A GROUNDHOG DAY FOR THE AGES
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2022
Ian Turnbull. Photo credit – Dave Stubbs
A GROUNDHOG DAY FOR THE AGES
One of the greatest things about being a sports fan is having the opportunity to possibly witness something that has never been achieved before on any given day. There is always the potential for some record performance to happen on a day on which you, the sports fan, could be watching.
Another of the wonderful things about sports is that they generate numbers that have certain meaning. Baseball fans everywhere know that 755 was the number of home runs hit by Henry Aaron. They know that Lou Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games and held the record until Cal Ripken Jr. broke that mark back in 1995. And they also know that Ty Cobb had 4,191 base hits and that Pete Rose now holds that record with 4,256.
Football fans know that there have been eight 2,000 yard rushers in National Football League history. O.J. Simpson was the first to reach the mark and the only one to do it in a 14-game season. Eric Dickerson did it next. He was followed by Barry Sanders and the last player to hit the 2,000 mark in the 1990s was Terrell Davis.
The Ravens’ Jamal Lewis, in 2003, was the first runner to do it in the new millennium. Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Derrick Henry round out the eight members of the 2,000 Yard Club.
In basketball, will anyone ever beat Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points scored in a game? In baseball, will any player ever be able to put together a 56-game hitting streak the way Joe DiMaggio once did? From 1959 to 1966, the Boston Celtics were the National Basketball Association champions. Yes, the Celtics won the NBA title eight years straight!! In this age of parity, that will never be done again!
In hockey, it’s pretty much a lock that no goalie will ever match Glenn Hall’s record of 502 consecutive starts. Wayne Gretzky amassed 2,857 points over his unmatched career. Yes, Alex Ovechkin probably has the best chance of cracking Gretzky’s goal-scoring mark of 894 in the National Hockey League. But his professional record of 1,072 total goals scored in the NHL and the WHA might never be matched.
In February of 1976, Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored six goals and added four assists in an 11-4 win over the Boston Bruins. Looking back, there have been a bunch of players who have had eight-point nights in an NHL game, but no one has managed to reach double digits in points since Sittler did it almost five decades ago. The most recent eight-point night was put up by Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers on February 2, 2012. Yes, it was Groundhog Day.
In the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character goes through the same scenes day after day and the whole situation drives him absolutely batty until he was able to figure out a way to use it to his advantage. We can be absolutely sure that if Sam Gagner could relive that particular Groundhog Day over and over, he would jump at the chance. But that is not the Groundhog Day that I was referring to when I originally wrote the title.
THE MAN HIMSELF
No, the February 2 that was referred to in the title actually occurred 35 years before Gagner’s magical night. Back in 1977, on the second day of February, an NHL defenseman did something that no other blueliner had done before, nor has one done it since. On Groundhog Day in 1977, the man his teammates called ‘Bull’, Ian Turnbull of the Leafs, scored five goals in a 9-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
Turnbull had always been an offensively gifted defenseman when he was a player in the Ontario Hockey Association. In the 1971-72 season, the Ville-St.-Laurent native scored 34 goals and added 48 assists in 63 games for the Montreal Jr. Canadiens. His move to the Ottawa 67s for the following season was seen as big news in the nation’s capital. That year, he scored 25 goals and had 39 helpers in 51 games.
In the following summer, at the 1973 draft, he was picked 15th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the hope for the left-handed shooting defenseman was that he could rise to the offensive heights he had shown in junior hockey.
In his first three seasons in the league, his best season was the 1975-76 year when he had managed to score 20 goals and added 36 assists. 56 points is never a bad total for a National Hockey League defenseman. Many were envisioning some amazing seasons to come for the young Montrealer.
In the 1976-77 season, Turnbull was often paired with Leaf legend Borje Salming. Salming’s teammates called him ‘The King’. The two played well together. In fact, they joined the Leafs in the same ’73-74 season. Turnbull was 20 years old at that time. Salming was 22.
Turnbull was able to put the puck into the net on occasion. Salming was a gifted playmaker. He managed 40 assists seven years in a row. He had 30 assists over ten straight years. In fact, he had been a second team All-Star in both of the previous seasons. In that ’76-77 year, Salming would be a first-team All-Star.
THE GAME ITSELF
The Leafs were at home and their opponent on the night of February 2, 1977 was the Detroit Red Wings. Going into that game at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Wings were the worst team in the league, if you were going by point total. They were in last place in the Norris Division with a record of 14-29-6.
Larry Wilson had the coaching reins for Detroit and was behind the bench for just his sixth game after having taken over from Alex Delvecchio. In the eighteen-team NHL of that day, the Leafs were the seventh best team with a 24-20-7 mark.
The starting goalies that night were Wayne Thomas for the Leafs and the legend, Ed Giacomin, with his greying hair sticking out of his white mask, for the Red Wings. One of the strange things in this game was seeing Giacomin wearing number 29 on his jersey after having worn number 1 with the Rangers for all those years.
The Leafs started slowly in the opening twenty minutes as the play moved in fits and starts. The Wings outshot Toronto 9-8 in the scoreless first period and 21-18 after forty minutes. The only problem for Larry Wilson’s team was that by that time, the Leafs had scored a bunch in that middle frame and were leading the game by a score of 5-0. Ian Turnbull had scored two of the five Toronto goals.
After stopping only 13 of the 18 Toronto shots he had faced over the first two periods, Giacomin’s night was over. To be fair though, he was not helped by his teammates whatsoever. Turnbull’s first goal opened the scoring and was a shot that was deflected by Detroit defenseman Terry Harper past the beleaguered veteran goaltender.
Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams scored on a breakaway to make it 4-0. And Turnbull walked in alone from his own side of center ice after intercepting an errant pass and he scored on a breakaway to make it 5-0 by the 10:26 mark of the second period. Giacomin was replaced to start the third period by Jim Rutherford. But the Leafs onslaught was not finished.
Before the final period was five minutes old, Turnbull fired a slap shot far side from inside the blue line past Rutherford. He had his hat trick and his 14th goal of the season. A little over a minute later, Lanny McDonald scored his 33rd of the year. With less than four minutes left in the game, Danny Grant scored to break Wayne Thomas’ shutout bid. Then with less than three minutes remaining, Turnbull scored his fourth goal of the game. The score was now 8-1 for the Leafs.
That fourth goal tied the NHL record for goals in a game by a defenseman. Before this, the last blueliner to notch four goals in a game was Montreal’s Georges Mantha back in the 1936-37 season. Five other defensemen had scored four goals in a game, but they were all back in the era of radio and the time of black and white movies.
On the bench, Turnbull turned to Salming and told him that, when they were on the ice together next, he was going to shoot up the left side. Salming recounted that conversation. “He told me right after he scored, he said, ‘I’m going right after the faceoff, okay? If you get the puck, just give it to me’. And I just gave it to him on the left side and he went in and scored again!”
Sure enough, seconds later, just as he had told the story, the next time that ‘Bull’ and ‘The King’ were on the ice, the puck was dropped, the Leafs won the faceoff and Salming spotted his partner streaking up the left side. He hit Turnbull before the Wings’ blue line and sent him in on Rutherford all alone. Turnbull made a move and went glove side. It was 9-1. He had scored five goals that night. And he did it on just five shots.
Later, the Leafs’ defenseman would tell reporters, “It was one of those nights where everything just clicked.”
That was how the game ended. Turnbull’s fifth goal that night was his 16th of the season. He would score six more goals over his team’s last 28 games. Over the year, he scored 22 goals and added 57 assists. His 79 points would place him third on the team in scoring, one point ahead of his partner, Salming. He also finished an impressive plus-46. The only two players who had more points than Turnbull on the team’s scoring list were Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald. Each had 90 points.
That would be his greatest regular season. But in the following year, 1977-78, he would have a very good post-season. That was the playoff year in which the Leafs swept the Los Angeles Kings in their first-round, best-of-three series and then went seven games with the up and coming New York Islanders. The Leafs won the series on a Lanny McDonald goal and Turnbull ended up scoring four goals and adding four assists for eight points to lead his team in scoring over the course of the entire seven game set.
Toronto would drop their third-round series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens in four straight games. But, once again, Turnbull would lead his team in scoring. The Leafs scored only six goals in the four games, but ‘Bull’ had a pair of goals and a couple of assists as well.
In the 1978-79 season, Turnbull would put together another great season. He scored twelve goals and added 51 assists for a total of 63 points. In 1980-81, he scored 19 goals and had 47 helpers for 66 points. His time with the Leafs would be coming to a close though. In November of 1981, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a couple of players, one of whom was former Toronto Marlboros’ player Billy Harris.
Turnbull did have a bit of magic left in his stick. On December 12, 1981, he managed to score four goals against the Vancouver Canucks in a 7-5 Kings’ win. When you look at the list of NHL defenseman who have managed to score four goals in a single game, there are a couple of players who have performed the feat twice. Turnbull is one of those.
NHL Defensemen who have scored four goals in a game – NHL.com
Turnbull finished that season with 26 points in 42 games for the Kings, but he signed a contract as a free agent the following year with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 1982-83 season. He would play just six games with the Penguins before ending his career at the age of 29.
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