Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Mighty Quinn

One can imagine how intimidating it can be for a kid when he comes face to face with an athlete who seems larger than life. A player so huge and physical that one can't help but be intimidated when in his presence.

Many of you will recall the Coke commercial which featured Pittsburgh Steeler defensive tackle "Mean" Joe Greene. On the football field, Greene was a force to be reckoned with, as he tossed the opposition around like they were rag dolls. When the television camera came in on a tight shot of Greene, the viewer could see the raw emotion on his face.

In the ad, Greene is shown coming off the field following an afternoon of dishing out hits and slamming bodies to the ground. In the storyline, Greene appears to be injured. While heading to the locker room with his jersey slung over his shoulder, Greene crosses paths with a young boy. As the two meet, The Kid, sensing that Greene needs a lift, gives him his bottle of coke. In a flash, Greene drowns the soft drink. As his new friend walks away, Greene shouts, "Hey Kid, Catch." At that moment, Greene pitches his jersey to the boy. "Wow, thanks Mean Joe," The Kid says back to Greene.

This commercial was so good, it won Clio Award for best ad.

On December 20, 1969, I had my own "Mean" Joe Greene moment.

This wasn't any ordinary Saturday in our household. All week long, I could hardly wait for a new day to begin. The countdown started on Monday evening when my Dad returned home from work. After dinner, he announced he had tickets to the Leaf game on Saturday night.

To my delight, the New York Rangers would be in town to face the Leafs. The fact the visitors were an Original Six club made the game even more appealing to me. Even in grade school, I had an appreciation for the five clubs my team battled before expansion.

Looking back, the game itself was a disaster for Toronto Maple Leaf fans. The Rangers, after building-up a 5-0 lead, when on to defeat Toronto 5-2. The Leaf goals came late in the third period with Ron Ellis netting both of them.

Aware of my disappointment of the outcome, my Dad made a suggestion that immediately put a smile back on my face. Picking up our pace, Dad and I made our way to the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room. Of course, we didn't get to go inside, but we knew our chances of seeing some players was good.

While standing against a wall, I noticed one individual slowly proceeding in our direction. I had never been so close to hockey player that seemed to be as big as a giant. A tap on my shoulder and a whisper from Dad filled me in on his identity. "That's Pat Quinn," Dad leaned in and told me. He didn't play that night due to an injury.

At first, I was reluctant to approach Pat for an autograph, as he seemed to be so imposing. I noticed his hands were massive and damage could be caused if I shook one. And I was sure my neck would snap if I had to look up and talk with him. Each push from Dad eventually landed me next to the Leaf defenceman. As I recall, it was difficult for me to get any words out. All I could do was hand him my program to sign. Being a pro, Pat struck up a conversation and personalized the autograph he gave me.

By breaking the ice, Pat put me at ease and his size and reputation on the ice vanished. Ever since his first NHL regular season game with the Leafs, Pat Quinn quickly became known for his ability to hammer the opposition and stand up for his teammates. For the most part, Pat's hits were clean, but due to his strength and size advantage they could also be very painful.

His first official Leaf game was played in Pittsburgh against the Penguins on November 27, 1968. Right from the outset Pat let it be known he was going to play a physical game. "Pat Quinn, another Tulsa Oiler, took Dorey's place on defence and bombed Angotti with a solid check to let the Penguins know he meant business," Red Burnett wrote of Pat in his debut.

I thought about all this earlier in the week when I heard of Pat's passing. A lasting memory I will have of "The Kid" and Pat Quinn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Harry Howell: Stamp of Approval

It has been 38 years since Harry Howell last played professional hockey. After 31 games with the Calgary Cowboys of the World Hockey Association in 1975-76, Howell closed the book on his playing career, which began in 1952-53 with the New York Rangers.

During the month of October, Howell. an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, once again found himself under the hockey spotlight.

On October 2, 2014, Canada Post unveiled a new set of stamps called the Original Six Defencemen Series. The collection pays tribute to six defenders who patrolled the blue line for the Original Six franchises. Selected to have their image placed on a stamp were Bobby Orr (Boston), Doug Harvey (Montreal), Pierre Pilote (Chicago), Tim Horton (Toronto), Red Kelly (Detroit) and Harry Howell (New York).

Then, on October 18, 2014, Harry Howell was honoured by his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. Civic leaders, family, friends and hockey fans, gathered at the North Wentworth Twin Pads as it undertook a name change and became the Harry Howell Arena.

Howell, now 81 years-of-age, is no stranger to participating in events that recognize his accomplishments on the ice. Back in 1967, the New York Rangers went all-out with a celebration called Harry Howell Night. A ceremony was held prior to the Rangers hosting the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 1967. The contest was Howell's 1002 in a Rangers uniform and it set a record for longevity. At the time, Howell was in his 15th season in the Big Apple.

The day before the on-ice festivities, Howell (pictured above) received a Bronze Medallion of New York City at a gathering held at City Hall. Arthur Daley, who covered the occasion for The New York Times, spoke to Howell about his first goal in the National Hockey League. Daley noted that Howell's first of 94 NHL goals came on his very first shift with the Rangers in 1952. On the play, Howell watched from his post on Toronto's blue line as players from both clubs battled for possession of the puck around Leaf goalie Harry Lumley. Eventually, the puck made its way to Howell at the point.

"It was a screen shot," Howell explained to Daley. "And screen shots are a matter of luck. You just try to miss the first pair of legs in front of you and hope for the best."

Writing in The  Toronto Telegram about Howell's first spin with the Rangers, sports editor Bobby Hewitson, noted that, "...Howell in particular looked very good."

New York general manager Frank Boucher summoned Andy Bathgate, Dean Prentice and Harry Howell from the junior Biltmores. An injury to defenceman Leo Reise was the reason for Howell getting the call. A couple of other rookies, forward Ron Murphy and goalie Lorne "Gump" Worsley, were also in the line-up for New York.

Bathgate and Howell skated in their first NHL games on Saturday October 18, 1952, against Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. Prentice, would make  his debut when New York played their home opener on October 22. All three were brought up to the big league club on a three game try-out.

Following the Rangers 3-3 draw against Boston to kick-off the home portion of their schedule, New York management had to make a decision to keep Bathgate and Howell or return them to junior hockey. At a lunch held by the New York Writers Association on October 23, Boucher informed the gathering at Leone's Restaurant that both Bathgate and Howell would remain on the Rangers roster.

Beyond setting a new mark for contests played by as a Ranger, Harry Howell had reached the peak of his game in 1966-67. Around the same time as he was being feted by the Rangers, news came that Howell, along with Chicago's Pierre Pilote, lead all defencemen in the midseason voting to become a First Team All-Star. In the second round of voting, conducted closer to the end of the '66-'67 campaign, both Howell and Pilote maintained their lead and were named to the First Team.

The crowning moment for Harry Howell came on April 26, 1967. Instead of starting a holiday in Florida, Howell travelled to Toronto to attend a Stanley Cup luncheon put on by the National Hockey League. And he wasn't there to enjoy a free meal. Howell picked-up a major piece of silverware and it had nothing to do with the knives and forks. Besides, this item was much larger - the James Norris Memorial Trophy. This award is given to the best NHL defenceman and at the time was determined  by sports writers and broadcasters working in the six NHL cities.

After the first round of Norris voting, it was announced in January 1967 that Howell received 79 votes. This put him in top spot amongst  all other NHL rearguards. At the end of the season, 34 more ballots were counted in Howell's favour. His total of 113 votes were the most garnered by a defenceman and gave him the advantage over Pilote (95) and Boston rookie Bobby Orr (36). In addition to receiving this prestigious award, Howell has the distinction of being the last player named its winner in the Original Six era.

Getting back to Harry Howell Night on January 25, 1967, it was the biggest party held in Manhattan that evening. The guest list included 15,925 fans that watched the bash take place at the Garden. A long table was positioned at centre ice and it served as a depot for the many many gifts bestowed upon Howell. As with any occasion of this nature, family members were beside Howell to lend their support and salute their loved one.

One gift couldn't be placed on the table and this simply was due to its size. And this one, a brand new Mercury Cougar automobile, certainly caught Howell's attention. "His eyes lit up and the crowd roared when the Cougar was driven onto the ice - and out stepped Red Sullivan and Louie Fontinato," noted The New York Times. Both Sullivan and Fontinato were former teammates of Howell's with the Rangers.

Howell and his family were given so many gifts that perhaps, the most important one dealt with hauling the goods. "Most useful gift at Harry Howell Night in New York was presented by ex-referee Bill Chadwick, now a trucking executive," Jim Proudfoot wrote in the Toronto Daily Star. "He undertook to transport Howell's loot to his home in Hamilton."

When the time came for Howell to address his well-wishers, he knew there was one gift he hoped to present to them in the not too distant future. "I hope to be out here again," Howell began. "When I am, it will be to hold the Stanley Cup."

Though he never won a Stanley Cup as a player, Howell did go on to receive a stamp of approval from hockey's number one Nation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

MLG - November 12, 1931

Tonight, marks the 83rd anniversary of the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Here are some pages from the November 12, 1931, "Official Programme" from the game played between the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks.

Now, some clippings from November 12th & 13th, 1931

Memories & Dreams.

Monday, November 10, 2014

November 11th - Remembrance Day

I can't think of a better occasion to share some photos from recent visits by the NHL Oldtimers to Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in Toronto. Organized through the years by Al Shaw, the last trip took place on September 24, 2014.

Hockey is a powerful bond for Canadians and the love of the game remains with us for a lifetime. This became evident when observing the interaction between the Veterans and their guests. One can't help but marvel as the Veterans recall their memories from hockey's Original Six era and the players share stories from the time they played. The mutual respect and admiration between the Veterans and former hockey players is truly amazing to witness.

Al Shaw kicks-off the 2013 visit

A hard-hitting defenceman with Montreal & New York, Ivan Irwin makes his way around the room (2013)
A winner of two Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs  ('62 & '63), Bob Nevin signs an autograph (2013)
Bob Beckett (Boston) on the left and Pete Conacher (Chicago, New York & Toronto) display a  hand-out that the players sign (2014)
A closer view of the above mentioned hand-out which was designed by Phil Samis. Unfortunately, Phil couldn't attend due to a planned trip to his hometown of Edmonton, but he certainly contributed to the cause by donating the hand-out. Phil won a Memorial Cup with St. Mike's, a Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs ('48) and a Calder Cup with Cleveland (2014)
Danny Lewicki a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs 1951 Stanley Cup team (2014)

Dick Duff has a captive audience as he tells a story (2013)
Gary Collins saw some playoff action in 1959 with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2014)
Johnny McCormack recorded 25 NHL goals with Toronto, Montreal & Chicago
Forward Ron Hurst brings cheer as he addresses the 2014 gathering.  Ron skated in 64 NHL games with the Maple Leafs between 1955-56 & 1956-57
Jerry Junkin, who played with Allan Stanley on the 1943-44 EAHL Boston Olympics, signs one of the hand-outs (2013)

Cliff Thorburn, who won the 1980 World Snooker Championship, dazzled the crowd with several trick shots (2014) 

The visit isn't complete until Sunnybrook resident, Murray Westgate, makes an appearance. In the early years of Hockey Night in Canada, Murray served as a pitchman for Imperial Oil. Taking on the role of an Esso Dealer, Murray donned a serviceman's uniform and appeared on screen in several spots. His duties included doing live commercials and introducing the popular intermission feature called The Hot Stove League. Also, Murray did the sign-off at the conclusion of each broadcast. And how convincing was Murray as a gas station attendant? "I can't tell you how many times a stranger asked me to have a look at their car," Murray has been quoted as saying regarding the impression he made on the car driving public.

AHL Hall of Fame member, Jim Morrison and his lovely wife Wanda, spend a few moments with Murray (2013)
Two Hockey Night in Canada guys. Brian McFarlane looks on  as Murray holds up a gift from the NHL Oldtimers (2013)

During World War Two, Murray Westgate boarded a ship and patrolled the waters for enemy submarines. At the time, Canadian navy vessels needed an escort to look out for dangers at sea while transporting supplies.

In 2012, Murray told Toronto Star writers, Paul Hunter and Jim Rankin, in their Star-Dispatches story, I Remember, about his memories of when the war ended.

"I got the surrender signals on VE-Day," Murray said. "We were 200 miles north of Azores. When peace was declared, we got the signal in plain language. Everything was in code up until then. The war was over; splice the main brace, they told all the ships at sea.

Then, Murray commented on the discussions that took place. "As we spliced the main brace, we talked about the war. Thank God, that was the war to end all wars. We were happy about that. But it's worse now than ever.We thought that was the be-all and end-all for peace in our time. No way."

A clear reminder by Murray that conflicts around the world continue to put young lives in harms way.

Lessons passed on from one generation to another.

On Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs held a pre-game ceremony to honour Canada's War Veterans. With members of the Leafs and visiting New York Rangers lined up at their respective blue lines, eight Veterans took their spots at centre ice. Following their introductions, a tape of Sunnybrook resident, Jim Wilson, reciting the powerful and moving In Flanders Fields (John McCrae - May 3, 1915) was played for the hushed crowd at the Air Canada Centre and the television audience. "Jim did the audio reading of the poem at Sunnybrook," Sally Fur, a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook, told me in an email.

At Sunnybrook, Jim Wilson sits on the executive of the Veterans & Community Resident's Council. On behalf of his fellow Veterans, Mr. Wilson annually accepts a gift from the NHL Oldtimers when they come calling. Throughout the year, Gary England, who is a regular at the Oldtimers lunch, makes certain to secure the signatures of the players on a piece of memorabilia. Before dispersing into the crowd to mingle with the Veterans, one of the players makes a presentation to Mr. Wilson and turns over the offering. Last year, Ivan Irwin, as pictured below, proudly passed along a signed helmet to Mr. Wilson.

Jim Wilson's story of his time in the service began when he was 15 years old. The year was 1942 and along with a pal, Jim, like so many other young men, didn't come clean about his actual age when he enlisted. "With some handy work and a connection through the local Police Department in Westmount, Quebec, Jim's birth certificate conveyed that he was appropriately 18," Sally Fur noted in  her bio on Mr. Wilson.

His first assignment came in basic training when he served as the company bugler.

"Then it was off to HMCS Cornwallis in Halifax, Nova Scotia to be a seaman, learning knots and splices and Morse Code," Sally wrote of Jim's first real taste of life in the Royal Canadian Navy. "From there, he went on a Fairmile vessel, to the Belle Isle Straights of Newfoundland, to keep back German submarines that were working their way up the St. Lawrence River towards Quebec City."

Over a period of time, Jim shifted from the Reserve Force to the Permanent Force. This meant he had to be ready to cross the pond and get closer to the action. It also resulted in a trip across Canada to his new home on the west coast. "In Vancouver, he was sent to the HMCS Kokanee, and was stationed on a frigate, a large anti-submarine vessel with advanced technology and SONAR," Sally noted in her piece.

A pleasant surprise awaited Jim when he made his initial trip overseas. "Landing in Ireland, he was granted a leave and took the opportunity to visit relatives," Sally explained. "A visit he vividly remembers and treasures today."

Before returning to Canada, Jim patrolled the waters in Hawaii, the Panama Canal and Bermuda. Upon returning  home, he sailed on convoys out of Halifax. "Here, he saw the most interesting action, when he ran into a surfaced German Submarine recharging its batteries. It was a chase that lasted 24 hours, and one that he will never forget," is how Sally described Jim's wildest adventure.

Jim Wilson's career in the navy lasted for 23 years. In addition to World War Two, he contributed to the effort in the Korean War. Mr. Wilson earned the rank of Chief Petty Officer First Class.

Although Jim wasn't on hand Saturday night, his presence was truly felt by anyone who listened to his rendition of In Flanders Fields. The words of this famous poem coming from this Veteran of the Second World War and  the Korean War took on a very special meaning.

Lest We Forget.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Like it Happened Yesterday - Part Two

At the last NHL Oldtimers lunch, Blaine Smith was kind enough to show me a scrapbook his Dad, Sid Smith, created when he was a young boy.  Born and raised in Toronto, Smith played his entire NHL career with the Maple Leafs. Upon reviewing the old newspaper clippings it is easy to see that Sid became a hockey fan very early in his life.

A page from Sid Smith's childhood scrapbook

This got me thinking about my very first scrapbook which dates back to to November 7, 1964. It's the oldest item remaining with me from my childhood. Just the fact it has survived this long is an indication of how meaningful it is to me.

Surprisingly, I have a clear recollection of Saturday November 7, 1964, when the first clipping was applied to the scrapbook. I recall Mom and I working at the dining room table after enjoying a delicious dinner. Mom took the lead on this project as far as materials were concerned, but my input wasn't ignored. While Mom got the scissors and blended her ingredients for a homemade paste, I held in my hand the initial entry for page one.

Each Saturday during the hockey season, I followed the same routine week-in and week-out. Most of the day was spent playing road hockey or working on my shot in the driveway. Once inside the house, the newspaper took over my attention. I couldn't wait to get my claws on the sports section. Also, there was an added bonus each Saturday as the Toronto Daily Star included the Canadian Weekly Magazine.

The Canadian Weekly immediately tweaked my interest on that glorious Saturday in November of 1964. A beautiful colour photo of Johnny Bower making a kick save graced the cover. Looking on as his teammate prevented another goal was forward Ron Stewart.

The cover of my 1964 scrapbook

In an age where black & white still dominated, the vibrant colours of the Leaf uniform, the giant white crest stitched to the rich blue sweater,  seemed to sparkle when viewing the Bower photo.

Another thing that caught my eye was the size of the cover. A bit larger than most publications, I knew it would make an excellent cover for my scrapbook. Up until then, my shoebox contained smaller photographs extracted from newspapers and magazines. The scrapbook opened up new possibilities and a place to safely store these bigger pictures.

When I recently viewed the scrapbook, one thing instantly struck me - I never saved the article on Johnny Bower, "Secrets of the NHL's Oldest Star." Curiosity got the best of me as I had to know Johnny's secret.

To determine the answer, I made a trip to the Toronto Reference Library. Armed with the date it appeared, I didn't anticipate having any trouble tracking down the article. Going directly to the source - the Toronto Daily Star, November 7, 1964 - I came up empty. Doing some digging, I discovered that Canadian Weekly was published by Toronto Star Limited and distributed in a number of newspapers across the Country. So, when the time came to transfer Canadian Weekly to film for library use, the decision was made to conduct this process once, thus saving on costs. Filmed copies of Canadian Weekly, stretching over a determined period of time, would be found in one specific newspaper. For example, the Johnny Bower piece could only be located in the Montreal Gazette.

Thanks to modern technology, I made a scan of the article so it could be reviewed later.

And what was Johnny's secret?

"I think I discovered the Bower secret, if you can really call it that," wrote the multi-talented Jim Hunt after watching Bower in practice. "I've always had to work hard," the Leaf goalie told Hunt. "I don't know any other way to play this game, you see."

The timing of the Canadian Weekly feature on Bower coincided with his 40th birthday on November 8th and Jim Hunt explored the question of Bower's age.  The native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, was born in 1924. Due to his longevity in the game many wondered if Bower had in fact been born in 1924. The guessing before and after 1964 was that the Leaf goalie wasn't coming clean with the real year of his birth. "I've lied so much about my age that I've forgotten how old I really am,"is a quote attributed to Bower at an earlier time, which Hunt included in his story.  However, the date is indeed accurate and tomorrow, Johnny will be celebrating his 90th birthday!

While at the library, I also sought out material on Toronto's home game played on the evening of November 7, 1964. I can't think of a Saturday when we didn't tune in the CBC to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. My dominate recollection of November 7th was the scrapbook. Thus, the newspaper archive came in handy to secure details of the Leaf game that night.

Once my Mom and I completed our work, it was time to watch the game with my Dad. Poor Mom was bombarded with hockey. The TV schedule listed a number of selections she would have enjoyed viewing. All her life, Mom has been a big movie buff. At 8:00pm, CFTO aired the movie 'Picnic' starring Kim Novak. Another film, 'The Jayhawkers',  with Jeff Chandler played on WGR-Buffalo.

Overall, a decent assortment of TV programming was available before, during and after the hockey game.

The comedies began at seven o'clock with the 'Beverly Hillbillies' and continued through with 'Jackie Gleason', 'Bewitched', 'Mr. Magoo' and 'Gilligan's Island'. On the drama side, 'The Saint',  filled the time slot on CBLT-Toronto before hockey came on the air. Other choices in the mix were 'The Fugitive', 'The Avengers' and 'Gunsmoke'.

Another staple in our household was the show which followed the Toronto Maple Leaf telecast -  'Juliette'.  Hosted by singer Juliette Augustina Cavazzi, this variety series ran from 1956 to 1966. In the opening, she was introduced as "...your pet, Juliette."

But it was Saturday night, time for Hockey Night in Canada. To her credit, Mom never waged a TV war. An avid reader, Mom would curl up on the couch and enjoy a good book. And that only occurred after she put my younger sister to bed and made sure Dad and I were fully stocked with ginger ale and potato chips.

Although the opening face-off took place at 8:00pm, those watching on television didn't get to see the action until 8:30pm.

The contest between the Maple Leafs and New York Rangers was a close affair, with the visitors winning 1-0. The only goal of the game was scored by New York forward Camille Henry in the second period. The shutout was earned by Jacques Plante.

On the day of the game, The Telegram ran an interesting story regarding Leaf rookie Ron Ellis. The previous night, Ellis attended a very special event. As George Gross wrote, Ellis "...stood on the platform as one of the class of proud Grade 13 graduates at a Downsview Collegiate commencement ceremony." The next night, Ellis was patrolling the right-side for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Making the visit to the library nicely helped to supplement some missing details. The new information filled in the blank spots on the canvass.

And that is how I spent my day/evening on Saturday November 7, 1964.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Like it Happened Yesterday

Over the weekend, I came across a file labeled "November 5th, 1980" safely tucked away in a storage box. When I opened up the folder, there were only a couple of items contained within, but a far greater amount of memories were also included.

Taking up most of the room in the folder was a hockey program - GOAL The National Hockey League Magazine. Upon seeing the cover with Tom Lysiak's picture front and centre, I instantly recalled that date, now 34 years in the rearview mirror, and the events of a week spent in the great city of Chicago, Illinois.

I was in Chicago attending a business conference that ran from Monday to Friday. Usually when I went out of town, I tried to arrive at my destination several days in advance of work related assignments. This gave me time to do the tourist thing and proceed at my own pace. However, this couldn't be done on the trip to the Windy City.

Looking back over that week, three things stand out in my memory bank.

During the day, there was little time for anything but the conference. The only break came at lunch and even then, there was no escape. A catering company handled the task of feeding everyone in the allotted one-hour period, thus ensuring we could get back to the grind on time. Luckily for me, a portion of the agenda dealt with information relevant only to U.S. matters. Being the lone Canadian in the room, all agreed I could be excused for the afternoon session.

This time off provided me with the opportunity to get out and do some sightseeing. Since I hadn't planned any activities in this regard, I decided to buy a map and hit the pavement. For the most part, my walking tour was restricted to the downtown core. After covering some distance, I decided to take a break and enjoy a cool beverage, then continue my journey. About 20-minutes back into my travels, I discovered my map wasn't in my pocket. I either left it behind in the watering hole or it fell fell to the ground from my jacket.

Following several rights and lefts, I came to the conclusion that I was lost. Whatever sense of direction I had disappeared. The surrounding landmarks didn't register with me, and attempts to find a cab seemed harder than locating union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The situation went from bad to worse when I drew a blank on the name of my hotel.

I felt like Johnny Bower facing Bobby Hull on a breakaway with The Golden Jet deciding to shoot instead of going for the deke.

Eventually, I regained my bearings and made it back to familiar territory. A cabbie was more than willing to help a lost visitor if it meant avoiding a potential call for a pick-up on the south side of Chicago. In a way, we were both helping each other. Needless to say, I didn't mention my adventure to anyone else. It was bad enough being told how many times I used the word "eh" in a conversation.

The second memory of that trip was less painful to recall. As timing would have it, I was south of the border during the 1980 Presidential election. The race for the White House involved incumbent Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, hoping to keep his keys and Republican hopeful, Ronald Reagan, eager to change the locks.

There was a lot of chatter at and away from the conference on what a Reagan presidency would mean for the Country. I remember sitting in a bar with a group of colleagues and more than one expressed the view that Reagan would waste no time going to war in the Middle East. Jimmy Carter's inability to free the Iranian hostages left many with the opinion Reagan would go all out to resolve the situation.

On election night, I hung around the hotel to soak up the atmosphere. And there was plenty of that to go around. The ballroom was party central for Alan J. Dixon, who won the Illinois Senate seat for the Democrats. In a time when security wasn't a major priority, I encountered no interference walking in and out of the ballroom.

During the festivities, a radio reporter from St. Louis approached me and asked if I would answer some questions. I told her I was visiting from Canada and in all likelihood wouldn't have much to contribute. Taking this into account, she crafted her questions to get the view of how the American political system looked to someone from a foreign land.

Overall, it was a thrilling night and an experience I fondly remember when watching the American elections on television. But the best was still to come.

The next night, Wednesday November 5, 1980, I wanted to top the feeling of the previous evening. For this to happen, the dice would have to fall in my favour. First, there had to be a Chicago Blackhawks game at home and a ticket available for purchase at the box office.

Early on Wednesday morning, I purchased a newspaper, which revealed that the Hawks were scheduled to play a home game that evening against the New York Rangers. The fact these were two Original Six teams was an added bonus.  The stars were truly aligned when I walked into Chicago Stadium and didn't depart disappointed.

Living in Toronto, I couldn't imagine the process being as easy as it was in Chicago. There were no line-ups at the ticket window and more importantly, a ticket could be bought on the spot. To come home and repeat this at Maple Leaf Gardens would be next to impossible. The demand for tickets was overwhelming with a waiting list growing by the second. In Chicago, hockey fans didn't have these problems.

After picking my jaw off the floor, I made my way through Chicago Stadium. Walking around the building, I couldn't help but think of the games I watched on TV from there or stories I read in books, magazines and newspapers. Names kept bouncing around inside my head - Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote and Glenn Hall to mention a few. The Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup in 1962 at the Stadium.

Even before the drop of the puck, I got goose bumps listening to the National Anthem. There may have been a small crowd on hand (one newspaper summary lists 10,986), but the cheering, clapping and foot stomping produced while honouring America still left a ringing sensation in my ears.

As for the game, Chicago and New York skated to a 3-3 draw. The Rangers held a 3-2 lead going into the final frame, but couldn't shut the door on the Blackhawks. At the 7:25 mark, Grant Mulvey beat New York goalie Doug Soetaert for the equalizer.

When Mulvey found the back of the net, the Chicago faithful erupted with joy. I watched with amazement the reaction of one guy who sat in front of me. In a state of total  euphoria, he leaped out of his seat, screaming to high heaven and ran past my row heading for the concession stands. When he reached the top of the stairs, he kicked a glass panel that resulted in a significant cut to his leg.

Looking back, there were several highlights. I got to watch Phil and Tony Esposito play against one another. Every so often, my attention focused on the two coaches - Keith Magnuson (Chicago) and Fred Shero (New York). For pure excitement, Chicago's Denis Savard brought the crowd out of their seats each time he gained possession of the puck.

Later on, when the demise of Chicago Stadium became public, the Chicago-New York game took on a greater meaning for me. I was happy that I witnessed at least one game at the original Madhouse on Madison before it was demolished.

Although I can't watch hockey from the grand old building anymore, there is one Chicago tradition that remains intact. Late last night, while watching the mid-term election coverage on CNN, one result caught my eye. In the Illinois Senate race last night, Richard Durbin, a Democrat, defeated Republican candidate Jim Oberweis.