‘Tough Tony’ Tallies ’54 Cup-Winner for Detroit
By Mark Weisenmiller

The two great NHL dynasties of the 1950s were the Montreal Canadiens, who won six Stanley Cups during the decade, and the Detroit Red Wings, who captured three. The only other Cup champion during the decade was the Toronto Maple Leafs, in 1951.

   The Wings and Canadiens, who were also known by the French Canadian nickname of “Les Habs,” faced each other four times in the Cup Finals in the ’50s. Without question, the most exciting of the series was the one that climaxed the 1953-54 season.

   The Fifties are viewed by some as the NHL’s “Golden Age.” Future Hall of Famers dominated the Habs and Red Wings rosters. Montreal was led by Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion and Jacques Plante. Gordie Howe (Mr. Hockey), “Terrible Ted” Lindsay, Marcel Pronovost, Sid Abel andTerry Sawchuk were the pride of Motown.

   Every team that wins the Stanley Cup must have a talented, spirited checking line. For Detroit, that was Glen Skov, Mary Pavelich and “Tough Tony” Leswick. Leswick could play either wing position and was a pesky player who took a lot of penalties.

   Since the NHL had only six teams in the day, the players got to know each other’s playing styles, and rivalries developed that sometimes denigrated into outright hatred. That was the case with the Red Wings and Canadiens, especially Howe and Richard. Both wore the number nine on his jersey and were THE stars of not only their teams but the entire NHL. In 1953-54, Howe won his fourth straight scoring title, tallying 81 points, including a league-leading 48 assists. Richard led the NHL in goals.

Detroit also featured rookie centerman Earl “Dutch” Reibel, who set an NHL record with four assists in his first game. The Canadiens countered with Bert Olmstead, who scored four goals and set up four others to match Richard’s league single-game points record.

In the 1953-54 semifinals, Detroit beat the Maple Leafs and the Montreal eliminated the Boston Bruins.

Going into a playoff series you never know which player will emerge as a force. Often it’s a role player, not one of the stars. For Detroit it was Leswick and Marty Pavelich, who was the center for Howe and Lindsay. Doomed to be overshadowed by his linemates, Pavelich was appreciated by his teammates. The same was true of the 5-foot-6 Leswick.

   Game One of the Finals went to the Red Wings, with Reibel scoring once and assisting on another goal. Montreal won the next game to even the series, but it was a costly victory. Beliveau and Harvey were injured and missed the third game, a 5-2 win by Detroit.

   Sawchuk, the Wings’ superstar goalie, won Game Four for the Wings, shutting down the powerful Canadiens 2-0.

   Facing elimination, the Canadiens showed great heart in winning the fifth game with a shutout of their own, 1-0 in overtime. Fired up by the stellar play of goaltender Gerry McNeil, the Canadiens took the next game as well, 4-1 behind Busher Curry’s two goals.

   Game Seven was played on April 16 in front of 15,791 fans packed into Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. The red-hot Curry gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead when he scored in the first period. After the Wings’ Red Kelly tied the score in second period, neither team was able to win the game in the third, and Game Seven went to overtime.

   A little more than four minutes into the extra stanza, Skov stole the puck from a Canadiens player and fed it to Leswick. “Tough Tony” quickly fired a shot. Harvey skated in front of McNeil and attempted to knock the puck down with his glove.

   Instead, it caromed over McNeil’s shoulder and into the net. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup on one of the oddest goals in team history. It was only the second time that a Game Seven was decided in OT.


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