We all know people who collect hockey memorabilia as a hobby. It could be hockey cards from the time they were youngsters. Those glorious winter days of childhood, spent playing road hockey from morning until dinner, then sitting down with family to watch Hockey Night in Canada. During a commercial break there would be enough time to sneak a peek at a players stats on the back of his hockey card.
With the passing of time, shoe boxes filled to the brim with cards and wrappers fell by the waste side as other interests consumed their lives. Later in life, once established in the business world and having laid down roots in the community, a yearning develops for a link to when the game of hockey was more personal and less complicated. Once again tracking down and having the wonderful feeling of clutching Johnny Bower's hockey card in their hand and recapturing memories from the time they traded three Boston Bruins and two Detroit Red Wings for a mint Bower card.
Then there is Mike Wilson.
A member of the Society for International Hockey Research, Mike's passion for collecting dates back to when he was a small boy and received a hockey stick which belonged to Carl Brewer. His love of the game and devotion to collecting continues to this day. Being a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Mike's inventory of sticks, sweaters, photos and other gems are truly impressive.
Taking a tour of Mike's mementos is similar to entering a time machine and travelling back to explore a bygone era. Are you interested in the Leafs of the 1930s and wonder what their jersey looked like? Simply push the 1930s button in the time machine and you will be instantly transported to the era when the Leafs were just settling into Maple Leaf Gardens. Items from each decade of the Leafs history can be observed with something unique from generation to generation.
Once you leave the time machine and enter the land of hockey past, your system takes an immediate jolt. The sense of touching down on foreign soil and not knowing where to turn takes over. Your eyes dart from left to right, then up and down. Your brain processing images and objects as thought they are being downloaded from a computer.
All of a sudden you find your body moving forward. A voice inside your head asking, " Is that really a photo of Wally Stanowski when he was in the RCAF during World War Two?" A step right stops you dead in your tracks. "Did Punch Imlach really write that letter to Terry Sawchuck?" Once you get your footing, the inner voice disappears and you get lost in the wonderful history before your eyes.
Ever since my first visit to Maple Leaf Gardens in the 1960s, Toronto's hockey palace became a subject of enormous interest to me. The seed was planted. Any tidbit of information related to the building Conn Smythe constructed at the corner of Carlton and Church would be clipped from the newspaper.
With this in mind, two pieces from Mike's collection leaped out and grabbed my attention. When they came into focus, I halted my movement and kept a distance. Like viewing a painting from one of the Masters, I wanted to take-in and digest the entire scope of the object.
The motion of tilting my head from side-to-side and rubbing my chin took over as my eyes were glued to the masterpiece before me. Every inch inspected for distinguishing marks and soaking in the rich colours. By maintaining a distance, I was able to picture where the item may have been situated in the Gardens. As I got closer, the object became less abstract. This wasn't a replica, but the real deal. I wasn't glancing at a painting of the Mona Lisa. Instead, I came face-to-face with the real Mona Lisa.
The impact was that great.
The seats pictured above date back to the 1930s. In an era when a strict dress code was enforced by Conn Smythe, one can imagine sharply dressed patrons in their Sunday best being escorted to their seats prior to the opening faceoff. The vintage style of the seats are vastly different from those sold to the public when the Gardens interior was gutted following the Leafs move to the Air Canada Centre. Upon viewing the '30s version, you will observe the wooden back as opposed to the 1990s edition having both cushioned seats and backing.
I had to do a double-take when I came across the above turnstile. How many of you can recall going to a Leaf game and passing through this twirling contraption or a model similar to this one?
Making it past this point after showing your ticket was confirmation you were approved to enter the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the gateway to paradise. You were free to roam the halls and observe the photographs attached to the brick walls. The greats like Hap Day to young stars like Carl Brewer beaming down and setting the stage for events about to unfold at 8:00pm. It was like walking down hockey's version of Hollywood's red carpet.
Sure, the pictures were a thrill to see, but one was always aware of the time. It would almost be criminal to miss the warm-up. The image of Chicago's Bobby Hull, The Golden Jet, more concerned with signing autographs for his young fans than going through the pre-game activity of taking shots on goal. The television lights along with the brilliant colours of the Original Six sweaters added to the contrast of watching at home on a black and white set.
Just as invigorating was listening to the organ music and the voice of Gardens public address announcer Paul Morris. The suspense of not knowing whom was in or out of the Leaf line-up building to a fever pitch, until Morris supplied the details.
I can still hear his voice filling the air as he announced the starting goalies, "Starting in goal for Toronto and wearing number one, Johnny Bower. Starting in goal for Chicago and wearing number one, Glenn Hall."
One of the photographs which hung from the Gardens wall was of comedian/actor Bob Hope. He is wearing a white Leaf windbreaker and the entertainment legend has a hockey stick flung over his shoulder. Hope's signature sign-off on radio and TV was "Thanks for the memories."
To borrow Mr. Hope's closing, "Thanks for the memories, Mike Wilson!"
For more on Mike's wonderful collection here is a link to his new website - http://www.ultimateleafsfan.com/