This isn’t about hockey dads. It’s about my dad….. and hockey. My father passed away 4 years ago today. I write a blog about him on this day every year. They started off really sad. Now it’s just random memories that I don’t want to forget. I know my last post was about my dad too, on what would have been his 80th birthday. Apologies to anyone who reads this blog, but I just haven’t been writing lately. I’m sleepy a lot. I like to doze off on the couch more than I like to write. Sad but true lately. Anyways, this isn’t about hockey dads. It’s about my dad….. and hockey. Oh I said that.
I went to the home opener of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night with my sister. The 100th season of the Toronto Maple Leafs, therefore the 100th home opener. It was a lot of fun. They paid tribute to a lot of the former Leaf greats. Players who had been honoured by the team in the past, but never got their numbers retired actually got their numbers retired, so no Maple Leaf player will ever wear those numbers again. Some great names…. Tim Horton (who coffee enthusiasts will know of), Bill Barilko (who Tragically Hip enthusiasts will know of), Ace Bailey (who I believe is my grandmother’s cousin, or something like that…. I should ask my mom to log onto ancestry.com to verify), Johnny Bower (who became a player scout when he was older, and my dad saw him in a half empty arena once, and sent me up to him to ask for his autograph even though I had no idea who he was at the time), Red Kelly (who served as a member of parliament while playing for the Leafs…Whaaaaa???? Did you know that? I just found out yesterday), Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming (who at the very moment I was old enough to start watching and understanding hockey, were basically the only 2 reasons to bother watching Leaf hockey, and more contemporary heroes like Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin, among others. Such a fun presentation. Was totally worth missing a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game for.
But did I in fact miss a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game??? NO I DIDN’T, thanks to technology. What I’m about to say will not surprise anyone that is even the least bit astute when it comes to cell phones and technology, but I watched the game ON MY PHONE!!!! I never gave a shit about tech, but I just got my first iPhone, and stuff that was blowing you guys away 10 years ago is blowing me away right now. I was walking towards the arena with a crystal clear image of the Jays game ON MY PHONE. Like George fucking Jetson, I have arrived in the future!!!!!
Those seats we sat in were my dad’s seats. He was a season ticket holder for like everything. Leafs, Jays, Argos, The Royal Alexandra Theatre for crying out loud. The man loved his season ticket subscriptions. He didn’t go to all the games, but he knew enough people who would share the games with him, so he’d just go to a few, but he got all the season ticket holder perks. Once he was even the ‘season ticket holder of the game’ which is a nice honour for long time seat holders. They toured him around the building, introduced him to the crowd, and gave him a Leafs jersey with his name on the back. My sister was wearing it yesterday.
In the 80’s when times were good, my dad would get 11 pairs of tickets per season for himself. Always fair and equitable, that meant he would rotate who he took to the game. Between my mom, sister and I, it would be a 4-4-3 split. The person who only got the 3 games would get first choice, and would choose a premium opponent. The dream was to see a young Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers, or maybe a game against the Montreal Canadians who were great non-division rivals. I always took 4 tickets. I didn’t care who they played. I was there to see the Leafs. A horrible fucking team for most of the 80’s but I (like my father before me) was a optomist, and always believed that they would win, even though their skill level was at a clear disadvantage pretty much every time they laced up their skates. Sometimes my mom would get lazy and just give me one of her games because she didn’t feel like going downtown, so if I played it right, I might have gone to 5 games a year. In 2016, if you want to know how much those particular seats cost for 11 games….. well you’d be well on your way to paying some kid’s college tuition I would think.
I loved EVERY weird part of that experience. From the minute we left the house. Even down to the car we drove. My dad used to work as a Fleet Administrator for a pharmaceutical company, and got a company car as part of the deal. It wasn’t always the same one though. If a different make or model came into the fleet, I suppose it was important for him to ‘test them out’, so you never knew what kind of car he was going to be driving. I loved sitting on the Gardiner in traffic, talking about the Leafs, and getting excited about the game. Parking like a kilometre away from Maple Leaf Gardens to save a couple of bucks, but it allowed for a nice walk in the city, which I otherwise never saw at that age. Walking through Maple Leaf Gardens, and looking at all the black and white photos of all the old Leaf players, and if we had time, stopping to look at each one. He would buy me a program every time, giving me yet another resource to fuel endless amounts of useless hockey information into my brain. We’d go out to our seats, and you could see the haze of cigarette smoke in the upper parts of the facility (I know it sounds disgusting, but I miss that smell). A few times if we got there really early, we might go down to the Gold section and watch the players shoot around. If you were standing in the right spot as they came off and asked the right guy for a hockey puck, you might get one. Now that I think of it, I have no idea how we pulled that off, but my dad was a really likeable guy, and he wasn’t afraid to ask for things. 5 minutes of chatting up an usher could always come in handy. I don’t think that’s why he did it. He just liked talking to people. I think the saying “The world is your oyster” is kind of dumb, but the world absolutely was my dad’s oyster, always. We’d go back up to the Green section to sit in our aisle seats right at center ice. We’d watch the game until the first intermission, and my dad would chat up another usher, always remembering their names and what they had talked about last time. Then if he saw I was getting too bored, he’d try to work me into the conversation. Then we’d watch the 2nd period, and after that was over, we’d go to the concession stand and buy Fruitella candy. So delicious, and I feel like it’s the only place I ever saw it. It might be in every store, but I only ever ate it at a hockey game. By the third period, somehow, the Leafs would always still be in the game. As horrible as this team was, they always played great when we were there. I remember it would drive my dad nuts when people would leave 3 or 4 minutes before the game was over just to beat the rush. We would always stay until the end, and then wait for the 3 stars of the game, and he’d take the heat from my mom if it was a school night. Then the long walk back to the car. At that age it felt cool to be walking around downtown late at night, like I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. Then the drive home where we’d re-hash the night, or I’d nod off in the car.
It was all fucking perfect somehow. I miss my hockey dad.