If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the legendary Foster Hewitt’s call now. The Maple Leafs trail the Detroit Redwings, 3 games to none in the 1942 Stanley Cup finals. Coach Hap Day has juggled the lineup to give the team a spark. With the Leafs down in game 4, Charles Joseph Sylvanus (Syl) Apps scores the game-tying goal, then sets up the game-winner as the Toronto team takes game 4. This “spark” leads his squad down the comeback path. Apps scores 3 goals in the last 4 games of that series making Toronto the only team to erase a 3 games to none deficit and win the Stanley Cup. In Michael Ulmer’s book, Captains, Apps states that the comeback victory to win the Cup that year was his most satisfying moment in hockey.
Wisk your way back to the future to March, 1998. It is the ECAC tournament finals pitting Princeton University against Clarkson College. This hockey match goes into double-overtime. Nerves are on edge. Sylvanus (Syl) Cameron Apps, Princeton’s co-captain, goes in alone on a breakaway against Clarkson’ goaltender, Dan Murphy. Apps puts the puck past Murphy for arguably, the biggest goal in Princeton hockey history. The game-winner gives Princeton its first-ever ECAC title and its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
Ahead a little further to December, 1998. On the 23rd of that month, Charles Joseph Sylvanus Apps, the grandfather of the Princeton co-captain, the NHL Hall-of-Famer and former Leafs captain, the great man that he was, dies after battling a long-war to a devastating neurological illness. The grandson had gotten to spend some final time with him the night before he died.
On the 28th of December, 1998, Syl Apps, the grandson of that great man, scores the game-winning goal in the Mariucci Classic, hosted by The University of Minnesota, to send his team to the championship game against Boston University. He scores the game-winning goal in that championship game and garners MVP honors for the tourney. Syl Apps Sr., wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Take that ride just a bit further ahead in time to July, 1999, to the day when the Leafs sign Syl Apps, the grandson, to a contract. Is this just a publicity stunt to somehow bridge the gap between the Leafs past and present? Hardly, as this Syl Apps, like his father before him and his father before him, can play this game as well.
“Syl will not get you 30-40 goals. He is an excellent defensive centerman, superb on winning faceoffs and will get the big goals when you need them the most”, states Princeton hockey media director, Craig Sachson. “You will not find a more competitive player and one who is always thinking ahead of the play”, he adds.
Apps was named the 1998-99 ECAC defensive forward of the year after finishing second each of the two previous seasons. He increased his scoring production from 10 goals, 8 assists for 18 pts. in 97-98 to 13 goals, 21 assists for 34 pts. in 34 games in 98-99. While these are not eye-popping numbers, the things which Apps brings to the ice are immeasurable.
“Syl is one of the best kids you would ever want to meet. He handles himself on and off the ice in such a great manner. He is very modest, even when you heap the praise on him, but he will be the first to stand up and take responsibility when the team has not played well. He is the epitomy of a captain and a leader,” states Sachson.
“Never in my 28 years in coaching have I met a player who has so much of life in balance, is so focused and so intelligent. He is a great student, both on and off the ice. His integrity is unmatched”, says Don Cahoon, Princeton’s hockey coach. “He raises everyone else around him, even us as coaches”, he adds. High praise for a young man in today’s world, but well-deserved as his high level of character almost seems to come right down the pipeline, from grandfather to father to grandson.
In the 1940’s,. Syl Apps was one of the best captains the Leafs ever had and he also lived his life on and off the ice with the highest integrity. He once tried to return $1,000 of his $6,000 salary in 1943 to Conn Smythe because he missed half the season with a broken leg. “He was as fine a man as has ever lived. There wasn’t anybody cut from the same cloth as Syl Apps”, said another former Leafs’ captain, Ted Kennedy in Ulmer’s book. Accept maybe his son, Sylvanus Marshall Apps, who played quite productively for 10 years in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings in the 1970’s or maybe HIS son, now a prospect in the Leafs’ organization. “You can certainly see that young Syl gets a lot of his qualities from his dad”, says Cahoon. “He is a fine man with great character himself,” he adds about the second generation Apps.
“Syl has the potential to be a good, checking-line forward in the NHL. He is very adept at killing penalties. He will battle along the boards with the best of them. He drives hard to the net, willing to pay the price for those chances in close”, says Sachson. “He has a nice release on his wrist-shot, but he will score the majority of his goals in traffic in front of the net. He is fearless there”, he adds.
“What Syl brings to the ice is not always measured on the stats sheets,” says Cahoon. “He took just about every important faceoff for us the last few years. He blocks shots, kills penalties and does all the little things which add up to big help to make a team a winning one. He is the best ‘team player’ I have ever coached”, he adds.
“Syl has worked extremely hard the last few seasons to improve his game. He has added 25 pounds of muscle the last four years and at times he has looked like a man amongst boys at the college level”, states Cahoon. “He has also worked hard on his puck skills and his skating. He knows how to protect the puck, which has allowed him to hold onto it for that extra second to create some space for a scoring chance, usually for a teammate. His skating speed and balance have improved as well, and is at least at an average level compared to players in the NHL”, Cahoon adds.
“He reminds me of the former NHL winger, Eddie Westfall, who was an excellent checker for the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders in the 70’s and 80’s”, states Cahoon. “Syl is the classic overachiever. He won’t get you a lot of goals. He won’t be a player who will dazzle you with his one-one-one moves. He will give you everything he’s got, every shift and he will be a great person in the room”, he adds.
“The Maple Leafs have taken a very good risk in giving him a chance, as he is the type of role-player who just might have a great impact on the team. He probably needs a year or two of seasoning at the minor-league level, but he has the capabilities to be an NHL player, someday”, adds Cahoon. “He will probably make his mark as a checking-line forward, who is great on the face-off and killing penalties”, he states.
Chris MacDonald, former Leafs’ prospects coordinator and current hockey coach at Queens University has come away impressed as well. “He has worked hard all summer long here in Kingston, holding his own with the NHL players who have been around as well”, he says.
Character, integrity, leadership. These are words that describe three generations of Apps men, from Charles, to Sylvanus Marshall to Sylvanus Cameron Apps. The fact that they all are excellent athletes and hockey players is a bonus to us all. Hard work, clutch-play, teamwork. Those are words which describe all three men as well.
Yes, Sylvanus Cameron Apps, current Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, faces a long-shot effort to make the NHL. If he does, according to Total Hockey, he will help to accomplish an NHL first. He will be the first, 3rd generation NHL player ever, in the history of the league.
There are three generations of hockey fans who will be rooting for him every step of the way. The best thing of all is that if Syl Apps does not make the grade at the NHL level, people whose lives he has touched along the way, will be much better off for that. That fact probably makes Charles Joseph Sylvanus Apps smile down from above the most of all.
Sources: Craig Sachson’s profile article on Syl Apps on the Princeton Hockey website. Captains, by Michael Ulmer, Macmillan Canada, 1995. Total Hockey, 1998 edition. Special thanks to Princeton University head hockey coach, Don Cahoon for his time conducting this interview. Special thanks to Princeton University media director, Craig Sachson for his time conducting this interview. Special thanks to Queens University head hockey coach, Chris MacDonald for his time in conducting this interview.