Jack McLean

During the Second World War, there was discussion on whether the National Hockey League should be suspended temporarily in order to focus on the larger matter at hand. It was quickly decided that the entertainment value brought by professional hockey outweighed any advantage to turning out the lights on the NHL.

But that didn't mean the league didn't change. The New York Americans franchise suspended operations (later deciding not to continue), while a number of very elite NHL players enlisted to support their country. With the talent drain came the need to re-stock teams, and most owners went the route of the young player.

One of those was Jack McLean. Although only 5'8", Jack was solid as a rock, and played an aggressive game of hockey for the Toronto Young Rangers of the OHA Junior A ranks. Soft hands around the net, but hard knuckles when needed, the young Toronto native signed a C form, and was brought up to practice with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the latter part of the 1941-42 season. There was talk of McLean suiting up for the "team of destiny" during the playoffs, but the Leafs called up another young player, Gaye Stewart, instead to fill that role.

McLean was an engineering student at the University of Toronto at the beginning of the 1942-43 season and was called up to the big club during November of that year. In his first game, on a line with Gaye Stewart and Bud Poile, 19 year old Jack scored a goal and assisted on two others against the Bruins' star goaltender, Frank Brimsek. But in an odd twist, McLean, like other Leafs Bobby Copp and Tom "Windy" O'Neill, was unable to cross the border into the U.S. because of his university student status. So Jack played only home games and in Montreal and, during school breaks at Christmas, the odd time in the States. As a result, through his three seasons with the Leafs during the war, Jack McLean played only 67 regular season games for the Leafs, scoring 14 goals, adding 24 assists for 38 points. He also earned 76 penalty minutes.

On March 23, 1943, Jack scored a goal at 10:18 of the fourth overtime period to give his Leafs a semi-final win over the Red Wings. The goal was credited to McLean, but teammate Bud Poile swore he scored the goal. The recipient was in limbo for a full day, until NHL President Red Dutton conferred with King Clancy, the game's referee, as well as both Poile and McLean and several of the Detroit players. Dutton awarded the goal to McLean. Incidentally, this was the only NHL game in which Jack's father ever saw him play.

During the 1944-45 season, Jack ran into a litany of injuries, including a concussion so severe that team doctors told him to retire (sound familiar?). Although he only played 8 games that season, McLean was inserted into the playoff lineup to add some moxy. But after four games, a cross-check to the back of the head put McLean out for the series, and in fact, for good. The Leafs went on to win the Stanley Cup, and McLean's name is proudly etched on the silver mug, but he never played for the Leafs again. By this time, McLean had earned his engineering degree, and began his career. He was able to be reinstated as an amateur, playing for the Toronto Staffords of the the OHA Senior League (along with Sid Smith and coached by "Red" Horner), later moving to Ottawa to take a job with the government. While in the Capital, Jack played for the Ottawa Senators of the Quebec Senior Hockey League, a team that boasted talent like Hall of Famer Syd Howe and future NHL player and executive Larry Regan.

Jack lived in Ottawa until his death in 2003.


Anonymous,  5:17 PM  

Thank you for the great article, it was a pleasure to read. He enjoyed his time playing immensely and barring injuries I'm sure would have liked to continue. I am glad the Maple Leafs were able to give out Stanley Cup Rings before his passing in 2003.

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