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Been quite a year of Leaf hero Darryl Sittler

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Dave Paul

Darryl Sittler picked the right time to release a book.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of his most noteworthy accomplishments as a player – his NHL-record 10-point game and an overtime goal vs. Czechoslovakia that clinched the inaugural Canada Cup title for Canada.

But so many other things have also happened for Sittler this year.

The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain – the face of the franchise during the turbulent 1970s and, for a now-aging group of Leafs fans, an enduring hockey hero – has been in the spotlight more in 2016 than perhaps any time since his playing days.

This summer Sittler was honoured with a sidewalk star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

In September, Canada Post released a series of six stamps commemorating some of hockey’s legendary forwards, including Sittler.

As a part of their 100th anniversary celebrations the Leafs unveiled a list of the top 100 players in franchise history, with Sittler occupying No. 4.

Then, on opening night, the team officially retired all of the jersey numbers that had previously been “honoured” (but which were still worn by Leafs players, occasionally), including Sittler’s No. 27.

“It’s been an incredible couple of months,” Sittler said in a phone interview. “I feel deeply honoured by everything that has happened.”

Now comes the release of Sittler’s book, Captain: My Life and Career. It was co-authored by Mike Leonetti, who wrote the children’s book My Leafs Sweater a few years ago, a book in which Sittler is prominently featured.

Sittler said Leonetti approached him a while back and suggested the book idea.

“I had a biography that was released in the early 1990s. It came out just after the Harold Ballard era had ended in Toronto. There was a lot in it about my NHL career … behind-the-scenes stuff, about playing for the Leafs, under Ballard and (former general manager) Punch Imlach, that sort of thing.”

Now, 25 years later, Sittler said his newest memoir is more of a life story. And, he hopes, more uplifting.

“This is a totally different concept,” said Sittler. “There are a lot of photos. A lot of stories about my life away from the game … and there are also some reflections about players I played with, and against.”

For Leafs fans of a certain age, the 1970s evoke bittersweet memories. The team had talent but not a lot of success, and seemed to constantly be steeped in controversy under Ballard’s tumultuous ownership.

Sittler said it was difficult on the players, but added his memories of that era are “more sweet, than bitter.”

“Those teams had a lot of character guys, and a lot of chemistry,” said Sittler. “There were a lot of deeply-rooted friendships. I’m still close friends with a lot of my ex-teammates from those years.”

Sittler said the team was “dismantled” by Imlach and it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Leafs, under GM Cliff Fletcher, began to celebrate their history and welcome alumni back to the fold.

One of the players Fletcher brought back was Sittler, who is still employed by the team’s public relations department, along with another ex-captain, Wendel Clark, as community ambassadors.

Sittler said he is encouraged with the direction the Leafs are headed, on and off the ice. And like everyone else he’s impressed by phenom Auston Matthews.

“Players like him only come around once every few years,” said Sittler, adding, “He will face more scrutiny in Toronto than he might elsewhere. There will be challenges. But what I like about him is, he’s humble, he’s respectful of the game and the team and he works hard.”

Darryl Sittler will be signing copies of his book at The Book Keeper in Sarnia’s Northgate Plaza on Wednesday, Nov. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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