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.

We are in the process of organizing a reunion featuring the Toronto Toros team that was a part of the WHA between the years 1972-79, including the team’s tenure not only in Toronto, but Ottawa and Birmingham. The fascination with this historical time in hockey is gaining a lot of traction and the interest in the reunion is beyond our initial expectations with over 30 former Nationals/Toros/Bulls committed to attend. While the storyline is ripe with drama and historical significance spanning defections, underage signings, outbidding NHL teams for players, it’s the stories uncovered behind the scenes while tracking down the players that I’m finding particularly interesting.

Rabbi Moshe Stern was stationed in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama named Mountain Brook, also home to a number of the players on the Bulls team that had relocated here after a few unsuccessful years in Toronto. Birmingham is mostly Southern Baptists and a very religious region but also had a diverse array of different religions. Rabbi Stern was one of the Chaplains assigned to the Bulls that entailed a chapel for players before games, but another of his duties consisted of an invocation (prayer) before each home game. He would walk out to center ice before the National Anthem and recite a religious passage to the crowd and players; that was a first of its kind in any sporting arena in the NHL, WHA or NBA.

Paul Henderson was a regular to Rabbi Stern’s chapels and became so fascinated with Judaism that he inquired about converting. Rabbi Stern pointed out the history of Christianity was something that Paul had some exposure to and maybe he should consider exploring further. Henderson after some soul searching listened to the wise advice, eventually becoming a born again Christian.

Rabbi Stern recounted during those days watching games spending a lot of time explaining the rules and nuances of hockey to the locals. He helped break one habit they developed consisting of clapping after the puck was iced by the Bulls, explaining that it wasn’t a good thing because it brought the puck back into their end.
He shared a story how one day with the Jets in town for a game after the morning skate he visited the Winnipeg dressing room. His son Tzvic who was seven at the time wasn’t feeling well and thought maybe he could find a souvenir to cheer him up. Bobby Hull agreed to meet him after practice with a stick signed to his son. After the Jets skate, Hull came out of the dressing room and directed the Rabbi to wait by the ice. Rabbi Stern stood by the player’s bench and while he waited for Hull, a man in a wheelchair rolled into the rink. Bobby greeted the gentleman, then preceded to lift him out of the wheelchair, sit the man down on the player’s bench and roll his wheelchair out on to the ice surface about halfway between the blue line and the goal line. Next Hull, who had changed in to a sweat suit and skates, picked the man up, skated out to the chair on the ice, sat him down, handed him a stick and placed about a dozen pucks around him. For the next 30-minutes the Rabbi watched in astonishment as the gentleman in the wheelchair shot pucks towards the net with Hull retrieving them and placing the pucks back beside the chair. The man had a grin from ear to ear and this kind act by Hull moved the Rabbi in a very endearing way. When the whole exercise was finished Rabbi Stern excitedly said to Hull that what he had witnessed was one of the most heartfelt acts of kindness he’d ever experienced and wanted to share this with the local press because this type of human-interest story should be told. But Bobby Hull would have none of that. While he thanked the Rabbi for his kind words, he went on to say he tried to do this in every city they visited but under no circumstances did he want any publicity. He swore the Rabbi to secrecy and outside of his wife, he’d never told a soul until me 38 years later. He jokingly thought enough time had passed.

Incidentally after the gentleman in the wheelchair left, Hull took Rabbi Stern into the dressing room that was now empty as the players had headed back to the hotel. He took a stick from the rack and showed the Rabbi how he prepared one for game condition, using a blowtorch to heat and bend the blade. Afterwards he taped and signed the stick to the Rabbi’s son.

Arriving home with the signed treasure for his son and a very touching story for his wife, that brought her to tears; his daughter reminded him she was a hockey fan also and why didn’t she get a stick. At the next Bulls game, after explaining his predicament with his daughter, star forward Mark Napier came to the rescue with one of his signed sticks, and both kids still have those prize keepsakes today.

This will be the 3rd piece I’ve written after attending the 2015 National Sports Collectors Convention and sadly it’s not with a glowing heart that I left the fine city of Chicago. The once crown jewel and proud event of the hobby has become nothing more than a glorified flea market in my humble opinion. The only difference is flea markets don’t charge $22 at the door and offer a Super-VIP package for $189 ($179 if purchased in advance). Granted the super pack comes with parking, admittance to the show for 5 days and access to some VIP autographs. That’s the cost of doing business and to put on a huge event such as the National, doesn’t come without a cost, so that part I’m fine with.

The average autograph at the show set you back $80 for a flat object no larger than 8×10, if however you wanted Rod Carew as an example to sign a simple jersey, the cost increased to $250 and for an additional $30 he inscribed up to 5-words as long as it wasn’t any Legends magazines/items or Ron Lewis 3,000 hit Club Posters. Going “all-in” , Rod allowed a photo-op for an additional $80. Now Jim Craig (remember him) for $70 signed a flat object or for $80, any item and for an inscription of 5-words an additional $20 was required. To really spice up your item with Jim and have the inscription “Do you Believe in Miracles” added, that cost an extra $40 and to top it all off with a photo, it was another $30. Maybe Jim should have inscribed, “I believe in Miracles” if he thinks he’s getting $5.7 million for his 1980 Olympic memorabilia he had up for sale at the show. Roger Clemons for a bargain basement price signed a flat or baseball for only $200 but if you asked for a bat or jersey signed, that was $300. Roger looking to give some back to the fans. generously added a 5-word inscription, but only a max of 2-per item for a reasonable $100 and the bonus topper, he threw in a photo of the two of you for another $200. In case you weren’t following the bouncing ball, that was $600 to have your jersey signed with a 5-word inscription (“I most certainly used steroids,” perhaps?) and a picture of Roger. Be still my heart.

The problem here is two-fold, firstly the promoter to attract the stars to the show will have some heavy-duty costs to get the player to agree to sit and sign for a few hours. Secondly the unscrupulous dealers and cheats of the hobby will have items signed and then pass the costs off to the public thus the lofty prices to discourage that practice. This in turn has all but destroyed the pure innocence of collecting; the fan waiting for the player at the stadium, because dealers now pay kids to retrieve signatures that are in turn sold for profit.

I remember times the lineups for autographs were long and steady consistently throughout the shows day. My observation this year. while limited, didn’t see to much activity, although I’m sure the promoter made out just fine.
For the first time a lot of the vendors made a point of discussing the cost to set up at the show. On average for an out of town dealer to make any money over the 5-day show working on a 15-20% margin, would need to generate in excess of $100,000. To a player in the business operating full time, this is not an issue, however numerous vendors setting up, do so only this one time a year and really are collectors at heart so this number is significant. One dealer estimated his first $5.000 of profit barely covered the cost of the table, hotel, travel and food for the week stay, not factoring in additional costs for help with his table.

The industry as I have mentioned in previous ramblings is now mostly in the hands of the auction houses. I myself have these guys hounding me to remember them if and when I ever decide to part with my collection. I was given a VIP pass by a friend of mine at the show so I had early access to attend while the vendors where setting up. That’s the day before the show is open to the public and when most of the big deals occurred, dealer to dealer. Moving throughout the room with very light traffic I was able to speak to a lot of dealers and search the tables thoroughly seeking out that possible unknown or new find to add to my collection. Very disappointingly not only did I not uncover a new find, I spent more on cabs the first day getting to and from the show (used the rail system the other 2-days, way faster).

All was not lost however, because I still got a kick looking at all the characters moving about the room. I did speak to a number of very knowledgeable vendors, collectors themselves and swapped many tales of acquiring items and some of the good and bad guys either still in the business or long gone. The frustration amongst the vendors regarding the lack of interest, the dying local card show and the corporate culture instilled in the business driven by large auction houses like Heritage out of Dallas was very consistent with vintage dealers.

One encouraging thing I did discover this week was the Barilko sweater I mentioned a couple weeks ago was not represented as the “goal” jersey by the dealer, in fact the consigner tried to, but the dealer through some solid research discovered otherwise. This is the type of filters we need to encourage on “every piece” that is sold to the public.

Most of the dealers at the National impatiently discussed items they had for sale, because he couldn’t afford to chit chat if expenses haven’t been met, so if you aren’t willing to spend, then please move along.
And, that my friends, is a crying shame.

I thought I would expand my thoughts on the National with a few other observations.   In last weeks blog I highlighted my concern with the greed factor creeping into the auction part of the business in a more serious way. Once again please understand I’m very aware of the sleaziness the hobby attracts like anything involving money usually does.

Jim Craig as most hockey people are aware was the goaltender for the Gold Medal winning U.S. team at the 1980 Olympic games in Lake Placid. It’s commonly referred to as the “Miracle on Ice,” to some the “Fluke on Ice.”

Jim is in the process of offering for sale, his memorabilia from the games including all his equipment and gold medal. I have no issue with that as a lot of his team mates have been dining out on that victory for 35-years and its his turn. He’s asking $5.7 million for the 19 items. Lelands auction house is brokering the sale and had a very impressive display set up at the National Sports Collectors Convention. The sale is predicated on a first come first serve basis between August 1,, 2015 to November 1, 2015.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I wandered over to the display and loitered around to listen in on some of the inquiries. There weren’t many and this is my pet peeve. The auction house in desperation to secure the business has gone to great lengths to make this “miracle” sale even plausible but at what cost or promise?  Maybe they will deliver and some rich player steps up and makes the purchase. Believe me that only helps collectors like myself so all the power to them.

On the table is a beautifully laid out catalogue featuring elegantly worded descriptions of each piece in the collection along with an estimated valuation. Now keep in mind the auction house will receive a commission on the sale and in most cases the “juice” is 20-22%, in this case a predetermined fee may have been negotiated.

Leland’s used to be a big factor in the hobby but has lost its standing dramatically for numerous reasons. I personally won’t deal with them after a number of incidents in the past and I don’t hear too many nice things said about them from fellow collectors. So immediately creditability becomes a factor.

“Why would Jim sell this?” “His greatest success was not on the ice in Lake Placid or in business, it’s at home with his family. And this is for them. So that when he leaves this earth he will know in his heart that his children are secure, that is more important to him than any hockey game, including the greatest he ever played.

That is the real miracle.” That glowing epilogue of crap comes from the owner of Lelands as an introductory to the sale in the catalogue.   Newsflash, that’s the hope and dream of any father on this earth.

Listen I’m not wishing any bad for Jim and as a matter of fact met him years ago at a golf tournament and he seemed like a great guy. I hope he gets every dime, but let’s look at a few things. He played more games in one season for the National team, playing 48 games whereas in the NHL over the span of a few years he played 30. A smattering of minor-league games and you have what amounts to not much of a career in hockey, save for the Olympic year.   Million dollar plus valuations for the gold medal is possible, the flag he wrapped himself in after the Russian victory, really? His uniform, a staggering $1 to 1.5 million, or how about $250,000+ for the mask? Terry Sawchuk’s mask may get $25,000 if you could find one and do we even have to go through the exercise of talent comparison? I could go on but I think you get the idea. Again, I understand the historical significance of what the team accomplished but is Jim Craig’s goalie stick worth $3-400,000 or his equipment $150,000? That’s the beauty of the world of collecting, it’s an old cliché but it’s worth what anyone is willing to pay. Period. In fairness to Jim, he did what any of us would have done in a similar situation; go to the auction house that will get the most interest and more importantly the most money. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the negotiations and listen to the pitch from the auction house he spoke to if in fact he did shop this around.

The whole point of this rant is not to judge Jim Craig for selling his belongings or what he may profit from as a result of the sale. No, the part that disturbs me is the greed of the auction house to get business using any means possible to secure the consignment.   This may all be on the up and up, but all it does is set the bar a little higher for other auction houses to become more aggressive, promise additional perks or whatever it takes to lock down the consigner. The real loss in all of this noise is the items themselves and certainly not in this case but will clearly bring in to question the validity of the authenticity of future historical items for sale.

It will be very interesting to watch the final out come of this sale but my more pressing concern will be the after effects and further auctions in the future.

Remember, buyers beware.

IMG_1083

IMG_1082

IMG_1081

IMG_1079

One of premier events for sports collectors is the National Convention held annually in the US. It’s an event most of us collectors get most excited about because it draws all the major dealers and collectors from across North America to one gathering to buy, sell, trade and talk about the hobby.

I’m writing this blog after returning from the third day of the show and can’t help but feel a sense of loss and disappointment from what I’ve seen so far.

This year’s convention is being held at the Rosemont Center in Chicago and as usual is held to a higher level, to showcase the event.

While the massive hall at first glance looks full of dealers, upon further inspection touring the room I found a lot of gaps, huge areas taken up by corporate sponsors, auction houses and card companies. Don’t misunderstand me because I’m guessing there are still at least a thousand dealers set up, but it just doesn’t have the same old feel it used too. The emergence of the Internet for online buying and selling has definitely taken a lot of the need to travel to shows out of the equation. The auction houses have drawn a lot of traffic with the higher end items and seem to be gaining further traction. The real eye-opener for me at this years convention is the number of auction houses set up to pry family heirlooms, collectables or generally make contact with possible consigners in the future. I lost count at fifty or more because it was only frustrating me further. I participate in the auctions, although reluctantly, because I prefer eye-to-eye contact with the end seller so that I can gather as much history and facts about the item. My immediate thought about the number of auction houses present is the competitive landscape changing in a big way and not necessarily for the better. Think of all these auction houses bidding for the right to display or offer a consignor’s items in their sale and at what cost. I see some places offering up front money, others will purchase the item outright or guarantee a certain value. All of these promises send nothing but red flags up for someone like me. How much due-diligence is actually done on a specific item or is the word of the consignor all that’s required with some limited research?

In a recent Canadian auction, a Bill Barilko sweater was offered as the one worn when he scored the famous goal in 1951 to win the Stanley Cup for the Leafs. A number of my knowledgeable friends have done some work on other jerseys passed off as such and had some real doubts about the authenticity of this one, but it was sold anyway. I informed an auction house, as did another experienced collector I know, that a Toronto Marlboro jersey advertised as a 1964 Wayne Carlton wasn’t his. In fact the number and the style of the jersey were clearly wrong. The auction house never bothered to follow up with us to see if we were on to something and sold the jersey under false pretenses anyway. This problem will only get worse.

I was listening in on conversations surrounding a few of the tables of these auction houses and in most cases left shaking my head. The current leader in the auction industry is Heritage out of Dallas and they are set up with a huge display occupying an enormous amount of floor space in the center of the convention hall. I smile as I look at the large staff in suits, wearing earpieces and a lot with an arrogance of entitlement that again had me shaking my head watching these guys act like they are the most important people in the room.   It scares me!

They maybe straight up and I have dealt with them, never encountering a problem of any kind, but I still worry. With all these mom and pop looking operations in business, most I’ve never heard, have, cautioned me to be aware. Competition is good and despite what Gordon Gekko says, greed isn’t.

My other observation is, as usual the characters walking the floor. They come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of interest wearing favourite team jerseys, shirts and hats, lugging suitcases on wheels, shoulder bags or knapsacks. Most have their thoughts trained to spot that hunted treasure or new find. Myself I must admit its more a fact finding mission because most of the show is baseball with a sprinkling of hockey but I did manage to find a 1970’s porcelain Maple Leaf skate fastened to a puck as a stand and on the bottom a bottle opener.

The dealers are a sight to be hold and they too come in all shapes, sizes and ages, all transfixed to the bodies approaching their tables with the hope of a trade, sale or purchase. It’s more nervous energy rather than anxiety and that feeling is prominent in all of us no matter what side of the table you happen to be. That’s the part of then show I love the most, the contact with a fellow collector and its irrelevant what we collect, the method to the madness is the same.

The concern that I have after my third day is how watered down this once very significant show has become. One vendor had three booths with one long table stacked with Riddell football helmets. Another had a double booth selling clothes that consisted of jackets, t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts. There was a table loaded with boxes and cases of cards all 25 cents each. For the record, a table at the show is roughly $2,000 not including hotels, travel, food, extra staff etc. All the new junky cards seem to occupy a number of the tables and admittedly were drawing interest. The pure collector while still present is becoming less visible because most work can be done from the comfort of home on line and that is what upsets me the most. The fear is, as that core part of the business becomes less needed it leaves the door open for the business side to be all that matters. I’m not naive to realize the hobby has gone that way but there is something to be said for the shaggy looking guy with a table full of relics and an encyclopedia brain as well.

Give me that over the stiff in a suit any day.

I have expounded many times the joy my collection has brought, opening a world of exposure I never thought was possible. Watching our Canadian kids excel at the Pan Am Games can’t help but put a smile on my face, because of the small part we have played in getting some of our athletes there.

One Saturday morning a few years ago, I watched my friend’s daughter Rosie Maclennan win our only gold medal in trampoline at the 2012 Olympics in London. Welling up with pride like most Canadians watching that Saturday morning as the gold medal was placed around Rosie’s neck and the beaming smile exploding across her face, instantly made me want to help our athletes. Knowing a little of the plight our kids endure through lack of funding to stay competitive at the world level made me appreciate even more not only what Rosie just accomplished but the painstaking effort it took to even get there. It takes elite talent, grueling, intense training and unfortunately lots of money. A carded athlete gets roughly $1,500 a month from the Canadian government to pay rent, train and eat. The top athletes may have sponsors but its not always the case. These kids put their lives on hold for years to prepare and compete at a world-class level, delaying scholastics, careers, families, friends and anything not related to training for their sport.

After contacting Rosie’s father about hosting a fundraiser “In the Room” of the Ultimate Leafs Fan, to help with her training, John suggested I speak to a woman by the name of Jane Roos who runs a program for our Canadian Athletes called Canfund. Jane and her husband Conrad Leinemann both ex-Olympians started Canfund a number of years ago raising funding to support Canadian athletes in need of financial assistance. The athlete applies to the fund and can draw up to $6,000 twice a year if they meet a certain criteria to help support their training and living expenses.

I was a little skeptical at first because the thought originally was hosting an evening with Rosie present, selling 25 tickets at $500 each and the proceeds to her. I found out its not quite that easy so we met with Jane, John and Rosie at our place to strategize and also they could see the appeal of the collection to make the evening unique.

Jane is an energetic, passionate and tireless worker who strives to “level the playing field” allowing our athletes the opportunity to compete with the best in the world representing our country. We found out that 800 athletes were on the list in need of funding including Christine Sinclair, regarded the best woman’s soccer player in the world. Jane went on to explain that our “Room” if we were willing, could draw a very exclusive crowd and make a huge difference to a number of our kids with the significant funds we could raise in an evening.

Touring the collection, Rosie turned to Deb and myself and said,

“Mike and Deb, I am so grateful that you want to do this for me. My sport doesn’t get a lot of attention but since I won we are a bit now. There are athletes going to Sochi next year and they really need help, would you mind if we shared this money with them as well?”

It was all I could do to hold back the tears, looked at Deb and with my voice quivering said,

“Are we backing the right horse or what?”

After giving Rosie a hug it still hadn’t really sunk in that this elite athlete had offered to share money with other athletes she didn’t even know. Unlike the greedy athlete in the pro ranks such as Lebron James who stands for everything wrong with sports, only uses the word “we” when his team loses and “I” when they win.

At that moment I never felt prouder to be a Canadian and compelled to help further.

I would find that every Canadian Olympic hopeful I met had the same attitude as Rosie and some of these kids turned money away from Canfund to allow others to benefit from the help.

Deb and I have hosted two fundraisers for Canfund with full intention of making it three years in a row this fall to help prepare our kids for Rio in 2016.

Our first two events have netted to the athletes close to $250,000 and helped support over 35 athletes with funding. Did you know that as a competitive skier for Canada they are required to pay $18,000 to the ski federation? The unranked skier pays $28,000.

Volleyball players pay for their own balls. One young skier was paying in excess of $250 for her bags that contained her skis and equipment, every time she travelled to a competition around the world. By the way the airline charging this Canadian athlete was Air Canada. Rosie used the $6,000 from Canfund to fix her car so she could get to practice. I have countless stories along these lines that I’ve heard, not from the athlete but Jane and Conrad. The kids? They just move on and don’t let it cloud the focus.

One of the greatest honours I’ve ever experienced involved helping Conrad make the “call.” The “call” is the one all these young athletes hope they receive because it’s to inform them they have qualified for Canfund assistance.   I was warned that they don’t always reach the kids because they could be anywhere in the world training or competing.

Jayna Hefford has competed for Canada at five Olympic games in hockey, winning four gold’s and silver in the process, certainly one of the most decorated Olympians of all time and clearly a candidate for the Hockey Hall of Fame. We contacted her in Calgary one evening while she was headed to practice. To say she was floored by the call was an understatement. The first words our of her mouth after a heartfelt thank you were,

“Mike, I can’t thank you and Debra enough for what you are doing for all of us. It makes a difference and gives us all hope. If there is anything I can do to help in the future please call on me, I’ll be there.”

“Well Jayna there is something you can do for me and actually its part of the requirement, are you ready?”

“Name it Mike.”

“ When you win gold in Sochi, and you are back in Toronto, you must come to our place with your medal and have your picture taken with me in front of the Team Canada case in my room.”

Each athlete the response was the same, “How can I help?” or “What do you need from me to push this along and help others?”

We live in a very competitive world and sometimes the real values of life are lost on us all. There is something about the pure innocence of competing at a world-class level either as a participant or as a proud Canadian cheering those to victory that let us forget about the cruelty of life momentarily, getting caught up in the excitement of the competition. Is anything more gratifying than watching one of our athletes standing on a podium, tears streaming down their face, singing the words to our National Anthem while our flag rises for the world to see?

Or how about the athlete that hasn’t medaled but set not only a personal best but also a Canadian record in the event they competed in, with a smile from ear to ear, vowing to work harder, and the pride they feel representing our country?

With the PAN AM Games now over as you read this, ask yourself if the inconveniences weren’t so bad after all and how great was it to see Canada as a dominating force during the competition. Remember our athletes aren’t the ones to blame; all they did was compete and try to make us proud while they knocked heads with world-class competitors.

If you get the chance, look up one of the athletes on social media and engage them in a conversation. The positive energy these kids give off is contagious with the drive to succeed and their love of our country and the pride they feel representing us. There are no million-dollar contracts, personal services funding, ownership of a team or in most cases any sponsorship, and however these kids just find a way to survive.

Every time you give something back to a Canadian athlete you are changing a life, and that little extra may be the difference from standing at ground level or two feet higher on a podium.

Jayna Hefford went to Sochi and in dramatic fashion as we all remember Canada won gold in overtime.

The picture of Jayna and me, in front of the Team Canada case with her gold medal, is one of my treasured pieces.

“If I had a nickel for every time…”   How many times over our lives have we either used or heard that old cliché?   Personally, I get asked the same question whenever someone tours “ the Room” “What is your favourite piece in the collection?”. I usually smile and please understand, I never get tired of the inquisitive nature of my guests and it’s a very fair question, but as true collectors will agree, that’s almost impossible to answer.

Respected journalist John Iaboni was a guest one day and part way through the tour, pointed at the famous photo of Gordie Howe and the hockey stick tugging at a young Wayne Gretzky,

“Mike I set that picture up because I wrote the first major piece on Gretzky for a national publication when I worked at the Toronto Telegram starting as a teenager.”

John explained his job was to write a weekly piece on minor hockey in Toronto, where he was given full discretion to report as he pleased.   The story read, ‘Little No. 9 with Big 9 aspirations’ about a 10-year old phenom from Brantford who wanted to be the next Gordie Howe and if he couldn’t play hockey he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player like Vida Blue of the Oakland A’s.   That piece brought him to the attention of Hockey Night in Canada and the exposure lead to the meeting of Mr. Hockey and the famous photo, thus linking John and Wayne forever and Iaboni says,

“It’s something I’ll take to my tombstone.”

I have looked at that photo hundreds of times and as anyone else who knows the history recall it as the Star Weekly photo, but after John’s recollection of how it came to be, puts a whole new meaning to the piece.

A colleague from work, Craig Mills who after visiting “the Room” asked if I’d like a donation from him to the Team Canada display. After my immediate “of course” response, he handed me his 1996 Gold Medal from the World Junior Championships.

He explained that rather sitting in a drawer he’d much rather have it on display and couldn’t think of a better place than my collection.

A friend of my cousin’s talked about his purchase of the “Ace Bailey” photo at the Maple Leaf Gardens auction. He explained that the photo had an emotional attachment for him because it was the first picture he would see entering the Gardens with his dad as a young boy. His father had passed away and no longer has room for the photo so rather than sitting in a closet thought it might fit my room. It sure does.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s once again about the stories, peoples’ reactions and reciting their own encounters with memorabilia. The room is therapeutic which allows visitors to re-live their childhood experiences, encounters with greatness, heroes and maybe just the game itself.

Accumulating a massive collection covers every decade in Toronto Maple Leaf history, allowing both young and old to take a trip down memory lane. What that entails for me is the need to hunt for more treasures because the rarer the item, the quicker it resonates with the viewer and not only does it start a chain of questioning, it leads to one off stories that become my true takeaway.

There is a saying that pertains to hockey players, which is, “you’re only as good as your last shift” well the same can be applied to a collector, “who’s only as good as their last acquisition.”

I mentioned in last weeks blog about the rare 1936-37 die cut proof set of Toronto Maple Leafs I’d recently acquired, that is an extraordinary find and would be the envy of any card collector.   Likewise the 1960-61 Parkhurst proof set of Maple Leafs discovered around the same time. These one-of-a-kind items give collectors like myself adrenalin rushes that can only be satisfied by the quest to find more like them.

Walking the recent international hockey show I happened across a chap I’ve dealt with before and he knows what will get my attention. He didn’t disappoint.

He quickly unfolded a stack of mint condition “Star Weekly” hockey photos clipped meticulously from the treasured magazines. These gorgeous photos had barely seen the light of day and as a matter of fact a lot hadn’t been removed from the booklet. They went all the way back into the 1930’s in magnificent black and white imagery. Action shots, team photos, individual players and advertising ads made up the bulk of the pages.   One full-page black and white ad featured the 1935 Maple Leafs standing beside GM, Pontiac automobiles admiring the cars individually. I’d never seen this piece before and anyone I’ve shown it to since says the same and just as rare was the 1935 National Home Monthly, 2-page ad featuring Foster Hewitt endorsing GM products.

Brian McFarlane, legendary, Hockey Night in Canada host and noted author of over 60 publications, was a recent speaker at the monthly “Inside the Room” I host. After a wonderful evening of stories and tales from the past, Brian removed from his briefcase a copy of the kid’s book “Peter Puck,”

“Mike this is a gift from me to you and I hope you enjoy it.”

Inside the sleeve Brian had written “To Mike, a good Friend, Brian McFarlane.”

These are the moments that are special to me. Of all the books Brian has written, why this one as a gift? It adds to the mystery and intrigue of the story and also one of respect that he thought enough of me to pass this along. The same can be said for all the items donated to the collection.

I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I am today were my collection receives the attention it does as this was never the original intent. What it has done is open up a whole new world to uncover additional history and facts about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The more people visit “the Room” and share encounters or “finds” meaningful to them, the more it inspires me in my quest to uncover additional information about the Leafs.   That is really my favourite “thing” about the collection; the hunt, the find, sharing stories and discovering more and as the MasterCard commercial says, “Priceless.”

For those who follow my blog on a regular basis or perused our website, may think what I’m about to say is very self-serving, well your right, but hear me out.

I’ve been very fortunate to accumulate what is considered the largest collection of Toronto Maple Leaf artifacts in existence. That may or may not be true.

ESPN labeled me “The Ultimate Leafs Fan” and it seems to have stuck which I’m fine with, but I like to think of myself as much more. I consider myself a preserver of historical treasures and the ability to explain their significance.

We live in a world of hope and promise, daring people to dream things will get better and even produce victorious results. The financial world that I’ve been a part of most of my life lives by that mantra and in fact “bad news” can mean “good news” for markets. Why would you invest in a company that’s successful and already peaked instead of trying to find one that could be a success?

Sports teams are similar in that analogy and in fact, teams try to copycat successful competitors.

When ex players visit “The Room”, the reaction is usually one of admiration and as I have said several times before, this I could never get tired of hearing. The reminders of how things were, then and now is the immediate reaction, followed by inspiring stories from the era either experienced by the player or witnessed at that moment.

I just acquired a set of Maple Leaf 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee proof; die cut cards in fantastic condition and is probably the only one of its kind in the collecting world.  With this recent purchase, my mind flashes back in time thinking of kids opening packs of these cards and stuffing them innocently in their front pocket. I also wonder about that period in time and upon further investigation in the year 1936, did you know that it was the third playing of the Masters Golf Tournament but 71st British Open? The Sarnia Imperials defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 24th Grey Cup? Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games? That the Hoover Dam was completed? The world’s first superhero appeared in a cartoon strip, The Phantom?   How did people react to these events or did they just slough them off as we would similar happenings today? But for our argument it all comes back to the Leafs of that era and how they still stand out above everything else that was occurring at the time. They only won the Stanley Cup once in that decade and Smythe was forever tinkering with the lineup, never settling at second best. It’s this desire to win that has been instilled in Leaf fans and passed through the generations to today.

When families come see “The Room”, they can all recite stories or events centered on growing up with the Leafs. It could be just the sound of Foster Hewitt’s voice listening to the radio broadcasts, a grandparent who saved newspapers, a ticket stub, program, puck, an old magazine or anything that can connect to the period. It doesn’t matter but it all fits together as the history unfolds and the bond between the two eras are forever cemented.

It’s no coincidence that the most successful franchises in sports, have the most glorified past and endlessly talk about it. Our thirst for knowledge as sports fans comes as a result of our historic past whether good or bad. Look at a team like the Chicago Cubs that haven’t won a World Series in over 100 years, yet the pride of the team is carried year after year with tradition preserved by the historic field they play on at Wrigley. Walking through the gates it’s more about what the moment represents rather than the game itself. Sitting in the seats of this cathedral of ball parks today lets the mind wander back in time as an example, to game 3 of the 1932 World Series and Babe Ruth’s home run, immortalized as the “called shot.”  The New York Yankees with 27 World Series victories honour past stars with monuments in center field at Yankee Stadium.   Here are two teams that are polar opposites, yet when referring to the history of baseball more often than not, both come up in the same sentence.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most iconic franchises in the history of sports, yet outside of small mentions at the Hockey Hall of Fame the past is not on display. The Leafs in fact are the only major team in North America that do not have its’ history on display in the form of a museum and that is unacceptable.   The recent honouring of past Leafs with “Legends Row” is a start.

Conn Smythe bought the St. Pats partially with money won gambling on hockey and football games. Pete Rose is banned for life from baseball for betting on the game. Smythe also built the Gardens in less than 6 months during the depression topping that monumental feat with the purchase of King Clancy from the Ottawa Senators for an unheard sum of $35,000, using part of the money won betting on a horse named Rare Jewel.

In 1971 John Bassett Sr. had Harold Ballard and Stafford Smythe removed from the Board of the Leafs, but if only he had made them sell their shares, what may have become of the team during that tenure instead of the bumbling ways of Pal Hal?

In 1992 when Pat Burns opted out his contract with Montreal and signed with the Leafs instead of LA, he cited the history as the reason. He took the team to the best playoff run since 1967 after finishing last the year before he arrived.

Pat Quinn took over the reins as Leaf coach before the 1998-99 season, having played for the Leafs in the late 60’s was aware of the tradition and history of the franchise leading the team to one of the best runs in recent memory.

Brendan Shanahan appointed head of hockey operations constantly refers to the history and glorious past of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And worth repeating he was quoted as saying touring “The Room” he found it inspirational and motivating.

Brian Burke gushes speaking about the past of Maple Leaf years calling the job as head of the organization the best job in hockey and one of the best in sports.

Why are all these examples worth remembering?

It’s the walk through time, the evolution of the game and the Leafs contribution to it. The hold the team has on personal lives growing up and fathers passing along not only the tradition but history. This is also what resonates the fire that burns within each of us holding true to the team that now enters what maybe the darkest period in Maple Leaf history.

Through all the turbulent times including ownership battles, incompetent management and players just not good enough, there has been just enough emotion as a result of the past to ignite the passion to keep the hope alive and we must never lose that.