Where Were You in ’42?

We might see history made tonight. Then again, in a way, we’ve already seen it. (That being said, you can count me as one who isn’t sure “the first time since…” really constitutes making history — even though it’s often expressed that way these days.)

When the Edmonton Oilers beat the Florida Panthers on Friday night, it marked the first time since 1945 that a team who had lost the first three games in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final came back to force a seventh game. The Toronto Maple Leafs had taken a 3–0 lead only to see Detroit win the next three before Toronto salvaged the series in Game Seven.

And, of course, if the Oilers win tonight and complete the comeback, they’ll be the first team since 1942 to successfully rally all the way back from a 3–0 deficit in games. It was also Toronto and Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final that year, as the Red Wings opened up with three straight wins before the Maple Leafs rattled off four in a row.

Stuart Skinner and Zach Hyman after the Oilers’ win on Friday night.

I’ve written about the 1942 series before, in 2017 and in 2022. You can check those out if you’d like, as I’ll try to keep this recap brief. The Leafs famously shook up their lineup after three straight losses, benching veterans Gord Drillon and Bucko McDonald. Younger and faster Don Metz and Hank Goldup were inserted into the lineup, and Gaye Stewart was summoned from the farm team in Pittsburgh. That, apparently, gave the Leafs the spark they needed … although there’s also the fact that Toronto had been a much better team than Detroit throughout the regular season, and probably should have beaten the Red Wings anyway!

There’s long been another story told about what sparked the Leafs famous 1942 comeback. It’s the type of “hockey legend” I rarely believe without proof. And, at first, the proof seems a little shaky.

As best I could find, Hap Day first tells the story in a feature by Toronto Star sportswriter Red Burnett for The Star Weekly on March 12, 1955. (Though perhaps it appears earlier in some other source, such as a Maple Leafs program?) “Hockey has been wonderful to me down through the years,” Day told Burnett. “I have two Stanley Cups that stand out in the six triumphs I shared in, one as a player and five as a coach.”

The Toronto Star from April 18, 1942 … the day of Game Seven.

The standout memory from his playing days came in 1932, when Day captained the team to its first Stanley Cup championship under the Leafs name. “But the incident which lives the most vividly in my memory is a letter from a 14-year-old girl.”

Day explains that he received the letter just before Game Four of the Final in 1942. “I was at my wit’s end trying to figure out what angle I would take with the team that night when along came this letter. The little girl wrote that she still had faith in us and was praying for our success.

“It was a wonderful letter and I read it to the boys before that all-important game. I didn’t have to say another word. Dave Schriner, one of our veterans, got to this feet and said: ‘Coach, you don’t have to worry about this one. We’ll win it for that little girl.’ After the first shift on the ice I knew I had a hockey team. Before the game was over I sensed that Cup history would be made, that we were going to win four straight for the biggest comeback in the game’s history.”

Hap Day seems to have first told the story of the letter in this article.

Day told the story again to Allan Abel of The Globe and Mail on May 16, 1983. Twenty-eight years later, the girl was now 15 years old but the rest of the story is essentially the same.

Over the years, it seems, the girl — Doris Klein — has been reported as 11, 14 and 15 years old. It’s been said she was a Toronto girl living in Detroit and taking an awful ribbing from her new friends. Or, she was a girl from Toronto who was either embarrassed by, or feeling sorry for, the team.

With all the different variations, it’s easy enough to wonder if the story was true at all. However, an account from Leafs goalie Turk Broda to sportswriter Jim Hunt for The Star Weekly on March 31, 1962, would seem to confirm that it was.

“I can … still remember Hap reading us a letter from a 15-year-old girl before the fourth game,” said Broda while reminiscing about the 1942 comeback. “The girl was pleading with us to win and it was pretty dramatic. But I think Hap added a little and then as the final dramatic touch showed us the letter which he claimed was stained by her tears.”

Turk Broda gave his take on the letter story here.

The tear-stains have become part of the legend too. But, as Roy MacGregor wrote in The National Post on April 26, 1999, “[s]ome others – and count me among these skeptics – believe the letter was written by a middle-aged NHL coach…. [Hap Day] scribbled it on hotel stationery, folded it, stuck it in an envelope, and wrinkled it a bit for authenticity – then he headed off to Game Four.”

So, is the story true at all? Or did Day write the letter himself?

I asked friend and colleague Jonathon Jackson — who has written a dissertation about Hap Day he’s hoping to publish as a biography — what he knew about the story. Not surprisingly, Jonathon had read all the variations which had caused him to question it too. But he had come across one account from the time that seems to indicate the basic story is true. In The Toronto Star on April 15, 1942, among the recap of the Leafs’ 9–3 trouncing of Detroit in Game Five the night before, there is a series of photographs and this caption:

That pretty girl on the right is Doris Klein, Toronto maiden whose ‘pep’ note to the Leafs in Detroit drew her their admiration and honor seats at the game with her father as the team’s very special guest.

This is the young woman identified in the Star as letter-writer Doris Klein.

So, it seems, there was a girl, and she did write a letter.

Or else Hap Day went to a lot of trouble to convince his team she had!

12 thoughts on “Where Were You in ’42?

  1. My first favorite Leafs team. Turned me into a fan of Toronto until Bill Barilko disappeared. THANKS FOR THE MEMORY.

  2. Another fun article. I’m too young to remember the 1942 series, but old enough to remember the last time that the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. Go Oilers!!!

  3. Very interesting for me as I was born in 42 and didn’t know the story. Good luck Oilers! We will be watching!

  4. I was not a hockey fan in those days, but my two brothers were. They sat almost on top of our floor model radio and they would get very upset with me if I walked between them and the radio. I guess they foresaw the era of TV. I can vaguely remember going to the piano to practice and there were French Doors to separate that room from the room with the one and only radio. I wasn’t trying to annoy my brothers, I was just bored!

    I asked my older brother just yesterday about that game. He is 97 and lives in a still quiet area of Israel on a Kibbutz. (Since early 1950’s). He actually remember that game because our younger brother, now deceased, was so excited, his nose started to bleed. Even holding some ice wrapped in a towel on his nose, he wouldn’t leave.

    It was the only memory he had, and I guess I joined in the celebration of the Maple Leaf win. But I do remember watching the Cup finals in 1967!

    My mom was baby sitting, and I was at a friend’s home, as they had a larger TV. I recall being teased that I wouldn’t join everyone by drinking beer. (Never could get it by my nose, yuck!) There were about 10 of us sitting as close to the screen as possible, and it was a very exciting game. And a win for Toronto!

    I had a lift home, (I was a widow at that time), and the streets were relatively quiet, but the victory parade a few days later was exciting. I was teaching in Scarborough and the children, especially the boys, were almost climbing the walls with excitement.

    I hope the Oilers bring home the cup, but I won’t be watching. Just can’t get into much enthusiasm about sports at this time.

  5. What better indication is there to reflect how much has changed since 1942 than to consider the woman the media were discussing was Ms Klein, now it is Natalie Gauvreau.

  6. One more thing: I choose to believe the story. Also
    unbelievable were Hap Day’s dramatic changes including his
    dropping of top scorer Gord Drillon and vet D-man Bucko McDonald.
    I may be mistaken but also remember rookie defenseman Ernie
    Dickens also being thrust into the comeback story. And so many
    sidebars such as Jack Adams punching out ref Mel Harwood and
    Schriner’s heroics at the end. (What about Leaf officials trying to
    bar Conn Smythe from a pep talk in Game 7?)

  7. Eric,

    Another very interesting hockey story! Might we persuade another young lady to duplicate this appeal so as to spur on the Oilers?


  8. Legends and myths are the basics in all religions and to believe, after all these decades that the Leafs will, one day! Again winning a Cup is like a religion or, rather, a cult. So this magical tale is part of Leaf lore. No matter how bad it looks the “faithful” still have hope. And on rare occasions miracles DO happen!
    So maybe the Sea of Reeds will part and the Zoilers will walk on dry land tonight.
    In any case, as I wrote Eric, Zach Hyman would rather be an Oiler going into game 7 than a Leaf shining up his golf clubs for the hundredth time.

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