Toronto and the Maple Leafs: A City and Its Team

Toronto and the Maple Leafs: A City and Its Team


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100 years of love, celebration, heartbreak, and even parades

On December 19, 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs officially turn 100. In the spirit of the centenary celebrations, Toronto and the Maple Leafs explores the city’s relationship with its most beloved sports team. No matter how many times the Jays and Raptors make the playoffs, it’s a Leafs game that still brings the city together on a cold Saturday night and fuels the talk shows all summer. But why are fans so absorbed by a team that has not won a Cup in 50 years?

Veteran Leafs and NHL columnist Lance Hornby gives readers an insider’s perspective on how the pulse of the city and team became one through two world wars, the Depression, the zany Harold Ballard years, and, until recently, dysfunctional hockey operations. Toronto and the Maple Leafs includes insights and stories from Mayor John Tory to Joe Fan; from influential voices of the Leafs, such as Foster Hewitt and Joe Bowen, to the ushers, cleaners, and ticket scalpers. Not to mention a funeral director who performs Leafs-themed services.

An unforgettable book about the good teams, bad games, and bizarre times of this franchise’s history, this is the perfect companion for every Leafs fan.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770413627
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,233,425
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Lance Hornby has covered the Maple Leafs and the NHL for the Toronto Sun and Postmedia since 1986. Ron Ellis played for the Toronto Maple Leafs for 16 seasons, was a member of the team’s last Cup-winning squad in 1967, and took part in the 1972 Summit Series. Both live in Toronto, Ontario.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Hockey Night in Toronto


My Maple Leaf Gardens was a small laneway off Roseheath Avenue near the Danforth, with a sewer grate marking centre ice. It was next to the house where I watched them win the ’67 Cup on the basement black and white.

Since I often played alone (big kids never let you in their games on the street), Mom insisted I place my flimsy red-rimmed net away from the Roseheath side, so I wouldn’t be chasing my errant sponge ball into traffic. I’d stand on the curb, pretend it was the Leafs bench, dream I was Frank Mahovlich or Red Kelly, but always settle on my favourite, Dave Keon, then step on the “ice,” soaking up the cheers resonating in my head. Then I’d run the length of this cement stage, careful not to jam my 99-cent straight-blade from the hardware store into the sewer bars, release the shot, and close my eyes just as the mesh billowed.


In early 1999, during the last days of NHL hockey at the Gardens, people began clinging to the 67-year-old building as if it were their ancestral home and had childhood height progress marked on its wall. They were exhibiting emotion and behaviour unlike anything seen in a town whose rink was sometimes known around the NHL as the Church for its quiet fans. Things started disappearing: direction signs, small pictures, the odd brick — even a toilet seat lid.

“There was a couple doing the wild thing up in a private box,” an east-side usher said. “They even brought a pillow. I guess they wanted to say they were the last to do it in the Gardens.”


The rite of passage for a parent or an older sibling to take a new fan to a Leafs game started with the buzz of a Saturday night on Carlton Street: clanging streetcars, honking horns, gravel-voiced scalpers, and excited kids in minor hockey jackets. Then it moved inside the Gardens, through blue turnstiles as old as the building and ushers who weren’t far behind in longevity.

Massive black-and-white pictures dominated the front lobby and the east and west corridors. Profiled by famous portrait photographers of the day, such as those at the Turofsky Brothers’ studio at 92 King Street West and Harold Barkley, they had modest frames assembled by the Gardens’ carpentry shop. Many were also caricatures created by Canadian artist Lou Skuce, who drew for local papers and also designed the first Gardens program in 1931.

Nat Turofsky became official team photographer when he had the courage to make Conn Smythe take his hat off for a team picture in the early days of the Leafs. It was Turofsky who took the iconic snap of Bill Barilko scoring the Cup-winning overtime goal against Montreal’s Gerry McNeil in 1951.

One fan identified so strongly with the Ace Bailey portrait in the lobby — it had always been his father’s favourite when they attended games — that he made sure to be first in line to buy it at the Gardens’ auction in 1999.


It was not a Leafs player who offered the definitive word on the Gardens’ place in Toronto lore, but the man who never missed a game in more than four straight decades.

From his northwest corner sound booth, Paul Morris was witness to a significant chapter of Toronto history; the last four Cups, the conventions, the Beatles, the busy 1970s with nary a dark night on the event sked, the Marlies, the Rock (both music and lacrosse), and the circus (the animals and Harold Ballard). When the Gardens closed, so did his streak of 1,561 games.

“Fans didn’t live here like I did, but they did in their dreams,” Morris said the night of the last Leafs game. “This was like home to many Canadians.”

An estimated 117 million people passed through its doors. At one time, it was theorized that every person born in the Greater Toronto Area had attended at least one event, hockey or otherwise, or just popped by out of curiosity. My Italian-born mother-in-law didn’t understand hockey, but she knew the Gardens through her two favourite wrestlers, tag-team champs Dominic DeNucci and Tony Parisi.

Many of the hockey fans entered single file through turnstiles, with counters on top that clicked as the gate slowly turned. Those not among the thousands of season-ticket holders, who didn’t move up a subscriber waiting list that stretched back to World War II, massed at the gate on game night, awaiting the signal to sprint upstairs for prime standing-room spots.

For many, the journey downtown was half the fun; drinks, dinner on a crisp Saturday night via car or trolley, a subway full of fans, ascending the stairs at College Subway, past the pop art of Leafs players on the platform. Up top were scalpers and that familiar 60 Carlton Street marquee: NHL Hockey Tonight, Leafs vs. Canadiens . . . Bruins . . . North Stars . . . Capitals . . . Oilers.

“Somehow the Gardens developed a soul, a life of its own,” said former MLG business and public relations manager Bob Stellick. “It was the ultimate gathering place in Toronto. People identify with it; they know exactly where it is and how to get there. Everyone still has a Gardens’ story.”

For decades it was Toronto’s largest meeting and concert hall, a stage shared by Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau, and entertainers from Elvis to the Beatles to the Tragically Hip. But the main act was the hockey team that seemed to draw as much energy from its surroundings as its audience did in the golds, reds, greens, and end blues.

“There was definitely an aura in this building and if you played [there], you felt it,” decorated Cup winner Allan Stanley once said.

“It was such an honest place to play hockey,” added 1940s veteran Howie Meeker. “I don’t think they can build a building like this again.”

Had Conn Smythe not put a shovel in the ground in the spring of 1931, there might not be a centennial to celebrate. Far from creating an iconic civic site, Smythe only wished to keep his investment as the Depression cast its shadow over Toronto. A buyer from Philadelphia was sizing up the Leafs for purchase and transfer out of town before Smythe put together a consortium of 14 investors to raise $160,000 of the $200,000 asking price. J.P. Bickell, a friend of Smythe’s, retained his 40% share.

One of Smythe’s first moves was to change the name of the team from the St. Patricks. He realized the Irish connection to the city but liked the sound of Maple Leafs, in homage to the emblem on Canadian uniforms in the First World War when he was soldier and aviator (shot down and imprisoned by the Germans), and fitting for the new blue-and-white sweaters he planned for them. According to Tom Watt, a coach of the Leafs in the early 1990s, Smythe was likely giving a nod to his days coaching at the University of Toronto and liberally borrowed its logo and colours.

The new Leafs still could not make money from crowds of a few thousand at the Mutual Street Arena, and they’d not won the Cup in almost a decade. In seeking a new home, Smythe was battling both a poor business climate and a nervous ownership group unwilling to start such a large project in unfavourable conditions.

But Smythe had seen what New York’s Madison Square Garden had done for the Rangers’ profile and thought Toronto’s time had come for a major indoor sports venue. After his first choice of sites at Yonge and Fleet Street, near the waterfront, and at Knox College on Spadina failed to click, he took note of a lot at Church and Carlton, owned by Eaton’s department store. It had come up for sale, intersecting two streetcar lines.

Eaton’s vice-president John James Vaughan objected when he heard that Smythe’s group intended to put up an arena; he feared it would draw a riff-raff crowd too near the chain’s new College Street store. But Smythe acted fast. Bright, young assistant Frank Selke publicized some initial drawings Smythe commissioned from the firm of Ross and MacDonald, who’d built Union Station and the Royal York Hotel. The art was included in a prospectus that was offered to the public for a dime.

That brought many excited fans on board, helped by Foster Hewitt’s presence on the growing medium of radio. Smythe also worked potential investors, including their wives, selling them on the cultural benefits of a new building. Among those who came aboard were Sir John Aird, president of the Bank of Commerce, Alf Rogers of St. Marys Cement, and eventually, Vaughan himself. Smythe chose the name “Maple Leaf Gardens” after the New York edifice, then in its second incarnation at 50th Street and 8th Avenue.

With weak soil and the buried Taddle Creek running under part of its southeast corner, support pylons were required to be pounded through the muck until they reached bedrock. But human obstacles remained the largest threat to Smythe’s vision as MLG Limited was incorporated. A hefty $1.5 million in financing had to start with a $500,000 mortgage with Sun Life Assurance, 100,000 shares of preferred stock, costing $10, and 50,000 shares of common stock at $3 a share.

The houses and small shops fronting Carlton Street were coming down when a shortage of several hundred thousand dollars was discovered, just as meetings to open contractor bidding were held at Aird’s office on King Street. Selke knew the Allied Building Trades Council was having a meeting downtown that day and hurried over to address the group, imploring the workers to take a leap of faith in hard times to see the potentially job-rich project go through.

He reminded them that he and Smythe already had their houses mortgaged to help finance the deal. That honesty and a little prodding of their Toronto pride helped a deal that saw 24 unions take 20% of their pay in stock. Those shares would hit $100 in 1947 and split four and then five to one in the mid-1960s.

More than 1,000 workers were on the site at the height of construction. Thanks to low demand because of the Depression, materials cost 30% less, which helped the project be completed in an astounding six months. The Gardens came to life with 760 tons of structural steel, 750,000 bricks, 77,500 bags of cement, 1,100 tons of gravel, 70 tons of sand, 950,000 feet of lumber, 230,000 haydite blocks, and 540 kegs of nails.

Among the doubters who thought the Gardens would either run out of financing or not be completed on time was King Clancy, who often wandered over after Mutual Street practices to check on its progress. But the 13-storey building, which Smythe boasted was “entirely Canadian in conception, plan, design, and material,” was indeed ready for opening night, November 12, 1931.


The band struck up “Happy Days Are Here Again” when the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks came out for their 8:30 p.m. warm-up on pristine Gardens ice, before a crowd of 13,233 people — the largest to ever watch an indoor sporting event in Toronto at the time. Smythe and the official party wore top hats, though earlier in the day, Smythe had almost been detained by police. So obsessed was he to hear people’s first thoughts on the building — and to weed out scalpers — that he kept jumping from ticket line to ticket line to eavesdrop, raising the suspicions of a patrolling cop. He was escorted away until he could prove his identity.

After a lengthy list of speakers — Mayor William J. Stewart, city councillors, Bickell, Chicago captain Cy Wentworth, and Ontario premier George S. Henry — the game began. The first goal would come from Chicago’s Harold “Mush” March, who bookended his place in hockey history after scoring the last goal at Mutual Street Arena the season before. Tommy Cook passed the puck to March, who beat goalie Lorne Chabot. Charlie Conacher scored the first home goal, but the Hawks emerged 2–1 winners.


Part of the reason the Gardens was special for both the public and players alike was its appearance. Though a pea soup of cigarette smoke formed during intermissions before the ban, and the urinal “trough” rarely ran dry, the place was scrubbed down before every game and freshly painted each season, with every lightbulb replaced and squeaky seat oiled.

“The most well-maintained building I’ve ever seen,” four-time Cup captain George Armstrong recalled in the 1990s. “You went to some of the others (Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium) and it was just terrible. They were built at the same time and they just became dives. But when kids today are as impressed as I was when I first walked in here in the 1940s, that really says something.”

Smythe ran the building with military efficiency. “Spit and polish was his trademark,” said Brian Conacher, a member of the ’67 Cup team, son and nephew of two Leafs, and later the Gardens’ superintendent. “That tradition always continued. Mr. Ballard always made sure there was a fresh coat on the walls and Mr. [Steve] Stavro spent a lot of time maintaining the history of the building and improving the aesthetics.”

Smythe set the tone, always at the building at the crack of dawn and often staying late, even on non-game nights. He might drop by in the wee hours when hockey business dictated, and more than one overnight guard was sacked if Smythe showed up and found no one on duty.

Smythe had a sand and gravel company that was another livelihood, employing many Gardens workers and players. That business was also run at peak efficiency by the hawk-eyed Smythe, who watched every truck leave the pit past his office window, making sure its load was level to avoid road spillage and fines from the City of Toronto.

In the ’40s and ’50s when Hap Day was coach and GM, it was doubly hard on the staff because Day was as persnickety as his boss about punctuality, order, and cleanliness. Day would often come in to the Gardens at 6 a.m. and, starting from the greys, work his way down inspecting floors, washrooms, and concession stands. Day also had an underling call the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, Engand each day and synchronize all Gardens clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, including his coach’s stopwatch.


The Gardens labour force often included not-so-typical Torontonians. In the 1970s, it wouldn’t be a shock to see members of the Memorial Cup champion Marlies pushing a broom or a mop during the day, such as future Leaf and NHL coach Bruce Boudreau, John Anderson, Mark Napier, or big defenceman Bob Dailey. After the Leafs’ affiliation with St. Michael’s College ended in the late ’60s, school took on a less important role, so work at the Gardens was designed to keep young minds busy between practice and games.

Defenceman Jim McKenny was a $10-a-week Gardens mailroom helper in 1964 and freely admits he was not cut out for office work, making several delivery errors. But at quitting time one September evening, when he was looking forward to sneaking an underage beer at the nearby Carriage House, a huge commotion gripped the building. It was the Beatles arriving for their first Toronto concert.

“You could tell right away they were big shooters, because they came in the Carlton Street doors when everyone else had to use the back entrance on Wood Street,” McKenny told the Toronto Sun in 2014. “Of course you’d heard about them, but at the time [going out with pals] seemed more important than hanging around to see the Beatles.” McKenny welcomed the changes sparked by the ’60s but said no thought was given to emulating their long hair. Attracting such attention wasn’t worth the hassle of breaking the team dress code or spending what money young players had to look cool. “When you subtracted $4.20 from my $10 for a two-four case of beer, you weren’t going to spend the other $5.80 on a fancy hairdo.”

In the early ’70s, it also was common to see some of Ballard’s fellow inmates from Millhaven Institution at work. Ballard, while in jail for fraud, made good on promises to help them straighten themselves out with regular employment upon their release. Clancy, on his many visits to see Ballard, made similar offers or at the very least arranged to give money for a new suit, so ex-cons would look presentable when applying for work elsewhere. Some of Ballard’s employees became so intrinsic to his life, from a Hot Stove waiter to his limo driver, they actually wound up influencing his hockey decisions in later years.

Part-time game staff were another unique part of the operation. Bessie Lamson ran a concession stand from the ’31–32 season onwards. On her one hundredth birthday, and a couple of them after, she received roses from the team at a game. “I love my Leafs,” she said. “I loved Hap Day, Ace Bailey, Red Horner, and King. Conn Smythe was such a nice man.”

There was Pops, the ancient ice cream seller; Jimmy Connolly, who kept pucks frozen after his eight-hour shift at Eaton’s was done; and an older fellow nicknamed Black Jack, who wandered Church and Carlton wearing an NHL referee’s sweater he somehow procured.

June Adamson was running the press room when she received her 50-year Gardens pin and a week’s vacation in Florida in the late 1990s. She was still making her famous chopped-egg sandwiches for media and scouts in the days before restaurants and caterers began supplying NHL pre-game meals.

As 40-year team photographer Graig Abel said, Ballard knew everyone in the place by name and those who stayed were often able to get sons and daughters on board.

“Many of these people had day jobs or no jobs, weren’t paid well for working games, and couldn’t see much of the action,” said Abel. “But they kept coming back anyway, for love of the Leafs and the Gardens.”


Mark Kennedy recalls accompanying his famous father, team captain Teeder Kennedy, to work: “It was a more formal era then at the Gardens. I remember going to games on Saturday evening and I had to have my suit and tie on. I had to look good, even as a little boy. If there was ever anyone dressed more casually, you thought, ‘What is wrong with that person?’”


Dennis Goodwin experienced just about every big moment at the Gardens. It went with the territory for the late Goodwin, who was among the longest-serving on Carlton Street of the two hundred men and women who worked Leafs games and other big events. “All I really wanted to do was get in to watch the games,” Goodwin said of being hired as a 16-year-old. “It was either sell Eskimo-pie ice cream bars or become an usher.”

The Torontonian chose the latter and gave himself a window on a unique part of the city. One of Goodwin’s first duties was fetching Smythe’s racing form in the lobby where the United Cigar Store used to be. Goodwin saw it all, from the Barilko goal to Elvis Presley and Elvis Stojko. There were a lot of good concerts, bad hockey, and vice versa. Ballard often turned a blind eye to the mandatory retirement age, so a “junior” usher might well have been someone in his late sixties.

“The Gardens is like a home, a family,” Goodwin said. “It’s not like a job. There was a time when you could be president of a company and people would think more of you because you were an usher at the Gardens.” He spent almost all his time working sections 65–67 of the east greens. He had always liked the upper reaches of the building where the cheaper seats were, comparing it to the Wrigley Field bleachers in Chicago. “You almost had a miniature Hot Stove League going on game nights, with little side bets between ushers, or between ushers and fans. It was a quarter, or a dollar, on who’d get the first goal or penalty.”

Those “real” fans became a minority as more conservative patrons and more corporate-controlled seats gradually became the norm. Still, there were some nights when Goodwin and the other veteran ushers didn’t mind a little quiet. Such as when Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and other heavy metal bands dropped by. “I think those concerts are when they started giving us older fellows ear plugs,” Goodwin said.

He passed away not long after the Gardens closed.

In 2017, the New York Times profiled the three longest actively serving ushers, Vic Brankis, 77, Andy Mastoris, 78, and Craig Palfrey, 70.


Sheila Chidley thought the Gardens had ignored or lost the letter she mailed as a teenager, asking for a job as usherette. It took a few years, but she finally got the call to work the southeast gate behind the Toronto bench. She was employed just in time to see the ’67 Stanley Cup win and attend the team party at director Stafford Smythe’s house. Where the males in that line of work tended to be older, the usherettes (both are referred to as ushers today) were a younger group and had the coveted rinkside assignment. They could also explore a sense of style with several uniform changes over the years, with Leaf-themed pillbox hats and scarves.

But there were rules when Chidley started — no hair touching the shoulders, no bobby pins, no glasses, no hemlines above the knees, and above all, no socializing with the hockey players.

“We were inspected before every shift by the head usherette or her assistant,” Chidley recalled. “She’d check everything; hats, gloves, hair, hemline. As soon as we started our shift, we’d roll our skirts up to make them shorter.”

Chidley, who later became the beloved secretary of the Sun Sports Department, would joke that she broke many players’ hearts. She and her pals often ignored the edict to not fraternize with them post-game, even though it was considered a firing offence. “It was just good fun, though,” Chidley assures. “None of the serious stuff.”

Chidley’s friend, Laurel Hunter, did meet her future husband, Howard Starkman, there, a Leafs public-relations man who went to the Blue Jays in 1977 and stayed on to become a team executive.


Early game-night arrivals to the Gardens were allowed to hang home-made signs on the south-end wall or from the railings in the blues. The messages couldn’t have rude content or obscure views of the out-of-town scoreboard, which had the logos of the teams playing that night. The most ingenious usually came out at playoff time, such as in 1977 after Tiger Williams had told Brian McFarlane on live TV that the Leafs’ opponents, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were “done like dinner.” Williams was portrayed in a chef’s hat with a skillet, uttering the line while flipping cartoon players of the team’s next challengers, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Swedish flags and Scandinavian greetings were displayed in honour of Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom, and others would welcome ex-Leafs who were returning with other teams. Snide remarks critical of Ballard often didn’t survive until game time and had to be smuggled in and displayed in the seats in the hope that the camera would see them before security.

Ballard had the biggest impact the night he commandeered the new Gardens videoboard in 1985 during a visit by a Russian club team, urging the crowd to boo the visitors after that country shot down a Korean Air passenger plane.


As such a big part of the hockey scene in Toronto for so many years, it wouldn’t be fair to exclude scalpers from this book, or “ticket brokers,” if you will.

“Don’t use the ‘s’ word,” warned one such long-time agent, who spent years in the street and agreed to share his memories anonymously. “Leaf games at the Gardens . . . it was quite a time. Everybody had their own spot; it was all very territorial. Maybe you were separated by just two feet, but there was a lot of ‘Hey, you can’t stand there, that’s my spot.’ Mine was across from [promoter] Frank Tunney’s wrestling office on Carlton Street.

“It was tough for a while when the Leafs switched to the ACC. Our oldest guys were grandfathered into the best locations [such as near Gate 2 on the Bay Street side nearest Union Station], but it took about a month to figure all that out. We knew who should go where — seniority. It’s always been that way, though there might have been the odd physical confrontation. As the fathers in our business got older, they passed their spots to their kids.”

Whether you needed seats or not, it was just a few steps out of the College subway station that you could hear them barking at street level: “Who needs a pair?” . . . “I got greens!” . . . “Gold rails here!” . . . “Who wants standing room?” Our man, who now works a successful broker business from home, misses those electric nights in the ’70s and ’80s, competing for customers, framed by a Saturday snowfall, especially when a big Leafs’ rival or star opposition player was in town.

“The action would start outside of Frank Vetere’s,” he said of the pizza place at Yonge and College, “then all the way to Church and around the corner to Wood Street. Guys created their own spots as time went on.”

In the ACC era, the rules have been relaxed on interaction with customers near the rink, and there is far less cat-and-mouse with police and security. The Canadiens remain the gold standard for a killing in profit, with both out-of-towners and local Habs fans paying big dollars. Not a lot of advertising or leg work is involved those nights, as the laws of supply and demand are in the brokers’ favour. In the old days, having a selection of seats to offer behind the visiting team’s bench was a must.

“That’s human nature, even for Leafs fans on the road. You want to be nearest your team, whether it’s staying in their hotel or sitting near them at the game.”

At the ACC, sitting in the east end is a chance to see the road opponent shoot twice at the Leafs in the first and third periods. The thinking goes you’ll buy with the prospect of seeing more goals. But should the Arizona Coyotes come in mid-week, different sales tactics are invoked for what are already the most expensive tickets in the league, set to rise another $6 to $17 in 2017-18 and pegged at between $100 and more than $300 at the start of the 2017 playoffs.

“If there is a garbage team in town, you have to ‘go deep,’ move a few blocks away to the parking lots [to snare potential customers right away]. If the epicentre was no longer the Gardens, we’d say ‘time to go deep.’”

Some nights, it was necessary to take a hit and clear stock at face value or less. But to keep up appearances, it was not cool to sell a pair of discounted reds right near two that had gone for much higher prices, as chatter between the two parties might lead to resentment towards the broker. Nor was it considered wise for a broker to take one or more of the seats himself to flaunt his identity.

Ironically, when it comes to the home team, our source says he’s no longer a Leafs fan. Too many breaks of his blue-and-white heart, too few playoff games to spur business.

“In the last 10 years there have been times when the Leafs averaged two goals a game,” he groused. “I will be a fan again — if the team starts to really become fun again.”

The internet has also changed how this once paperless trail operates. Technology being a blessing and a curse, the net has meant big changes in street business. StubHub allows people a shot at sold out NHL games with a click of a mouse, while the teams themselves are going to dynamic ticketing (flexible prices based on demand). With a cashless society in general, it has all had a quieting effect.

“There’s not so much hustle and bustle. Maybe you physically carry half the tickets you once did. In 1991, golds for a Leaf game were around $36. Today, two might go for $200 each on the street. But who carries $400 in their wallet anymore? They’re almost all using debit.”

The day of the fancy, printed souvenir ticket may also be coming to an end in the mobile phone e-ticket era. The Leafs used to decorate theirs with pictures of alumni, classic Canadian hockey scenes, and tributes to the Gardens and ordinary fans. However, with the proliferation of ticket sites, those artsy ducats are being replaced by a printed sheet with a bar code, sometimes with the original purchaser’s name on it.

Our man adds that progress has made it easier for a small sleazeball element to duplicate Leafs tickets, the computer-printed versions being easier to forge than the actual ones issued by the club.

“You hate to say it, because we all consider ourselves respectable, but what’s to stop a guy from printing off 20 fakes on paper and trying to sell them? You just press a button and now you have a potentially fraudulent situation. You sometimes miss that feeling of those good, hard tickets in your hand.”


As the 2017 playoffs began, the challenge to make the Air Canada Centre sound more like a hockey hot box and less like Sleep Country Canada continued. After almost 20 years since its opening and despite various attempts to encourage an intimidating racket with all kinds of visual, vocal, and musical power, it looks like the solution will be for a good old-fashioned winning team to take hold.

Just before ’16–17, the team announced changes, starting with a new 15-year-old anthem singer, Woodbridge’s Martina Ortiz-Luis. The goal is that her powerful pipes will set the tone for a louder crowd, and that she will “grow with the club.” The Leafs also have a “fan experience” team and electronic music producer deadmau5 created a mid-game anthem, all the brainchild of club president Brendan Shanahan.

“Too much is made of [the ACC atmosphere],” pooh-poohed head coach Randy Carlyle before his exit in 2014–15. “And when you continue to talk about it, it focuses on the negative. I know as a [visiting] coach we had the same mandate. Get on [the Leafs], put the puck in, pressure them, and their fans will take a negative approach if they’re not executing or hemmed in their zone. I know first-hand what’s going on in the opposition’s dressing room.”

The Gardens and ACC were not old Chicago Stadium, but there were some nights the roof could’ve been lifted. Such as when the Leafs completed a four-game comeback to beat the Red Wings for the 1942 Stanley Cup. The largest crowd to ever watch a hockey game in Canada at that point, numbering 16,218 fans, all let loose at the final horn of the 3–1 win. Or May 2, 1967, when the roar fermented long before George Armstrong’s shot found the empty Montreal net to wrap up the Over-the-Hill Gang’s unexpected fourth Cup in six years, and then the place went bonkers.

“[It was] the most spontaneous cheer I’ve heard in all my [50] years here,” said Goodwin. “You didn’t need a scoreboard to tell you.”

In 1976, there was Darryl Sittler’s 10-point night. For its sportscast the next morning, one Toronto radio station simply played back the long ovation after the 10th point, punctuated by a recorded bugle charge that Ballard fortuitously chose to debut that night. Two months later, Sittler had a five-goal playoff game in an already emotional series against the Philadelphia Flyers to stave off elimination. The following September, when Borje Salming was highlighted for Team Sweden in a Canada Cup game, fans took the opportunity to salute his play of the past three years with a rocking ovation that humbled the defenceman.

Watching at home in suburban Stockholm, an excited Tommy Sundin called his five-year-old son Mats to the TV set. “He was so impressed that people in another country would have that much respect for a Swedish player,” said the younger Sundin, destined to make his own mark in Toronto 18 years later.

Table of Contents



1. Hockey Night in Toronto

2. From Grave to Cradle

3. From “C to C”

4. Where Were You When . . .

5. Home Is Where the Heart Is

6. The ACC Era Begins

7. Hello Out There, We’re On the Air

8. The Leafs Go to War

9. A Leaf Grows in Toronto

10. The Super Fans

11. That’s Entertainment

12. The Rogues

13. City Lights

14. Leaf Stems






1. Hockey Night in Toronto

2. From Grave to Cradle

3. From “C to C”

4. Where Were You When . . .

5. Home Is Where the Heart Is

6. The ACC Era Begins

7. Hello Out There, We’re On the Air

8. The Leafs Go to War

9. A Leaf Grows in Toronto

10. The Super Fans

11. That’s Entertainment

12. The Rogues

13. City Lights

14. Leaf Stems



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