Kessel Goal… Then a Blizzard

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Feb. 8th) – My goodness, did Mother Nature celebrate Phil Kessel’s long-awaited first goal of the season!

No. 81 snapped a shot past Ondrej Pavelic in Winnipeg Thursday night to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 comeback victory over the Jets. Officially, it was 10 months and two days between red lights for Kessel – or 12 NHL games, dating to the Leafs home finale last Apr. 5 against Tampa Bay.

To commemorate the occasion, Toronto endured its largest dumping of snow in the 21st century. Not since January 1999 has our city been so leveled by the weather Gods. I have vivid memories of that particular storm – which raged for nearly three days – as I found myself stuck in Plantation, Fla.

Poor Howard, I’m sure you’re thinking.

The Leafs and Panthers played to a 3-3 overtime tie on Wednesday, Jan. 13. My plan was to fly home the next morning, then to Philadelphia on Friday for a Saturday night game with the Flyers. Trouble was the Air Canada plane on which I was scheduled to leave Miami could not get out of Toronto. My friend Michael Ennis – then a senior captain with Air Canada – stayed in touch with me by phone, as he had access to the flight operations computer. The Miami-bound aircraft finally left snow-ravaged Toronto late Thursday, arriving in the wee hours. Michael phoned me in the middle of the night to let me know.

THE PATIO-TABLE IN THE BACK-YARD OF OUR HOUSE HERE IN THORNHILL, ONT. – NORTH OF TORONTO – AS THE BLIZZARD OF 2013 RAGED ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON.

Late Friday morning, I flew from Miami to Toronto. At some point during the three-hour journey, a flight attendant came by and handed me a strip of paper he had received from the captain. Michael, at that moment, was flying an Airbus-320 in the opposite direction – from Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica. He telex’ed my flight with the following words:

MESSAGE FROM AIRCRAFT 608 TO PASSENGER BERGER: Looks like we got lucky today… good to be prepared. Michael E.

Thankfully, I had my feet planted solidly on the ground today (beneath two feet of snow, but on the ground nonetheless). For those who had travel plans, I can imagine how your patience was tested. Been there, done that.

Please enjoy my photos of today’s massive snow-storm, interspersed with images of Phil Kessel scoring goals and hounding opposition netminders: 

THE STORM INTENSIFIED OVERNIGHT AND SNOW WAS THICK AND HEAVY (ABOVE AND BELOW) AT THE FIRST SIGN OF LIGHT ON FRIDAY MORNING.

PHIL KESSEL SNAPPED HIS LONG-AWAITED FIRST GOAL OF THE 2013 NHL SEASON PAST ONDREJ PAVELIC OF WINNIPEG ON THURSDAY NIGHT (ABOVE) – THE DECISIVE TALLY IN LEAFS 3-2 COMEBACK. KESSEL THEN CELEBRATED (BELOW) WITH LINEMATES JAMES van RIEMSDYK AND TYLER BOZAK. MARIANNE HELM GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

KESSEL SCORED HIS FIRST GOAL SINCE THE LEAFS REGULAR-SEASON HOME FINALE LAST APR. 5 (ABOVE) AGAINST MARTIN ST. LOUIS AND THE TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

KESSEL BROKE FROM THE GATE MAGNIFICENTLY LAST SEASON – SCORING NINE GOALS IN THE LEAFS FIRST SEVEN GAMES – INCLUDING A HAT-TRICK IN THE HOME OPENER (ABOVE AND BELOW) AGAINST OTTAWA, OCT. 8, 2011. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

VISIBILITY WAS DANGEROUSLY LOW ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON.

KESSEL SCORING ON RYAN MILLER OF BUFFALO AT AIR CANADA CENTRE LAST DECEMBER AND WHOOPING IT UP BEHIND NET WITH KEITH AULIE (59) AND MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

STUCK IN DEEP SNOW IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET, A DRIVER IS HELPED OUT BY A PARTICULARLY GOOD FRIEND (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON FRIDAY.

KESSEL SCORES (ABOVE) ON NICKLAS BACKSTROM OF MINNESOTA WILD AT AIR CANADA CENTRE ON JAN. 19 OF LAST SEASON. HE IS THEN CONGRATULATED (BELOW) BY DION PHANEUF, TYLER BOZAK AND JOFFREY LUPUL. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

SNOW ACCUMULATION WAS EVIDENT (ABOVE AND BELOW) AT DUSK ON FRIDAY.

BREAKING IN ON ANDY GREENE OF NEW JERSEY, KESSEL SCORED FOR LEAFS AT THE ACC ON FEB. 21, 2012. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

THERE WAS NO LET-UP IN THE SNOW EARLY FRIDAY NIGHT (ABOVE AND BELOW). THANK GOODNESS I DIDN’T NEED MY CAR FOR ANYTHING.

HOUNDED BY KESSEL AND TYLER BOZAK OF LEAFS, BLACKHAWKS GOALIE COREY CRAWFORD COVERS PUCK AT UNITED CENTRE IN CHICAGO LAST FEB. 29. IT WAS RON WILSON’S LAST GAME AS TORONTO COACH. JONATHAN DANIEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

WALKING OUT FROM THE KITCHEN TO OUR BACK DECK (ABOVE) WAS A PERILOUS EXERCISE ON FRIDAY NIGHT, AS SNOW CONTINUED TO FALL (BELOW).

LEAFS WERE DESTROYED BY BOSTON LAST SEASON BUT KESSEL DID MANAGE TO SCORE AGAINST BRUINS AT AIR CANADA CENTRE ON MAR 6, 2012. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

MORE THAN 2½ FEET OF SNOW HAD FALLEN BY 7 P.M. FRIDAY.

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