Stewart won Cups & Calder as NHL’s top rookie

Lakehead hockey legend Gaye Stewart won two Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also was the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 1943-43 and was a 1st Team NHL All-Star in 1945-46. Image courtesy NHL.com

RIFE with talent, Gaye Stewart rightfully etched his name on the extensive list of exceptional hocky talent that the Lakehead has ever produced.

As a spry 16-year-old, Stewart joined the Port Arthur Juniors for the 1939-40 campaign, but despite his efforts averaging over two points-per-game, saw his side edged out, two contests to one by the upstart Kenora Thistles in the regional playdowns.

Kenora went to advance all the way to the Memorial Cup final that year before falling to the eventual champion Oshawa Generals (3-1) in four tightly contested match-ups.

As for Stewart, he went on to dress for the senior Port Arthur Bearcats in an exhibition series against the Montreal Royals in April of 1940 where he tallied three times in a pair of outings at the Forum, that featured a rematch of 1939 Allan Cup final that the Bearcats won.

Joining the highly-touted Toronto Marlboros in the fall, Stewart was exceptional again as he paced all Ontario Hockey Association players in offensive production with a 44-point run in 16 games.

He went on to tack on 20 more in 12 playoff match-ups, but the Marlboros were edged in a seventh and deciding game of the OHA final, by the reigning national champs from Oshawa.

Stewart played both junior and senior with Toronto the following year, prior to turning pro with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in the fall of 1941.

Too good to remain there, the crafty left winger joined the Toronto Maple Leafs and dressed for one playoff game as the Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1942, rallying from a three-games-to-none deficit to surprise the Detroit Red Wings.

Making his regular season debut on October 31 of that year, Stewart made an immediate statement by tallying twice, including notching the game-winner, and adding an assist as Toronto trumped the New York Rangers 7-2 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Starting off his career with eight markers in his opening seven affairs, he went on to notch 24 markers, while setting up 23 others, and was named the league’s recipient of the Calder Trophy, in recognition of NHL Rookie of the Year.

That went on to begin a run where four players with ties to the Lakhead won this award in just seven years, joining Gus Bodnar (1944); Edgar Laprade (1946) and Pentti Lund (1949).

Spending the next two years, serving his country, in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, Stewart returned to the Maple Leafs for the 1945-46 campaign.

There he topped Toronto in both goals (37) and points (52) and was named a first team NHL All-Star, marking the first time a local player had earned that distinction.

Moving ahead, a seven-player blockbuster deal in November of 1947, saw the ‘Flying Forts’ trio of Stewart, Bodnar and Bud Poile shipped from Toronto to the Chicago Blackhawks for standout centre Max Bentley, in what was arguably the biggest trade in the NHL history, at the time.

Stewart did his part for Chicago, getting 55 points in 54 contests and adding another 81 over the following two years.

Moving on to suit-up for the Red Wings, Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, his time in the NHL came to an end in 1952.

Stewart’s final year in the pro ranks was in 1953-54 with the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL.

Showing he still had it, he fired 42 goals and provided 53 assists to finish fourth in league numbers while garnering a first team AHL All-Star nod.

Playing over 500 games in the NHL, while winning a pair of Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs, to go with his league top rookie laurels and all-star selection, showed just how good a player he was.

Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, Gaye Stewart’s hockey legacy lives on today.