When Gordie Howe’s blast hit the leg of Toronto defenseman Bob Baun during Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, it really was a shot heard ’round the world. Today’s NHL players still talk about it.
His fibula was broken. But that wasn’t the story. The tale that has stood the test of time is that Baun came back to score a game-winning overtime goal to force Game 7. He then played an estimated 28 minutes on the leg in Game 7 to help the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup on a 4-0 decision.
“It was mostly mind over matter,” Baun told me years ago. “Doctors have told me I had a high pain tolerance.”
That story is being retold often today as friends and fans sum up the life of Baun who has died at age 86. The NHL Alumni Association announced his death, but didn’t provide a cause.
The rough and tumble Baun played 18 NHL seasons, including three with the Red Wings (1968-68 to 1970-71). He played 14 seasons with the Maple Leafs in two different stretches (1956-57 to 1966-67 and 1970-71 to 1972-73). He also played one season with the expansion Oakland Seals (1967-68).
Sleep well, Bobby Baun: almost indestructible Stanley Cup champ with @MapleLeafs 1962-63-64-67, legendary 1964 OT goal on a fractured ankle. Appreciation is coming shortly. I took this photo in October 2017 at @NHLAlumni gala: Ted Lindsay, Bobby, Eddie Johnston, Mario Lemieux pic.twitter.com/Iv9kuBOvBa
— Dave Stubbs 🇨🇦 (@Dave_Stubbs) August 15, 2023
He won four Stanley Cup championships with the Leafs in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.
Baun also is remembered as the man who informed Howe how underpaid he was. After being traded to Detroit, Baun and Howe discussed salaries and the tough defenseman informed Mr. Hockey he was underpaid. Baun was already earning $100,000 per season and Howe was at half that. The Red Wings doubled Howe’s salary the following season.
Baun had another Red Wings’ connection: he retired in 1972 because of a neck injury suffered on a hit by Mickey Redmond.
But Baun will be remembered most for being the Patron Saint of NHL players overcoming injuries to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In interviews through the years, Baun said he may have suspected his leg was broken, but didn’t know for sure. He didn’t agree to an x-ray until after Game 7.
Baun said he felt Howe’s shot when it occurred, but didn’t feel or hear the bone snap until the next faceoff. “It sounded like a cannon went off,” he said.
Later in Game 6, he froze the injury with Novocain to play in the overtime. Baun said he took a “home run swing” on his winning overtime goal. However, the puck was fluttering like a knuckleball when it left his stick. His shot struck Bill Gadsby’s stick and caromed past goalie Terry Sawchuk.
Baun was not a goal scorer by anyone’s definition. That goal was only his third playoff goal in 61 playoff games. He never scored another one. He finished his career with three playoff goals in 96 playoff games.
After Game 6, Baun refused to get an x-ray. He hid out so team officials couldn’t find him. During Game 7, he was in considerable pain . “The freezing wouldn’t stay,” he said. “They were freezing it every 10 minutes.”
The day after the game, Baun needed a wheelchair to enter the hospital where an x-ray confirmed the break. By then, he already boasted legendary status.