The Legend of Bill Barilko

Was El-HalabiContributor INovember 29, 2008

Even though the story of Bill Barilko is often referred to as legend, few people under the age of 50 know its details.

A hard working kid, Barilko was born and raised in Timmins, Ontario, and the only sweater that he ever wore was the historic blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though never particularly impressive statistically throughout his NHL career, Barilko won four championships, the most memorable of which was the last.

Barilko played brilliantly during the final series of the 1951 playoffs versus the Montreal Canadiens. After preserving the victory for Toronto in Game 1 with a great blocked shot, Barilko remained in the background until Game 5 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

With the first four games of the series all going into overtime, Game 5 seemed to be headed in the same direction. With the Leafs leading the series 3-1, a win on home ice would clinch the Cup.

Under three minutes into the first overtime, Barilko let loose a slapshot from just inside the point that snuck past Habs 'keeper Gerry McNeil. Maple Leaf Gardens erupted, as Barilko became a national hero and won the Cup for Toronto all with one slap of the puck.

Shortly afterwards, Barilko was sadly lost to the world forever. On a fishing trip in the summer of '51, Barilko's plane disappeared in the skies over Ontario. His death remained a mystery until 1962 when his plane was discovered near Cochrane, Ontario.

Curiously, the Leafs had not won a championship since Barilko's overtime heroics in 1951. The year that he was found, however, the Leafs were successful in their quest for another Stanley Cup.

His No. 5 is one of two numbers ever retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bill Barilko–national hero, man of mystery.