By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 18) – Yes, time does fly. But, 14 years?
How can it be nearly a decade-and-a-half since the enchanting, historic week that Maple Leaf Gardens transitioned to the Air Canada Centre?
Those such privileged, as yours truly, to have chronicled the events of 14 years ago this week (I was a reporter for The FAN-590) remember it with crystal clarity: the Maple Leafs laying a dinosaur egg in the Gardens finale against Chicago, then beating Montreal the following week in the Air Canada Centre opening on a goal by “Mr. Overtime” Steve Thomas. In between the consecutive Saturday engagements was a nostalgic parade beginning at the Gardens and meandering south on Yonge Street to the ACC. It involved many of the living greats in Toronto hockey history on a cold, clear afternoon.
Rummaging through my box of scrapbooks from the 1998-99 Maple Leafs season, I came upon the newspaper stories and photos from 14 winters ago this week. I also fetched the souvenir programs, media notes, line-ups, press box seating arrangements and credentials from each game.
They are presented here in chronological order.
FRONT PAGE OF THE TORONTO STAR ON FEB. 14, 1999 – THE MORNING AFTER CHICAGO WALLOPED THE LEAFS, 6-2, IN THE FINAL NHL GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS.
Irony prevailed in the Gardens finale, as former Leafs great Doug Gilmour scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 3:11 of the second period. It provided the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead. The final NHL goal on Carlton Street was scored by the late Bob Probert at 11:05 of the third period. Derek King has the distinction of scoring the final goal by a Leafs player at the Gardens – his second-period tally coming just 2:17 after teammate Steve Sullivan beat Chicago netminder Jocelyn Thibault. Curtis Joseph suffered through a nightmarish 60 minutes in goal for the Maple Leafs.
In the week leading up to the game, newspapers were replete with photos, stories and columns looking back at the 67-year history of Maple Leaf Gardens, which opened on Nov. 12, 1931 – also with a hockey game between the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks. Not since the 50th year of the building, in 1981-82, had there been such nostalgic fervor. It was tempered, however, when the Leafs suffered through one of the most appalling seasons in franchise history with a record of 20-44-16 for 56 points – which remains the third-fewest number of points in a minimum 74-game schedule (dating to 1967-68). In the Gardens’ final season, the club improved by 28 points from the previous year; finished second in the Northeast Division, and went to the Stanley Cup semifinals under Pat Quinn before losing to Buffalo.
FRONT OF 1981-82 MAPLE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE (ABOVE) FROM THE GARDENS’ 50th YEAR. MEMORIES NOTWITHSTANDING, THE CLUB ENDURED ONE OF ITS WORST-EVER SEASONS WITH 20 WINS AND 56 POINTS IN 80 GAMES.
COMMEMORATIVE PIN FROM GARDENS 50th-ANNIVERSARY SEASON.
COVER OF TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE (ABOVE) IN THE SEASON THE TEAM MOVED FROM GARDENS TO THE AIR CANADA CENTRE.
PROGRAM (ABOVE) FROM FINAL OPENING-NIGHT GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS AND OTHERS (BELOW) FROM GAMES LEADING UP TO HISTORIC NIGHT OF FEB. 13, 1999. GAME vs. NEW YORK RANGERS (BOTTOM-LEFT) ON DEC. 19, 1998 WAS FINAL TORONTO APPEARANCE BY WAYNE GRETZKY, WHO RETIRED AT THE END OF THE 1998-99 SEASON.
Newspaper images, now, from the week – 14 years ago – leading to the final NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens:
TORONTO SUN COLUMNIST GEORGE GROSS (ABOVE) HAD COVERED THE MAPLE LEAFS FOR THE OLD TORONTO TELEGRAM DURING THE CLUB’S STANLEY CUP DYNASTY IN THE 1960s. HE WAS SPORTS EDITOR OF THE SUN WHEN IT BEGAN IN NOVEMBER 1971. A NATIVE OF THE FORMER CZECHOSLOVAKIA, GROSS DIED IN MARCH 2008. HE WAS 85.
FOSTER HEWITT (ABOVE) WAS THE PIONEER HOCKEY BROADCASTER WHO CALLED LEAF GAMES ON RADIO FROM 1923 TO 1975. THE PRESS BOX AT AIR CANADA CENTRE IS NAMED IN HIS MEMORY. FOSTER’S SON, BILL CALLED LEAF TV GAMES IN THE 60’s AND 70’s. FOSTER HEWITT DIED IN MARCH 1985; BILL HEWITT IN DECEMBER 1996.
HAVING WON THE STANLEY CUP SIX TIMES AS STAR GOALIE OF THE MONTREAL CANADIENS IN THE 1970s, KEN DRYDEN (ABOVE) WAS PRESIDENT OF THE LEAFS IN 1998-99 AND PRIME FIGURE BEHIND THE CLOSING CEREMONY AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. HE LATER BECAME A LIBERAL MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT.
DAY OF FINAL GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 1999
PHOTO OF TICKETS (ABOVE) FOR MAPLE LEAF GARDENS FINALE.
THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS OF 1998-99 (ABOVE) SPEAK ABOUT THEIR MEMORIES OF MAPLE LEAF GARDENS PRIOR TO FINAL GAME AGAINST CHICAGO.
COVER OF PROGRAM FROM LEAFS–CHICAGO GARDENS FINALE
MY PRESS-BOX CREDENTIAL…
NEWSPAPER IMAGES THE MORNING AFTER…
PANORAMA (ABOVE) OF OPENING FACE-OFF BETWEEN LEAFS AND ‘HAWKS.
HEART OF EARLY-90’s MAPLE LEAFS (ABOVE) SCORED WINNING GOAL FOR CHICAGO.
NEARLY ALL LIVING MEMBERS OF THE MAPLE LEAFS MARCHED ONTO THE ICE (BY DECADE) AFTER THE GARDENS’ FINALE. NOTABLE ABSENTEE WAS DAVE KEON – ARGUABLY THE BEST PLAYER IN FRANCHISE HISTORY – WHO WOULD NOT PARTICIPATE AS RESULT OF HIS THREE-DECADES-LONG ESTRANGEMENT FROM THE CLUB. KEON HAS TWICE SINCE ACQUIESCED TO MAPLE LEAF CELEBRATIONS: IN FEBRUARY 2007 FOR THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1967 STANLEY CUP TEAM, AND THIS WEEKEND AT AIR CANADA CENTRE TO COMMEMORATE THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1963 CHAMPION.
OFFICIAL GAME SUMMARY (ABOVE) AS DISTRIBUTED TO REPORTERS.
PRESS BOX SEATING ARRANGEMENT (ABOVE) FOR FINAL GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. IT WAS TAPED TO A WALL AND I REMOVED IT BEFORE HEADING DOWN TO ICE LEVEL FOR POST-GAME COMMENTS. IRONICALLY, I WAS NO. 67 (BELOW) – WHICH CORRESPONDS TO A RATHER FAMOUS YEAR IN MAPLE LEAF HISTORY.
Newspaper images, now, from 14 years ago this week – leading to the first NHL game at Air Canada Centre between the Leafs and Montreal:
EVEN I GOT INTO THE ACT – WRITING ABOVE STORY FOR SUPPLEMENT IN THE HOCKEY NEWS THAT COMMEMORATED MAPLE LEAF GARDENS.
DAY OF FIRST GAME AT AIR CANADA CENTRE
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1999
CBC TECHNICIANS THREATENED TO STRIKE AND DISRUPT THE ENGLISH-TV BROADCAST OF AIR CANADA CENTRE DEBUT. IT WAS AVERTED BY A COURT INJUNCTION. LOCAL NEWSPAPERS FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHS FROM PARADE ON FRIDAY, ATTENDED BY NUMEROUS TORONTO HOCKEY LEGENDS, THAT BEGAN AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS AND PROCEEDED DOWN YONGE STREET TO THE AIR CANADA CENTRE.
CLEAR THE TRACK, HERE COMES SHACK (ABOVE).
FAVORITE HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA PERSONALITY OF ALL LEAF FANS IN 2013 – THEN THE CLUB’S BACK-UP GOALIE – GLENN HEALY (ABOVE) PARTAKES IN MAPLE LEAF GARDENS-TO-AIR CANADA CENTRE PARADE WHILE PLAYING BAG-PIPES.
NHL STANDINGS (ABOVE) ON FEB. 20, 1999. LEAFS WERE PRETTY GOOD.
PROGRAM FROM LEAFS–CANADIENS AIR CANADA CENTRE OPENING
MY PRESS-BOX CREDENTIAL…
THE MORNING AFTER…
TORONTO STAR FRONT-PAGE PHOTO (ABOVE) ON FEB. 21, 1999 SHOWING PICTURE OF STEVE THOMAS SCORING GOAL ON JEFF HACKETT AT 3:48 OF OVERTIME, GIVING MAPLE LEAFS A 3-2 VICTORY OVER MONTREAL IN AIR CANADA CENTRE OPENING GAME. THOMAS POSES, BELOW, AS PART OF TORONTO SUN MAPLE LEAFS PHOTO SERIES IN 1998-99.
REPORTER KEN CAMPBELL’S STORY (ABOVE) FROM TORONTO STAR MICROFILM ON FIRST AIR CANADA CENTRE GOAL, SCORED BY FORWARD TODD WARRINER OF THE MAPLE LEAFS AT 4:04 OF THE FIRST PERIOD. MATS SUNDIN AND THOMAS ALSO SCORED FOR LEAFS. EX-LEAF SCOTT THORNTON SCORED THE FIRST VISITING-TEAM GOAL AT 15:42 OF THE OPENING FRAME. VLADIMIR MALAKHOV HAD MONTREAL’S OTHER GOAL – ON THE POWERPLAY – AT 1:41 OF THE THIRD. A DELAY-OF-GAME CALL ON LEAFS FORWARD MIKE JOHNSON (NOW A TSN HOCKEY ANALYST) AT 10:00 OF THE FIRST PERIOD WAS THE INITIAL PENALTY CALL IN AIR CANADA CENTRE HISTORY.
TODD WARRINER (ABOVE) – NEARLY 14 YEARS AFTER SCORING FIRST GOAL AT AIR CANADA CENTRE. I TOOK THIS PHOTO AT THE WFCU CENTRE IN WINDSOR ON NOV. 23, 2012. WARRINER IS CURRENTLY A TV ANALYST FOR THE OHL WINDSOR SPITFIRES.
MIKE JOHNSON (ABOVE) – NOW A TSN HOCKEY ANALYST – WILL FOREVER LIVE WITH DISTINCTION OF TAKING FIRST PENALTY AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE.
PRESS BOX SEATING PLAN (ABOVE) FOR FIRST NHL GAME AT AIR CANADA CENTRE. THIS TIME, I WAS NO. 26 (BELOW), CORRESPONDING TO THE LEAFS FIRST NHL SEASON.
IN MEMORY OF…
CENTRE IGOR KOROLEV PLAYED IN 66 GAMES FOR THE 1998-99 MAPLE LEAFS, RECORDING 13 GOALS AND 47 POINTS. ON SEP. 7, 2011, IGOR – A GENTLE SOUL AND FAMILY MAN – WAS AMONG 43 PEOPLE KILLED IN A PLANE CRASH NEAR YAROSLAVL, RUSSIA. ASSISTANT COACH FOR YAROSLAVL-LOKOMOTIV OF THE KONTINENTAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, IGOR WAS ONLY 41 WHEN HE PERISHED. KOROLEV’S TEAMMATE ON THE ’98-99 LEAFS – ALEXANDER KARPOVSTEV – WAS ALSO AMONG THE DEAD.
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