I stood in what seemed thunderous chaos. Horses galloped to the right of me, to the left of me. Lances appeared to whisk past my ears. The ground felt as if it were trembling beneath my feet. And I grabbed my dad’s arm, fearing if I didn’t I might topple over. Just audible above the din of the rhythmic panting of the horses and the pounding of their hooves, I could hear singing.
He wore a baseball cap that had no team emblem and a T-shirt with no sign of his number 81 on it. He smiled for several of the private photographs taken that day; and that was a bit out of the ordinary. Otherwise his visit to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children went unnoticed even when he opened up a case and revealed – for the children and staff at the hospital only – the Stanley Cup, the one he and his fellow Pittsburgh Penguins had won last spring. And his visit would have gone unnoticed, but for a hospital staffer who tweeted:
“SickKids was buzzing with #StanleyCup fever today! Thx for visiting our patients & families @PKessel81 #NHL.”
I’ve seen the ones with the blinds closed tight. There are others where the lights are clearly on night and day. And then there are the telltale driveways – particularly after snowstorms – that haven’t seen a car tire or truck tire tread since New Year’s. Their occupants won’t be back until April at the earliest. And they might as well have posted a sign on their houses:
“Gone to Florida for the winter!”
I don’t know whether it’s because the weather has suddenly been normal and delivered us the snow, wind and cold that February and March are generally supposed to. Or, maybe it’s because the March break is just around the corner. But a lot of my friends, neighbours, some of hockey buddies, a few members of my family and a number of my working colleagues have all bailed and gone south. I can almost hear them testing their snorkels or whipping their golf drivers in practice swings. They’re into escape mode.
I remember the moment, yes, as if it were yesterday. Those of us who were Edmonton Oilers fans back then will always remember. It was early in the third period in Game 7 of the Smyth Division final between arch Alberta rivals – the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers – in the 1985-86 season. And I remember stalwart CBC TV play-by-play announcer Don Whitman’s call vividly. His surprise and shock spoke for us all.
“Grant Fuhr clears, behind his own net,” he described rather calmly. But then, reacting to Oilers’ defenceman Steve Smith taking the puck, looking up ice and attempting a pass, Whitman continued, “They scored! Oh! Steve Smith, attempting to clear the puck out of his own zone, put it in his own net.”
I read the newspapers over the weekend. I expected to see news about a trade involving the Maple Leafs. And there it was on the front page of Monday’s Toronto Star sports section. Defenceman Cody Franson is gone. So is perhaps the hardest working forward on the team, Mike Santorelli. Then, Tuesday online, I caught a bit of the reporter scrum involving Toronto’s newest acquisition in the deal, 36-year-old Nashville Predator Olli Jokinen responding to the question: “Are you surprised?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” he told the Star. “Why wouldn’t I be?”