I first learned to skate in 1958, which means I was a little over 3 years old.One really couldn’t call it skating. It was more like walking on two-bladed bob skates that where strapped to my snow boots. Add a snowsuit that would be the envy of the Michelin Man, a scarf covering both my neck and my face, and a hooded hat covering the rest of my head…it certainly wasn’t the look of a future hockey player. This look more resembled the look of a young fan of “Captain Kangaroo” or the “Mickey Mouse Club”.
Both of these shows debuted on the same day in October of 1955. By 1958, both shows had become a must-watch for kids of all ages. The only other day of significance in 1955 (other than the day the Leafs were eliminated from the Stanley Cup again) wouldn’t mean anything for another 30 years. November 5th, 1955. This happened to be the day chosen by Marty Mcfly in the blockbuster classic “Back to the Future” to go back in time!
A few years later, the “walk on two blades” turned into a wobble and glide on single -blade skates. My balance turned out to be much better on the driveway or street playing road hockey, which was fast becoming a staple in my young life.
There were other events happening around me that would become historical events in there own right, such as Elvis’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in September of 1956, or Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series (this still stands today). I was oblivious in my early years to the debuts of TV classics such as “Leave it to Beaver “and ” Perry Mason”. Around the same time, but closer to home, Chum AM would be the first radio station in Canada to convert to an all Rock ‘N Roll Top- 40 format. All of these would become favourites in a few years, but for me, for the time being, all that mattered was hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tedder Kennedy sat out the final 2 games of the ‘57 season so that management of the Leafs could get a good look at an up and coming prospect by the name of Frank Mahovlich. The Tedder Kennedy 1955- 56 Parkhurst sells for around $100 today. The Mahovlich rookie card from that same period, that could be bought for pennies in a pack of hockey cards at the time, can now sell for as much as $1000, depending on its condition. The full set? Today $3000 to $5000. At the time, it all did not mean much to me! Again, if I’d only known.
As I sat in our basement one Saturday morning, my dad came downstairs with a bag of hockey equipment that turned out to be for me. As usual, not much was said, but I was dressed and off we went on the 15-minute drive to the local rink at Macgregor Park, which also happened to be outdoors. The next thing I knew, I was in room full of kids who all looked about the same age as me, and we all had on the same sweater: W. H. Gage
It was a crisp, windy October day. I didn’t care. It was all a blur too me. Up until then, every Saturday started the same. I was up at the crack of dawn, eating cereal and watching Roger Ramjet until I was sure that the other kids would be up. Then it was on the street for the all -day road hockey game. Now, instead of playing on the street, I was doing it for real!
For a son, there’s no greater feeling than to impress your dad and do something great. It was the same at age 7 as it is at age 59. For a father, there’s no greater feeling than watching your son excel or do something special. Again, it feels the same whether your son is 7 or 59. In both cases, it is overwhelming pride. We both experienced that feeling that day……Almost!
I got the puck in front of the other team’s goal and just shot it. It seemed like a rocket to me, but truth be told, one could probably have read the writing on the puck, it was moving so slow. However, the puck made that wonderful sound every player treasures and every goalie dreads: the clang of the puck hitting the bar in the back of the net.
It was cold, so that sound was even louder with the frame of the net frozen. At that precise moment my dad and I locked eyes (he was behind the net). He raised his hands in celebration and I just stood there and smiled! Two things would soon, very soon, come to light and shatter this Norman Rockwell moment! One, I was probably 25 feet offside and two, I was supposed to be playing defense!
Saturdays were turning out to be my favourite day of the week. Of course, there was no school, which was every kid’s delight. But more important to me, it meant a trip to Macgregor Park and a game of ‘real’ hockey. I was now a full- fledged hockey player.
My morning game would be followed by a street game, or when it got cold enough, a ten-minute walk to the local public school to play Shiney on the frozen rink. My dad would have to drag me off hours later.
It wouldn’t end there. The magic of Saturday continued because it was also shopping day. This meant more Jell-O and more hockey coins (every box contained an NHL player on a plastic coin). I didn’t even like Jell-O, but if it meant the chance to get a Leaf on a coin, it was worth it. A set today of those early 60s coins can fetch as much as $500 to $1000. Nobody gave that a thought in those days; it was the thrill of the hunt. It was that feeling only collectors feel when they “find” a piece that sets up their collection. Me? I still get that feeling today. But then, I cared only that it was a Leaf. The rest? Who cared!
Saturday shopping would also produce a jar of York Peanut Butter that when emptied, could be used as a drinking glass. I could only hope the glass had the image of a Leaf…but it didn’t always. (Other young fans had the same idea and had their moms hunt out the Leaf player on the jar) Those glasses are worth a little more than the cost of a jar of peanut butter today. They are very tough to find and sell for $300 to $400 for one glass.
Saturdays also meant the afternoon paper that arrived around dinnertime. In those days the paper would include the Star Weekly Magazine. This magazine would feature a colour photo of an NHL player in a standing pose. Included, there would be a write-up on that player.These photos today can command as much as $200 depending on who the player is, if the photo is still in the magazine, and of course the condition.
There where a number of different giveaways or NHL promotional items featuring the Leafs and the other teams in the league. From colouring books to pencils (an unused colouring book can command $50 or more if unmarked, an unused pencil today, if you can find one, can sell for $200)
You can only imagine my excitement at finding a new Leaf item of any sort, and the pure disappointment of finding one of those other guys, like Hull or Howe, on a new item. Anything that featured the blue and white and that majestic crest made me all the more excited and made me also wonder: why doesn’t everyone feel the same way????