Like everybody else who grew up in Toronto in the 80’s and 90’s I loved watching the Leafs, sure they were horrible for most of the 80’s and only got better in the early 90’s. But they were our team for better or worse. I remember looking forward to “Hockey Night in Canada” every Saturday night to watch my Leafs. I always had hope they would win, but more often than not, they lost. It did not matter how bad they were I could cheer for no other team.
My first favorite Toronto Maple Leafs was a diminutive acrobatic goaltender named Mike Palmateer who wore the number 29. I liked his mask and his entertaining style of guarding the Leaf goal. He had a knack making every save look difficult. He was constantly sprawling on the ice flailing his arms, kicking out his legs to make a save. Check out the following clips of him in action:
Whenever I played goal in a street hockey game I always imagined I was Palmateer and did the best I could to imitate him. Bouncing around, making a dramatic save but giving up a big rebound then quickly getting back into position hoping I get another shot to make yet another dramatic save. Palmateer made goaltending look fun, made being a goalie seem cool.
Palmateer was drafted with the 85th pick of the 1974 NHL Draft by his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. His NHL career began in the 1976 – 1977 season. For the next three seasons Palmateer served as the leafs starting netminder while becoming a fan favorite. His best season was his sophomore season in 1977 – 1978, when he appeared in a career high 63 games winning 34 of them (with 5 shutouts) and more importantly help lead the leafs to the Stanley Cup semi finals. His signature moment was when his spectacular goaltending helped the Leafs upset the mighty New York Islanders in the quarter finals of the 1978 playoffs.
As the 1980’s began injuries began to catch up to Palmateer as he only played 38 games for the Leafs in the 1979- 1980 season before being dealt to the Washington Capitals. His acrobatic style of play ruined his knees which in turn hampered his mobility (which his unorthodox style of play relied heavily on).
At the time Palmateer was dealt to the Washington Capitals he was still a big name player and still young so the Washington Capitals and their GM Max McNab had high expectations for him. McNab hoped that once Palmateer got over his injury he would return to form and win games and fans with his athletic style of play. Unfortunately Palmateer’s knee injures never did go away. His coach with the Washington Capitals Gary Green claimed that Palmateer’s knees were “gone”. Sadly the acrobatic jumping jack netminder that thrilled Leaf fans in the late 70’s was also “gone”.
Palmateer was never the same as his mobility lessened his goals against average ballooned with each season. After two miserable seasons with the Washington Capitals Palmateer was traded back to Toronto for cash. Upon returning to Toronto Palmateer once again became the club’s starting goaltender playing in 53 games in the 1982 – 83 season. However the next season his knee problems flared up once again, he had surgery on them for the 12th time and had to sit out most of the 83 – 84 season. The next season the Leafs decided to go with promising youngsters Allan Bester and Ken Wregget as their net minders, putting and end to Palmateer’s career.
Athletes who rely on athleticism usually succumb to injuries. The human body was not designed to perform acrobatic feats night in, night out. Mike Palmateer’s peak did not last long, maybe about 3 or 4 years. His dynamic style of play ruined his knees. Of course he played in the late 70’s early 80’s when our knowledge on training and making our bodies more resistant to injuries was no where near as good as it is today. I always wonder if he played in today’s era would modern training techniques allow Leaf fans to enjoy his unorthodox style of play for a longer period of time. Still he made a lasting impression in a short amount of time. Check out this clip of a 62 year old Palmateer on knees so bad he has trouble bending them, turn back the clock to the delight of the Leaf fans old enough to remember him at the Centennial Alumni Classic game held in Toronto in 2016.
Did you know this about prime numbers?
There are an infinite number of prime numbers. Think of a number, any number, and you will always be able to find a prime number higher than that number.