Friday, February 13, 2009

Around the League: Memories and Dreams. . .

In honor of today being the 10 year anniversary of the last NHL game played at the fabled Maple Leaf Gardens, I thought I'd take a minute and share my experiences.

As a hockey fan, it is one of my greatest senses of pride to know I got the chance to go not once, but twice, to this "Original Six" arena. It is something I am truly grateful for and memories I will never forget.

Even if those memories are somewhat limited.

See my first hockey game at Maple Leaf Gardens was only my third hockey game - ever. So at a young age, and still at the beginning of what would hopefully be a lifetime love of the game, I got to experience something that was probably too big for me at the time. I know that now.

Instead of anything to do with the game itself, my memories of that night are of the corridors around the arena. The smell of popcorn. The feel of the arena as the lights dimmed. And the way that it felt almost spiritual to hear the fans sing the Canadian national anthem. I stood there, with my parents, almost afraid to breathe in fear that even that might disrupt the ethereal moment.

As for whatever happened that night on the ice, I am truly not sure. The Leafs played the Capitals that night and won 6-1. As the goals were scored, It was easy to stand and cheer, being pulled into the energy of the crowd.

Presumably (unless they were injured or otherwise out of the lineup), I saw a team captained by Doug Gilmour, and all-time great players, such as Mike Gartner and Mats Sundin.

According to what I've since found out, Tie Domi got a game misconduct that night for fighting Kevin Kaminski.

I remember years later being in Toronto the summer after the Garden closed it's doors, and driving by it one more time. The idea that it was going to become a supermarket upset me. I guess it upsets me even more that it's still caught in limbo, a full decade later. All the other Original Six arenas closed and went away. Even though a shadow of all its former glory, the Gardens still stand.

The Maple Leafs may be what they are - a team in a perpetual state of rebuild and hoping on the promise of what tomorrow brings - but they had a proud history in that building. Legendary players wore the blue and white sweater in that building. Countless greats skated on that same sheet of ice.

True, there are some things I'll never remember about my trips to the historic Gardens. But the feeling I get when I think about the opportunity I had to be there will never go away.