The Ultimate Leafs Fan makes it has mission to figure out what makes fans bleed blue … Mike Wilson, the man ESPN called "The Ultimate Leafs Fan," attended every Leafs contest of the 2018-19 NHL season. With a foreword from club president Brendan Shanahan and colourful souvenir photos, The Ultimate Road Trip allows fans to vicariously experience the journey of a lifetime, and explores the passion of the sign-waving, fully costumed diehards who fill arenas from Alberta to Anaheim. Who are these people in Leafs sweaters? How did they get there and how much did it cost? What motivates them to follow a franchise that hasn't won a Stanley Cup in a half-century? Through 89 games, from October to April, the retired Bay Street trader explored all 31 rinks to document stories of Leafs love. Mike took every conceivable mode of transport, stayed in team hotels and on the couches of family and friends, then went into the cheap seats, private suites, the streets, sports bars, hotel lobbies, and many other unique locations where Leafs Notion gets together, to gather tales both hilarious and heart-wrenching.
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If I needed a good omen as my first road trip began, it was printed right on my Air Canada ticket, Flight 442 to Chicago O’Hare, the same numbers of defencemen Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey.
Approaching U.S. Customs at Pearson early Sunday morning it dawned on me this wasn’t a vacation in Florida for a week I’d be declaring but rather a four-city excursion. These security folk can be ornery at the best of times and the last thing I needed was this guy to give me a hard time.
“I’m off to Chicago, but it gets tricky, because I’m also headed to Dallas, Detroit and Washington,” I began.
His look needed no explanation except to keep talking and it better be good.
“I’m actually following the Leafs for every game this year and this is the first trip.”
“You getting paid for this?,” he inquired over the nose of his glasses.
He smiled, softened slightly while firing a few subtle questions trying to trip me up, eventually sending me on my way.
I arrived in the Windy City fresh off Toronto’s home split against Montreal and Ottawa, excited to find as many members of Leafs Nation as I could, in one of the greatest sports towns in America. Chicago is also close to Notre Dame, whose football team I’ve mentioned holds a very important place in my life and that of Joe Bowen, voice of the Leafs.
My first stop wasn’t the United Center, the Hancock Building or some other Chicago architectural landmark. Instead I pointed my rental car northwest out of O’Hare to Woodstock, Ill. The little town made famous by Bill Murray’s movie Groundhog Day is also the studio of Erik Blome, sculptor of Legends Row outside SBA.
Historic Woodstock is a charming place with lots of Groundhog Day landmarks, though townsfolk prefer to think there’s more to their home than the film. The beautiful old opera house was once the summer stock residence for budding stars such as Paul Newman, Robert Redford and War of the Worlds creator, Orson Welles.
Erik’s studio can be described as organized chaos, with materials, plaster busts, sketches and a molten orange kiln, all arranged strategically for him and his assistants to work.
On the upper floor overlooking the workshop are half a dozen copies of the Leafs busts along with bits and pieces of old hockey equipment from the various subjects, including Tim Horton’s gloves. Blome proudly showed me the original designs and the changes made as the monument came closer to completion.
He gave me a quick demonstration on how the mold is cast for a statue - making sure I kept well back from the 450-degree oven.
He mentioned he’s been back to Toronto a few times to repair a few of the sticks that had been vandalized. Apparently, one of Raptor ambassador Drake’s trucks backed into one of the statues, requiring a quick repair. Maybe the famous Raptors ambassador wanted to start clearing space for a basketball tribute.
Table of Contents
Foreword Brendan Shanahan 7
Chapter 1 TORONTO: Hello/Goodbye 15
Chapter 2 CHICAGO: Blackhawks and the Bronze Age 21
Chapter 3 DALLAS: The Stars Come Out in Texas 27
Chapter 4 DETROIT: Motown Memories 31
Chapter 5 WASHINGTON: T.O. Trumps D.C. 36
Chapter 6 TORONTO: The Church on Carlton 41
Chapter 7 WINNIPEG: Forever Young 48
Chapter 8 PITTSBURGH: Man of Steel 53
Chapter 9 BOSTON: The Olde Towne's Teams 60
Chapter 10 LOS ANGELES: Living It Up at the Hotel California 67
Chapter 11 SAN JOSE: The Leafs for Pete's Sake 77
Chapter 12 ANAHEIM: Duck Season 83
Chapter 13 CAROLINA: Tales of Tailgating 89
Chapter 14 COLUMBUS: Discovering Columbus 96
Chapter 15 MINNESOTA: A Great State of Hockey 100
Chapter 16 BUFFALO: Aud Numbers Even Out 110
Chapter 17 BOSTON: Remembering Humboldt and the Hub 115
Chapter 18 CAROLINA: Weather or Not 122
Chapter 19 TAMPA BAY: Ship Shape in the Bay 130
Chapter 20 FLORIDA: Dog-Gone Sweaters 136
Chapter 21 NEW JERSEY: Bettor Believe It 140
Chapter 22 COLUMBUS: Do's and Donuts 146
Chapter 23 NEW JERSEY: The 416 on the ULF 154
Chapter 24 TAMPA: Sinden's Hairy Tales of '72 162
Chapter 25 FLORIDA: Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight 168
Chapter 26 DETROIT: The Redhead and the Red Wings 171
Chapter 27 MONTREAL: When Taxis Attack 176
Chapter 28 NEW YORK: Stan the Man Joins the Band 184
Chapter 29 COLORADO: Rockies Hockey 189
Chapter 30 LAS VEGAS: What Happens in Vegas … 195
Chapter 31 ARIZONA: Chasing Blondes in the Desert 201
Chapter 32 ST. LOUIS: Meeting an Arch Enemy 208
Chapter 33 LONG ISLAND: Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore 215
Chapter 34 CALGARY: Last Roundup at the Corral 224
Chapter 35 VANCOUVER: Fan's Best Friend, the Beagle 230
Chapter 36 EDMONTON: A Timmy's Run (and Don't Fly the Red Eye) 234
Chapter 37 OTTAWA: Bad Signs in Bytown 242
Chapter 38 NASHVILLE: Hockey + Honky Tonk = Heaven 250
Chapter 39 BUFFALO: Pit Stop at the Peace Bridge 258
Chapter 40 PHILADELPHIA: The Other Side of Broad Street 261
Chapter 41 OTTAWA: Rideau Redux 269
Chapter 42 LONG ISLAND: Escape from New York 272
Chapter 43 MONTREAL: La Ligne d'Arrivée/The Finish Line 279
Epilogue Boston 285