September 8, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight
Maple Leafs Legends Row starts with Ted Kennedy, Darryl Sittler, Johnny Bower
Darryl Sittler is one of the greatest players to ever wear the Toronto Maple Leaf uniform. An inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and voted by fans as the centreman on the All-Time Leafs Team, Sittler has an incredible wealth of stories to share from the course of his outstanding career, as well as the lessons he’s learned working in charitable endeavors. A bronze likeness of Darryl was revealed this past weekend on Legends Row, a new tribute to former Leafs outside the Air Canada Centre:
In a sculptor’s studio outside Chicago earlier this summer, two of the greatest players in Maple Leafs history came face to face. Well, kind of.
Darryl Sittler, who thrilled Toronto fans through the often lean seasons of the 1970s and early ’80s, had just learned he was being honoured with a statue on Legends Row, a new tribute to former Leafs outside the Air Canada Centre. He hopped on a plane to meet Chicago sculptor Erik Blome, who’d been given the task of creating the bronze statues.
Sittler just happened to arrive when Blome was putting some of the finishing touches on a Leaf hero from an earlier era, Ted Kennedy.
“He and his wife came, and we were pouring the head of Ted Kennedy that day in bronze,” Blome recalled Saturday as the team unveiled the first three statues of Sittler, Kennedy and Johnny Bower.
“We poured the metal. It cooled off, and then Darryl came up and smashed out Ted Kennedy’s head and the bronze was revealed, and it was like magic. It was like there’s something symbolic about that. Here’s this guy from the ’70s, smashing out the head of a guy from the ’50s,” said Blome.
Kennedy, announced as the first player to be honoured earlier this summer, led the Leafs to five Stanley Cups during the 1940s and ’50s.
Being on Legends Row — a granite replica of a players’ bench, which will eventually have about a dozen bronze statues — along with some of the other top players in team and NHL history is something Sittler says he’ll always be grateful for.
“It’s pretty special. I’m very humbled to have that happen and be part of this tradition . . . and to be on a bench with Teeder Kennedy and Johnny Bower, and I’m sure there’s gonna be many more,” Sittler said after the statues were unveiled Saturday as part of Leafs Nation Fan Fest.
The likeness turned out by Blome — with Sittler getting ready to hop over the bench, onto the ice — is a pretty good one, said No. 27.
“The artist did a terrific job. It’s not easy doing curly hair. That’s one of the tougher things,” Sittler said with a grin.
Bower, who was in net during the Leaf dynasty which captured four Stanley Cups during the 1960s, was also impressed by how he looked, sculpted from 1,300 pounds of bronze.
“They covered up my wrinkles and gave me some teeth, too, so it turned out really nice. It’s beautiful,” said a smiling Bower, who lost more than a few teeth during an era when goalies didn’t wear masks. “I learned how to duck, I’ll tell you that.”
While Bower was one of the most vocal critics of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke for ordering the removal of dozens of old team photos from the Air Canada Centre walls last year, on this day all was clearly forgiven. A beaming Bower shook hands with fans, posed for pictures and chatted with former players and team officials.
“I’m very, very proud of it. I just can’t believe that this has happened to me here. It’s just wonderful, the fans, everybody,” said Bower. “I just don’t know what to say. I’ll never forget this as long as I live.”
Kennedy, who died in 2009, would have also been deeply touched, said his son Mark.
“I really think he would’ve been wiping away tears today,” said Kennedy.