All levels of the game are appreciated and celebrated. I liken it to the fervor that surrounds football in the United States or soccer in Europe. Hockey in Canada is a way of life and a source of national pride. And aside from international tournaments where our very best compete, the highest level of competition comes from the National Hockey League.
The NHL provides the best and brightest in the game a place to play and entertain. Certainly the talent level is watered down now that the league has grown from six to 31 teams but each team has its stars and there's nothing like sitting in the crowd to cheer on your favourite team in person.
My favourite team is the Montreal Canadiens. Twenty-four Stanley Cup victories and a perennial playoff participant usually. I've been fortunate to be alive for 10 of those Championship seasons. Sadly, this season they've faltered but don't get me started on that.
I come by my love for the Habs honestly. My father is and always has been a Montreal fan all of his 80 years. We'd sit in front of the TV and listen to Danny Gallivan and Dick Irving Jr on Hockey Night in Canada. Of course for my dad, it started with Foster Hewitt and the Montreal and Toronto rivalries.
My grandfather was an Engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and my father as a young man also found work with CP in the train yard in our hometown. Back then CP ran passenger trains as well and among those passengers were the Montreal Canadiens players who would from time to time stop in Trenton on the way too and from Montreal. For a young man to see these legendary figures was something to behold.
So the Habs have been my team for 50 years and I hear if from my friends who are Toronto Maple Leafs fans quite often. We enjoy some friendly jabs back and forth but despite our loyalties to our respective teams, we all share a common love for the game.
Over the years I've been lucky enough to attend some of these game in person. Ticket prices now are for the most part obscene and attending a game is a rarity. I have however been witness to some wonderful memories at the few games I have enjoyed at the rink.
The best player to ever play the game, in my opinion, is Wayne Gretzky. Number 99 holds all kinds of records and to see him play with Edmonton and Los Angeles on TV was a treat. But there was nothing compared to seeing him play live. I had an opportunity to see Wayne play for L.A. in 1991 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
|My ticket stub from the game.|
Going to the game I remember thinking to myself, "I'd just like Wayne to score a goal." It was the one and only time I was going to see him play and I just wanted to say I saw him score once. My all-time favourite player was Guy Lafleur and I did have an opportunity to see him play in person at the end of his career but his age was a factor and even though the thrill of seeing him was there, he just wasn't the player he used to be. That wasn't the case for Gretzky on this night. Not only did Wayne score one goal but he added another and two assists on the way to a 5-2 win over the Leafs. Luc Robitaille also had two goals in the game and one assist. I left the rink a very happy 23 year old kid at heart.
My last time in Maple Leaf Gardens was also the last time the Montreal Canadiens played there as well. I had a pair of tickets to see the Leafs host the Habs in the final meeting between these two teams at MLG. Being able to say you were there was pretty cool.
|My ticket from the game.|
The game itself was entertaining and Montreal would win 2-1 but it was the pre-game festivities that I was most excited about and will never forget. With this rivalry and the history we knew something special was going to happen and we weren't disappointed. Welcomed to the ice for the ceremonial puck drop were two legends, former Maple Leaf Ted "Teeder" Kennedy and former Canadiens player Maurice "Rocket" Richard. I didn't put a stop watch on it but the standing ovation for these two greats had to have lasted at least 10 minutes if not longer. My hands were killing me by the time the applause finally subsided. The love and appreciation shown to these two men I'm sure was something to see on Hockey Night in Canada but to be there in person was exhilarating.
The last of my favourite NHL hockey moments doesn't involve any player. It centers around a man who I've admired, loved and aspired to be like my whole life...my dad.
In the past I had on a couple of occasions to take my dad to see Montreal play but it was always on the road. We saw them play the Lightning in Tampa a couple of times and after this we saw the Leafs and Habs play at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Seeing a game with my dad has always been special, even a Junior hockey game.
My dad had never seen Montreal play in Montreal. The Forum would have been fantastic but sadly it was gone and the team was playing in the Bell Centre but I was determined to get him to a game to experience a Habs home game first hand.
The game was on Valentine's Day in 2012. We took a train to Montreal and got our hotel room for the night.
|Dad standing beside the plaque of his favourite player.|
Seeing dad look out at the ice once we get inside was kind of a cool moment for me. He was finally going to see a Habs home game. It didn't matter if they won or lost, we were just thrilled to experience the atmosphere first hand. And I can tell you, even for a regular season game against Carolina, the crowd and feeling inside that arena was like nothing else. It's true what they say about seeing a game in Montreal. In the end the trip cost me a pretty penny but the memories I have and to experience that with my dad was priceless.
I've included a video below that I shot of my dad walking out and seeing the rink for the first time.
I have been very lucky to witness some very cool NHL moments in person and I'm sure many of you have similar experiences as well. What saddens me is seeing what the prices of tickets are now and knowing that there are a lot of hockey fans who will never get to have similar opportunities simply because they can't afford it or justify spending so much money on tickets to a game. Greed has taken priority today.