TORONTO (Mar. 19) — Everywhere you looked at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, there was green.
Far from me, in this forum, to buck the trend. As such, the first blog on my website (b. June 1, 2011) to be written in the color of the Irish. As part of their 100th anniversary season, the Toronto Maple Leafs wore retro uniforms (white, with green trim and pants) to commemorate their forerunner, the Toronto St. Pats. Founder Conn Smythe changed the name to Maple Leafs on Feb. 14, 1927… and the club colors to blue and white. For this game, and for contrast, the visiting Chicago Blackhawks brought their home red uniforms — widely considered the most attractive in the National Hockey League. So, the visuals were an A–plus.
The game, itself, may have been the most competitive and entertaining at the ACC in the post–2005 lockout era. That’s a mouthful, and perhaps an exaggeration. But, not really, when you consider how gifted the Leafs have become in the past two years, and that Chicago is still the gold standard among NHL teams. Though the visitors won the match, 2–1, with 16.9 seconds left in overtime, the Leafs again showed they can keep pace with a Stanley Cup contender. It was an absolutely superb match that showcased the talents of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith — among the most exciting players in the NHL. And, though he yielded the late–OT winner, Frederik Andersen was terrific between the pipes for the home side, making 38 saves. What a thoroughly splendid evening, on the ice.
By the way, it marked the 22nd time this season the Leafs have played beyond regulation time. Prior to the advent of the shootout in 2005–06, that would have equaled the franchise record for ties in a season, established in 1954–55. The NHL record is 24 — by the 1969–70 Philadelphia Flyers (or Philadelphia “Tie–ers”, as they were known). The Leafs have left 15 big points on the table after 60 minutes this year.
THE MAPLE LEAFS/ST. PATS LEAVE THE ICE DEJECTEDLY AFTER RYAN HARTMAN SCORED FOR CHICAGO IN THE DYING SECONDS OF OVERTIME SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE.
For yours truly, it was a special evening high above the playing surface. Not since December 2014 had I been to the Foster Hewitt Media Gondola — a place I practically lived between 1999 and 2011 while covering the Leafs for The FAN–590. I have no particular reason to be there anymore and I am loathe to pester the Leafs’ director of communications, Steve Keogh. He has enough on his hands without an old, washed–up radio guy asking for favors. Once in a blue moon, however, I request a media credential from Steve, a good fellow I’ve known since his years in a similar capacity with the Ottawa Senators. And, he is routinely accommodating. As such, it was wonderful to renew acquaintance with so many around the ACC — from the ushers and dressing room guardians at ice level to the many still–familiar faces and ex–colleagues upstairs.
Of course, I had my trusty NIKON with me:
JOE BOWEN’S IRISH EYES WERE SMILING. THE FUTURE HALL–OF–FAME BROADCASTER — VOICE OF THE MAPLE LEAFS SINCE 1982 — WAS IN FULL IRISH REGALIA. I ALSO SPENT A FEW MOMENTS NEXT DOOR WITH BLACKHAWKS TV ANALYST ED OLCZYK, A FIXTURE IN CHICAGO AND ACROSS THE UNITED STATES ON NBC. EARLY IN MY RADIO CAREER, I COVERED EDDIE AS A HIGH–SCORING CENTER WITH THE LEAFS. HARD TO FATHOM IT’S BEEN 26 YEARS SINCE HE WORE THE BLUE AND WHITE.
AS MENTIONED, GREEN WAS RATHER PREVALENT ON THIS NIGHT.
LEAFS COACH MIKE BABCOCK MATCHED VETERAN CENTER BRIAN BOYLE (24) WITH CHICAGO ACE JONATHAN TOEWS FOR MUCH OF THE NIGHT. HERE, LINESMAN DARREN GIBBS RE–POSITIONED THE WINGERS BEHIND HIM BEFORE DROPPING THE PUCK IN THE CENTER CIRCLE.
HOCKEY IN MINIATURE. THOUGH OUT–NUMBERED, THE LEAFS SWARMED AROUND THE ‘HAWKS NET.
MAPLE LEAF LEGENDS WERE STARING DIRECTLY AT ME ALL NIGHT LONG.
CHICAGO COACH JOEL QUENNEVILLE WON HIS 847th REGULAR–SEASON GAME ON SATURDAY NIGHT. HE RANKS SOLIDLY IN SECOND PLACE ON THE ALL–TIME LIST, YET STILL WELL–BEHIND THE LEADER, SCOTTY BOWMAN (1,244 WINS). HE HAS THREE STANLEY CUP RINGS WITH THE HAWKS. QUENNEVILLE WAS THE LEAFS TOP PICK (21st OVERALL — FROM THE WINDSOR SPITFIRES) IN THE 1978 NHL DRAFT. HE PLAYED 93 GAMES ON DEFENSE BEFORE GOING TO THE OLD COLORADO ROCKIES WITH LANNY McDONALD IN A UNIFORMLY UNPOPULAR TRADE AMONG TORONTO FANS, DEC. 29, 1979.
LEAFS VETERAN EQUIPMENT MANAGER, BRIAN PAPINEAU (TOP–LEFT), WATCHED FROM BEHIND THE BENCH. PAPPY DID NOT WORK FOR THE TORONTO ST. PATS, THOUGH IT SEEMS AS IF HE’S BEEN AROUND SINCE 1927. FREDDY ANDERSEN ADJUSTED HIS MASK DURING A TV TIME–OUT, WHILE BACK–UP CURTIS McELHINNEY MADE NOTES ON THE GAME–CHART.
A WIDE–ANGLE VIEW FROM MY PERCH IN THE FOSTER HEWITT MEDIA GONDOLA.
BEHIND PRESS ROW IS A MURAL HONORING THE MAPLE LEAFS’ ORIGINAL VOICE — AND THE INVENTOR OF HOCKEY BROADCASTING ON RADIO. FOSTER HEWITT CALLED GAMES FROM 1923–1976. HE DIED IN APRIL 1985 AT 82 YEARS OF AGE. FOSTER IS ALSO IMMORTALIZED FOR CALLING ALL EIGHT GAMES OF THE 1972 CANADA–RUSSIA SERIES ON TV ACROSS THE LAND.
THE MEDIA CREDENTIAL SATURDAY NIGHT THAT GOT ME UP TO THE PRESS BOX… AND AN INTERMISSION AUDIENCE WITH JOE BOWEN, WHOSE IMAGE HERE DEFIES COMMENTARY.
A COUPLE OF CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS LEGENDS: ED OLCZYK AND JIM RALPH. (SORRY ED)
LEFT: ME AND BOBBY McGILL (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE JANIS JOPLIN ANTHEM FROM 1971). BOBBY, A FORMER MAPLE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN, AND ORIGINAL SAN JOSE SHARK FROM 1991, IS A FIXTURE TODAY ON LEAFS–TV. OF COURSE, I HAD TO DROP IN AND SAY HELLO TO MY OL’ PAL, JIMMY HOLMSTROM, LONG–TIME ORGANIST AT HOCKEY GAMES DATING TO MAPLE LEAF GARDENS.
A NICE PLACE TO BE (TOP–LEFT) FOR NINE SPECIAL COLLEAGUES OF MINE. MORE WILL FOLLOW. AND, NO, CONN SMYTHE WAS NOT AMONG THOSE IN THE LEAFS/ST. PATS EXECUTIVE BOX.
ANOTHER OLD RADIO PAL, MIKE ROSS, IS DOING A FINE JOB IN HIS FIRST SEASON AS PUBLIC–ADDRESS ANNOUNCER FOR LEAF GAMES AT THE ACC. AUSTON MATTHEWS SCORED FOR TORONTO IN THE FIRST PERIOD (HIS 32nd GOAL) BUT ROOKIE JOHN HAYDEN — IN ONLY HIS SECOND GAME — KNOTTED THE COUNT (RIGHT) JUST PAST THE MIDWAY MARK OF REGULATION TIME.
THE GAME WAS BRIEFLY DELAYED PRIOR TO THE SECOND PERIOD BECAUSE OF AN ISSUE WITH THE ICE. DURING THE PAUSE, CONVERSATION ABOUNDED. REFEREE MIKE LEGGO (ABOVE) GABBED WITH MORGAN RIELLY (44) AND JONATHAN TOEWS. MATT MARTIN OF THE LEAFS (BOTTOM–LEFT) CHATTED WITH FORMER LEAFS WINGER RICHARD PANIK. MARTIN THEN HAD A WORD WITH LEGGO.
THERE WAS BLUE AND GREEN IN THE CROWD… AND A NOD TO THE BIG IRISHMAN (RIGHT).
LEO KOMAROV OF THE LEAFS HOPPED OVER THE BOARDS WHILE MIKE BABCOCK BARKED INSTRUCTIONS. OTHER LEAFS/ST. PATS (FROM LEFT–TO–RIGHT) ARE MATT MARTIN, CONNOR BROWN, NAZEM KADRI, NIKITA SOSHNIKOV AND AUSTON MATTHEWS.
KOMAROV LEAD A RUSH FOR TORONTO. NOTE THE POSITIONING OF THE CHICAGO PLAYERS.
THE LEAFS ARE HOPING THAT MARNER AND MATTHEWS CAN BE THEIR ANSWER TO THE PATRICK KANE–JONATHAN TOEWS TANDEM THAT HAS WON THREE STANLEY CUPS SINCE 2010.
JAMES van RIEMDSYK WAS IN COREY CRAWFORD’S GRILL DURING A SECOND–PERIOD POWERPLAY. AND, THE PRIMARY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE LEAFS AND BLACKHAWKS: CHICAGO HAS A STUD ON THE BLUE–LINE. DUNCAN KEITH IS TWICE A FIRST–TEAM NHL ALL–STAR; TWICE A NORRIS TROPHY WINNER, AND THE CONN SMYTHE TROPHY RECIPIENT IN 2015.
THE UNHERALDED CHICAGO SCORERS ON THIS NIGHT: JOHN HAYDEN AND RYAN HARTMAN.