Simmons stepped in to help Maple Leafs win Stanley Cup in 1962

Legendary hockey reporter Stan Fischler writes a weekly guest book for Known as “The Hockey Maven,” Fischler shares his humor and insight with readers every Wednesday.

This week, Fischler looks back on 60 years of one of the most powerful moments in NHL postseason history and the first of three straight Stanley Cup championships for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Don “Dippy” Simmons longed for the day when a Stanley Cup title was within reach again. He had already had two chances to win the cup with the Boston Bruins and fell short each time. And in the spring of 1962, Simmons was the backup for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who led 2-1 in the cup final before taking on the Chicago Black Hawks in Game 4.

Simmons watched starting goaltender Johnny Bower from the stands at Chicago Stadium as Toronto trailed 1-0 in the first half. Chicago’s “Golden Jet”, Bobby Hull, unleashed a booming shot that Bower saw to the end.

“I caught it well,” Bower recalled, “but as I went down I could feel something snap.”

Simmons watched uneasily, wondering how badly his pal was injured, and so did the other concerned Maple Leafs.

“Johnny was pretty hurt,” said defenseman Carl Brewer, “but he was the guy who never wanted to leave the game, injury or no injury.”

Bower eventually resumed his position, but only for another seven minutes.

“I thought all my muscles would reach up to my stomach,” he said. “I had to get out of there because I couldn’t move fast enough anymore.”

Simmons got the signal to come down and put on the pads as it seemed certain Bower would not return to the game.

“I knew it was difficult to put the boy in, but Donnie was a good goalkeeper,” explained Bower.

How “good” was controversial at the time. He gave up three goals and Chicago tied the series in a 4-1 win.

“No one blamed Simmons for having to come down cold from the stands,” wrote historian Eric Zweig in his book The Toronto Maple Leafs.

But there was reason to doubt. In addition to replacing a future Hall of Famer, Dippy spent most of the 1961-62 season playing for Rochester of the American Hockey League. On the other hand, Simmons had previous Stanley Cup playoff experience with the Bruins in 1957 and 1958.

“He had led Boston to back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals against the powerhouse [Montreal] Canadiens,” wrote Hockey News columnist Ken Campbell. “The Bruins lost both series but Simmons put in an admirable performance.”

Maple Leafs general manager/trainer Punch Imlach – once an advisor to the Bruins – knew all about it.

“I don’t see any reason why Simmons can’t take on the goalkeeping role,” Imlach emphasized before Game 5. “He will know in advance that he is on deck and cannot be taken cold from the stands.”

But the pressure was enormous. Chicago was primed for a second straight championship, and with Bower gone for the duration, the Black Hawks smelled blood.

“We have the Leafs on the run,” Hull said. “We will beat them in Toronto.”

As fans queued for tickets at Maple Leaf Gardens, they also thirsted for a trophy. Eleven years had passed since Bill Barilko scored the Cup winners’ cup for Toronto in extra time against Montreal.

“We came too far to fold,” said Maple Leafs defenseman Tim Horton. “Too far!”

Simmons barely stood out for the home side in Game 5, but then again, future Hall of Famer Glenn Hall hardly had Vezina written on him either. The Maple Leafs backup scored four goals, but Hall allowed twice as many, and Toronto went 3-2 in the best-of-7 series.

“Even so,” noted Eic Zweig, “most pundits expected Chicago to win back at home and force a Game 7.”

A goalless duel entered the third period when finally Hull’s laser whizzed past Simmons at 8:56 to make it 1-0 to Black Hawks.

Unfortunately, the goal sparked an emotional outburst among Black Hawks fans like I’ve never experienced before. For more than a dozen minutes, every writing imaginable was thrown onto the ice, including an ink bottle, which shattered and left a stain that required several arena workers to scrape the ice.

“It’s terrible,” complained a Chicago newspaper man. “It’s going to ruin the Black Hawks’ momentum.”

By the time the debris piles were cleared, the Maple Leafs had benefited from the respite. When play resumed, the Maple Leafs took over.

“The rest certainly didn’t hurt us,” Brewer said. “It just put our minds at ease and we were ready to go once the mess was cleared up.”

In fact, it was just two minutes and 13 seconds before Maple Leafs forward Bob Nevin scored to level the game. Less than two minutes later, Dick Duff made up for a Toronto power play to make it 2-1 for the visitors.

“After that,” Brewer concluded, “it was up to ‘Dipper’ to hold the fort for us and he came through like a champ.”

One critic opined that Simmons’ win “started a streak of three straight trophies”. His other reward was returning as Bowers backup for two more seasons, totaling 49 regular season games. And not a single playoff appearance.

Over time, Simmons’ playoff exploits have been all but forgotten. However, historian Bob Duff noted in The Hockey News’ Top 100 Goalies of All-Time:

“I think Simmons is the greatest backup in NHL history!”

And if Punch Imlach were around today, I’d bet he’d support the motion!

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