A cherished memory for most kids growing up is the first sporting event they attend with their dad. Children are very impressionable, so the pageantry, excitement and roar of the crowd offered at a game while sitting beside their dad, implants forever, that moment in time. I attended my first professional sports event when I was four and it wasn’t a hockey game or even with my dad. My Grandmother took me to fan appreciation day for the baseball Maple Leafs. Fans were allowed to mingle with the players before the game for pictures and autographs; I still have a few photos of myself with some of the players. I wouldn’t see my first NHL game until three years later at Maple Leaf Gardens with my dad. He told me when I was three, we travelled to Detroit and a relative who worked for the Wings got us into the dressing after their morning skate so technically that was my first time in an NHL arena. ‘Dick Shatto Day’ was the first Toronto Argonauts CFL game I attended in 1965 and the Argos even won, which didn’t happen often in those days.
Today as adults we can reflect back on time and envision events from the child’s perspective, but what about the dads? We as dads will or have experienced that feeling from the other side, taking our children to their first games and passing on the tradition from one generation to the next.
During the 1997 Toronto Maple Leaf season, a colleague from work and I decided that we’d take our daughters to their first Leaf games. Our girls were close in age with my daughter Andra, 5 and Mike’s daughter Carly 6. The game was a rare 4-o’clock start so we thought the time was perfect and wouldn’t keep the two girls out too late. I was excited to share my memories of my first game with Andra on the way to pick up Mike and Carly, relaying how I couldn’t sleep the night before, how restless I was watching the clock move at snail’s pace all day and urging my dad to drive faster to get to Maple Leaf Gardens. Andra smiled politely and said how she was really looking forward to the game.
Once in the seats and two arms full of treats shared amongst the four of us, the game began. I wasn’t paying to much attention to the girls but heard some giggling and laughing as the game progressed. About halfway through the third period the girls continued to laugh and giggle having a great time but at that moment I felt someone looking at me and slowly looking around, noticed a few people glaring at us with a look of disgust. Suddenly a rush of guilt swelled up inside me realizing the girls weren’t even watching the game and these people behind us with the dirty looks didn’t say anything but they didn’t have to. Why are you to guys wasting very expensive seats on these two kids who have no interest and are disturbing us?
My son Ryan was 5 when we went to our first game together. It was the St. Mikes Majors playing at St. Michaels Arena, the year they came back into the OHA Junior A circuit. I explained the history of the team, how his grandfather had played at the school, I had attended Neil McNeil, played at St. Mike’s, some of the famous Leafs and on I went with not much response from Ryan. We arrived early and loaded with treats sat to watch the pre-game warm-up. Ryan was getting a bit restless once the treats disappeared; and about 5-minutes into the game wanted to leave. I couldn’t believe my ears and needless to say was crushed with disappointment believing I had lost that moment in time with my children forever, first with Andra, now Ryan. Not for one minute stopping to think that maybe the candy had something to do with it. The Blue Jays were a little more triumphant but that’s because I limited the treats and also the Jays had a playground for kids at Gate 8. Through trial and error I finally managed to get them to sit for the games by holding the treats until game time and not arriving at the seats until the game was about to begin.
But all was not lost because when Andra turned 8 we saw the Leafs play at the new ACC on her birthday. A friend arranged to wish her happy birthday on the scoreboard between periods and she had the surprise of her life when that flashed on the screen. Today at the age of 23, Andra recalls that night fondly also taking notice she shared the same birthday as the late coach of the Leafs, Pat Quinn.
Ryan had a memorable experience his first Leaf game as well at the ACC. Sitting 14 rows from the ice behind the net, Thomas Kaberle snapped a shot from the point that was deflected by Darcy Tucker over the end glass (this was just before netting was installed) and the puck moving slow landed right in Ryan’s lap. (the guy beside him had a better angle than me, so he caught it). That puck is in our collection and signed by both players. It still didn’t resonate as I explained to him that I had been going to hockey games for years and never came close to catching a puck.
We have to be aware today with the internet, games, 400-Tv stations, every game on line, phone or anywhere you catch a signal that the element of surprise for a kid attending his/her first live game is somewhat watered down. The trick is to get them there and sit patiently because even with all that I mentioned as a distraction, nothing still beats a game live.