maple leaf gardens, 1999: the last waltz

They played in the first NHL game at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Gardens in 1931, and they were there at the last, 68 years later. Red Horner had worked the blueline that opening night for the Leafs, while Mush March was a member of the visiting Chicago Black Hawks, scoring on their behalf the first goal in the history of the rink that Conn Smythe built. On Saturday, February 13, 1999, when the same two teams met for the final game at the Gardens, March and Horner, both 90, were on hand to drop a ceremonial puck. Like them, that was an original, too: March had kept the one he’d scored with in ’31, carrying it with him, back to Toronto, from his home in Illinois.

Also on hand for that final Gardens night were a further hundred or so former Maple Leafs, Gaye Stewart and Fleming Mackell, Ed Litzenberger, Frank Mahovlich, Ron Ellis, Red Kelly among them. (Pointed in their staying away: Dave Keon, still vowing then that he’d never have anything more to do with the team, ever, and Bert Olmstead, miffed that his invitation hadn’t been personalized.)

What else? The 48th Highlanders piped their pipes and drummed their drums. Anne Murray sang “The Maple Leaf(s) Forever,” and Stompin’ Tom Connors struck up with “The Hockey Song.” Michael Burgess took care of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “O Canada.”

Then, hockey. In 1931, Chicago beat the Leafs 2-1. They did it again in ’99, this time by a score of 6-2.

Toronto artist James Paterson later rendered his vision of the evening’s events, with some added Lordly commentaries. In the fall of 1999, the painting was on display at Toronto’s Wagner Rosenbaum Gallery as part of a Paterson show also called “Hockey All The Time.”

where players dash with skates aflash

On this night in 1973, the Toronto iced a line-up featuring Dave Keon and Ron Ellis, players who’d actually won a Stanley Cup as Maple Leafs, and they also had a talented rookie Swedish rookie on the defence, Borje Salming. Things didn’t work on the night, I’m afraid to report: the Leafs lost to Boston by a score of 3-2.

Also in the air, all those 45 years ago? A little ditty by Stompin’ Tom Connors that Canadians, like it or not, have hardwired in their heads: 1973 was the year “The Hockey Song” made its debut. Seems like reason enough celebrate it ahead of tonight’s game between the Leafs and Winnipeg’s Jets at the Scotiabank Arena, which they’ll do during a pre-game ceremony inducting the song into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The late singer’s son, Tom Connors Jr., will be on hand to receive a plaque on his father’s behalf; country singer Tim Hicks will sing the song, along with everybody else in the house.

(Image: Gary Clement, from Greystone Books’ The Hockey Song, 2016)

this week: we are talking about my brain

habs

Of referees, Alex Ovechkin said, “Right now you can’t say nothing to them. Even if you’re captain, even if you’re not a captain, even if you’re the fan, you’re still gonna get two minutes.”

Chicago played 24 games, soaring up to the top of the Western Conference standings and onto the cover of Sports Illustrated, who said they’d saved hockey. Then they lost this week to Colorado. “I’ll join the chorus,” wrote Gare Joyce. “What the hell is wrong with the Blackhawks?”

Regarding Sports Illustrated and that cover, lots of people (or at least Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports), said: puh-leeze and (more or less) Are you kidding me? and Thanks a lot but just because Americans non-fans weren’t paying attention to hockey doesn’t that it needed saving when they finally noticed what Chicago was doing.

Told that Toronto’s population had surpassed Chicago’s to take fourth place on the list of largest North American cities, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “Go Blackhawks.” Well, his office did, anyway.

Kevin Bieksa told The Vancouver Sun that his groin felt fine.

“I love The Hockey Song,” said Ken Dryden. On the day of a memorial service for Stompin’ Tom Connors held at Peterborough’s Memorial Centre, Dryden recalled meeting the singer for the first time at rink in Huntsville, Ontario, in a room “that months after the season had ended still smelled like a hockey bag — like 20 hockey bags.”

Ovechkin: “Of course some refs don’t like some personalities on our team, but anyway, you have to respect us. We’re emotional, we’re in the game. When we say something bad to linesmen or bad to referees, we can’t give them two minutes when they yell at me or they yell at coaches or yell somebody. It’s kind of position when they have to give us a break.”

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma talked about the concussion Evgeni Malkin doesn’t have. “There is not a concern,” he said. “Just an upper-body injury.”

For his part, Sidney Crosby said he didn’t mind if Malkin ends up making more money than him, Crosby, when he, Malkin, signs his new contract. Malkin’s. Continue reading

this week: the good old hockey game

Credit: Brenda Jones and Nimbus Publishing

“We never go away, we never give up, we keep coming at them,” said Chicago’s captain, Jonathan Toews, of his team’s phenomenal start to the season.

From Boston, defenceman Andrew Ference twiddled about a post-prandial affogato, explaining what exactly that might be: gelato with two shots espresso. “Life is good!”

PETA wrote a letter to the Buffalo Sabres to say please would you do away with the fur coat that you guys award in the dressing room after a game to the player who played the best. Because? “People who care about animals don’t want to see their favorite players wearing the pelts of animals who were likely bludgeoned, strangled, electrocuted, and even skinned alive.” Said a PETA vice-president: “There’s nothing less sporting and more grotesque than wearing someone else’s skin. PETA is telling the Sabres that if they want to move forward and leave the past behind, they need to stop draping their top-scoring players in cruel caveman couture.”

The coat, said the Sabres’ Steve Ott, is fake fur.

“We’re going to Florida to win all the games and score 45,000 powerplay goals,” Claude Noel said, the Winnipeg coach with what might have been a smile. Continue reading