Friday, December 09, 2005


HOCKEY FRIDAY, featuring....

MAPLE LEAF GARDENS by Daniel John Campbell


VINDICATION (the Great One and me)



Ancient Temples Of The Hockey Gods, part 2: MAPLE LEAF GARDENS

Back in the days of my youth, before UHF television, you only had a choice of three television stations, the local affiliates of ABC, NBC, and CBS. Unless you lived in a city on the Canadian border, which meant you also received the local Canadian Broadcasting Corporation affiliate. This was a very good thing if you were a hockey fan, because while hockey was never broadcast on the US networks, you got to watch it every Saturday night via the CBC's HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA. You also got to watch CROSS CANADA CURLING every Saturday afternoon. But, I digress. Because almost all of these games were broadcast from either the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens, you soon came to think of these venues as special. I have a deep abiding love for the Gardens, even though I never have actually been inside (and only viewed from the outside a couple of times). Some of my fondest memories are of Saturday nights spent listening to Bill Hewitt, or occasionally, Dan Kelly, calling the games from the Gardens.

Maple Leaf Gardens was built by Leafs owner Conn Smythe in 1932 for a then huge sum of $1.5 million. Affectionately known as the "Cashbox On Carleton Street", it holds a record unmatched in the history of professional sports! Every Leafs game played there from 1946 to the final game in 1999 was a sellout. 53 straight years of sellouts. A lot of teams would be happy to sell out 53 straight games. Originally seating 12,000 fans, Smythe, and later owner Harold Ballard, eventually found very creative ways to fit more seats into the Garden, and by the time the Leafs played their last game there, seating capacity was just shy of 16,000. Ballard also had an apartment suite built in the Gardens, and lived there until his death in 1990.

When I think of the Gardens, my thoughts always turn to the great players who I loved to hate when I was a kid. Frank Mahavolich, the "Big M", with his long powerful strides. Davy Keon, the scrappy little center who had a knack for big timely goals and assists. The fluid skating of defensemen Carl Brewer and Marcel Pronovost, and the hard shooting, hard hitting Tim Horton (who also made the best donuts and coffee in Canada). And the ancient Johnny Bower, the goalie who didn't even make it to the big leagues until the age most guys are retired, and backstopped the Leafs to their last 4 Stanley Cups.

Today, Maple Leaf Gardens sits empty and unused on the corner of Carleton and Church streets in Toronto. There is a plan underway to keep the exterior in tact, and turn the building into a giant Home Depot type store. I guess it could be worse.. could be a Wal Mart.

A few weeks ago, a lot of people were calling ESPN Radio's DAN PATRICK SHOW complaining about Wayne Gretzky's coaching. I said at the time I was impressed with his style, his staff, and the system he was using, and that once the players became comfortable with it, the Coyotes would probably be a better team than their talent would dictate. Well, the Yotes have won 7 of their last 10 games, and are now just one point out of the final playoff spot. The Great One and the Great White Bear both feel vindicated.

1. Jack Johnson, D, Michigan - drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes, this freshman defenseman is a STUD. A great skater, physical, and in possession of great offensive skills, You could see him in the NHL as early as next year, especially if the Wolverines win the national championship.
2. Jack Skille, RW, Wisconsin - Chicago Blackhawks draftee is having a huge freshman season in Madison. He is playing big minutes and is among the team leaders in both goals and assists on the #1 team in the country. He will face a lot of pressure to turn pro next year, as the Blackhawks are desperate for offense. Like Johnson, he is playing hockey in his home town, and that could be a deciding factor in whether or not he stays in Madison past this year.
3. Brian Lee, D, North Dakota - another freshman D putting up big offensive numbers. A great powerplay quarterback! The Senators have his draft rights, and with Zedeno Chara and Wayne Redden potential free agents, Lee my face a lot of pressure to join Ottawa next season.
4. Sasha Pokulak, D, Cornell - sophomore is property of the Capitals. He is a big, tough defenseman whose game is a bit raw. But give him a couple of more years playing in the east, and he'll be a great, physical, defensive defenseman in the NHL.
5. T.J. Oshie, C, North Dakota - Blues draftee is leading team in scoring as a freshman. The fact that he might have to play in St. Louis may keep him from turning pro for a couple of years.
6. Andrew Cogliano , C, Michigan - has blazing speed, and is among the CCHA scoring leaders. Oilers have his rights, but don't seem to be in a hurry to rush his development. Which means we may actually get to se him in Ann Arbor for at lest another year or two.
7. Joe Finley, D, North Dakota - tough, physical defenseman who, as a freshman, is logging a lot of ice time for the Fighting Sioux. Washington has his draft rights.
8. Matt Niskanen, D, Minnesota-Duluth - this freshman is extremely athletic, a great skater, and a great powerplay quarterback. Dallas Stars look to him as Sergei Zubov's heir apparent!

As you may know, I am a big fan of college hockey! There is a lot of really great hockey being played at the NCAA level. And compared to professional hockey it is a bargain. College hockey is a great way for a family to spend the evening together. So if you live close to a college with a hockey program, check it out. You won't be sorry!

5 weeks ago, the Detroit Red Wings appeared to be by far the best team in the NHL. Pundits were already handing them the Stanley Cup. And in the Eastern conference, only Ottawa appeared to have a shot at derailing the Carolina Hurricanes as best of the east. Then reality stepped up. A grueling schedule that saw the Wings play 5 more games than anyone else in the league began to take it's toll. Fatigue and injuries beset Detroit, and they began to lose games in bunches. Now they are only 1 point ahead of Nashville in their division, and Nashville has 4 games in hand. Their best forward (Robert Lang) is out indefinitely with a groin pull. Their best defenseman (Jiri Fischer) is suffering from a career threatening heart ailment, and their #1 goalie, Manny Legace, is out with bum knee.

Likewise the Hurricane have suffered through a rash of injuries to key players, and have started to lose as many as they win. Which leaves Ottawa as clearly the class of the league. And it should stay that way, as long as Dominic Hasek remains healthy. He may be the best goaltender in the history of the world, and if he stays healthy, with all the Sens firepower, no one should touch them on the way to the Cup. Funny though, that's what folks were saying about the Wings 5 weeks ago. Guess that's why they play 80 games!

Tears: Stevie Y quits Canadian Olympic team, saying he is not playing well enough to take a spot from a younger player!
Cheers: Super Mario's recent heart problem doesn't appear to be serious, and he should be back on the ice soon.

coming next HOCKEY FRIDAY: Chicago Stadium, top 10 left wings of all time.

OK, I commented on "Hockey Friday". Are you happy now? ;)
Hear, hear on Gretzky! Me and the tyke went and saw the 'Yotes dismantle the Thrashers on Monday.
tshsmom - now if I could only get you to take Z to a UM, M-D, or Bemidji State game, I'd feel my mission in life is complete!

dbd - It's great to see a father bringing his kids up right!
When I was growing up, Johnny Bower and his family lived around the corner from us. I went to school with a couple of his kids, Barb and Cindy. I have only fond memories of Mr. Bower, who always seemed to have time to talk to us kids. He was a genuine hockey legend, living around the corner, a treasure in our neck of the woods.
Yeah, Alex loves hockey. I'm just afraid of the cost when he starts wanting to play!
mr. a - funny how tmes have changed. Back when we were kids, athletes made a good living, but weren't wealthy like they are today. And they were much more accessable.

Terry Sawchuk and Jimmy Peters lived on the same lake we did. Sawchuk's inlaws owned the local golf course. I knew their kids casually. Jimmy Peters Jr. went on to play for the Wings for a few years.

dbdad - I have 4 words fo you. PLAY IT AGAIN SPORTS. Try to avoid new equipment, at least till he reaches middle school age.

also, start saving up for tha mini van, you'll need it!
Ain't gonna happen! ;)
I have visited the Maple Leaf Gardens.

Toronto Maple Leafs. Leafs????? Leafs????

Why isn't it LEAVES?????
tshsmom - AW, Come on....

isabella - should it be Maple Loaves instead of the Maple Loafs
I have been in Maple Leaf Gardens. While I was glad to have been there, I didn't think it was as great as Chicago Stadium. But I'm sure I'm biased :) I'm really looking forward to your article on Chicago Stadium.

I thought of you last night while I was watching the Red Wings on OLN. Then I watched that Mario Lemieux show, then the Darren McCarty one. He was so cute with his kids :)
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