As part of the Leafs’ centennial season, the Star is taking a look at significant moments in the franchise’s history, written by hockey historian Kevin Shea:
Imperial Oil introduced Three Star Gasoline in 1931 and began to sponsor children’s hockey teams, branding them Three-Star Hockey Clubs, or simply Three Stars.
In 1932, the Three Stars of each Maple Leafs home game were chosen by Charlie Querrie, a Toronto sportsman who had owned, managed and was the final coach of the Toronto St. Patricks before Conn Smythe and his consortium purchased the franchise in 1927. The selections were then printed in the Toronto Globe the next publishing day. Newspapers at that time didn’t print a Sunday edition, so Saturday’s Three Stars would appear in Monday’s edition.
When Imperial Oil joined Hockey Night in Canada as principal sponsor of its radio broadcasts beginning with the 1936-37 season, the sponsor promoted Three Star Gasoline by establishing the tradition of selecting the best three performers at the conclusion of each hockey game broadcast on the radio station. The stars would be announced via the public address system post-game, and the players would skate out separately to be recognized. Like the newspaper choices, they were also selected by Querrie. Three Star Gasoline was phased out in 1949, replaced by Esso Gasoline, but the Three Stars continued to be an extremely popular feature of Maple Leafs radio broadcasts.
Thanks to the generosity of Toronto’s Roden Brothers, a local silversmith, each Leaf player selected received a silver spoon. Alf Roden, the company president and former commodore of the Parkdale Canoe Club (now the Boulevard Club), a sporting powerhouse in Toronto during the early part of the last century, would personally deliver the spoons to the dressing room. He added, “I have told the boys that if they have too many spoons, all they have to do is to come and see me and I’ll make an exchange on anything they want.” Roden Brothers was sold to Birks Jewellers in the 1950s.
Article Continued Below
When Hockey Night in Canada and La Soiree du Hockey television broadcasts debuted in 1952, the Three Star selections continued on both radio and TV. Foster Hewitt, who did the radio play-by-play, selected the stars on English broadcasts, and then joined his son Bill, who did the television play-by-play, to announce the names.
Imperial Oil/Esso ended its sponsorship of Hockey Night in Canada following the 1975-76 season, but the Three Stars continue to this day. Virtually every level of hockey has embraced the tradition of recognizing the best players in games.
Beginning with the 1973-74 season, Molson Brewery began awarding the Molson Cup to the Leaf who collected the most Three Star selections through the course of the season, a practice later expanded to include all Canadian NHL teams. Borje Salming was the first Leaf recipient, and went on to win four Molson Cups. Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin are the only other Leafs to win the Molson Cup on four occasions.
“It’s part of the tradition of the game,” said Frank Selke Jr., a former broadcaster, NHL executive and son of a former assistant general manager with the Leafs. “It’s a little bit of show business.”
Kevin Shea is a hockey historian and author of The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication, 1917-2017. His column will appear every other week throughout the Leafs’ centennial season. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinsheahockey.