There are events in life that stay with us forever, eliciting a “Where were you when…” moment. The Kennedy or Lennon assassination, immediately come to mind for our generation and from a sporting specific, the Henderson goal, the Joe Carter home run or even Crosby’s over-time gold medal winner in 2010. What makes historic memories so special is quite simply, they never start out to be that, in fact it’s the element of surprise that resonates with us and freezes that moment in time.
I was a student at Seneca College in 1976 and waking up that Saturday morning on February 7 it was like any other weekend. After a quick breakfast my pal Andy Tocchet would pick me up and we’d head to our part time jobs working at Sportsworld in Scarborough. The plan after work that night was to spend the evening watching the Leaf game with the girl I was dating. This was a rarity for me because my team played most Saturday nights. Arriving at my date’s residence that evening I was greeted at the door by the woman who owned the house. She wasn’t much older than us and we started a friendly conversation, “Mike I hear you are thinking of leaving school next year and just playing hockey in the States or Europe?”
After acknowledging this was true she continued how I should really start working, to have something to fallback on if hockey didn’t work out and since she was a placement agent could direct me to some entry level jobs. It’s funny because I’d never had such a direct conversation about my future with anyone before, but she continued on that the brokerage business maybe a good start and had some good spots to send me for interviews. I then changed the subject asking why she was so dressed up, “Oh I’m going to the bloody hockey game and I don’t even like hockey, but just met this guy so I said yes. Maybe I should stay home with the girls and you go in my place Mike?”
I think I even agreed to a wear a dress if that would allow me to go to the game but too no avail.
With the sound down and game on, I had an eye on the TV and one on the girl (you blame me) noticing Sittler was having a good night. I recall Ballard was chirping off as usual through the press and giving Darryl a rough time because the Leafs weren’t scoring and in a bit of a slump. He I figured still wouldn’t get over the fact he had to pay Sittler more for not jumping to the WHA a few years earlier.
It seemed that every time I looked at the TV screen they were showing Sittler celebrating a goal and during that time the score was not permanently displayed so I assumed they kept showing the first couple he was involved in.
The next morning at practice its all that anyone wanted to talk about and wasn’t until I got home, realized what really had taken place the night before. I remember thinking before the game started that the Leafs weren’t playing very well, Boston was on a roll, so my expectations weren’t extremely high for much of a game; needless to say I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My takeaway from that historic game outside of the obvious result, was the ability Sittler exhibited to overcome the immense pressure he must have felt from the media, fans and management to continue to produce at that level.
The feat itself is remarkable and unmatched forty years later; there is no question about that. But unlike the Bucky Dent moment, Larry Mize miracle chip or the David Tyree Super Bowl catch, those were one shot deals and quite frankly the last we ever heard from those players.
What I remember going forward was how the crowd erupted every time Sittler touched the puck, except the following evening, with hundreds of empty seats at the Gardens, he managed one assist but the Leafs won. Only in Toronto!
My takeaway from that historic game outside of the obvious result, was the ability Sittler exhibited to overcome the immense pressure he must have felt from the media, fans and management to continue to produce at that level. It takes a special kind of not only athlete but also person to over come such challenges and many an athlete has succumbed to the expectations that followed and failed miserably.
Sittler once told me he was baby-sitting Paul Henderson’s children during the 1972 Summit Series, then a young player trying to make his mark as a second year pro with the Leafs. Little did he know watching Paul’s heroics, that four-years later his career would change forever, including scoring the winning goal in the inaugural Canada Cup (I was in a hotel room in Vancouver attending a minor-league camp, when he potted that one). Darryl has said that’s the accomplishment of the most significance that year that also included being named captain of the Leafs and scoring five goals in a playoff game against Philadelphia.
I’d like to offer my heartfelt congratulations on an accomplishment that has stood the test of time the last 40 years. But more importantly aside from becoming one of the most popular Leafs of all time, Hall of Fame induction in 1989, Legends row last year, it is how Sittler has carried himself not only proudly as captain of the Leafs but as a person.
The words dignity, class and pride are adjectives not often associated with the athlete of today, but they sure describe Sittler too a “T” as not only a Toronto Maple Leaf but as a person and that folks is a record no one will ever break.
Ps…I just completed my fortieth year in the brokerage business.