By HOWARD BERGER
MILTON, Ont. (Sep. 10) – It is impossible, on a day like this, not to feel the impending void. Every living cell in the September hockey mind is geared toward a resumption of activity: informal skates; training camp; exhibition games; then the real thing.
On a spectacular day for golf – feeling still like summer but with an undeniable nip of autumn in the air – the boys of winter (past and present) reconvene. Appearing relaxed, tanned and fit, they engage sponsors of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment “Team Up” Foundation. Pleasantries, formalities and hand-shakes are exchanged with media and well-wishers; a tantalizing lunch-table is assaulted. Then the clubs come out and the carts wheel away.
But, something is hauntingly amiss; a prelude to labor strife in the NHL.
NEWLY-ENGAGED LEAFS CAPTAIN DION PHANEUF TAKES THE HEALTHY ROUTE.
The scene at Rattle Snake Point on Monday afternoon was not unlike most years. For the benefit of charity, current and former Leafs gathered to play golf – normally, a sure sign that hockey is on the horizon. The chatter, though, was ominous; confined to the economic nit-picking that is certain to disrupt the 2012-13 NHL schedule. A lone exception was the topic of a United States television behemoth ranking the Maple Leafs – last week – beneath all other professional sports entities on the continent; to which the club’s American-born GM, Brian Burke, indignantly responded: “I don’t think ESPN knows a single thing about hockey. I think their hockey coverage stinks.”
Likely an exaggeration from both parties, but a welcomed interlude nonetheless.
I was at Rattle Snake Point with my trusty Nikon:
THE SCENE OF MONDAY’S CHARITY GOLF EVENT – LEAFS MANAGEMENT, COACHING STAFF, PLAYERS AND ALUMNI GATHERING ON A PERFECT, LATE-SUMMER AFTERNOON.
THE ABOVE IMAGE OF BRIAN BURKE – LIP BUTTONED – DEPICTED HIS THOUGHTS ON THE NHL LABOR FRONT. “YOU HAVE TO TALK TO THE NHL ABOUT THE [POTENTIAL LOCKOUT],” BURKE TOLD REPORTERS, ADDING, “YOU KNOW ME – ‘NO COMMENT’ IS NOT SOMETHING THAT COMES OUT OF THESE LIPS EASILY.” BURKE WAS ADHERING TO THE EDICT OF COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN . NHL OWNERS ARE REPRESENTED BY ONE VOICE… HIS.
THIS IS, MORE-OR-LESS, THE LOOK DOUBLE-B FLASHED WHEN ASKED ABOUT ESPN.
LEAFS COACH RANDY CARLYLE IS HANDED A BOTTLE OF WATER BY MEDIA RELATIONS DIRECTOR PAT PARK BEFORE HIS MEDIA SCRUM. “AS A COACH, IT’S BUSINESS AS USUAL,” CARLYLE SAID. “WE PREPARE AS IF WE’RE GOING TO PLAY… UNTIL WE’RE TOLD OTHERWISE.”
DION DIGS IN AND THEN OFFERS HIS THOUGHTS. “THIS [SEP.15 LOCKOUT] DEADLINE COMES FROM THE OWNERS, NOT US,” SAID THE LEAFS CAPTAIN. “WE WANT TO PLAY.”
JOFFREY LUPUL (ABOVE-LEFT) ARRIVES – HUNGRY – AND, APPARENTLY, WITH A HOCKEY PUCK OR TWO IN HIS SHORTS. THAT’S TEAMMATE CODY FRANSON BESIDE HIM.
DINNER-TONGS POISED, LUPUL EYES TRAY OF HAMBURGERS (ABOVE) AND BUILDS HIS MEAL (BELOW) ACROSS FROM TEAMMATE CARL GUNNARSSON.
JAMES REIMER CHATS (ABOVE-LEFT) WITH AARON GOGISHVILI AND CRAIG DOWNEY OF THE LEAFS’ MEDIA RELATIONS STAFF; PAT PARK GAZES AT LUPUL (RIGHT).
FULLY RECOVERED FROM A SEPARATED SHOULDER THAT COST HIM THE FINAL MONTH OF LAST SEASON, LUPUL TOLD REPORTERS HE’LL BE “PLAYING SOMEWHERE” (LIKELY IN EUROPE) IF NHL SCHEDULE IS DELAYED.
THE BOSS (ABOVE) WAS LOOKING FIT AND TRIM, EVEN WHEN ANNOYED.
ALWAYS GOOD-NATURED MIKE BROWN LOOKED LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN AN HASIDIC RABBI AND CHARLES MANSON FOR A GOOD REASON: HIS BEARD WILL EVENTUALLY COME OFF FOR CHARITY. BROWN CHATS, BELOW-RIGHT, WITH BURKE AND ASSISTANT GM CLAUDE LOISELLE.
MANY FORMER LEAFS WERE ON HAND. TOM FERGUS [1985-92] GABS, ABOVE, WITH JOE BOWEN. THAT’S FERGIE AND WENDEL CLARK (BLUE GOLF-SHIRT) BELOW.
LEAFS DEFENSEMEN OF THE 1970s: MIKE PELYK (ABOVE-LEFT) AND JIM McKENNY.
McKENNY (ABOVE-LEFT) WITH HIS MOST-STERN EXPRESSION, EN ROUTE TO THE LUNCH BUFFET; DOUG FAVELL (RIGHT) – A LEAFS GOALIE IN THE MID-’70s AND ORIGINAL NETMINDER OF THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS. FAVELL AND HALL-OF-FAMER BERNIE PARENT SHARED GOALTENDING CHORES WITH PHILADELPHIA AFTER NHL EXPANSION IN 1967-68.
LEAFS LEGEND (AND FORMER CAPTAIN) DARRYL SITTLER (ABOVE).
YOUNG LEAF JAKE GARDINER (ABOVE-LEFT) EYES LUNCH NEXT TO BILL DERLAGO [1980-85].
FOREVER-YOUTHFUL JIM DOREY (ABOVE), A POPULAR LEAFS DEFENSEMAN FROM 1968 TO 1970 WHO ALSO PLAYED WITH TORONTO TOROS OF THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION.
“DANGEROUS” DAN DAOUST – SMALL YET PLUCKY CENTER WITH LEAFS FROM 1982-83 TO 1989-90 (ABOVE-LEFT) – SMILES NEXT TO TOM FERGUS.
LEFT-TO-RIGHT, ABOVE: FORWARD DEREK KING [1997-2000] AND GOALIE PETER ING [1989-91].
SILENT-AUCTION ITEMS (ABOVE AND BELOW) TO BENEFIT THE MLSE “TEAM UP” FOUNDATION. ITS PHILOSOPHY AND MANDATE: The MLSE Team Up Foundation believes all kids should have access to sport and the opportunity to develop lasting dreams on the playing field. With the support of all four MLSE teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Toronto Marlies – the Foundation funds the refurbishment of local athletic facilities and programs that support kids through sports and recreation.
HAT IN HAND, MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI STROLLS TOWARD GOLF CARTS (ABOVE) AND PAUSES TO CHAT WITH ASSISTANT GM CLAUDE LOISELLE (BELOW).
NIK KULEMIN (TOP-LEFT) AND BULKED-UP NAZEM KADRI. ALWAYS-SMILING BEN SCRIVENS (BOTTOM-LEFT) AND FORWARD DAVID STECKEL.
KADRI (ABOVE) PROVIDES GOLF TIP TO SKEPTICAL TYLER BOZAK.
A BIG CHUNK OF LEAFS FUTURE (ABOVE): JAMES van RIEMSDYK (LEFT) AND JAKE GARDINER.
JAMES REIMER – SURROUNDED (ABOVE) BY REPORTERS AFTER HAVING LUNCH (BELOW) – CONFIRMED HE’S MORE THAN READY TO RESUME NUMBER-ONE ROLE BETWEEN THE PIPES.
CLARKE MacARTHUR DIGS IN (ABOVE-LEFT) NEXT TO JVR.
CLUB-HOUSE AT RATTLE SNAKE POINT.
IT’S A MATTER OF DEBATE WHETHER LEAFS ARE “CANADA’S TEAM” – AND MUCH CONJECTURE WHETHER “WELCOME MAT” WILL BE ROLLED OUT FOR PLAYERS ANYTIME SOON.
FACEBOOK: HOWARD BERGER [THORNHILL ON]