I had just turned onto the QEW this 3rd day of December, prepared for the two-hour plus trek to a small community north of London Ontario, called Mt. Brydges. The purpose of my trip was to watch my son Ryan play goal for the Lambeth Lancers against the local team, the Bulldogs. With Bob McCown voicing his criticism of the Jays latest GM hire faintly echoing throughout the car, I found myself day dreaming about what laid ahead in the next few hours.

About 7 months ago Ryan mentioned he’d like to play hockey again and bounced the idea off me for my opinion. He hadn’t played for a few years and to come back would be extremely difficult not only physically but simply because all the teams wouldn’t know who he was. To his credit he started a strict training regiment and was on the ice 5 times a week training with a number of pro-players making enough of an advancement to receive a couple of offers to try-out.

Late in August I set off for Listowel with the Jays game on the radio and a large double-double Tim’s in the coffee cup holder. Listowel Ontario, is a community of 6,000 centered in a farmland area north west of Kitchener.

Outside of the odd grunt or cheer depending on what was happening in the Jays game at the time, I wasn’t paying much attention to the surroundings whle heading north of Kitchener until spotting what looked like a horse drawn buggy about a mile ahead, plodding along the shoulder of the now two-lane highway. I realized I was in Amish country.

Coming to a stop at the small intersection after a short drive from the main street, I felt a warm smile break out on my face observing the sight in front of me.

There was the rink, but what really caught my attention was the community center, curling rink and ball field all centered right in the middle of this mature town, established first in 1852. All of the facilities were older but immaculately cared for. The ball field was encompassed with wooden bleachers and the field manicured to perfection. This was a Norman Rockwell moment.

My mind raced back in time to my childhood and even my hockey life travelling throughout the country. I was picturing this exact setting in every small town I ever played in, including Unionville, in the days the road leading to this then farm community arena was gravel and dirt. (I would end up living there for 18-years).

Walking from the car to the arena, I noticed how quiet, almost peaceful it was and crispness in the air, reminding that fall would soon be here. Opening the door to the rink I immediately was impacted with the “hockey smell” associated with any mature rink, along with the sound of pucks banging off the boards and the rush of cool air from the ice surface. Oh how I missed these simple pleasures.

The stale aroma of popcorn and fresh coffee was prevalent, yet most of the parents had Tim Horton cups in their hands. I paused for a moment to take it all in and must have been obvious because a few of the parents gave me an inquisitive look and then smiled. They get it.

My curiosity as a researcher had me scurrying around the rink looking for anything to identify some of the history. I struck gold discovering a plaque dedicated to famous hockey legend Cyclone Taylor who grew up 50-miles north of Listowel in the town of Tara but moved here in 1890. He would play professionally from 1905 -23 yet made a point of returning to Listowel every summer until he died in 1979. Thus the hockey club honoured him by naming the team the Listowel Cyclones.

The arena is on the original spot it was built, but tragedy struck Feb 28, 1959, when the roof collapsed on a boy’s hockey team playing a scrimmage game killing 7-of them along with the recreation director and a referee. They are all memorialized in an enclosed glass case.

The city player as a youngster will never experience this unless they move to play out of town or maybe the odd tournament. With the fast moving lives we all have, today’s rinks are complexes with gyms, restaurants and up to six ice surfaces. The only thing on anyone’s mind is, how close can we park to the rink and what will I order in the restaurant.

Travelling the circuit Ryan’s playing has revived a whole new awareness not lost on him either, usually arriving a few hours before the game, he will even take a quick drive around the town.   I find myself envisioning kids playing pick up games on the frozen ponds around the small towns or just a simple road hockey game on the slippery streets throughout the winter. Its Canadiana clearly defined. It’s whom we are as Canadians and a part of our heritage that should not be lost on any of us.

Game nights in particular provide an insight to the rituals of the local hockey club. Groups of teenage girls and guys gather to cheer on classmates representing the town, the presence of family members standout and of course the resident rink rats who’ve not only attended games throughout most of their lives but may have even played for the local team blend in with the crowd. The local volunteers who sell the tickets, programs and 50-50 draws, are integral pieces, adding to the ambiance of the experience with a warm, small-town smile and thank you.

Taking this all in from the spectator’s perspective, I visualize this exact scenario unfolding right across the country in hundreds of settings such as this one. It really is the innocence of the game at its best with the whole community chipping in, providing the local kids an opportunity to play this great game of ours. But the real victory in all of this is those same kids grow up in the community and reciprocate the favour by volunteering themselves, giving a new generation of hopefuls a chance to play.

We as Canadians must never lose sight of what separates us from the rest of the world.   Observing these small towns pull together for the benefit of the community really does identify us as a nation and for that, we should never forget.

The first weekend of November is the mecca for a sports fan. It’s the one weekend of the year when all the major sports cross paths and Toronto hosts the semi-annual hockey memorabilia show at the International Center. I’ve attended card shows as long as I can remember and this, the high light show of the season, The Super Bowl for hockey collectors the past 25 years. However with the passing of time and social media, it has become a shadow of itself almost negating the necessity to walk the massive aisles. Today, a collector merely goes on line to search the various sites and auctions to hunt treasures and the only pre-requisite is a credit card.

The autograph pavilion along with the corporate area offering new products and giveaways, are the lures drawing the crowds today. For the purist such as myself, it’s a time to reacquaint with friends and business associates from the hobby. There is always the chance of a “find” and as any collector will tell you, that’s the common denominator among us.

The hobby has become a social media networking enterprise with most of the business executed through auctions and online sites. I mentioned in a previous blog of the staggering number of auction houses at the National this past July and while the Toronto show had a smattering of operators pitching the attendees, it failed in comparison.

The show a third the size of the U.S. National attracted very good crowds for the weekend. I connected with numerous people from the hobby, some fellow collectors, others I’ve dealt with for many years along many I never will. I get a kick listening to the same complaints about certain not so reputable vendors from other dealers and fellow collectors while thinking to myself, why that is the hobby isn’t regulated with more scrutiny.

My one fear leaving Chicago this past July centered around the number of auction houses that have surfaced and with competition so fierce for consignors, how much due diligence or lack of, has been taken from the hobby? Walking the floor of the Toronto show it occurred to me that the same could be said for the dealer standing on the other side of the table. Are these guys really putting in the work to authenticate items or taking the sellers word before they consign the artifact in an auction?

I stopped to chat with a dealer I’ve done business with for years and check out what new items they’ve uncovered. They had a few things of particular interest to me, with a couple of the old mini sticks from the 60’s and early 70’s standing out. The souvenir sticks were sold at the Gardens and on the blade it featured a small headshot of a Maple Leaf. Two of the players Bower and Plante were on mini goalie sticks that are tougher to find than the regular version. After pitching about the scarcity of the pair I of course had an immediate interest and asked to examine the pieces a little closer. The Bower looked in great shape, had the proper stamps on the stick and wasn’t cracked. The Plante had no such stamps and while clean, looked to new and more concerning was the stapled picture on the blade of the stick. The staples where too big and clearly showed two small pin holes at the top and bottom of the picture indicating to me this picture had come from another stick and reassembled. It was interesting because a small group of collectors had gathered to listen to my analysis thus I didn’t want to make a scene when informed of the price ($550 for the pair) followed by the standard,
“Mike there’s not a lot of room in this for us and that’s basically what we paid.”
I questioned the price and his partner said,
“Aww I paid $200 a piece so I’ve got a little room.”
The other chap who I also have known and dealt with for years although I’ve always been on my guard with him, embarrassingly looked at me and mumbled,
“His mind isn’t working, I know what he paid.”
At this point I was more dumbfounded than disappointed. Knowing these guys stretch the truth and they all do, but the point here is the blatant disregard to recognize the anomalies of the two artifacts. How could seasoned pros miss such an obvious flaw?

Did they really care and figure who’ll notice or simply just too busy to take it a step further?
The lack of quality items, tables filled with common product, discounts of varying degrees on cards was another distinguishable observation wandering the room. I managed to find a couple of terrific pieces but it was a prearranged deal with a vendor I transact with on a regular basis, however he still manages to save a surprise piece for me upon my arrival and this year was no exception. Collectors know the Chex cereal pictures off the box (1960’s) but to find paper copies of the photos is extremely rare because they were never sold to the public; ten different Leafs of the paper version came home with me.

A visit to the show is always an adventure and for years it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to be in attendance all three days until the very last moment hoping for that last second transaction. Today while one day was enough I found myself more of an observer and listener than a participant. My level of interest is of the private or auction scale now and I find that disappointing. Nothing used to excite me more than leaning over a table hunting for that treasure that unbeknownst to me, may never existed until that very moment. That’s the epitome of the find.

The encouraging thing coming away from the show was the long line-ups at the autograph pavilion, the crowded aisles and the assortment of ages filtering throughout the show. This gives hope that the hobby isn’t dying and purists are still willing to search the room for the elusive find instead of banging a few keys, typing in a credit card number and signing for the package when it arrives.

What the dealer of today has to realize is that the transformation of the hobby puts more onus to educate not only himself, but the collector on every piece he offers. I know that’s a little unrealistic, but if we can take small steps to bring credibility back into the hobby, then everybody wins and how can that be a bad thing?

Throughout our travels abroad Deb and I have explored many museums and galleries over the years. We initially sought out a variation of sites to inspire ideas while in the midst of designing our “Room” at home. The history and time periods of these wonderful exhibits left us breathless at times but I couldn’t help note that visiting a variety of pubs would also offer some design ideas. I didn’t usually win that proposal but the compromise entailed a few pints for me after the tour while we discussed what we had just observed.
It is with disbelief that Toronto happens to be one of the only major cities in North America that does not have a museum dedicated to its history and in the same vein neither do the Maple Leafs. There is work currently underway to proceed with homes for both and the city of Toronto Museum is on line. This is of particular interest to me because one day I will have to part with my vast collection and would like it to remain intact so it can be enjoyed in the future. Besides, it took me a lifetime to acquire.
The process of change for us will be difficult (well for me anyway) and almost surreal, so it is with earnest enthusiasm we are exploring all options. Recently it dawned on Deb and myself that we have never traveled to Ottawa to see what our own country offers in the way of historical preservation. I’ve been to Ottawa a few times for minor hockey tournaments and to see the Leafs win a few playoff games against the Senators but other than that, the only good Senator I’ve known was ex-Maple Leaf Frank Mahovlich who was appointed as one. Now I must say I have an on going friendly wager with Ottawa owner Eugene Melynk when our two teams meet. I did mention to Eugene when he visited our “Room” that the only reason he was allowed was due to his generous donation to St. Mikes new athletic field. That reminds me, he still owes me a dinner from last year.
The good folks at the Canadian Museum of History welcomed us to tour the sites and offered a behind the scenes observation of the archives. It was with an open mind we made the four drive to the Capital a week ago with the plan too make our way around the museum and the following morning a guided tour of the archives.
The first thing that caught my attention arriving that morning was the sure beauty of the city enclosed by these magnificent landmark buildings. I’ve spent so many years hating the Ottawa Senators it never seemed possible such could surround them. The CMH building was massive and attracts a million visitors a year standing as Canada’s largest museum. With our 150th anniversary as a country coming up in 2017 as well as the 100th year for the Maple Leafs they expect visitors to increase exponentially. The museum is three levels and from the ground floor takes you back 5,000 years to the first settlers progressing throughout the years to the modern era. The CMH is undertaking a massive renovation to the third level that happens to cut the story of the growth Canada as a nation short, however once completed visitors will realize the wait was well worth it.
After a few hours we made the short walk to the Military Museum. It was fantastic. The attention to detail, facts and realism was world class and even for the casual observer, well worth the visit.
The next morning we anxiously prepared to meet one of the curators for our guided tour of the archives. After the small taste the previous day we where both filled with curiosity and questions. We toured the stored artifacts in climate-controlled environments and designated to the periods in time. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and very passionate about her work so we got along famously. Sensing our thirst for historical significance pertaining to each piece, it was with great pride she patiently walked us through the steps an item takes before it’s displayed. The researching of the artifact, documentation, photography and possibility of restoration if there’s a hint of damage or erosion, are all part of the process before an item is museum worthy. Each step is meticulously carried out with the skill of a surgeon, it takes time, expertise, patience and a vision of what the end result will be. It’s with painstaking detail each piece is handled leaving Deb and myself walking away extremely impressed, and proud.
What excited us on the drive home leaving Ottawa that day centered on the vast scope of history covered in the numerous museums throughout the nation’s capital. We as a nation have to make more of an effort to tell our story as Canadians. We have a long, proud and fantastic history but we just didn’t become the best country in the world by accident. It took ingenuity, foresight and sacrifice to set the standard of who we are. The energy and passion oozing from each of the researchers we spent time with at the CMH was infectious and they are determined to get our story too the world.
It’s of particular interest to myself to hear the plans to relay our growth as a nation through hockey. There is a small sampling of the game currently on display but needs work. The acquisition of the oldest stick has set the wheels in motion. The appeal of the Maple Leafs across the country in the early years (long before social media) is a story they want to tell but I think the story reaches far beyond that. How many people are aware of the Coloured Hockey League, played between 1895-1920 in Nova Scotia? Rules from the league are used in the NHL today. But why stop there? There is proof I’ve mentioned before that baseball was first played in Canada along with football, lacrosse and basketball.
The year 2017 is a year of significance; from the 150th birthday of Canada, 100th anniversary of the Leafs, 50th year of expansion in the NHL, so its nice to see the necessary steps in progress to make this celebration one the world will stand up and take notice. Can’t wait!

The expression on Josh Donaldson’s face said it all after making contact with the pitch and I knew instantly the Jays season was a routine toss to first from ending. Timing it so my thumb pressed any button on the converter the second the ball snapped into the glove of the Royals first baseman Hosmer, it was over just like that.

What seemed like an eternity, the heartbreaking silence was finally broken when Deb turned to me and casually said, “Mike, I’m proud of our guys, they played hard and gave us a season full of excitement and entertainment, which made it enjoyable to go to the park.”
“Runners at second and third, none out, we eat teams for lunch under those circumstances, I can’t believe what I just saw,” I said in a voice cracking with disappointment.

When the pain of the loss subsided (it’ll never completely go away) I knew Deb was right. A swing of the bat here or there and who knows. We’ve been season’s ticket holders for six years and get to around fifty games a year. Nothing beats a warm evening with the roof open watching the Jays and the bonus is living close enough to walk to games on the weekends. The growth of the team over the last number of years has been extremely exciting to watch. This year was a breakout year for a number of players. Josh Donaldson brought a winning attitude both on the field and in the locker room in what should be an American League MVP award for him. Ryan Goins emerged as the second coming of Robbie Alomar with spectacular play, Kevin Pillar the human highlight reel (with a hockey player mentality) matured into a star in centerfield and what about the coming of age of Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez or the miraculous recovery of Marcus Stroman.

These are just a few of the examples we as fans have experienced over the last season that lead to the bold changes at the trade deadline, taking the team to another level. The architect responsible for the moves Alex Anthopoulos, also matured into the position over the last six years running the ball club. Is it a coincidence that his term is the length of time we’ve been season’s ticket holders? No its not.

Early in his tenure, the “Globe and Mail” did an in depth story of Alex’s plan to move the Jays forward. His first step was to revamp the Jays scouting system that at the time consisted of three pro scouts. In some detail it was explained how the draft was critical to building a winning team (where have we heard that one before fellow Leaf fans) and they were putting into place, a complex scouting operation. I was so impressed with the vision and approach; we decided to buy-in with season’s tickets.

The events of the last few weeks leading to the departure of Alex has not only left me a very bitter fan but also concerned about the direction of our Toronto teams, particularly the Leafs.

My baseball friends tell me that Ed Rogers wanted to fire Alex a year ago but Paul Beeston bought him time. They rewarded Paul by looking for a replacement behind his back. Now Mark Shaprio maybe a very capable guy and certainly not his fault he negotiated a contract giving him total autonomy over the ball club. That seems to be the new role for most Presidents of baseball organizations today. But why the rush to sign him?

He was running an underachieving, barely 500 ball-club with one of the worst attendance records in the game. The word on the Jays was Alex was a star in the making but management was a concern because the head role changed so frequently; go in with your eyes wide-open and demand full control over baseball operations.

That’s exactly what Shapiro did. Alex was doomed the minute that deal was inked because any role moving forward would not include final say on baseball trades thus at best a sideways offer.

The talks between Alex and Shapiro didn’t go very well and apparently the moves made at the deadline came into question because the Jays gave up to many prospects. Alex put the Jays in the position through strategic drafting and scouting to make those moves at the deadline. Word is Anthopoulos turned the Price trade down originally, but because Rogers was delaying extending him, he was left with no choice but to go for it and that’s exactly what he did. And guess what folks? It worked. The team soared, ad revenue increased, viewership set record levels and the Jays brand-awareness exploded across North America.

Ed Rogers painted himself into a corner because of the continuous bumbling and incompetent ways he’s tried to mange the family asset (the only reason he has a job). So was he really cheering for the team at the end knowing if they won, he’d have quite a problem on his hands but if they lost an easier way around the mess he created?

My problem with the whole situation is Alex has built a strong supporting cast with the major league team and is two-deep at every position. Why do you invest all this time in a young GM who was making headway, built a core of strong assets in the minors, more confident making a change when needed, established a standard to become a Blue Jay and now management wants to disrupt it?

Players, coaches, draft picks and pending free agents will question the thinking about casting aside MLB’s Executive of the Year. Make no mistake; the offer the Jays made was one they knew Alex would turn down. They had no intention of renewing his contract, once Shapiro was on board. They will try and make amends with the fans by pulling a bold move like signing Price to a long-term contract, which is a mistake but it’s their money.
The issue becomes, with the Leafs on the same path as the Jays six-years ago, will Rogers butt in at the wrong time again? Besides the fact their partner isn’t exactly a bosom buddy (BCE), what happens if Rogers gets control one day?

Yes I know numbers don’t lie and the Jays have hovered around 500 the last number of years but sometimes the numbers can be misleading. If I as a fan can attend and watch the number of games I do and see the progression over the years, why cant the guys paid to do it? Or are they really watching and paying attention?

Last heard, almost every team in the Majors has contacted Anthopoulos and he will write his own ticket. He has earned it and the rest of MLB recognizes it but what’s disturbing is our management doesn’t see it the same way, thus the change. The small win for us as supporters is the Jays are deep enough to contend in the East and I think even without Price win the division again. However, the fear is what happens after that?

Fast-forward a few years if the Leafs are in a similar position and management interferes, will all the hard work and pain the organization has felt be thrown in the trashcan? Does management revert back to its old ways and make a desperate lunge into free agency to buy time with the fans? It will be of great interest to the sporting community, this latest move by Rogers concerning the Jays, because every aspect of MLSE will or could be affected, everything from draft picks, free agents, coaches and most important, the fans.

So lets all take a deep breath, relax, step back and hope the Jays management sees the err of their ways and keeps the ship on the right track that Alex has so skillfully set sail. After all, nothing like winning cures what ails you and failing that; well there’s always next year.

Like everyone in the city of Toronto I was caught up in the magnificent run of the Blue Jays, which sadly came to a heartbreaking loss in Game 6. We’ve been season’s ticket holders for six years, so watching the development of this brilliantly orchestrated and very talented ball club has been extremely gratifying. Alex Anthopoulos through patience, great scouting, good drafting, aggressive moves and some good old fashioned luck did a job nothing short of spectacular.
The blue print is simple; load the organization with depth at every position enabling the kids to develop, thus then allowing the GM to make the trades he did at the deadline. Otherwise, those trades never happen.
I’ve expounded in the past that all of us Leaf fans have to pray that the good folks at MLSE are paying attention and adhere to the model. From what we have seen so far, it looks like that is the case. When things get bleak this year (and at some point they will) plop in front of your TV and replay game 5 of the ALDS to remind you of what is possible. It’s interesting to note that coach Mike Babcock encouraged the Leaf players to attend that game to experience the electrifying environment and what they could be a part of one day. Reading the player comments after game 5, it worked because to say they were overwhelmed, would be an understatement.
This now brings me to the point of today’s blog. With the terrific storyline centered on the Jays and you could make similar cases for the other three teams in the final four, why is it everything but that?
Jose Bautista hit the biggest home run of his career and third biggest in franchise history, yet all anyone wants to talk about is the bat flip. Really?
I watched in utter astonishment as Texas pitcher Sam Dyson who served up the fat pitch that ended his teams season dis Jose for flipping his bat after the epic dinger.
Is this stuff serious? That’s all you were concerned about and why you chirped Edwin in the batters box? This clown just served up a batting practice pitch to the best home run hitter in baseball since 2010 and instead of apologizing to his teammates, was worried how he got shown up?
What about game three pitcher Derek Holland wiping his butt with a Jays rally towel before game one at the Rogers Center; that’s not disrespectful to the game and opponent? Not to mention the thousands of kids at the game and now hundreds of thousands viewing on social media. Now the baseball gods took care of that jerkoff Holland in game 3 when he was lite up like an airline runway. Maybe he should have saved the towel to hide his face from the embarrassing performance he put on?
Its’ no coincidence that ALCS champs (it took 3 attempts to type that) the Kansas City Royals let their talking take place on the field. They did it with great offense and defense but our Jays gave them all they could handle, especially after Jose’s clutch 2-run shot tied the score late in Game 6. But it was not to be even after Toronto had runners at 2nd and 3rd with none out in the 9th, then retired in order to put the final nail in the Jays coffin.
What’s lost in the Blue Jays great season was the response of the fans. The message has been sent to Rogers loud and clear, which is, you make the effort, so will the supporters of the ball club. The city and country have embraced this team with open arms and despite the outcome, the future has never looked brighter for our Toronto team. The “team-first” approach was entrenched way back in spring training and while we have heard white noise before, management appears committed to the challenge this time and that’s extremely positive.
Folks we live in a society of the “me first” attitude and needn’t look any further than my favourite egomaniac, self-centered athlete, Lebron James. He represents everything that’s wrong with sports today and the classic example; the vote with fans, whether he should slap his hands with talcum powder before each game, along with what number he’d wear. Seriously? But he is the face of the game and it sells, unfortunately. Dr. James Naismith must be turning in his grave.
You don’t think fellow golfers wanted to wrap a club around Tiger Woods head when he’d make a putt and follow up with the hockey fist pump? Talk about showing up an opponent. But he was the face of the sport and was increasing the viewership along with the purses, thus everyone accepted it.
Who remembers Rickey Henderson, May 1, 1991 breaking Lou Brocks all-time stolen base record, jumping up and calling himself the greatest? Can you say selfish, egotistical and a jerk? Yeah maybe, but let me ask you this, where you thinking that the night of October 24, 1993 after he lead off the bottom of the 9th and scored on Joe Carter’s World Series winning home-run? Of course you weren’t.
I realize the sizzle is what sells the steak, but at some point the substance becomes a factor and must either make the grade or move on. Grown men play kids games that allow us to wrap ourselves in the moment, forgetting about the strains of life we all deal with on a daily basis. But like anything in life when money’s involved, the element will emerge from the most unlikely sources and unfortunately we must learn to block that out.
We as fans get to live in the moment, when nothing else matters except what’s happening on the playing surface in front of us. I will forever remember where I was the moment Jose hit both those historic home runs and that my friends is what it really is all about. Now if only the Leafs can take us on a similar ride one day, is that too much to ask?

I’ve talked about the valuations of memorabilia in the past and those of you that follow me on regular basis know, that it’s not about the money, as far as I’m concerned. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that of course there comes a time when it is about the money.

We live in a world of supply and demand, so it only stands to reason that when an item is pursued, the price of poker increases. As a recent guest on the Humble and Fred radio show (you can listen to the segment on our website under podcasts), the biggest challenge Howard (not so much Fred) experienced was trying to get an estimated value of my collection. One thing people have to understand about collectors is that the value becomes a hurdle to pursue the passion and as a result does become a factor. Confused?

My mantra is the preservation of historical artifacts pertaining to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The objective is to find as many obscure pieces as possible and research the historical significance of every item. This creates a market because someone unmotivated to hang on to artifacts will in turn offer the said piece for sale.

If we talk about valuation, it can be summed up with a old but standard cliché, “It’s only worth what someone is willing to pay.” The Paul Henderson 1972 Team Canada jersey he wore scoring arguably the most historic goal in hockey history, sold for $1.2 million a number of years ago. That exact sweater was offered to me a year before the sale for $175,000 and I thought it was too much. At the time I figured the dealer, brokering the transaction was taking a hefty commission so there probably was a lot of room in the price, but even still, too expensive. Your immediate thought is, I must be some kind of fool for passing on an artifact that was worth 5x what was offered originally. But not so fast folks. When the sweater failed to sell privately, it went to auction. The auction house created a whirlwind of interest and hype surrounding this historic jersey. I was contacted by a major Corporation who wanted to partner to bid on the piece and asked what number would win in the end. They were extremely excited to lock down the jersey, planning a National marketing campaign. The figure they had in mind was $500,000 and when I informed them it wouldn’t be enough, to say the sound of silence was deafening, would have been an understatement.

“Well Mike, how much do you think it will sell for?” he whimpered, in a voice that was barely audible and clearly disappointed.

“Look with all the publicity, some rich guy is going to step-up and either do exactly what you guys are trying to do or just own it because he can, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sell for at least a million.”
And that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve mentioned in the past, the Gretzky canvas pennant, with Wayne standing alongside Tretiak in their National uniforms. I purchased a number of them, for what turned out to be a few dollars apiece, thinking something was wrong. Less than a year later the pennant was documented as one of the scarcest Gretzky pieces in existence, with an estimated value in excess of four figures.

The Jim Craig collection, featuring 19 pieces of his, from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” was offered for sale at $5.7 million. The valuation was insane but who am I to judge? If some rich, patriotic American wants to own this group of items and market them, show it off, donate to a museum or just enjoy in his “man cave,” then, all the power to the chap. But really, a million dollar estimate for the flag Craig wrapped himself in after winning? The collection was put up for sale August 1 to November 1, 2015 and when I last checked, was still available.

There are so many mitigating factors involved in placing a value on historical pieces. How can you put a value on the thousands of hours a person like myself has spent walking flea markets, antique shows, card shows, travelling all over the country, scouring through boxes of items, searching for that ever elusive piece? The miles traveled to cities and places (some not so nice) only to come up empty. Long before the easy access to people, places and things of today, it was a painstaking and frustrating endeavor filled with “The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat.”

It’s equally disappointing when the first thing an interviewer or guest ask, is the value of the collection or what’s the most expensive piece in “The Room”. I do “get it” because, the world today puts more significance on anything we have or want once the value has been established and dollar figure then enables the viewer too either see the piece, item or thing as attainable or not.

That being the case, how do you put a value on a poster of Frank Mahovlich I gave a copy to his father and 50-years later relaying that story to Frank, in my room, and he’s hanging emotionally on to every word? Or Ann Barilko reading a letter written by her brother Bill, asking for a tryout with the Leafs and tears streaming down her face? The look and reaction of Wayne Gretzky spotting his “Saturday Night Live” contract in the display case I have of him; what’s the dollar figure you put on that? Listen to his expletives on our website.

Examples like these define what acquiring artifacts are really all about. Discover an item that catches your eye and then research as much information as you can about the piece. It’s surprising what will be uncovered during the process and will lead to a trail of further mystery and intrigue. When you least expect it, the “real finds” are discovered.

Passion, persistence, knowledge and unfortunately money, are qualities associated with anyone who collect anything, may it be wine, cars or even Tim Horton coffee cups (yes I know someone who does collect those). However one thing we can all relate, can be summed up in everything we do in life and quite simply put, “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”

No truer words were spoken by Scottish rock star, Rod Stewart describing some of the personal hi-lights from the very successful Toronto Toros/Bulls reunion we hosted this past summer.
The reunion was ripe full of story lines all pertaining to the aftermath of the WHA’s 7-year run in existence. Wayne Dillon the first under-age player to sign with the Toronto Toros after a brilliant few years with the Toronto Marlboros. Bobby Hull, leaving the comfort of the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks lured by a million-dollar contract that changed hockey payrolls forever and gave the league creditability. The defection of International star Vaclav Nedomansky to North America, becoming the first player from a communist country to do so and in the process open the door for many players to follow. But his relocation was not without intrigue concerning the KGB and CIA who followed his every move. The signing of many NHL stars including players in attendance such as Paul Henderson, Frank Mahovlich and Jim Dorey.
The late John F. Bassett’s vision and genius, orchestrated a lot of these changes, reshaping the game of hockey forever. Players today can thank Bassett for breaking up the NHL boys club and leveling the playing field that has allowed them to reap the riches they enjoy in the modern game. A biography has been written and will soon be released about Bassett’s life; however, what’s fascinating is that the original book was about the history of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the defunct USFL. While researching the Bandits history, the author kept coming across the name Bassett and realized that the real story was about this Canadian entrepreneur.
So as the 30-ex players mingled and reminisced about the past, they had plenty of material to choose from. Stories circulated about the characters through out the league, missed payrolls, delayed travel, less than pro-standard dressing rooms and so on.
John C. Eaton and Peter Eby attended the reunion reminiscing about joining forces with Bassett along with other prominent businessmen in Toronto ;George Cohen, Ron Barbaro, Steve Stavro (yes that ex-Leafs owner) and Allan Flood to purchase the Ottawa Nationals from Nick Trbovich. Nick Jr. attended the event and brought some wonderful first year memorabilia that put a lot of smiles on the players faces.
Collecting for me, as most of you know by now is all about the story and if there isn’t one, then the piece has no real meaning. Nothing gives me greater pleasure sharing my collection with ex-players and relaying stories about certain pieces then in turn the said player spinning a few stories of his own. I had the chance to show Frank Mahovlich my collection during the reunion but it was a special moment we shared that I’ll hold on to forever.

You may recall one of my first pieces of memorabilia was the colour poster of Frank given as a promotion by Libby’s beans. I gave one the two posters I had to Frank’s father who was the skate sharpener at Leaside arena. He hung the photo in his skate-sharpening booth and it remained in place until he retired. His grandson Ted told me they had family pictures of Mr. Mahovlich in front of the booth and that poster in the background. I was relaying the story in some detail to Frank showing him not only the poster but also the ad promoting the give-away. The whole time I was reliving the story with Frank I couldn’t help notice the genuine interest he displayed, hanging on every word while I described the sequence of events. Its moments like this in life that just seem to unfold, unscripted and just play themselves out. Upon completing the story, what seemed like minutes of emotional silence Frank broke the ice, “Mike I got $500 for that promotion and I know Punch Imlach and the Leafs got more, but I never found out.” He shrugged as if to imply, “what can you do” and continued to stare at the ad and poster. He was truly moved by the story and we didn’t have to say anything because the items spoke for themselves. During that brief encounter it was like we travelled back to that moment, me remembering the look of pride on Mr. Mahovlich’s face as I handed him the poster and Frank? Maybe just remembering his dad.
Also during the reunion I had a chance to speak to Sue Foster, long time companion of ex Leaf and Toro, Carl Brewer. She wrote the book “ The Power of Two,” which is the story of how Brewer and herself took on the hockey establishment over the issue of players pension, eventually bringing down the powerful NHL executive director R. Alan Eagleson, uncovering massive fraud, corruption and trust. Every player past, present and future owes a debt of gratitude for what they accomplished.
Sue is soft spoken and quiet, so it was with polite interest she listened to me recount my connection to Carl. I did notice as I went into more detail about acquiring my first piece of memorabilia, a Brewer game used stick, given to me by a family member who was one Carls best friends growing up, that her face light up with delight. Sue didn’t say anything at first, but she didn’t have too. Her face was flush with emotion and I imagined her picturing Carl giving the stick to me and the joy an innocent gesture brought to a young boy who now as a 61-year-old man was fondly recounting.
“Mike that’s a wonderful story and I’m so happy you shared that with me, thank you.”
The reunion was a huge success and speaking with most of the players we shared stories, talked about different pieces of memorabilia, my favourite items and so on.
I feel very blessed to be in the position I’m in that allows me to host events such as the Toros reunion. But I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the two special moments I had with Frank and Sue. It was with great pride I had the chance to give them a lasting memory about their loved ones and folks it doesn’t get any better than that.


Since making Mike Babcock the highest paid coach in NHL history, I’ve repeatedly been asked what lies in store for our boys in blue and white.

A coach is only as good as the players he’s given. A good coach can massage egos, spread ice time and maintain harmony amongst a talented group of players, but a great coach extracts the little extra a player was unaware he had to give. Babcock exhibits both these characteristics.

Mike Babcock’s role with the Leafs will obviously be his biggest challenge to date with the team in need of a major overhaul. But what the hockey world will be watching from afar is how he sets the foundation for the future of the Maple Leaf hockey club. Besides having the players “buy-in,” the criteria to represent the Maple Leafs will be very clear; from the player’s level of compete, to how they carry themselves off the ice. There can be no tolerance because he gets one chance to set the standard that can always be eased but never risen.

Brendan Shanahan’s role will be to steer the ship as planned, regardless of short term successes or failures. If per chance the team is hovering around five-hundred come late December and Joffrey Lupul is having an exceptional year to date as an example, a team short on scoring makes a pitch, for the talented but oft-injured left-winger. The correct answer is, he moves the player and accumulates assets in the form of young players or draft picks, no matter what the immediate impact has on the team. Sound simple? Well trying blocking out the fans and media who now think the Leafs have a playoff shot, so let’s be buyers, not sellers, so why are you trading our best scorer?

Mark Hunter may have the toughest job of the three because he’ll be leading the mandate selecting the picks, scouring the Junior and college rinks around the world. To build a strong contending team, it has to be done through the draft; period. A Stanley Cup winner is built from goal out and must consist of an all-star goaltender, defenseman and center. You can not trade for these players. The ideal situation is building your system up with a number of prospects and hoping a few work out.

In light of the wonderful season the Toronto Blue Jays are having, I would be remiss by not offering some insights for the Leafs to follow. When Alex Anthopoulos took control of baseball operations Oct 3, 2009, the first order of business was to revamp the entire scouting system. It didn’t take long because the jays had 3 professional scouts on the payroll. The mandate was quite simple, strengthen the scouting system and cover the baseball playing countries, counties and cities including high school, college and minor pros. Accumulate draft picks, hunt down waiver wire assets and seldom used players. Young players while skilled but maybe tough to handle, became Anthopoulos specialties. Before setting foot in the locker room the said player was subject to a ‘one on one’ with the boss for the “talk.”

The talk consisted of what was expected of the player to wear a Blue Jay uniform. The past is the past and now you have a chance, live up to our standards, you will enjoy success, you don’t? You will be released and we will find a player who will. Accountability.

The recent trades that has the baseball world humming and the Jays World Series contenders can solely be attributed to the brilliance of Anthopoulos. The significance of the moves is lost in the star power of the names involved because if Alex doesn’t position himself the way he did, those trades for central figures David Price and Troy Tulowitski, never occur. The reason the Jays were in a position to make those trades was the accumulation of assets the last number of years and stocking the minor system with solid prospects. They gave away 11 prospects to make those key acquisitions but because they have depth at every major league position, that allowed the team to take a chance. If they don’t win the World Series, they still have enough depth in the system to be contenders next year and years to follow and continue to replenish the minors with assets.

The Leafs appear to be using the Blue Jay model by stock piling bottom six players, giving them a chance to play and come trade time, moved for draft picks. Last year moving Santorelli, Winnik and Franson at the trade deadline allowed just that.

The process will be slow and the roller coaster ride of emotions will be unbearable at times, but the end reward will be worth the effort. Babcock is surrounded by smart people and bringing Jacques Lemaire on board gives Mike another voice of reason to lean on. Lou Lamoriello will play that role and much more for Shanahan also guiding the direction of the plan as laid out even when things seem they can’t get any worse. And they will.
There are no guarantees in life and sports is no exception, however the one common denominator between the athlete and the fan is an old cliché, “gives us a chance to win every night.”

In summary all we can ask from the Leafs are smart decisions, patience and luck, hopeful that the end result will mirror that of our other team a few blocks away from the ACC.