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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

CONN SMYTHE

Inducted in 1975

Member Details

Date of Birth: February 1, 1895
Place of Birth: Toronto, Ontario
Date of Passing: November 18, 1980
Sport: Ice Hockey
Member Category: Builder

Career Highlights

1927

Bought the Toronto St. Pats and changed the name to Maple Leafs

1931

Built Maple Leaf Gardens

1932

Won first of seven Stanley Cups with Maple Leafs

1943

Established Sportsmen's Battery

1961

Helped build the Hockey Hall of Fame

Honoured Member CONN SMYTHE
Inspire

Story

Few men, if any, influenced the course and history of hockey as did Conn Smythe. A proud Canadian, a loyal monarchist, and a devout Maple Leaf - in that order - he was the pre-eminent owner during the NHL's formative years. Smythe coached the University of Toronto, his alma mater, to an Allan Cup victory in 1927, and it was the core of this team that went overseas and won gold for Canada at the Olympics the next year. He was in Toronto because the New York Rangers fired him in 1926 after just one year as its general manager. Smythe came home, bought the Toronto St. Pats, and changed the team's name to Maple Leafs. It was during these years that he grew the game and league. He saw the enormous potential for hockey in Toronto and went about organizing the financing to build a new arena. In the spring and summer of 1931, over just six months, Maple Leaf Gardens was built, the most palatial hockey arena in the world. There were no obstructed views; the team was winning and selling out on a regular basis, and even though this was the height of the Depression, the arena was the best thing that could have happened to hockey. Smythe's first big deal had been to buy King Clancy from the Ottawa Senators, a deal he closed with a $35,000 cash offer thanks to Smythe's winning a large bet on a horse named Rare Jewel at the racetrack. For the next three decades, Maple Leaf Gardens was the centre of the hockey universe. It was where Foster Hewitt's Saturday night radio broadcasts emanated, and it was where all major changes to the game began. The Gardens was the first arena to use Plexiglas instead of fence. It was the first to install escalators, the first to install a scoreclock above centre ice, the first to video games and practices to learn about the players and teams and to time individual player ice times. The Gardens was host to the first televised game and the first to use different colour seats to demarcate good from bad. In 1943, it was Smythe who single-handedly petitioned players to join Canada's war efforts. He formed the Sportsmen's Battery and promised all his Leafs players they would receive a fair chance to re-join the team after being discharged from service. He had fought in the First World War and demanded loyalty from his players the way he gave it to them. During his years, Smythe's Leafs won the Stanley Cup seven times. Under his guidance, the Leafs were the first NHL team to win the Cup three times in a row,1947-49,giving birth to the term dynasty. He relinquished ownership of the team in the early 1960s and severed ties with the building for good after the new owners,his son, Stafford, and Harold Ballard and John Bassett,allowed the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight to take place inside. Smythe was integral to financing the building of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 and later in life he worked tirelessly for the Ontario Society for Crippled Children. In 1965, the NHL introduced the Conn Smythe Trophy, given annually to the best performer in the Stanley Cup playoffs.


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