Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"OUR STORY, YOUR STORY"

O, land of blue unending skies,
Mountains strong and sparkling snow,
A scent of freedom in the wind,
O'er the emerald fields below,
For thee we brought or hopes, our dreams,
For thee we stand together,
Our land of peace, where proudly flies,
The Maple Leat Forever

-Revised lyrics by Vladimir Radian, 1997-


On October 23, 2016, the launch for "The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication 1917-2017" was held in Toronto.

The launch took place at the home of Mike Wilson and Debra Thuet, which is also the site of Wilson's incredible collection of Maple Leaf memorabilia. So, the surroundings were perfect for an afternoon of Leaf talk.

The focus on this occasion was author Kevin Shea and his latest effort. Unfortunately, his co-author, Jason Wilson, was unable to attend due to a previous commitment. 

Upon seeing and handling the "Official Centennial Publication" one quickly realizes the care and attention to detail behind its creation. You become aware of this when touching the raised Maple Leaf crest and lettering on the solid blue/grey hardcover. The cover is eloquently designed and void of any visible distractions.

And the attention to detail continues over the 375 pages of text. The Toronto Maple Leafs one hundred year story is nicely structured by featuring the different era's and decades. It begins with "The Noble Cause"(1917-18 to 1918-19) and ends with "Hope"(2015-16 and beyond).

Shea's solid and concise writing helps the reader connect with all the generations that make-up the Leafs story. It delves into an unknown past for many and recalls memories fans were able to experience. Shea, now with 14 books under-his-belt, delivered both an informative and fun read.

Concerning the unknown past, how many know that Toronto almost lost their NHL franchise in 1927. In the chapter "Blue and White" Shea documents how Conn Smythe and his associates came to the rescue and prevented the team from moving to Philadelphia.

Then, there are the personal stories of the players and what it meant to them to wear the Leafs' uniform. One of the most moving of these tales belongs to Kurt Walker, who skated for Toronto from 1976 to 1978. He told Kevin Shea about what happened before his first game at Maple Leaf Gardens. "These were the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I was now one of them! As I walked out to the ice surface with the team, I saw my dad standing in the runway with a big smile on his face. He leaned over to me and said, 'You made it! I love you!' I told my dad that I loved him, too."

There isn't a Leaf fan around that hasn't dreamed of sharing Walker's experience with their own father. 

Another delightful part of the book is the glorious photographs. For example, one page is dedicated to showing two separate pictures of the Leafs captains through the ages. It pays tribute to the men that led the team in the dressing room and on the ice.

If Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment decides to put together a time capsule to mark their one hundred year history, this book deserves a spot. It weaves together the complete story of the Maple Leaf Forever. 









Tuesday, October 18, 2016

INSIDE THE BOOK





It is called the wow-factor, that moment when you are struck right between the eyes. For fans visiting Mike Wilson's hockey collection, the wow-factor strikes as you descend down the stairs to the lower-level of his home. Then, when you reach the bottom, your feet don't know if they should turn left or right, as you're immediately surrounded by glorious memorabilia.

After making my first visit to see the dazzling works, I wrote, "Taking a tour of Mike's mementoes is similar to entering a time machine and travelling back to explore a bygone era." His work to preserve the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is absolutely amazing.

Now, Mike Wilson has made a portion of his collection available for everyone to see with the publication of his first book - Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan, Centennial Collector's  Edition, Toronto Maple Leaf Treasurers. Toronto Sun hockey writer Lance Hornby and historian/video archivist Paul Patskou are round out the writing team.

The book spans the entire history of Toronto's NHL franchise from 1917 to the present day. Each collectable has been smartly photographed and gives the reader an excellent visual perspective. The content fills 224 pages and is nicely laid-out.

During my first visit several years ago, the piece that floored me was the original turnstiles from Maple Leaf Gardens dating back to 1931. Happily, when I read the book, they were included. Anyone familiar with Wilson's collection knows there is a story behind each item. In the case of the turnstiles, his childhood memories are part of the story and he provided insight into this aspect.

"After days or even weeks of anticipating seeing my heroes play in person, these turnstiles were the only thing left between me, the seats and the ice surface," Wilson wrote in the book of the gateway to Maple Leaf heaven. "My dad and I would arrive early and stand under the clock in the main entrance off Carlton, watching the other team's players arrive."



Paul Patskou elaborated on the turnstiles. "Turnstiles are different than seats. While a fan may not be able to sit in certain seats, good and bad, everyone had to pass through the same turnstile."

Lance Hornby detailed the difficulties once Wilson took possession of the turnstiles. He explained how Wilson's friend, Mike Wekerle, best known for his work on the television show Dragon's Den, stored them in a vacant house he owned until the room was completed.

With each piece, Wilson provides a collectable ranking measured in pucks. The turnstiles were given a five-puck ranking, which is the highest.

Using this method of calculation, my ranking for Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan is five-pucks. It is both an informative and fun read for all hockey fans, not just those of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As the book only covers a portion of the collection, there is little doubt a sequel will be in the works!

And for Leaf fans looking to the future, this quote comes from Mike. "The only other thing I'd like to see in The Room is a big Leaf Stanley Cup celebration. That would be the ultimate."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

GIVING BACK

Johnny Bower (L) with Dick Duff

On September 28, 2016, the Original Six Alumni made their annual trip to visit the Veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

A large gathering was on hand as event organizer, Al Shaw, introduced the players and former Leaf, Ron Hurst, entertained the crowd. A newcomer to the Sunnybrook visit was Darryl Sittler. Always a fan favourite, Sittler gave a short talk on his career and told several stories.

Back row (L-R) Johnny McCormack, Pete Conacher, Danny Lewicki, Johnny Bower, Bob Nevin, Darryl Sittler and Dick Duff. Front Row (L-R) Murray Westgate, Ivan Irwin, Sue Foster

Darryl Sittler