Monday, April 23, 2012

Maple Leaf Gardens: A Return Visit

Post-season action in the American Hockey League is underway, with one series featuring the Chicago Wolves and San Antonio Rampage.

Recently, I spent time with former NHL player and coach, Gene Ubriaco. The one-time Pittsburgh Penguin (he also coached the Pens), Oakland Seal and Chicago Black Hawk, was in town to watch his Chicago Wolves tangle with the Toronto Marlies. Ubriaco, is the senior advisor/director of hockey operations for Chicago.

During our visit, we made a trip to Maple Leaf Gardens to check-out how the building has changed since hockey was last played at the historic arena.

Ubriaco's first trip to Maple Leaf Gardens came in the mid-1950s.

"I will never forget leaving home," noted Ubriaco. Prior to heading down to Toronto, he played in the All-Ontario Juvenile Championship game. Ubriaco and his Sault Ste. Marie teammates, defeated a team from St. Catharines, Ontario.

"A day later, I had to get on a train, St. Mike's had called me down to go to a spring camp and that was to take a look at me," explained Ubriaco.

What laid ahead for young Gene was a 13-hour train ride from the Soo to Union Station in downtown Toronto. To complicate matters, Ubriaco was suffering from a charley-horse injury. He was given some advise before boarding the train - to sit with his foot tucked under his rump and keep it bent.

"You know what?" asked the man known in hockey circles as Ubie. "It worked! I was still sore, but I could bend my knee. I sat on my leg all the way down."

Once he arrived in Toronto, he got settled in his new surroundings. "I stayed at a hotel on Jarvis Street - The Jarvis Hotel, I believe. Then, we went out and skated at Maple Leaf Gardens," recalled the veteran hockey executive.

I snapped the above photo of Ubie standing at the spot where centre ice was located prior to the renovations at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Gene Ubriaco skated for the St. Michael's Majors from 1954-55 to 1957-58.

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