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.