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Memories of Maple Leaf Gardens Ten Years Later

Today marks the ten year anniversary of the retirement of the Carlton St. Cashbox. Adam Proteau was one of the lucky ones that managed to get into the Gardens for the last Leafs game:

Friday wiil mark the 10-year anniversary of the last NHL game held at Maple Leaf Gardens – and 10 years since one of the most magical hockey-themed nights of my life.

Fate smiled on me right from the beginning of the end of the Carlton Street Cashbox: The Leafs held a lottery for the last block of unsold tickets for the game on closing night and one of the 10 postcards I mailed in got picked.

So on Feb. 13, 1999, my good friend Keith Hightower and I put on blazers and jeans and headed down to the rink to sit in the second- last row of the greys – completely appropriate, given that most of my previous visits were in the same vicinity – to watch the Buds take on the Chicago Blackhawks.

Seemingly everyone at that last game had a similar story whether it was the Newfies that drove all night and spent $2,000 a piece on tickets or the ones that got postcards pulled from a lottery people were killing themselves to get to that game.

Puck Passion looks at some of the great moments in Leafs history to which the Gardens played host. From Barilko's final goal to Darryl Sittler's ten point night to the great playoff runs of the springs of 1993 and 1994 when the old ghosts almost propelled the team back to the summit from which they've been absent so long.


The Gardens was also host to The Beatles at the height of their popularity as well as Muhammad Ali just after he proclaimed that he was not going to Vietnam because he had no problem with the Vietcong. It got built in the middle of the great depression in a staggering six months as Conn Smythe believed that if he built it they would come. He paid his worked in shares and filled the building for the Leafs for every game from 1931 to 1999. It's still a huge tourist attraction in the city:

"This building is world-famous, all around the world as an ice hockey rink," John Sewell of the Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens said. "It's the last one of the big-six."

Maple Leaf Gardens' fame is backed-up by Toronto tourism which says that directions to the building are one of the top questions asked by tourists.

The arena is apparently owned by Loblaws mainly because MLSE didn't want to sell it to Eugene Melnyk so that the St. Mike's Majors could play in the hockey shrine. God forbid it be used by anyone else to generate revenue. Not that Loblaw's has done anything with the building. In Wendel's tribute videos we saw that the Gardens have been left like you would imagine homes are left before a tornado: things strewn as if the building had been abandoned in a hurry. Sports Illustrated has a pretty good vault of videos of the Gardens for those that are looking take a walk down memory lane.

Bill Wirtz ruins another arena's closing.
Talk about symmetry as the Leafs open and close the Gardens with losses to the Blackhawks.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine lived in the neighbourhood and from his balcony you could see the famous arena. Sometimes I would just stare at the blue maple leaf that's still visible on the roof and think back to games I had seen in the old arena.

I was lucky that my uncle was always able to find a pair of tickets for my dad and I to enjoy. I didn't go often but I can still remember my mom packing some chocolates in a brown paper bag for my dad and I. I remember taking the subway to College Station and knowing that the hockey players in the murals meant that it was time to get off the train. I remember walking to the Gardens with the mass of Leafs fans and the beginning of our tradition of grabbing a sausage from the street vendors before going into the rink.

I also remember that my first game was against Buffalo (I think it was an exhibition) but I fell asleep! Today I likely would have been that cute kid on Sports Desk but back then I was just the confused kid wondering why he was being shaken awake. I tend to fall asleep in comfortable seats so it's a mystery why I would doze off at the Gardens. If you ever come across some of the seats that have been sold from the Gardens they are the furthest thing from comfortable. Then again, as a six year old in a snowsuit it was probably just the right size.

I was also lucky enough to see Wayne Gretzky play at the Gardens when he was with the Kings. The best part was that he had a good game and the Leafs still won 7-4. And while I didn't manage to pull a rabbit out of my hat and fall into tickets for the last Leafs game on February 13, 1999 my uncle did come through with two tickets for the second last game ever at Maple Leaf Gardens two days earlier against the Carolina Hurricanes.

These weren't just any tickets either. They were golds about 2 rows up and to the left of the Leafs' bench. I can still see the muscles in Pat Quinn's jaws moving as he chewed away and barked orders at the bench. It was a hell of a game too. Sergei Berezin potted a hat-trick and the game went to overtime. Unfortunately, no one told the Hurricanes that they were supposed to be playing the patsy and they scored to win 6-5.

I arrived at my high school too late to either attend or participate in the games that we used to play against Upper Canada College so I didn't get a chance to sit on the benches. Good think those seats were so close and I had perfected my stealth ninja skills. I snuck down when the usher wasn't looking, planted myself on the bench and took long, slow glances up and down the ice. After checking to see that I was not going to be ejected any time soon I barked out "22, getch'yer line out", put one foot on the bench, and pretended to leap onto the ice. The usher had just turned around and I think I gave the old guy a heart attack but I guess I got to live out at least part of my childhood dream.

So how about you guys? Any special memories of the Gardens? If they're really long, toss them in the fanposts.