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The Evolution of the Maple Leaf

Monday, 10.09.2007 / 11:00 AM / Features
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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The Evolution of the Maple Leaf
The list of those lucky or talented enough to have worn the Leafs blue and white is smaller than you might think.

Some 700 men have proudly worn the sweater since the team was renamed the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1927.

By the time Conn Smythe and his partners assumed control of the team, the Toronto franchise had already won Stanley Cups as the Toronto Arenas in 1918 and the Toronto St. Pats in 1922.

Earlier in its history, the team had been known as the Blueshirts, Shamrocks and Marlboros. Smythe did not immediately change the team’s colours, he kept the green and white hues of the St. Pats for a year.

An ardent patriot, Smythe switched the club’s name to the Toronto Maple Leafs - commemorating a Canadian World War I Regiment - and the colours to blue and white, likely because of his affection for the University of Toronto Blues. Stan Obodiac, the Leafs’ iconic public relations director, used to say the blue represented a Canadian sky while the white symbolized Canadian winter.

The famous 47-point Maple Leafs logo on the blue and white jersey debuted in 1928. The darker colour was reserved for home games with thin-wide-thin bands on the arms, legs and shoulders. White was for the road with three stripes of equal width on top of the chest and the back, three stripes on the waist and three stripes on the stockings.

Nineteen-thirty-four brought a new design for the uniforms that would last, with some minor modifications, for 40 years.

The change came just prior to the Ace Bailey Benefit Game in February of 1934. Bailey, a talented Leafs forward, suffered a career-ending head injury when attacked by Boston Bruins badman Eddie Shore. The Leafs unveiled a jersey with two stripes of equal width on the arms and chest. The blue uniform was similar, white with blue stripes and a collar.

Included in the minor changes were subtle changes to the Leafs’ crest. Veins were added to the Leaf. In 1937, the word ‘Toronto’ was curved downwards. The logo was simplified and the number of points on the crest was trimmed by 12 to 35 in 1942.

 The colour of the words ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’ were switched to red for one year in 1947.

In 1967, the Leafs showcased their first major modification in two generations. The changes came just prior to the playoffs and were heavily influenced by the brand new 11-point Canadian flag. The Leafs new logo also featured 11 points. The downward slope of the word Toronto was scaled back. The two stripes on the arm and waist were replaced with one set of thin-wide-thin stripes.

In 1970, the Leafs introduced a distinctive change that would give the team a fresh look that lasted 21 years. Uniforms were standardized, home whites and blue on the road. The word ‘Toronto’ was run straight across the crest. The arm stripes were scrapped and a solid yolk extended from the neck to the wrist. A Leaf crest, without the lettering, was installed on both shoulders.

More tinkering followed. The socks were altered to have two stripes instead of three. Player names made their first appearance on road jerseys in 1977. Two years later, home jerseys bearing the players names made their debut.

The final redesign of the uniform came in 1992. The Leafs wore an Original Six jersey, similar to their 1940s edition. Feedback was positive so the Leafs moved to make their first changes in two decades. The uniform blended the old triple stripes on the legs with two stripes on the arm and the waist. The shoulder-to-wrist yolk was dropped.

The 11-point Leaf remained and shoulder patches featuring an old-styled Leaf were introduced.

In 1997, the numbers and letters on the back of the sweater were modified to match the exact letters of the Maple Leaf logo.

Special jerseys were introduced to commemorate the 1998-1999 season, the club’s last at Maple Leaf Gardens. The club wore the jerseys five times at home and five times on the road. The jersey featured a 35-point Leaf crest.

In 2000, the Leafs altered the jersey with new Varsity Block number design and a stylized TML logo as a shoulder patch.

The uniform has been worn by 11 Stanley Cup winning teams. The A-Z listing of one-time Leafs includes greats and nothings-of-the kind have worn it, from Doug Acomb who played two games for the 69-70 Leafs to Peter Zezel.

Thirty nine men who wore the blue and white would later be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame and two uniforms, Bill Barilko’s number 5 and the 6 worn by Ace Bailey are permanently retired.,

Nine more unretired numbers of distinction are considered honoured numbers. Number 1 was worn by Turk Broda and Johnny Bower. Hap Day and Red Kelly wore 4. The number 7 was worn by King Clancy and Tim Horton. The number nine adorned the back of Ted Kennedy and Charlie Conacher. Also included were Borje Salming’s 21 and 27, worn by Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler.

The latest incarnation of the Maple Leafs sweater is debuted Wednesday. Every team in the NHL is moving over to a more streamlined, engineered to sweep heat away from the player and present a more streamlined profile. Look for a tighter, though no more restrictive jersey with minimal changes except, perhaps, to the lines at the bottom of the uniform. Tune in to Leafs TV's Leafs Today Wednesday at 3 p.m. to watch the unveiling live.
 
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