Since 1965, the National Hockey League has presented the Conn Smythe Award to the Most Valuable Player in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It usually goes to the top scorer, outstanding goaltender, or inspirational leader on the winning team. To date, few players from a losing team have ever skated off with the top prize.
Such was the case with Reggie Leach in the 1976 Stanley Cup playoffs, a season in which Leach, playing for Philadelphia, lived up to his reputation as the “Riverton Rifle.” He scored a league-high 61 goals in the regular season and led the scoring parade in the playoffs with 19 goals and 24 points (setting an NHL record with goals in nine games in a row). Though Montreal won its first of four straight Stanley Cups in four straight games, Leach became the first and only skater (non-goalie) from a losing team to carry off the coveted prize. It was the highlight of an NHL career filled with highlights. He added another 50-goal season in 1980 and when he wrapped up his 13-year career in 1983, he had notched 381 goals.
After dominating the minor hockey circuit in Riverton, Leach headed to Flin Flon as a 16-year-old to play for the Bombers in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1966. When the Bombers joined the Western Hockey League the following year, Leach teamed up with Bobby Clarke to form one of the most feared goal-scoring duos the WHL has ever seen. In 1967-68 he finished second to Clarke in league scoring and first in goals. Two seasons later, he was the league’s top scorer and led the Bombers to their second consecutive WHL championship. Drafted third overall by Boston in 1970, Leach made his NHL debut with the Bruins that season. The following year, he was traded to the California Golden Seals. It was not until his trade to the Flyers in 1974 (on the recommendation of his old teammate Clarke, the Flyers captain) that Leach’s career really took off with 46 goals in his first season in Philadelphia.
b. April 23, 1950