Playing for the Right Reason

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The Dorset Park Hockey Association played out of McGregor Park in Scarborough. McGregor was located on Lawrence Ave, just east of Birchmount Road.

The year was 1960, my first year of organized hockey. McGregor was one of a few outdoor rinks in Scarborough at the time. It was 10 minute drive from our home at Pharmacy and Lawrence. There were other rink locations at Agincourt, West Hill and Clairlea.

Most rinks of the era and even today had a very distinctive characteristic. The “rink smell.” It’s a smell every hockey player knows extremely well. It hits you the minute you enter the building. A combination of popcorn, coffee, cigarettes, hot chocolate, smelly equipment and the aroma from the over worked heating ducts. It was a smell like no other, a good smell. It meant you were minutes away from playing hockey.

The wire screen surrounding the top of the boards and behind the nets to keep stray pucks in play weren’t much of a factor for a bunch of six year olds. We could barely stay upright on our skates, never mind raise a puck off the ice.
The rink seemed massive but was actually shorter than a regulation ice surface. Again it didn’t matter. The dressing rooms were tiny and very cramped, but we came dressed to the rink.

Nothing could match playing a real game of hockey outdoors. Yes we all played at the schoolyard or someone’s backyard rink, but this was different. The lines on the ice, the faceoff circles, real boards, official nets and referees. It was the real thing.

Skating outdoors had the winter chill go right through your body. The wind sometimes would be so strong that play would look to be in slow motion.

Standing on the bench as the steam came off every breath you took, it felt like icicles were forming on your eyebrows. The only thing that mattered however was getting back out on the ice. Fighting the elements was the price you paid to play. We didn’t mind in the least, besides who knew otherwise?

Once the game was over, win, lose or draw, it rarely mattered. Most of the kids in the room couldn’t tell you what the team’s record was or place in the standings. As we slumped onto the bench in the tiny and now very warm dressing room, the feeling of exhaustion was reward enough. Yes there was a sense of exhilaration with a victory or even scoring a goal. However looking around the room at the sweat soaked heads, that was proof enough that everyone had given their best. And besides, the coach always told us we played well.

The Wexford Hockey Association played out of the Tam O’Shanter complex. The “Tam” was located at the corner of Kennedy and Shepard in Scarborough. The “Tam” was state of the art for its time. Built on a 168-acre site; it originally was a cattle farm until 1933. The golf course was built around that time. A swimming pool, pro shop, clubhouse, kitchen and banquet rooms were built in 1954. In 1958 eight bowling alleys were added. The same year the “Tam” introduced pay as you play curling to Eastern Canada when it built a 12-sheet rink. Eight additional sheets were added in 1961 and in 1962 a hockey rink surface six inches wider than Maple Leaf Gardens was built.

The “Tam” was indoors and home to not only minor hockey but also figure skating. It became the official practice site for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The thrill as an eight year old skating on the same surface as the beloved Maple Leafs was the “wow” factor. Of all the places for the Leafs to practice, they chose the “Tam.” That alone was enough. How can I not improve playing here if it’s good enough for the Leafs?

The “Tam” not only had the “smell” it had the aura of the Leafs as well. The wooden structure also added to the ambiance of the “Tam.”

Playing indoors was a whole new experience. The game was the same; actually it was even better because we didn’t have to fight the elements. I never realized at the time how much of a difference it actually made. Again I didn’t really care as long as there was a game to play.

Fridays at the “Tam” was public skating. My dad would take me to warm up for my Saturday game. One time Brad Park from the Marlboros was there. No one in the rink recognized him except me. I edged up beside Brad and bravely asked him why he was here. “Just to loosen up my legs, I’m coming back from an injury” he politely said. I tried to keep up with him as we skated around but he soon picked up the pace and left me behind. He did wave goodbye to me when he left the ice.

Sunday October 3RD 1971, the shed housing the mattresses for the summer hockey school at the “Tam” caught fire. The “Tam’s” wooden structure burnt to the ground. The damage was close to 2million dollars. Thousands of hockey players, figure skaters and curlers had nowhere to play. The golf course was open the next day. Ironically, as if the fire wasn’t enough, it was a record temperature for Toronto that day at 83 degrees.

The Sunday the “Tam” burned to the ground we could see the massive cloud of black smoke from our street. We all stopped to take notice interrupting our road hockey game. It was an awesome sight to see the cloud of smoke. We of course didn’t know the extent of the damage at the time. Since most of my games were played in the city now, I never gave it much thought. We continued with our game after the short break.

As a final note, my thoughts did wander to the Toronto Maple Leafs because the special place they practiced, no longer existed. They of course used the Gardens. Recently speaking to one of the players from that era with the Leafs, he explained that the “Tam” was just another rink to them at the time. I went on to ask about the size of the ice surface being a factor. He chuckled and said nope no special reason. In fact the only reason they practiced at the “Tam” was because coach Punch Imlach lived a few minutes from the rink and was to lazy to drive downtown to the Gardens.