The Bill Barilko Mystery 70 Years Later -- Still A Mystery

Leafs D-man went missing after the Maple Leafs 1951 Stanley Cup win; Bill Guerin, G.M. of the Year?; Jonathan Toews update..

Exactly seven decades ago, I was as ardent a Maple Leafs fan as any Torontonian or Canadian for that matter. So what if I grew up in Brooklyn; I lived and died with the Leafs.

When they won the Stanley Cup in 1951, I was especially ecstatic.

It was their fourth title in five years and the winning goal spectacularly was scored by a flying-through-the-air defenseman Bill Barilko.

I truly loved Barilko more than any Maple Leaf. He was good-looking in a very masculine sort of way and he had neat idiosyncracies. One was to "run" on the tips of his skates and another was his special bodychecks.

His alternate nicknames were "Snake Hips" and "Bashin' Bill," both well-earned. Except for opponents, he was just about everyone's hero after the Cup, duly celebrated wherever he went until it was vacation time.

Barilko chose to embark on a fishing trip in Northern Ontario with an intrepid dentist pal, Dr. Henry Hudson. As it happened Dr. H piloted a Fairchild seaplane and off they went.

They never were seen again. 

More than a decade later the wrecked plane was found in the Northern Ontario bush country. Both bodies still were in their harness. 

Back in '51 -- once it was evident that Barilko and friend were missing -- I was distraught beyond words. When training camp; opened in September 1951, Barilko was replaced by a nondescript defender named Hugh Bolton who I was told doubled as a schoolteacher.

Hugh Bolton. Were they kidding? And that was it for me.

I couldn't root for the Leafs anymore, joined the Rangers Fan Club and cheered for the likes of Charlie Rayner and Edgar Laprade.

Now it's April 2021 and the 70th anniversary of Bashin' Bill's Cup-winning goal is bring duly celebrated by many who never even heard of him.

Fortunately, Mark Fera, who lives in the Met Toronto Area, has put together an astonishing Maple Leafs Museum in his basement with special emphasis on Barilko memorabilia including pieces from the Fairchild's fuselage.

I'll get to the amazing Fera -- nobody's worked harder to keep the Barilko Saga alive -- another time. What has puzzled me for 70 years remains the unanswered question; how did this tragedy take place?

Dr. Hudson was a skilled pilot; perhaps too skilled for his own good and he knew his Fairchild plane. So, what happened?

And that's what this is all about. For seven decades "experts" have been taking educated guesses but still nobody knows. 

When I asked Fera, he mentioned that the plane may have run out of gas -- apparently Hudson was careless that way -- while others have guessed that the plane was carrying too heavy a load.

By the way, the remnants of the Fairchild and the bodies were discovered on June 6, 1962. 

The cause of the tragedy remains undiscovered. 

It remains the hockey mystery of all mysteries and likely never to be solved!


HEADLINE: TONIGHT'S GAME TO WATCH

THE JIVE: With the exception of the Blueshirts debacle Tuesday night at Nassau, the Rangers have been high-talling it at great speed in search of a playoff berth. Likewise, the Flyers have not given up either; especially when the goaltending is right. Tonight Philly visits The Big Apple in a game that should decide if either club has a shot at Boston. With 58 points, the Bruins look secure, but you never know. But by Midnight -- New York time -- we'll know whether the Blueshirts or the Broad Streeters still have a shot.

Until, Tuesday night, the Rangers had succeeded on good goaltending, Adam Fox's outstanding defense and The Panarin Pistol. If Flyers coach Alain Vigneault can somehow blend game-saving goaltending with a decent defense and the likes of Claude Giroux, they can torpedo Panarin-Fox, Inc. and make one last run for the roses. (P.S. I don't think the Bruins are too worried. At least not yet.)


HEADLINE: HOW ABOUT BILL GUERIN AS G.M. OF THE YEAR

THE JIVE: Studying -- while playing -- under Lou Lamaoriello in New Jersey, thoughtful Bill Guerin must have absorbed plenty of smarts about managing an NHL team. Those pearls of Lou Wisdom are being applied daily in St.Paul where Billy G's genius moves continue to add to his lustre and his Wild's move up the hockey ladder. Exhibit A is last night's 4-1 win over Arizona. Among the stars were two Guerin acquisitions. In goal, the itinerant Cam Talbot produced 39 saves. Obtaining Talbot during the off-season, Guerin was banking on better goaltending resulting in more wins. Talbot, who rebounded last season, is doing the job. Meanwhile, Billy's Russian find, left wing Kirill Kaprizov, continues to lead the unofficial Calder Trophy voting. As usual, he spurred the anti-Coyotes offense with his third straight game with a red-lighter. (P.S. Kevin Fiala, Minny's leading scorer last season, is back at the top of his game. It sort of makes Guerin fans want to see Bill G take a turn on the ice for his team!)


HEADLINE: GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS FOR BLACKHAWKS

THE JIVE: Chicago got a boost in its playoff drive with a 5-4 overtime win over challenging Nashville last night. That's the good news. As for the bad news, the story has emerged -- via the intrepid TSN’s Darren Dreger -- that Windy City captain Jonathan Toews will not be available this season. The mysterious ailment that has sidelined Chi's ace, has not been resolved enough for him to contribute in the homestretch. According to "Scoop" Dreger, Toews health is improving and the other bit of silver lining on this cloudy situation is that Toews could very well be back skating for the Blackhawks next season. (For all of us who have dealt with this wonderful Jon guy, let's hope he fully recovers. And thanks to Scoop for pulling off yet another "beat" on the beat!)


TRIVIA CORNER:

Name the Islander who scored a historic goal on a penalty shot in the 2002 playoffs against the Maple Leafs

(Answer below.)


CLASSIC LINES FROM YESTERYEAR:"I'm a beer-taster for the Ontario Liquor Control Board. I ride on the delivery trucks and open one can from every six-pack to taste the stuff."

-Then Rangers defenseman Bob Plager explaining his "Summer Job" to a gullible reporter who didn't realized that Boisterous Bob was just kidding. (And the guy put it in his story.)


TRIVIA ANSWER: Shawn Bates beat Curtis Joseph on the penalty shot to win Game Four of the seven-game series.