Perhaps one of the kindest and humblest stars to ever play in the NHL, Syl Apps was born in January of 1915 in Ontario. Conn Smythe first saw Apps when he was playing football while studying economics at McMaster University. He offered Apps a contract, but Apps said he needed to participate in pole vaulting at the 1936 Olympics first. Apps joined the Leafs the year after that and did not disappoint. Bursting out of the gate as a 22-year old with a 16 goals and a league-leading 29 assists, Apps was the first ever Calder Trophy winner for the Maple Leafs.
Apps stepped it up a notch in his second season, the 1937-38 season, managing another league-leading 29 assists, but this time adding 21 goals, for a 50-point season, finishing second in the point race to linemate Gordie Drillon. The next year, his point production fell to 40 points in 44 games, but he turning heads, finishing 2nd in Hart voting. Apps also only had 4 PIM, helping him finish 3rd in Lady Byng voting. Even in the 1939-40 season, Apps was clearly the best player on the Leafs, again finishing 2nd in Hart voting as well as 3rd in Byng voting, despite only playing in 27 games and managing 30 points.
After a bit of a resurgent season in 1940-41 in which Apps scored 20 goals and totaled 44 points, he stayed in the Hart conversation, this time finishing third. Apps amazed fans and players alike in the 1941-42 season by playing the whole season (for him, only 38 games due to injury) and not taking a single penalty. Apps finally won the Lady Byng and finished 2nd in Hart Voting will being named to the First All-Star team for the second time in his career. The 1942 playoffs were incredible for the Maple Leafs. Apps, the team captain helped not only lead the team to the Stanley Cup finals, but also to complete the first reverse sweep in a seven-game series Stanley Cup Final in NHL history. Down 3-0 in the series to the Red Wings, the Leafs stormed back to win four straight and win the Cup, their 4th in franchise history.
Apps had a shortened season in the 1942-43 season after breaking a leg. In a story that epitomizes Apps’ character, he went up to Smythe with a $1000 cheque, saying “Conn, I’m making more than I deserve. I want to give you this check.” Smythe was stunned and didn’t accept the cheque, but Apps’ character was clear for all to see. After again finishing third in Hart voting for that season, Apps left to serve the Canadian Army in World War II. When Apps rejoined the Leafs in 1945, he was instantly re-named the Captain.
Apps returned to a more offensive league than the one he had left and broke his personal goal record, scoring 24 goals in 40 games, while managing to take only one minor penalty. In the 1946-47 season, as the league expanded to a 60-game season, Apps scored 25 goals and added 24 assists for 49 points in 54 games. He was 2nd in Byng voting. At the end of the season, Apps again captained his team to a Stanley Cup victory. Thanks to the extended schedule, Apps set career highs in goals and points in the 1947-48 season, scoring 26 goals and adding 27 assists for 53 points in 55 games. Once again, Apps helped lead his dominant Leafs team to a second consecutive Cup win. To the surprise of some, Apps then retired at the age of 33 and would eventually dabble in politics, representing Kingston.
Apps retired as Toronto’s all-time leader in goals (201), assists (231), and points (432). Ted Kennedy passed him in assists and points five years later and in goals six years later. Apps’ No. 10 is retired today by the Toronto Maple Leafs and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.