Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Toronto Maple Leafs-The Belleville Connection

From the earliest days of the franchise, when Conn Smythe was envisioning the concept of the Maple Leafs, there were dedicated Toronto fans in the Quinte area. There were also some serious Hab fans in the area as well, due to our proximity to Montreal.

Along came the Senators a number of years ago, pulling a few faithful to their camp.

Without question, most of the hockey world in this region supports the Blue and White from Toronto.

For those who are also keen Belleville Bulls fans, one of the favourite pastimes is to follow the progress of the players once they leave the Bulls. Players move on to a variety of lives---some out to work, some off to school, and some continue in the hockey world. Only a select few are able to reach the pinnacle by playing in the National Hockey League.

Matt Stajan, Kyle Wellwood, and Kris Newbury all toiled for the Belleville Bulls. They now play for the Leafs.

Andrew Raycroft never did play for the Belleville Bulls, but he played against them many times---even for former Bulls’ coach Larry Mavety. Mav had moved down the road to Kingston by the time Raycroft was winding down his OHL career. Mav scooped him up in a deal with Sudbury, and Raycroft rejuvenated his career to the extent that he won the Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player in the OHL. He was also goaltender of the year.

Yet another Leaf with Belleville roots is Bryan McCabe. There are many of us who are long enough in the tooth to remember stopping for fish at the shop located on the old bridge linking the city to Prince Edward County. It was a swing bridge, often leading to frustration while you waited to hit the beaches at the outlet. There was a wide variety of fish for sale at the shop, and it was in the hands of Bryan McCabe’s great grandfather, Herb. His great grandmother, Effie, was a notable public figure in Belleville, often heading up important volunteer organizations.

McCabe’s grandfather was an athlete of note. He is the only Belleville resident ever to play Major League baseball. He was only there for a cup of coffee, mind you, but he made the grade.

“High Pockets” McCabe was born in Napanee in 1918, and pitched professionally for more than a dozen years. In 1946, he was pitching for Oklahoma City in the Texas League. In mid September, he got the call to pitch for Cleveland in the American League. He faced the Washington Senators on a steamy September afternoon in Cleveland.

The lanky righthander began his stint against another Canadian---Sherry Robertson from Montreal. Robertson tagged a McCabe pitch to lead off the game with a home run. That was the only damage off McCabe in the first inning, and he breezed through the second. Mickey Vernon launched a second round tripper off McCabe in the third, and he was replaced by Joe Krakauskas in the fifth. McCabe struck out three Senators in his only Major League game.

He played the next year in Oklahoma City, then moved on to Longview in the Eastern Texas League. He finished his professional career in the Provincial League in Quebec with St. Hyacinthe. He returned to the Quinte area, and coached minor baseball teams. He died in Windsor in 1974 at the age of 55.

McCabe’s children attended public school and high school in Belleville. His oldest son Terry was an outstanding basketball player, with a patented pull-up jump shot. Another son, Ralph, was a tenacious backfielder at Belleville Collegiate. Ralph’s son is the aforementioned Bryan McCabe.

I spoke with Bryan following a Leafs game recently. He indicated that he saw very little of the Belleville group, due to the fact that his family moved west when he was young.

Needless to say, the Leafs are counting heavily on McCabe this year. They are also looking for major contributions from their other players with ties to the Quinte Region---former Bulls Stajan, Wellwood, and Newbury. And, of course, Belleville’s own Andrew Raycroft.

Part Two to Follow.

James Hurst

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