The Toronto Maple Leafs will award Stanley Cup rings next month to players who won championships for the team during the 1960s, a move that leaves the recently beleaguered club open to ribbing but also helps to repair possibly bruised relations with some alumni.
In September, the Leafs will hand out $5,000 rings to players such as Bob Pulford, Johnny Bower and Bobby Baun at a ceremony in Toronto. TSN first reported on Aug. 4 that the rings would be distributed to the team's former stars.
The gold rings feature a leaf outlined in black, emblazoned with a diamond fixed in the centre and the words "Stanley Cup Champions" around the perimeter. A raised image of the Stanley Cup is on the side. The rings are being made for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment by Tiffany & Co.
Bob Pulford, who played for championship teams in Toronto from 1962 to 1964 and in 1967, said he approached Leafs management several years ago about honouring former players.
Even though the Hockey Hall of Fame says members of the first team to win a Stanley Cup, the Montreal Hockey Club, were given rings after winning the championship in 1893, the gesture disappeared in subsequent years.
During the 1960s, it wasn't common for players to receive a new ring after every Stanley Cup win. In 1959, Montreal Canadiens players had to pay for their own rings after winning the championship and in 1971, Canadiens management decided to give players colour TVs instead of rings.
"I got one in 1962, and then after we won in '63 and '64, they took it back, added an engraving on it and re-set it with a bit bigger diamond," Pulford, 78, told TSN.
Pulford also has two rings from his work as an executive with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and 2013.
"I have four kids and I'd love to be able to give them each a ring one day," he added. The Hall of Famer will receive three new rings at the ceremony - which will give him a total of six Stanley Cup rings.
"I don't wear the ones from Chicago because the rings have gotten too big," he said. "I still wear my Leafs ring. It's classy."
The ring ceremony also promises to help the Leafs salve any wounds left after the club's controversial decision last year to take down photos at the Air Canada Centre of former players. While Maple Leaf Sports president Tim Leiweke ordered the move in an attempt to create a new culture within the organization, saying he didn't want today's players looking at players from 1962 as they walked to and from the ice, critics ripped the team for not paying proper respect to its past players.
Bower was among the former Leafs stars who talked Leiweke out of the move, The Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk reported in September.
"I think Tim realized that was a mistake," Pulford said. "And to his credit, he's trying to rectify that. A lot of former players are going to be so happy about this ring ceremony. When I found out I almost cried."
Shannon Hosford, vice president of marketing and communications, said the Leafs' move is about, "treating our alumni right."
"We had heard from players over the past few years that (those who won multiple Stanley Cups in the 1960s) really wanted to receive an additional ring," Hosford said. "We are trying to do the right thing heading into our centennial year and tie up loose ends. This is about working to bring our alumni closer into the fold."
Hosford added that the team is spending $200,000 to produce about 50 of the rings. Ten players have confirmed their attendance so far at the Leafs' fan fest and will receive the rings on Sept. 5.
Award-winning journalist Rick Westhead is TSN's Senior Correspondent for TSN's platforms - TSN, TSN Radio, TSN.ca and TSN GO.
He has covered a wide variety of sports issues for a slate of leading publications, among them the Toronto Star, Bloomberg News, Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, New York Times, and Saturday Night Magazine. Earlier this year, Westhead was part of a team that won the prestigious Project of the Year at the National Newspaper Awards. He was also honoured with the Toronto Star's Reporter of the Year Award in 2007.
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