Memories Play an Evel Trick

Auston Matthews scored his 46th goal of the season in San Jose on Tuesday during the first game of the Maple Leafs’ three-game California road trip which continues tonight in Los Angeles. I’m not looking to jinx anything, but it seems pretty certain that he’ll become the first Toronto player to score 50 in a season since 1993–94, making him just the fourth in franchise history to do so. And, really, at this point, it would be disappointing if he’s not able to break Rick Vaive’s single-season record of 54 goals.

Vaive was the first Leaf to score 50 when he set the team record back in 1981–82. But seven seasons before that — and coming up on 45 years ago later this month — another player on another Toronto team became the city’s first pro athlete to reach the 50-goal plateau. I was there on March 25, 1975 when “Shotgun” Tom Simpson scored his 50th for the Toronto Toros. This was just going to be a short piece about that … but then I found something more.

Apparently, it was a tradition with Toros owner John Bassett to buy a new suit for a player if he scored four goals. Better than a new hat for three goals, I guess!

As I mentioned in my most recent story, the Toros and the WHA were a big part of my young hockey life. I do have many fond memories, but, it seems that as the years go by, they’re all starting to blend together!

Back in 2016, I posted a story here about Olympic memories. I wrote that the Munich Olympic Games ran from August 26 to September 11, 1972. (The massacre of Israeli athletes occurred on September 5-6). My grandfather had died that August 26, and Team Canada and the Soviets played all four Canadian games of the Summit Series between September 2 and September 8. I remember all of this, of course, but each event now seems so separate and distinct to me that it’s hard to believe they all happened within two weeks.

No tragedies in today’s story, but although I do remember that I was there when Tom Simpson scored his 50th goal, I really had no memory of all that went on. Turns out, Simpson entered the game against the Vancouver Blazers on that Tuesday night with 46 goals … and scored four to reach 50. He also added two assists for six points in Toronto’s 8-4 win. I don’t really recall any of that, but what really amazed me was that it happened on the same night as one of my other greatest Toros memories; the night that Evel Knievel went one-on-one against Les Binkley for ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

I do remember that Knievel scored a couple of cheap goals. And I think I remember him skating back to center ice after each of his attempts to talk things over with Frank Gifford of ABC. In my memory, they weren’t mic’ed up in a way that we could hear them, although I believe we did hear Frank Gifford introduce Evel so maybe we heard their conversations too. What I didn’t know until researching this story was that Global TV, who used to broadcast Toros games, wasn’t allowed to air this second-period intermission stunt because ABC had the exclusive rights to it. So maybe the conversations were ABC property as well?

Ads from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

Something else I remember about that night was that although we were told that Knievel had some hockey experience in his background, not everyone believed that. Maybe that was just my father being cynical and not a widespread belief, but that’s how I remember it. (Then again, my memories of that night are obviously not as sharp as I used to think!)

The picture on the left must have been taken the day before the game when Evel took to the ice at the George Bell Arena. Though he scored twice on his four shots, my memory of it is that he definitely looked a little less than graceful on skates!

In reading through the articles now from before the game, it was made pretty clear that Evel Knievel had played some competitive amateur hockey in his younger days … which other hockey researchers have pretty much confirmed over the years. (It’s interesting, now, to be able to read hockey stories about a young Bob Knievel in Montana newspapers online.) Knievel even claimed that Gordie Howe and the boxer Joe Louis were his sports idols.

Still, it definitely seems that Toronto sportswriters thought Knievel’s appearance at the Toros game was just a cheap publicity stunt … but it’s one of my best childhood hockey memories. So was being there when Tom Simpson became Toronto’s first 50-goal scorer. I just didn’t remember that both things happened on the very same night!

Evel Knievel’s hockey records from the Society for International Hockey Research.

18 thoughts on “Memories Play an Evel Trick

  1. The amazing part of all is how you are now able to do all this research to back your story that a few years ago would have been nearly impossible — involving physical visits to many libraries and archives, hours with a microfilm reader, etc.

    1. I used to do some of that in libraries … but, honestly, I wouldn’t be able to have the career I’ve had without these Internet newspaper archives!

  2. Wow, these are fascinating facts, and that they seem to be at your fingertips. My hockey memories are watching the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup!! Not a big follower of professional sports, I was always amazed at my pupils who couldn’t remember what they were taught from day to day, but they could give me statistics of the hockey players. I had to use that knowledge they had to help them learn basic arithmetic!!
    I had one child who was diagnosed with “retardation”, as it was called then, but he could tell me what year and model of every car that went by our classroom window! I also used that ability to help him learn to read!!!!
    Enjoy the rest of the winter, and let’s hope we have a wonderful and healthy spring!!

    1. You must have been an excellent teacher!
      (The latest book I’ve just finished … though it won’t be out until 2022!! … is for National Geographic Kids in the U.S. and is part of a series of books using sports to promote math.)

  3. Great story Eric. I remember the Toros well, but was an NHL snob at the time. I even remember them moving to Birmingham AL. and the now famous Baby Bulls.

  4. I nearly had a fit when (in Spain) I read the headline of your new story. I thought he really doesn’t remember things, especially how to spell evil. But then I read that great story and you were redeemed. I remember when you guys went to Toros games and I do actually remember Evel Knievel there. Thanks for good memories.

  5. Hockey, Evel Knievel, Six Million Dollar Man and KISS were huge parts of my childhood. The hype leading up to Evel at Snake River Canyon was incredible. Recall seeing him on the cover of Sports Illustrated when my Mom took me shopping. The fact he came to Toronto and played hockey made him even more cool! Once again, thanks for the trip down memory lane Eric. Always very enjoyable.

  6. So… how many goals did Evel get? Also, was there ever an explanation why the Goalie only got 1000 for every save and Evel got 5000 per goal?

    1. Two goals and two saves … and I imagine Evel’s share was higher because he could get it (and it probably seemed less likely he’d score the goals).

  7. Another great – story — about many things at many levels — the whole idea of memory from our younger days is fascinating….


  8. Recent death of the comedian Dave Osborne, whose character was a takeoff on the Stunt daredevil, took my mind back to those days. People would say eating anything I baked was taking your life into your hands!
    Great article. “Outre”events in the hockey past make it more than just a contest between millionaire teenybopper. And even if Matthews scores 60 the Leafs will have to ” wait til next year” yet again.
    I can’t wait much longer!

    Keep writing!!

  9. Good to see you back in the groove, Eric. I didn’t know you were such a WHA fan. Back in the ’70’s, I used to get to some Alberta Oilers games, and our biggest star for a while was Jim Harrison, whom “Wild” Bill Hunter scooped (rescued?) from Ballard”s Maple Leafs. I am positive he scored 11 points one game, which was undoubtedly the WHA record, and certainly up there as a pro record, depending on how far back you care to go. If you have time to verify that, perhaps it merits mention in a future posting.
    All the best!

    1. Jim Harrison had 10 points on January 30, 1973 … which was a WHA record and later tied in the NHL by Darryl Sittler.
      The Oilers beat the New York Raiders 11-3 … so maybe that’s what you got the 11 from?

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