Fourteen-carat yellow gold, manufactured a few months ago by Tiffany & Co. in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the ring features a single diamond set on a maple leaf. It’s circled by the words “Stanley Cup Champions,” with a likeness of the trophy on the left shank and “Toronto” and “67” on the right, two maple leaves on each side.
It was in the summer of 1969 that teenager Jerry Sawchuk last saw the ring that the Maple Leafs had two years earlier presented to his father, the goaltending icon who would die of a pulmonary embolism less than a year later at age 40.
The younger Sawchuk long ago gave up hope of finding the original, which vanished from a friend’s home with a 1954 Detroit Red Wings championship ring. Their loss has gnawed at him for decades, enough that he finally reached out to NHL.com last September.
He was put in touch with Mike Ferriman of the Maple Leafs, who directed him to Tiffany & Co. in New York. Nine months after the wheels were first set in motion, Sawchuk now wears a ring that commemorates his father’s fourth and final Stanley Cup championship, having won previously with Detroit in 1952, 1954 and 1955.
“The loss of my dad’s rings had been bothering me for a long, long time, eating at me for years,” Sawchuk said during a recent talk from his home in White Lake, Michigan. “I’m about to turn 67, nearing retirement, so my wife, Laura, and I thought that maybe this was the time to do this.”
Terry Sawchuk is in every discussion involving the greatest goalies in NHL history. In addition to his four Stanley Cup titles, he won the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL in 1951-52, 1952-53 and 1954-55, then shared with Toronto’s Johnny Bower in 1964-65, and the 1950-51 Calder Trophy recipient voted as the NHL rookie of the year.
An 11-time all-star, Sawchuk led the NHL in victories five consecutive seasons (1950-55) and when he retired in 1970 after 21 seasons, having played for five teams, the Winnipeg native was the NHL all-time leader in wins (447), a record that stood for three decades, and shutouts (103), which survived 39 years until New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur earned his 104th on Dec. 22, 2009.
Three times a member of the Red Wings, he also played for the Boston Bruins, Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and finally the New York Rangers in a career that lasted from 1949-70. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame a year after his death on May 31, 1970.
Terry Sawchuk’s play in the 1967 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a huge part of the reason for his team’s stunning championship win. Here, Sawchuk makes a right pad save on Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks in the Semifinals.
Jerry Sawchuk had just turned 15, living in Union Lake, Michigan, when his parents were divorced in the summer of 1969.
“As my dad was leaving the house, he said, ‘Here, kid, take these,” and he gave me his Red Wings and Maple Leafs rings,” he recalled. “I was at a friend’s house that summer with a bunch of high-school buddies, water-skiing late at night. I put the rings in a beer stein on the kid’s mantel and when I went back the next morning, they were gone.”
Alerts were put out to Detroit pawn shops, without a trace. Sawchuk believes the rings were likely stripped of their stones, the rest possibly sold for their gold content.
“If they were intact, they probably would have shown up at some point over the years,” he said.
The 1954 Red Wings ring was made by a Detroit car dealership, at a time before Stanley Cup rings were given to players, so Sawchuk has never believed that one could be replaced. But he wasn’t so sure about the Maple Leafs ring, wondering whether plates or molds existed.
There was no such template, according to Ferriman, Director of Alumni Relations for the team. But for Sawchuk, the story took a fortuitous turn.
Toronto Maple Leafs legend Dave Keon, a member of his team’s Stanley Cup titles in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967, with his ring celebrating all four championships.
Toronto was an NHL powerhouse in the 1960s, winning consecutive championships in 1962, 1963 and 1964 before its most recent in 1967. Players were awarded Stanley Cup rings for each of the victories, in a bit of a peculiar way:
A 1962 Maple Leafs champion received a ring; if he then played on the 1963 winner, he returned the ring to have its inscription modified, adding a year, with its diamond enlarged. The same applied for those who won in 1964 and 1967, rings brought up to date with subsequent championship years added.
In 2014, continuing to grow the team’s relationship with its alumni, then-Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke decided Toronto champion players should have a ring for each Cup victory.
Ferriman reached out to Tiffany & Co., and 49 rings were produced for presentation by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan at Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) in September 2014 as part of the preseason Fan Fest.
The 1962 Toronto Maple Leafs celebration ring, produced in 2014 for presentation to alumni who were members of that championship team.
“We wanted Tiffany to reproduce rings in the spirit of the 1960s rings,” Ferriman said. “They’re a bit bigger than what they gave out in the ’60s, which were much smaller than the size of rings you see today.”
Ferriman brought a single consultant onboard for the project — legendary Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong, who had played on all four 1960s Cup-winning teams. His rings were photographed, Tiffany went to work and Armstrong reviewed their design, giving his approval for their production.
The Tiffany design would be the template for what would be created for Jerry Sawchuk, who picked up his ring on June 3 at the jeweler’s location in Troy, Michigan, having only seen photos of the company’s 2014 design.
“I was very excited going to get it,” Sawchuk said. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s the least we could do for Jerry, I’m glad he’s happy with it,” Ferriman said, Sawchuk’s father having formed a formidable goaltending tandem with Johnny Bower for Toronto’s 1967 championship, two years after they teamed up to win the Vezina Trophy.
Terry Sawchuk in his team’s Maple Leaf Gardens net on May 2, 1967, before decisive Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the heavily favored Montreal Canadiens. Fellow goalie Johnny Bower is skating behind the goal.
Terry Sawchuk’s brilliant play in 1967 remains vibrant in his son’s memory, especially Game 5 of the Semifinal at the Chicago Black Hawks. Sawchuk relieved Bower after the latter had surrendered two first-period goals, then stopped 15 second-period shots and 22 more in the third in a 4-2 Toronto victory.
Some news reports described it as the finest effort of the goalie’s career, highlighted by a left shoulder save on a Bobby Hull slap shot that laid him flat in the crease early in the second period and left him numb the rest of the game.
“Hull was about 30 feet out when he took that big swing,” Maple Leafs forward Red Kelly recalled in “The Last Hurrah,” Stephen Cole’s 1995 book. “That puck got off the ice so high, so fast, it was like a golfer using a sand wedge. [Sawchuk] just moved out. He probably never saw the puck, it was just a high rocket. It caught him high in the shoulder and he went down like someone shot him.”
The Chicago Stadium crowd was still optimistically singing, “Goodbye Terry, we hate to see you go …” when Sawchuk, on rubbery legs, shrugged off trainer Bob Haggart and skated back into the crease.
Terry Sawchuk with his wife, Pat, and son, Jerry, at Maple Leaf Gardens on May 5, 1967, three days after Toronto’s Stanley Cup victory. Mother and son raced from Detroit to this event, pulled over in London, Ontario for speeding. “The cop made the connection of my mom to my dad, but she didn’t get a break on the ticket,” Jerry says. “He told her he was a Canadiens fan.”
Jerry Sawchuk was at home watching the Saturday afternoon game on TV.
“I saw the black and blue welts during those playoffs all over my dad’s body, which was bruised from a shoulder right down to his stomach,” he said. “I thought there was no way my dad was getting back up after that Hull shot. He played fantastically. Honestly, he shouldn’t have even been in uniform that night. There was a lot of sacrifice in his winning that 1967 ring.”
That championship — a six-game Semifinal against Chicago and a six-game upset of the heavily favored Montreal Canadiens in the Final — is celebrated anew with a diamond set in gold. Jerry Sawchuk’s ring will one day find its way onto the finger of his son, Jon, who was born 18 years after the death of his grandfather.
Early in 2017, when Terry Sawchuk was named among the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players, Jerry and Jon began thinking about paying tribute to the legend’s iconic, even haunting fiberglass mask with matching likenesses of it tattooed on their upper backs. The 90-minute procedure was done in March 2018.
The backs of Jerry Sawchuk (right) and his son, Jon, were tattooed in March 2018 with matching likenesses of Terry Sawchuk’s iconic mask.
Receiving a new, cherished Stanley Cup ring this June surely was less painful than a tattoo artist’s needle.
“It wasn’t cheap, but it’s absolutely priceless,” Sawchuk said of the ring. “I wanted to have something to pass down to my son and grandkids. It’s too small for my ring finger, so I wear it on my pinky.
“But Jon’s hands are smaller than mine. When the time comes, it should fit him just fine.”
Photos: Laura and Jerry Sawchuk; Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame; Jane Bloomer; Tiffany & Co.; Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame