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It’s a VERY cold Saturday night. Won’t be going far this evening. Good thing there is Hockey Night in Canada.

HNIC is not how I remember it – Danny & Dick, Ted Darling, Bill Hewitt, Brian McFarlane, Howie Meeker, Bob Cole, Harry Neale, Rene Lecavalier, Richard Garneau, Gilles Tremblay et. al.

But is still hockey on a Saturday night.

Tonight Toronto visits Vancouver – always special because for so long the Leafs were the standard bearers of hockey for much of English Canada.

It is not surprising that to this day many Toronto fans are to be found in the house in Vancouver. For generations, prior to the Canucks, Toronto was their NHL team. And many a Torontonian retired in nearby Victoria.

My best research indicates that Toronto and Vancouver have rarely been heated rivals on the ice. The Vancouver Millionaires met Toronto back in 1915 and 1922 before there was a Leafs.

The Canucks and Leafs met in the 1994 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals (Western Coneference Finals) before Vancouver lost to the NY Rangers in seven games.

Off the ice, howvere, is there is a fascinating tale of intrigue and betrayal to be told – how disappointed Vancouver was left in 1967 by being overlooked in the “second six” expansion. Many feel the slight could be directly tied to Toronto.

When the NHL announced in February 1966 that six new teams would be added to the league, many hockey fans in Vancouver saw it as their big chance to get back to the big leagues.

But when the NHL announced it was awarding new franchises to Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Canada’s third-largest city was left out in the cold.

On the surface, the conventional histories have spoken of U.S.television and concerns by Montreal and Toronto about television.

But the story of intrigue goes deeper.

In August 1964, almost two years before the NHL announced its expansion plans, Smythe came to Vancouver with a proposal. In exchange for a $2.5 million parcel of prime downtown property, Smythe would build, own and operate an $8 million, 20,000-seat arena. And the deal came with a kicker – Smythe promised to use his position on the NHL’s board of governors to get Vancouver an NHL franchise.

As Campbell warned Vancouver that a new rink, despite being a precondition for expansion, would not guarantee a team, Smythe’s proposal was put to a referendum in December 1964. Needing a 60 per cent majority to pass, the deal got the approval of less than 43 per cent of voters.

Outraged, the Toronto owner left Vancouver in a huff, calling it “a bush town” and vowing the city would never get an NHL team on his watch.

After Vancouver failed to make the NHL’s expansion list in 1966, Campbell said the city had “fumbled the ball” and “was never in it.” He explained that the league wanted only two teams on the West Coast, and that Los Angeles and the Bay Area were chosen based on their population, major-league background and TV market opportunities.

Along with Smythe and Molson, the NHL president ripped the proposed Vancouver ownership group for containing too many owners with too small a stake in the franchise. Curiously, though, the Pittsburgh group contained thirty-one partners, all of whom controlled less than five per cent of the team.

Campbell also sent conflicting signals by saying before the expansion announcement that no city would be admitted without an arena that seated at least 12,500, and then proceeding to award teams to three cities – Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul that didn’t meet that standard.

Adding to the intrigue was a Vancouver Sun story that quoted David Molson from Montreal and New York Rangers owner Bill Jennings as saying the proposed sale of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks to a group that included broadcaster Foster Hewitt , not the ownership group favoured by the NHL- may have led to Vancouver being denied a franchise.

Finally, in 1970 the league would make amends, but it was not without a battle. More on that chapter in a future posting.

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