Friday, March 25, 2011

Oldtimers 2011


Back in the late 1940s a community in Toronto's east end set their sights on building a new hockey arena. In 1950, the group began their fund raising campaign in earnest. During the initial drive $42,000 was collected through various events within the neighbourhood. A popular method of seeking financial commitment was by door to door canvassing. The local residents were attempting to contribute one-half of the expense which was required to construct the facility. The other 50% would come from the City of Toronto. The price tag was $250,000 with the arena being situated at Main and Gerrard streets.

Unfortunately, the project had to be put on hold due to a shortage of steel. Since no construction work was being conducted, the fund raising efforts were suspended. By 1953, the steel shortage had subsided and the fund drive got a green light to start up once again. To kick-start the reactivation process, a unique fund raising tool was implemented by those in charge - an Oldtimers hockey game.

On April 12, 1953, a star-studded roster of legendary NHL players hit the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens. The gate receipts would be distributed to the East Toronto Fund, in aid of the cost for building the new arena and matched by the City. Did I mention stars? A newspaper account mentions the following players as being participants - Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson (the Leafs famed Kid Line), Syl Apps, Turk Broda, Butch Keeling, Joe Carveth, Flash Hollett, Herbie Cain, Rhys Thompson, Normie Smith, Bill Cowley, "Doc" Smylie and Reg Noble. Okay, exhale. I can close my eyes and imagine the Kid Line, once again, working their magic. The image is in black & white and a tad fuzzy, but for a moment the mental visual streaks before my eyes.

The Kid Line - Conacher/Primeau/Jackson
 The final score was 6-4 for Team White over Team Red. The big winner though, was the arena fund which grew by $15,000. The community arena would open in 1954 and be named after a local resident, sportswriter Ted Reeve.

Oldtimers hockey, 1953.


Almost 58 years later, I find myself making the journey down to the intersection of Main & Gerrard. I try to imagine the vacant field which once occupied space on the north-east corner. However, I'm quickly distracted by the large edifice staring back at me - Ted Reeve Arena. The very arena which was responsible for that amazing gathering of Oldtimers in 1953.

As I take my seat in the old barn, a sense of history starts to overtake my thought process. The St. Michael's Majors and Toronto Marlboros played many games in this arena. Junior players getting their start and eventually moving on to the National Hockey League. The Maple Leafs, on occasion, would conduct practice at the community rink. Although the calendar read March 19, 2011, I couldn't help but think of April 12, 1953 and the Oldtimers Game.

The on going relationship between Ted Reeve Arena  and Oldtimers hockey is truly awesome. Last weekend, I attended the 25th annual Oldtimers Game between the NHL Alumni and the Amalgemated Transit Union.

The NHL Alumni  iced a pretty impressive team.

Dan Daoust  Montreal/Toronto 522GP 87G 167A 254PTS

Bill Derlago  Vancouver/Toronto/Boston/Winnipeg/Quebec 555GP 189G 227A 416PTS

Gilbert Dionne  Montreal/Philadelphia/Florida 223GP 61G 79A 140PTS

Lou Franceschetti  Washington/Toronto/Buffalo 459GP 59G 81A 140PTS

Mike Krushelnyski  Boston/Edmonton/Los Angeles/Toronto,Detroit 897GP 241G 328A 569PTS

Tim Taylor  Detroit/Boston/NYR/Tampa 746GP 73G 94A 167PTS

Claude Lemieux  Montreal/New Jersey/Colorado/Phoenix/Dallas/San Jose 1,215GP 379G 407A 786PTS

Dennis Maruk  California/Cleveland/Minnesota/Washington 888GP 356G 522A 878PTS

Bryan Muir  Edmonton/Chicago/Tampa/Colorado/Los Angeles/Washington 279GP 16G 37A 53PTS

Rick Vaive  Vancouver/Toronto/Chicago/Buffalo 876GP 441G 347A 788PTS

Mark Laforest  Detroit/Philadelphia/Toronto/Ottawa 103GP 25-54-4 4.22 Avg

Norm Ullman  (Coach) Detroit/Toronto 1410GP 490G 739A 1229PTS HOF-1982

Dave Hutchison  (Referee) Los Angeles/Toronto/Chicago/New Jersey 584GP 19G 97A 116PTS

Mark Laforest stretching prior to the game

Bill Derlago in the warm-up

All proceeds from the contest were going to benefit multiple sclerosis research. The youngsters in the crowd kept their eyes glued on the former NHL stars. Claude Lemieux, a 3-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy, playing like he could easily make the transition back to big league hockey. For many on the Alumni, the skill-set was still in high gear - making accurate passes, finding open ice and making plays that didn't seem possible.

It was wonderful to see that the foundation for Oldtimers Games hasn't been cracked with the passing of time. All the funds went to charity and it was a fun experience for all involved. Everyone roared when the poor player scoring the first goal against Mark Laforest had his picture taken at centre ice. He was surrounded by the NHL Alumni. Just as the photographer yelled "C-H-E-E-S-E" his face was smothered with a cream pie.

The atmosphere in the building was like attending a school or family reunion. Most of the blue coloured seats, with silver number plates, were filled by a Mom, Dad, little Joey and little Julie. The other family was the NHL Alumni. You could almost hear them exchanging war stories and preparing for another battle on the ice.

Taking all this in, I happened to glance upward. I first noticed the snack bar, bustling with hungry spectators. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them - the steel supports,  criss-crossing in every direction.

For a brief moment, 1954 and 2011 were intertwined. Hockey Then and Now.

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