The subway train paused between stops headed to Union Station… and I thought… how funny would it be if the train broke down and I missed the Leafs opener? Fortunately, within minutes, I was at the pre-game party at Maple Leaf Square amongst a few thousand enthusiastic Leafs fans. It was what could be described as a playoff type atmosphere.
Deb joined me for the first of 82 Maple Leaf games I’ll attempt to attend this year. After speaking with a number of well-wishers in the Square, we decided to head inside the newly named Scotiabank Arena for the pregame skate. In the past we’ve attended many season-opening games. While the excitement surrounding the team is probably the highest in the history of the franchise, there was definitely a buzz of nervousness amongst the throng of supporters. I could relate to that nervousness because after months of talk to follow the Leafs for every game this season, it was now showtime.
Speaking with fans as we circled the hallways of Scotiabank we heard tales of families bonding watching “Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday evenings. Clark and Gilmour were the inspirational heroes for the 35-45 age bracket. And for fan Greg Hale, it was Nikolai Borschevsky’s game 7 overtime winner against Detroit in 1993 that turned the 49-year-old into a lifetime fan.
MLSE Chairman of the Board Larry Tanenbaum invited Deb and I to the Directors lounge between the first and second periods to wish us well with our Maple Leafs project.
Police Superintendent Scott Baptist shared a story of his aunt gifting him a team signed stick from the 1950-51 Toronto Maple Leafs. The stick was his pride and joy.
He sold it about 15 years ago, regretting it everyday since. The pained expression on his face as he relayed the story certainly drove the point home. I tried to comfort Scott by suggesting he not look at the loss of the stick but instead the memory of the artifact that will bond him with his aunt and the Maple Leafs for the rest of his life. A big smile came across his face and he shook my hand saying that made him feel a lot better.
My old pal, the flamboyant ex-Dragons Den star Mike Wekerle, stopped by between the second and third intermission. We chatted and after a few hugs, a passionate well-wish, a number of selfies with curious onlookers, he was gone as fast as he arrived.
Deb and I both agreed on the subway ride home how fast the night went. What a blur it was with all the excitement around us. It certainly wasn’t lost that the Leafs didn’t play very well, but won anyway. I pointed out to Deb-that is the sign of a good team. But our guys will have to play much better. Opening night jitters.
We also both agreed that the highlight of the night (sorry Wek) was 30 year Leafs fan Mike, who was attending his first game. His best friend Julian brought him. When asked what the Maple leafs meant to him growing up, he said it was watching the games with his dad. It bonded them forever and they shared the passion for the Maple Leafs as father and son. With tears streaming down his face, Mike said the last words his dad ever spoke to him before he passed away were, “What was the score?”. This kind of memory and engagement is what it’s all about for me.
I’m ready for the next one! Another division rivalry game at home hosting the Sens on “Hockey Night in Canada”. I can’t wait to step foot back in the thick of the excitement. Hearing the stories and connections we have as fans is what continues to inspire me on this journey.
See you at the rink!