The Toronto Maple Leafs have been a part of my life since the first day I could pronounce the name. Some 55 years later I have amassed what is considered the greatest collection of Leaf historic artifacts. I’ve been called “super fan,” “ultimate Leafs fan,” collector, historian and numerous other monikers. While admitting to all of the above, I like to really think of myself as a preserver and storyteller concerning the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
One thing I have always found puzzling, is the lack of knowledge on this iconic franchise. The Leaf Nation reaches worldwide appeal. However the mention of a player from as early as the 70’s or even the 80’s to a young fan today; may garner a polite nod.
The foundation of the Leafs officially started in 1927, but didn’t gain prominence until the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.
Conn Smythe instilled pride, honour and respect in every player who pulled that Maple Leaf sweater over his head.
The followers of the Leafs very early came to understand, the expectations even demands on any player representing the Toronto Maple Leafs. They held themselves to the same standards.
This very grassroots “code” has been lacking the last 40 years or so, until yesterday.
Saturday September 6th, 2014 will go down in Leaf history as the unveiling of “Legends Row.” It’s much more than that. This is lifetime connection of the past and the present. We must embrace our history and talk about it with pride.
I attended the unveiling yesterday. Andy Frost the MC, counted down from three. Slowly the curtain started to rise; a feeling of pride, respect and honour overwhelmed the hushed crowd. I sure felt it. Applause quickly broke out at the sight of the magnificent monument by famed sculptor, Erik Blome.
Mark Kennedy, Teeder’s son, spoke of the pride his father felt wearing the Leaf sweater. Kennedy played 700 games, won five Stanley Cups, captain for 8 years and won the Hart Trophy (MVP) in 1955. It was all about the team.
The team, family, the City of Toronto and the fans; that’s what it meant to be a Maple Leaf.
Darryl Sittler was the heart and soul of the 70’s teams. The captain. Sittler had 10 points in one game, scored five goals in a playoff game against Philadelphia and scored the winning goal in the Canada Cup all in the same year, 1976.
He was moved to tears before the unveiling at the sight of his family and friends sitting in the front row.
Darryl also spoke of the team, family, the city of Toronto and the fans. A gust of wind blew his notes off the stand just as he was about to speak.
“That’s the Harold Ballard effect,” he joked.
Johnny Bower who epitomizes what it is to be a Maple Leaf, received the loudest ovation when he was announced as the third monument to be unveiled. His tireless effort to connect with fans of all ages, four Stanley Cups, the courage to play without a mask and at times purposely blocking shots with his face all add to what it means to be a Maple Leaf.
All three of these men exhibited similar qualities. Conn Smythe would have been very proud of the foundation he set almost 100 years ago.
I sought out Mike Ferriman of MLSE who had invited me to this historic day to thank him. Mike turned to me and said,
“Mike, we want to thank you for your inspiration to recognize our history like this.”
When I stopped shaking, as I admired the statues in a quiet moment by myself, a feeling of pride and accomplishment came over me.
My life long passion of preserving the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs was now unfolding in front of me.