Bill Barilko

Bill Barilko only played 4 and 1/2 seasons, scoring just 26 times and was a low-key defensive defenseman on 4 Stanley Cup championships.

Unfortunately he is legendary. Not for his hockey achievements per se, but for the mystery surrounding his sudden death.

Barilko was a hard hitting defenseman who rarely scored and hardly ever got his picture in the paper. His only real measure of fame and respect came from his rivals and teammates. He was well respected as a hard hitting defenseman who was always near the top of the penalty minute leaders.

In the 1951 finals, the Leafs were facing their eternal rivals the Montreal Canadiens, and Barilko became the unlikely hero.

He was a key figure in game one. Rocket Richard fired what seemed to be a sure goal only to see Barilko sacrifice his body by making an incredible dive to preserve the tie. Toronto would win the game in overtime.

Montreal would win game two, and then the Leafs took the next two in Montreal. The Leafs returned to Toronto looking to clinch the Cup victory on home ice.

Montreal led most of the game 2-1, only to have Toronto score with just 32 seconds in regulation time to force overtime.

At 2:53 of the first overtime period, Barilko became a national hero. He hadn't recorded a single point in the series prior to then, but he fired a desperation shot as he crossed the blue line. He had so much effort into his shot he actually fell to ice after releasing the puck. The puck somehow found its way past Montreal goalie Gerry McNeil, and the Cup was Toronto's. Barilko was the unlikely hero who won the Cup.

Unfortunately Barilko didn't get to enjoy the Cup victory or his new national hero status for very long. During the off-season he and friend Dr. Henry Hudson flew to northern Ontario on a fishing trip. The plane crashed and the wreckage wasn't found for 11 years. In the wreckage of that plane lies the legend of Bill Barilko.

Bill Barilko wasn't the greatest defenseman ever. He was a hard working Canadian kid living his dream of playing hockey. Too bad he is legendary for his death rather than his on-ice performances.

The legend of Barilko continues to grow as the Tragically Hip wrote the hit song "Fifty Mission Cap" honoring the Leaf legend.


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) 8:26 AM  

nice post. that picture is incredible.

Anonymous,  7:16 AM  

I play hockey with Gerry McNeil's son.. he still has his pads from that game... wild stuff.

Anonymous,  6:38 AM  

Actually the wreckage was found after 11 years (not 15) by helicopter pilot Ron Boyd.

He marked the crash site throwing rolls of toilet paper out of the helicopter like large streamers.

You can see his photos and story here:

Anonymous,  12:39 PM  

Bobby Orr like; in that he'd play for nothing, hit anything and score when it counts...He says, "boys the Sun is shining and we're go play".

4 Stanley Cups in 4 1/2 years...can anyone top that?

He took the leafs from last to best. He's got my vote for top 100.

Pretty high praise from a Bruins Fan.

Rob Shore, Maple Ridge BC

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