Wednesday

Ian Turnbull

Ian Turnbull was a talented NHL defenseman. He had a flare for offense though at times was an adventure in his own zone. Despite some impressive numbers, he was labeled as soft early on in his career, a label which he never quite shook off. He seemed to frustrate fans and coaches because of his carefree attitude which many said prevented him from reaching the full potential that his undeniable talent teased of.

Ian is best known as a Toronto Maple Leaf, where he played in all but 48 of his 628 regular season games. Also having had cup of teas with Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, Turnbull is best remembered for scoring goals, often in spectacular bunches.

Bobby Orr he certainly was not, even though there were some unreasonable expectations of such placed upon him by some when he first broke into the league. After two years of learning the ropes Ian found his niche in his 3rd NHL season, 1975-76. Ian exploded for 20 goals and 56 points. Turnbull, the 15th overall draft choice in 1973, was finally putting up good numbers. His production was a tremendous help for Borje Salming, the Leafs undisputed number one defenseman. Now the opposition teams had another pointman to worry about.

The following season Turnbull stepped it up another notch, scoring a career high 22 goals, 57 points and 79 points, as well as recording a fine +47 defensive rating. Five of Turnbull's 22 goals came on the memorable night of February 2, 1977. Turnbull became the first and so far only defenseman to score 5 goals in a game, as the Leafs beat Detroit 9-1.

Turnbull of course has great memories of that night.

"It was very memorable. It’s a double-edged sword when you set records. Obviously you’re elated and excited about setting a record but at the same time it’s difficult once you’ve achieved a certain level, you’re expected to do it every night. And that type of performance, you can’t expect it to happen every night. I did score four in Los Angeles when I got traded out here with the Kings. And one of the interesting anecdotes was I was playing with a younger player at the time, Mark Hardy, and I had just come off from scoring the fourth goal and he wanted to know if that was a record. And I said, ‘No, that’s not a record.’ He said, ‘It isn’t? What’s the record?’ And I said, ‘Five.’ And he said, ‘Well who got that?’ And I said, ‘I did.’ Of course he was a younger player. So it was fairly typical that the younger players didn’t really know what the older players did or whatever. It was kind of a funny story."

Turnbull slipped a bit the following season, scoring 14 goals and 61 points. However "Bull" was a big part of the Maple Leafs playoff success in 1978 as the Leafs upset the heavily favored New York Islanders. In 13 post season games Turnbull scored 6 times and added 10 assists! To make his post season even more impressive was the fact that Salming, the Leafs blueline stud, missed most of the playoff run with an injury. Turnbull really upped his game that spring.

"It was the culmination of a lot of hard work on all fronts by not just a few guys but I’d say all 25 guys that were on the roster at that time. We just refused to lose and that’s how we got through that series. Unfortunately we were bumped and bruised and we were the walking wounded when we got out of there. We went on to play the Canadiens, if I recall, and of course they had been laying in wait for about two weeks, fresh as a daisy, and here we were coming out of a battle with the Islanders. And of course I think they hammered us pretty good, probably beat us in four straight if I remember right. It was definitely a highlight but that was the point where I felt we were only a couple players away from really making a serious run at the Cup. But in that Islanders series, if I recall, just about everybody was playing with some kind of an injury. A lot of them were serious. I think I had a broken hand or something. I remember getting shot up so I could play. I remember Lanny (McDonald) was hurt. I mean just everybody across the board. Nobody was running on all cylinders. But there was a lot of heart there and that can get you a certain distance of course."

The Leafs' fortunes started going downhill shortly after that playoff though. Soon eccentric owner Harold Ballard and cranky GM Punch Imlach disintegrated what was a promising young lineup. Tiger Williams, Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler were all on their way out of town. That list included Turnbull who was traded late in 1981 to Los Angeles.

Turnbull finished the year in LA but signed with Pittsburgh for the 1982-83 season. An injury plagued year saw Ian play in only 6 games. After such a disappointing season, Turnbull hung up the skates for good. His career totals: 123 goals and 317 assists for 440 points in 628 games. In 55 playoff contests, he had 13 goals and 45 points.

Turnbull is very appreciative of his days in the NHL

"I grew up in Montreal and followed the Canadiens for years and learned to sort of hate them (laughing) because they would always be the favorite and they would be on a pretty good run there. They would always win it and I always liked the Leafs and actually I liked the Detroit Red Wings in those days. But the highlight was turning pro. I got drafted when I was 18 years old and I made the team the first year and had the chance to play with a lot of my favourites. The Gordie Howes and Bobby Hulls and Stan Mikita and all these characters. They were still around then."

Despite playing just 42 games in Los Angeles, California is where Turnbull calls home since retiring. A guitar player and wine expert, Turnbull at one point owned a wine bar near Maple Leaf Gardens. He has now gotten into the financing end of the real estate business.

- Special thanks to Pat Houda.

2 comments:

kit 8:33 AM  

Yeah. I had a great time watching the Salming- Turnbull combo. They were both great defenseman.

Mike the Keno Man 6:29 PM  

Being from Detroit the Wings were my favorite but....I always loved the Leafs. Sittler, McDonald and my favorite, Ian Turnbull. I seen the game he scored 5 goals in and was almost slapped by my Wings buddies as I cheered.
Good tidings to you Ian, as I have fond memories of the Leafs and Ian.
Mike, now retired in Florida

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