Around the time of my 11th birthday I had a paper route delivering the Toronto Star. It was nothing too complicated. My route entailed Elinor Avenue the street we lived on. I would pick the papers up at the corner of Tower and Lawrence, one block east and load them onto a cart my uncle made to help me to carry the 60 papers I was to deliver daily.
The first Christmas on the route, I received the shock of my life, while collecting one cold December Friday night. I started receiving Christmas bonuses from the customers! The bonus worked out to be roughly two bucks per house. Even though some customers gave tips during the rest of the year it was nothing like this. I felt rich.
For Christmas in 1965, my uncle gave me two tickets to the Toronto Marlboro game for December 26. By this time, hockey had become an obsession. If I wasn’t playing with my team, I was on the road, skating at the local schoolyard rink or just in the basement shooting pucks.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were my favorite team, with the Marlboros a close second. In my world, Saturday nights the focus were the Leafs but Sunday afternoon belonged to the Marlboros. The Marlboro games were shown on TV Sunday afternoons and I’d watch them religiously. A couple times a year my dad would get tickets from work to attend a few Leaf games and we’d take in the odd Marlboro game, so this was an added bonus receiving these seats from my uncle. They also were located in the first row behind the opposing team bench. What a view from that level. I fondly remember thirty years later, sitting in those exact seats for a few Leaf games and reminiscing about that first time.
The year 1966 was also the first time I saw 15-year-old Bobby Orr playing for the Oshawa Generals, against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Memorial Cup final at the Gardens. The game was played at the Gardens to accommodate the demand to witness this 15-year-old phenomenon. The place was jammed to the rafters.
Today I reflect on that historical event with the fond memory of attending that game. At that moment in time however because a Leaf or a Marlboro weren’t involved, I couldn’t comprehend all the fuss about this game.
Early in the 1966-67 season, a teammate of mine asked if I’d like to go to a Marlboro game. Did I? Quickly thinking how to get this by my dad, the tip money flashed in my head.
“Dad I’ll use my own money”, I exclaimed.
Surprisingly it didn’t require much more coaxing than that, although I don’t think my mom was too sold on the idea.
We took the Lawrence East 54 bus remembering to get a transfer for the bus change on Leslie. The Leslie bus took us to the Eglinton subway station where we boarded the southbound train to College. We followed the crowd to the exit on the right side of the street, then walked east on College and there it was, Maple Leaf Gardens. That whole process took 45 minutes and cost ten cents.
The ticket to the game was a buck, the program twenty five cents, then ten cents for way home and still change left for the concession booths. The snack would always include an Eskimo Pie.
From that moment on, we never missed a Sunday afternoon home game. I would continuously count the tip jar to see how long I could last spending two bucks a week.
We never seemed to have a pen but somehow managed to borrow one to get the same autographs on our programs every week. Gerry Meehan was my favorite player but Terry Caffery wasn’t far behind.
I had nervously mumbled something about my dad working with his sister at IBM one time while Terry signed my program as he had for about fourteen weeks in a row. He politely acknowledged that his sister did indeed work at IBM and that made my day. He then asked if I played hockey. I quickly answered yes as he smiled and asked me if I slept at the Gardens between my games because he saw me so much. Well with twenty or so other kids waiting to get Terry’s autograph this was overwhelming. I of course said no I didn’t.
The 1966-67 Toronto Marlboros was a very talented team full of future NHL players. I will in the future go into more depth on this underrated team.
That team would go on to win the 1967 Memorial Cup and the Leafs the Stanley Cup.