing oldtimers hockey after his retirement. Ron was proud of the invitation and he was even more proud by the fact that he was Canada's top forward in the tournament. He scored 5 goals and 9 points in 10 games.

"It was a pleasant surprise for me. I think I played some of the best hockey in Austria that I have played in my entire career," Ron said.

Another factor that entered into the return of Ron was the coach.

"Roger Neilson's style of play is the way I've played all my life. I've always been a two-way player. I think that's what has kept me in the league and I'm not going to change my style of play now. I believe in what Roger is trying to do. I've talked to some of the players and there was a tremendous feeling about the team at training camp," Ron said.

Ron's comeback with the Leafs in 1977-78 was a success story. It seemed he never had missed a beat while he was gone. Although he was scoreless in his first 10 games back Ron managed to chip in with a 26 goal, 50 point season and was one of Toronto's most consistent players. With that performance he passed George Armstrong's club record for most career goals by a right wing. He also set a club record with his 10th consecutive season with 20 goals or more. To this point Ron had 11 seasons of 20 goals or more which tied him with Dave Keon for a Leaf All-time high.

" After being away for two seasons I felt I was prepared to come back," Ron said. " I wasn't that old. I retired the first time at 30 and I always kept in good shape."

Ron's comeback lasted four seasons and his farewell came on January 14, 1981 against Edmonton. At this point Ron had passed the 1000 game plateau (1034). He was the highest scoring right wing in Maple Leafs history (332 goals). He was and is also the last active Maple Leafs player to have won the Stanley Cup (in 1967).

Ron retired after a 16-year NHL career, all with Toronto, and settled down in Brampton, Ont. where the family operated a sporting-goods store. Like his former teammate Paul Henderson, Ron has a strong Christian belief and he was a gentleman at all times both on and off the ice. He was a good role model for any kid with his strong work ethic and fine two-way play where he always put the team ahead of any personal accomplishments.

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