What a Birthday Present

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The year was 1967. It was quite a year for Canadians, as the country would turn 100 years old that July 1st . In January of 1967, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in what would be the first Super Bowl. In February Muhammad Ali defeated Ernie Terrell for the World heavyweight championship. Also that February, the Leafs would lose 10 games in a row for the longest losing streak in team history.

As for me, I would play in the biggest minor hockey tournament in the world that February. The Quebec Peewee Tournament. I also was the envy of my class as I got a week off school to attend the tournament. We lost in the last minute of the semi finals to York Steel. We all cried.

I had a paper route at the time. and kept all my earnings and tips in a jar above the breadbox in the kitchen. Every Sunday after my practice and a quick road hockey game, I would dig two bucks out of the jar. My friend and I would the make our way down to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch our second favourite team, the Jr. A, Toronto Marlboros. For two bucks that covered the cost of bus fare (10 cents each way with a transfer and subway ride) a green seat to the game, a program and a few treats. The treats would vary but would almost always include an eskimo pie ice cream bar. We’d arrive at every game in time for the warm-up. We would hang over the glass and watch the warm-up and get the players to sign our programs. I probably got every player a dozen times but didn’t care, as it gave me a chance to talk to them. I knew that team inside and out. They had a great team. Guys like Gerry Meehan (my favourite player), Terry Caffrey, Tom Martin, Mike Byers, Brian Glennie, Brad Park, Mike Pelyk to name a few. They would all go on to play in the NHL. They just never seemed to lose. They did finish behind Kitchener Rangers though.

The opening game of the playoffs was on a Tuesday night against the Montreal Jr. Canadiens. I had to be there. I talked my friend across the street into going, even though he wasn’t much of a fan and this would be his first game. Now to get this by the moms. It was the, if you say its ok Dave’s mom says its ok routine. Before they could figure out what was going on or changed there mind, Dave and I were off.

Like always, I set up just outside the hall the Marlies came out of which at the time was the same as the Leafs. One of the trainers went by and recognized me from standing there all year long and said hi. He also threw me a pair of skate laces because he knew I liked that kind of stuff. Dave was impressed. Then as Cam Newton turned down the hall as usual, I noticed something wrong. The sweaters! What’s that crest all about? The classic Leaf crest was changed to the outline of our new Canadian flag for Centennial Year. And the stripes on the arms and around the waist had been changed. Wow!

I have always taken claim to being the first fan to see these now classic sweaters, seeing how I was the first person looking around the door as they walked down the hall.

The Marlboros won and now for the trip home. It was not usually pitch black out and we are not usually the only two twelve year olds on the subway or bus at that time of night or so it seemed. We made our way nervously home nevertheless.

My dad was sitting in his chair by the door in the living room. My heart sank as I entered the house and knew this wasn’t a good sign. It wasn’t! My dad was furious with me. I knew I’d pulled a fast one and now it was nearly midnight and our parents where worried sick. But it was still worth it to me.

The rest of May turned out pretty special for me as not only would I get to attend the Expo World Fair in Quebec, but the Marlies would win the Memorial Cup and remember the 10 game losing streak for the Leafs? Well not only would they recover, but go on to win the Stanley Cup.

In 1964 the Leafs and Marlies both won in the same year again. A rare feat. The Marlies would go on to win a few more over the next number of years and my dear old Leafs? Well there’s always next year as they say.