Volume 93, Issue 4
Wednesday, May 28, 1999
In 1951, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs met in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Leafs had a 3-1 lead in the series and Game 5 was tied and headed into overtime.
The battle between the two teams lasted until Leaf defenceman Bill Barilko stormed down the ice after seeing the rebound of a shot sitting in front of Habs goalie, Gerry McNeil. Barilko lifted a backhander over top of the Habs goalie and led the Leafs to their seventh Stanley Cup while becoming a hockey hero in Toronto.
Four months and five days after he scored the cup-winning goal, Barilko boarded a Fairchild 24 single-engine airplane to return home from a fishing trip in James Bay, Ontario. Barilko, however, never made it back to his home as the plane disappeared somewhere between Rupert House and Timmins.
Despite a massive search, the plane and the bodies were not found. Fellow Leafs were so distraught over the loss of Barilko that his equipment was still set out for training camp in the fall of 1951 in hopes he would return.
Rumours soon circulated that Barilko, born of Russian descent, had defected to join the Russian hockey team as a coach in order to teach his skills to young players. Eleven years later the plane and the body of Barilko were found north of Cochcrane, Ontario by Gary Fields.
During his 11-year disappearance the Leafs failed to win another championship. However, the same year Barilko's body was discovered, the Leafs finally won their eighth Stanley Cup. Since 1962, no Leafs' player has ever worn the number five.
Barilko's story has since become a part of Canadian hockey legend. His disappearance and death were immortalized in 1993 with the song "Fifty Mission Cap" a hat worn by a fighter pilot who flies 50 successful missions by The Tragically Hip on their Fully Completely album.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999