It is easy to get lost in the statistical and analytical world of hockey (and FanPosts). Sometimes you need to take a step back to remember why you love the game, and more importantly, the Leafs. This is an account of my first Leafs game as I remember it today.
It was barely 1994, January 6th to be exact, and i was 5 years and 11 months old.
I don't remember how my dad broke me the news about going to see my home-team play for the first time ever. In fact, I don't think I really would have cared, as the excitement about seeing the leafs in person would have masked anything related to the surprise itself. Maybe my dad wanted to give me a place to wear my newly acquired home-white Felix Potvin jersey; a gift Mr. Clause had draped in front of the christmas tree days earlier.
We hopped on the subway at St Clair west and headed down to College. The plan was to grab a burger at Fran's and then go early to see the warm-up. This, like it is for so many other leafs fans, became somewhat of a tradition for games we saw at the Garden's. I remember thinking at the time how cool it was that an entire restaurant could be filled with people all going to the same place. How naive a five year old mind can be.
The dinner could not be over soon enough, as my anticipation was building to monumental levels. We made the short, cold walk from Fran's over to Maple Leaf Gardens and I remember not realizing that the building I saw as we rounded the slight bend on Carleton was the Maple Leaf Garden's. I can't quite remember what 5 year old me expected the place to look like, but what I saw was a building that fit into its surroundings almost too nicely. The only thing that gave it away was the giant electric sign (the kind with only orange lights) that was advertising something for the game. I was absolutely fascinated by how statuesque the yellow brick building looked, as if its history was somehow creating an energy on the streets.
Inside the building provided much of the same amazement. Black and white pictures of hockey players i had never heard of; pictures of fans from years past, some of whom were probably at their first game as well. There were massive pictures (of which i equated to be giant hockey cards) of current leafs: Gilmour, Andreychuk, Clark, and my favorite, Potvin.
This was my first time in any major sports stadium (save for the times my family drove down to Cleveland to see the Jays play, but I was much too young to remember anything about that). I didn't know how any of it worked, and my mind was filled with questions. Why were we going upstairs? Where was the ice? Why are there so many places to buy food?Why do the pretzels smell so good?
We made our way towards the tunnel for section 301 (possibly 314). As we entered through the curtains, there was a noticeable change in atmosphere. The light was brighter and the sound was deeper. Every step opened up a new view of the glorious building. At first, all I could see were people sitting in their seats far away. And then the jumbo-tron. And then the bright white ice. Every step made my eyes open wider. The old man in a suit with a leafs pin on his lapel at the end of the tunnel looked at our tickets and pointed us to the seats. He had a huge smile on his face and said to my dad, "this is his first game, isn't it?"
My dad replied with something like, "why yes, how do you know?"
to which 'old suit man' said "his eyes are about to pop out of his head"
Throughout the game, he kept looking up at us and smiling, knowing what was going through my mind on one of the greatest days my 5 year old self had lived. In fact, I still get that feeling today as I walk down the tunnels of the ACC or the Skydome, that grandiose feeling of something big about to go on. The anticipation, the change in sound, and the opening up of the view still takes me back to the first time i walked down the tunnel at The Maple Leaf Gardens.
Our seats were incredible, and would be our home for many future leafs games, as they were season tickets for a business associate of my dad. They were diagonally opposite of the "Molson Best Seats in the house" (something i would brag about to my friends) and right up against a massive concrete wall. We had a perfect view of the ice, with no one to our right to cramp our space. We watched the warm up, and I remember being amazed at how many pucks they used, and how loudly the sound echoed when Dave Ellett or Jamie Macoun would miss the net with a slapper and hit the glass, and how fast the referees skated, and how big the jumbo-tron was in person, and how the press box looked like it was hanging from the ceiling, and how cool it would be to be in a box seat, and how many people in the crowd had similar jerseys on, and how dare anybody wear a senators jersey to a leafs game. My how things change.
I wish i could say I remembered any of the gameplay, but the specifics have gone the way of high-school math, or most of grade 9 and 10 for that matter. Besides, it wasn't the game that mattered; It was experience. I do remember being completely overwhelmed when the leafs scored their first goal. The goal horn may as well of been right behind my head, and the people jumping up all around us startled me, if only for a second, as I joined them very quickly. I got used to it though since the leafs potted 5 more goals to win the game 6-3. Unfortunately I didn't get to see Potvin play, as he had the night off against the 8-32-3 Senators. In his place, Damien "Dusty" Rhodes put up Toskala like numbers on an .863 night. I was honestly sad I didn't get to see Potvin's awesome pads and helmet in person. Dougie had three points that night, instantly making him my favorite forward, and Wendel grabbed the second spot with a massive open ice hit that everyone in the crowd saw coming. Andreychuk took third because his name fascinated me. They remain, in that order, my three favorite leafs (not named Felix Potvin) from the early 90s.
The game ended and we piled out of the arena. This time, the atmosphere outside of the building captivated me. Everyone was a buzz and cheering while they walked quickly towards their destinations. There was a frantic energy, as people were basking in the win, but trying to beat each other to their cars or the subway. My ears were ringing, and my adrenaline was still pumping. It was an incredible blur and an assault on my senses. Everything I had experienced from that night, as my dad and I walked through the January cold, was running through my head. At 5 years and 11 months old, I knew I would forever be a Leafs fan.
The next day, I wrote the final score on the ticket that I kept, and put it away in a safe place. This was a tradition i was planning on doing for every game, until the second game I saw was a 5-2 loss against Gretzky and the Kings the next year. On my birthday. I couldn't bear to write down a losing score on the ticket (undoubtedly the start of my "bitter leafs fan" side)
According to WIkipedia, hockey-reference.com, and hockeyfights.com:
- That night, Bob Rouse fought Herb Raglan, prompting me to ask the question now "who the hell is Herb Raglan?"
- Ottawa finished the season 14-61-9 (Maybe my dad got these tickets to ensure i saw a Leafs win)
- The game was about 2 months after Mike Foligno was traded to Florida for some guy named "Cash", so i was never able to see El Jumpe in all of his glory
- Nikolai Borschevsky, who 5 year old me always got confused with Drake Berehowsky, had a goal and assist
- This was the only game i saw with the quintessential early 90s leaf lineup, as the infamous 'Landon Wilson to Quebec for Mats Sundin, Todd Warriner , Garth Butcher and a first' trade would happen months later...