Wednesday, February 18, 2009

10 Things I Miss About Maple Leaf Gardens

Last Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the last game at Maple Leaf Gardens. This weekend, the Leafs will hold a ceremony marking the anniversary of the first game ever played at the ACC.

Now I don't want to be one of those guys who hates everything that's new and improved and spends all his time pathetically wishing for the good old days. So I'll just say that the ACC is a corporate mausoleum where the real fans are almost entirely locked out by high ticket prices, empty suits close business deals while stuffing overpriced sushi into their soulless corporate faces, and Toronto's reputation as a hockey city goes to die a slow and lonely death.

Other than that, it's great.

But this post isn't about the ACC. It's about Maple Leaf Gardens.

I didn't get to spend a lot of time at the Gardens as a kid. My dad would try to get the company tickets once or twice a year, usually as a Christmas gift. I probably made it out to maybe 20 or 30 games there in my life.

But I miss the place. I miss everything about it.

So at the risk of being a cranky old man, here are ten things I miss about the Gardens. Not ten players or ten moments -- there are others who could do those subjects more justice than I ever could. No, this is just ten obscure things that made the place great.

10 - The escalator

If you had seats in the greens or greys, you needed to take the escalator to get to your seats. That could a challenge since the Gardens escalators were about 18 inches wide, and were apparently operated by two skinny guys in the basement slowly cranking a giant stone wheel.

If you were a little kid, you'd be bounced and jostled around by the grownups until you emerged at the top, then squeeze your way through the crowd until you found an opening. And then you'd catch your first glimpse of the scoreboard, the crowd, the ice. And you realized you, wow, were actually at Maple Leaf Gardens.

9 - Whatever that was on the roof

If you ever sat in the last few rows at the Gardens, you got a good look at the roof since it somehow blocked your view of the ice even though that should be architecturally impossible. And you wondered: what the hell is that strange, off-white foamy substance covering everything?

Does anybody know? Was it some sort of ancient fire protection? Or was it some sort of organic substance that just grew out of control, like mold in a forgotten cupboard? I had a friend who climbed up to touch it once. Is it safe to assume he died a horrible death shortly after?

8 - Banana Joe

"Banana" Joe Lamantia was the crusty old penalty timekeeper at the Gardens. Back in the 80s, fights that started on the ice would occasionally spill into the penalty box as players shouted, threatened, and threw water bottles at each other. Banana Joe could always be found in the middle of the action.

During one game in the 80s, he was hit in the head with a puck. Not one to miss a day of work, he spent the next several games wearing a helmet. There was just something about the Gardens -- even the timekeepers were tough.

7 - The shot clocks

The shot clocks at the Gardens were located at either end, behind the nets above the gold seating. If you had the right seats in the Blue section, you could rest your drink on top of them. And of course, in between was a long stretch where a narrow ad could fit.

To this day, I can't see a Yellow Pages logo without thinking "Man, I can't believe the Leafs had 60 shots against Cujo in game one".

6 - The Mickey Mouse hands

Here's what I know about the Gardens scoreboard: it was about 16x16 resolution, had four colors, and was presumably run off of a borrowed Vic 20. It had a few pixels that were always on, even if the scoreboard was supposed to black. And it had maybe four animations that it would cycle through all game long.

My favorite was the clapping hands. Whenever the scoreboard operator wanted noise, he'd fire up his trusty animation of two white-gloved hands banging semi-rhythmically together. Picture Mickey Mouse half-heartedly trying to kill a fruit fly and you'll have the general idea. This was somebody's idea of firing up a crowd.

Did it work? Of course it did. We were Leaf fans in the 80s, it didn't take much to impress us.

5 - The Nachos

Let's get this out of the way first: the nachos at sporting events today suck. They do. Just stale chips piled into a plastic cup with a baggy of lukewarm cheese goo. If you like them, there's something wrong with you and I don't really want you reading this blog anymore.

But the Gardens... the Gardens had real sports nachos. (And yes, "sports nachos" in an official culinary category, separate from real nachos.) Sure, the chips were still stale, but there wasn't any lukewarm cheese goo. No, the Gardens had boiling hot cheese goo. And they didn't drizzle it into some fancy side pocket -- they dumped it over the chips with a ladle until you begged them to stop.

And Gardens nachos weren't served in a plastic container. They were served in a flimsy cardboard box that had holes in each side, so the lava-hot cheese goo could drip onto your hands and leave you with third-degree napalm burns.

And you weren't done yet. Have you ever asked for salsa on your nachos at a sporting event these days? The kid behind the counter probably tripped a secret alarm to alert the manager. But at the Gardens, you could have as much salsa (or jalapenos!) as you wanted. It was all right there in a little serve-yourself bowl next to the concession stand. Sure, some drunk had probably spilled half a beer in there by the time you arrived. That made it better!

By the time you got back to your seat, you had a leaky box full of soggy chips that had melted and then congealed together, a potent salsa/cheese goo mix, a pile of jalapenos that you'd regret for the rest of the night, and at least one hand that would need an emergency skin graft after the game.

Good god, I'm hungry right now.

4 - The ushers

Yes, I'm sure the ACC has ushers -- or, as they're probably known now, "seating area customer service representatives".

But the Gardens had real ushers: old men in uniforms who would take your ticket stub, wave in the general direction of your seat, and go back to watching the warmup. After all, most of them were retired guys who'd taken the job so that they could watch the Leafs for free. They were probably the biggest Leaf fans in the building.

Anyone remember the one guy who would run down just as the camera focused on the crowd whenever the Leafs scored a big goal, pumping his fist and slamming his hands together with joy? Sure, he probably trampled a few kids on his way down the aisle after an overtime winner. That's what they get for being in the trolley tracks.

3 - "And now, Jimmy Holmstrom at the organ."

There's no room for organists in today's NHL. No, that would mean interrupting the steady stream of sponsor messages and hot dog cannons and screeching rinkside hostesses and early 90s techno that blares through every second of downtime.

The Gardens didn't have that. It had Jimmy Holmstrom at the organ.

Back before their was such a thing as a mashup, Jimmy Holmstrom would play a version of Van Halen's "Jump" combined with Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" as the teams circled the ice before the opening faceoff. I was too young to even know those were real songs, so I assumed he had made the whole thing up on his own. I think the first time I heard "Smoke On The Water" at a party years later, I thought it was some rock band covering Jimmy Holmstrom. In fact, I probably said that out loud to try to impress a girl, then spent the rest of the night playing NHL92 in a corner.

My point is this: I would trade the entire contents of my ipod for an mp3 of Holmstrom's Jump/Smoke medley right now.

2 - Camera shakes

Because the Gardens was built in the 30s, it hadn't been designed with the needs of a TV crew in mind. And since Harold Ballard was a cheap SOB who wasn't going to spend a penny more than he needed to just to make fans happy, the Gardens was always a bit of a challenge for broadcasters. There wasn't a good spot for the TV cameras, so they wedged them in wherever they could find enough room.

Occasionally, when the Leafs scored a big goal or there was a fight or Wendel Clark looked at somebody sideways, Leaf fans would rise to their feet and block the camera. If they stayed on their feet, the broadcast would have to switch to the upper-deck camera (which is why the endings of so many Leaf playoff games seem to have been shot from a helicopter).

And if something happened that was so exciting that fans literally jumped out of their seats, well, whoever was sitting directly under the camera stand would wind up with a concussion, and viewers would see the camera shake and zig zag all over until the cameraman could get it under control again.

Check out Gilmour's OT goal against the Blues for a famous example of the classic Gardens shaky cam.

1 - Paul Morris

With apologies to Bob Cole and Joe Bowen, long-time Leafs PA announcer Paul Morris was the voice of Maple Leaf Gardens. His distinctive nasally voice was a Gardens trademark.

Two things you need to know about Paul Morris:

1. He didn't take shortcuts. When it came to announcing penalties, Morris announced everything. There was none of this "double minor" or "five minutes each for fighting". No, Morris announced each individual penalty, line by line. If that meant that he had to talk for 20 straight minutes after a bench clearing brawl, then that's what he did.

2. He never raised his voice. Ever. It didn't matter if it was the first period of a pre-season game or the dying moments of a game seven, Paul Morris had his monotone and he stuck with it. It was his trademark, so much so that every Leaf fan during the 80s and 90s has done an impression of Morris dispassionately announcing a Wendel Clark Stanley Cup winning goal. Yes, every single one of us.

Even through the 90s, as other PA announcers worked to outdo each other with hyperbole and gimmicks, Paul Morris was a true professional. The Leafs still have him do spot duty from time-to-time. If they ever make it to a Cup final, I hope they let him work the final game.

So that's my list. I know I've left plenty of great memories out. The blue and white silhouetted players at the College Station subway stop... watching Coach's Corner in the concourse with 100 other fans... Harold Ballard posting pro-Ticat, anti-Argo messages on the scoreboard during intermission...

I miss the place. We'll never see another building like it.


  1. I was VERY lucky as a teen in the 80's. My Stepmother had a part time gig at the Gardens working in the Will Call ticket office. This was the place where players family and friends came to pick up their freebies. It was a cushy job, and in a real office in the Gardens. It wasn't a streetside ticket window, it was inside the building where security would bring these people in to get their tickets. Right behind my stepmom's desk was an old metal spiral staircase. That staircase led right up into Ballard's office. Kid you not. And I was allowed to tag along. Star struck as I watched the old coot and King Clancy come downstairs on the way to the bunker. Star struck as I watched Yolanda throw another hissy fit. Star struck as my step mom, who always had good connections, hooked me up with dinner in the Hot Stove lounge because the lady Russian manager of the place said I was too skinny and didn't eat enough. And then she handed me a team autographed stick. Really autographed at practice that day. I still have it, and it has every member of the 1986 Leafs on it. Wendel Clark, Gary Leeman, Peter Ing, Allan Bester, etc..
    And I took my good fortune for granted when I needed a stick one day to play street hockey and I pulled out a real Peter Inhacek stick out of my closet for the game. I still have that one too, but the blade is somewhat worn down.

    Sorry for the rambling. But, yeah, I miss the Gardens too. I've only been to one game at the ACC, and of course, it was corporate seats.

  2. Great read... this could be 1,967 Things I Miss About Maple Leaf Gardens... & include the troughs in the men's bathrooms (urinals are for women), awesome standing room tickets (on the ends behind the reds), Ballard & King Clancy in the bunker (looking pissed that Clark only fought twice that night) and having the usher's take me into the dressing room and touching me in uncomfortable places (wait, my lawyer said can't talk about that while the lawsuit is pending).

  3. great read. The Leafs aren't even my team but now I want to get a time machine and go back and soak up some of that atmosphere (and get some of those nachos, damn!)

  4. There was an old scam at MLG with the ushers and doormen. You didn't need a ticket to get into the game. A certain doorman would let you into the building with a password. You waited out the first period in the halls, then headed to your assigned usher, who knew what seats were sitting empty. I saw a couple of games in the reds for $20.

    1. That's true, lb71 .... my buddy did it regularly. Only he waited out every first period in the Hot Stove. He most often sat in the Golds for the 2nd and 3rd!

  5. Great post.

    I shook Cliff Fletcher's hand on the Gardens escalator, Game 2, vs. LA. We had just entered the building and were on our way up to our Grey seats when I noticed the tall, Silver-haired fellow in the dark suit on the escalator in front of me. "Mr. Fletcher, I just wanna say I think your doing a hell of a job!" were my words exactly and I stuck out my hand. He greeted me with a sincerely warm smile and a twinkle in his eyes, and then he crushed my hand with an incredibly hard squeeze that made my eyes water.

    "Guess you'll never wash that hand again!" said the guy leaning up against the wall near the top of the escalator, wearing ther greasy cut off "property of the Maple Leafs" t-shirt under a leather jacket, with a pencil mustache and long greasy blonde hair coming out the back of his Labatt 50 trucker's hat. Y'know that guy? That greasy creep that was always there at the top of the escalators like he was waiting for someone until he saw YOU in YOUR Leaf jersey and then his eyes would light up, 'cause finally he had someone to talk to? Ya, that guy.

    Man, I loved those Mickey Mouse hands too. There was something very unnatural about the way they used to clap too, that didn't seem quite right, but the audience always got the idea and would start clapping at their own pace. Priceless.

    I've got one for ya that maybe you forgot, or maybe it just didn't make the top 10, but I loved the out of town scorboards between the Reds and the Blues that would have little logos of the teams that were playing elsewhere that night and a digital score beside it. I never once actually saw those numbers change yet everytime I looked they were different.

  6. I laughed out loud at work because of the nacho part, and we're doing layoffs all day.

    Welp. Nice knowing you guys.

  7. They had Paul Morris' voice announcing the last minute of play in the second during the holidays this year. It is definitely not the same with Andy Frost (sorry dude).

    Remember the jackets that the ushers wore? In high school my buddy bought one from an usher for $100. He'd wear it as his school blazer and make the rest of us plot how to steal it.

    The camera shakes are amazing. You can guarantee that any clip has the one guy with the biggest head jumping in front of the camera.

    They have an organ at the ACC but as far as I can tell he only plays after the warmup once they have announced the visitors starting line up.

  8. Great write-up, especially that first magical glimpse of the scoreboard. That's something that I'll always associate with going to a Leaf game.

  9. I saw a handful of games at the Gardens and was lucky enough to be at the second last game ever played there.
    I grew up in a small town north of Toronto and going to the Gardens was a strange experience as I wasn't used to the city and crowds.
    I'd go from school or home (spacious) to the car (sort of cramped) to the TTC (claustrophobic, scary), the street (super packed, full of hockey fans, scalpers and scary homeless people), the Gardens (still claustrophobic, full of people shouting), the many stairways and escalators (frightening, extremely claustrophobic) and then finally I'd see the ice. It was huge and wide open and bright and surrounded by the biggest crowd I had ever seen anywhere in real life.
    And I wasn't even a Leaf fan.

  10. How about the smoking hallway with all the black and white photos of Leaf greats (yes we had some).

    I remember being scared shitless of the troughs in the I think they should be at every sporting venue...great all the men line up like women. Side note if you've ever been to the Ralph in Buffalo you must have seen the signs in the bathrooms "Please do not urinate in the sink"

  11. The Gardens...

    Your post and the comments section have overwhelmed me with nostaligalistic(not a word) bliss.

    The first time I went to the Gardens was with my Dad in probably 87-88. Round 6 years old.

    We were shit, but fuck it, they were the Leafs.It was the greatest day of my young life. I think we lost to Quebec 6-4.

    I was pretty sure at the time that Alan Bester, he of glorious pads that were brown because that's the colour goal pads should be, was probably the best goalie in the league.

    Yes we lost 6-4, and he got pulled for Peter Ing, but he was our goalie and he was on the cusp of greatness. I had his hockey card, some things overwhelm stats.

    Seeing Wendel was the pinnacle, I had gladly been nice and cleared my ice for all six months of winter.

    He was the Leafs. If someone called him before me in foothockey at recess I would fight them.

    I would also fight anyone that called Gretzky, as those guys were always dicks.

    The one memory of the building itself that remains with me to this day, was the fact that my feet stuck to the floor. I had no clue why.

    I unfortunately learned why in much lesser venues, (think dodgy nightclubs in the developing world)later in life

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane...

  12. Don't forget the Cokes - they were about 90% syrup, warm (because ice was not something to be wasted in a drink) and covered with saran wrap (because lids were too expensive, dammit).

    And the smell of the place - a weird combination of hot dogs, paint, popcorn and mildew. I can recall it at any moment, and that, combined with exactly what DGB described - going up the escalator and into the arena to see the bright colours of the seats and the stark whiteness of the ice - are what I will always remember about the Gardens.

  13. Some great comments... Can't believe I forgot the men's room troughs, the black-and-white photos and the saran wrapped Cokes.

    @general... I used to play that game during intermission when I was a kid. Stare at the out-of-town scoreboard and try to catch it changing. Never did. I'd look away for a second and miss it.

  14. I remember my first game to MLG... It was the first game that Clark got traded back to the Leafs...
    My friend and I took the greyhound to the game. I remember standing outside waiting for the doors to open and that guy from channel 7 sports ( I guess its channel 24 now) was there doing a feed about Clark coming back with all the fans going crazy in the background.
    When I walked into the gardens at the front entrance for the first time I remember walking up to this door with this little window in it.. I looked in and there it was. I was about 20 feet from the ice surface and the net and I remember looking at all the empty seats and whispering the word "wow" to myself. That arena had something special to it that will never be duplicated again...

  15. @Anonymous... that game is definitely high on my "wish I'd been there" list.

    If you haven't already, be sure to check out this post about it.

  16. This was painfully nostalgic.

    Today I was at the corner of Yonge and Carlton and I looked down the street and felt terrible. I wanted it to be open. I wanted to be there again. For my childhood, that place was a million disney lands.

    God I miss it.

  17. List of other things I loved.

    -The boxed "Poppa Corn".
    -The animated mickey hands had 3 frames - "open", "halfway", and "clap".
    -Jimmy Holmstrom was a lesson in classic rock I didn't realized I'd learned until later in life. I still sometimes sit with my computer, updating my Gardens mp3 playlist when the Sunday Night Classics game comes on Leafs TV. If anyone else wants to help me with this, please post here!
    -The glass sounded like glass, with a deep plunk, not like the plastic they have now.
    -15,640 fans walking through the 3 double doors to get in, and the throng of people standing in front, blocking off Carlton.
    -Walking in, turning right (i never once turned left!) past the double doors that were always locked that led right behind the Leaf net, walking past the pictures and the store (later called LeafSport), past the concessions, up the escalator with the multicoloured arrows for your seat colour, down the concourse, to Red section 53, row C, seats 5 and 6. My dad inherited season tickets but the cost meant we could only keep 2 games, which I was lucky enough to go to - and Game 7 vs. the Kings was one of the only two playoff games I ever went to.
    -My high school Varsity team played an annual Friday night game there. We got to leave school at lunch to go down and "get ready" for 6 hours. We caught the end of the Oilers' practice, got to use the NHL Visitors dressing room (something felt so wrong coming out to play at the gardens and being one of those bad guys that came out behind the net, even though it was our home game), but I mostly spent hours underneath the stands just exploring.

  18. I know you get many "best, evAR" type comments, but this seriously resonated with me to the core. Any piece of literature opening with flaming arrows soaring towards the ACC and impaling platinum regulars through the eye already has my attention, and the spot-on detail of the occupational safety hazards and general awesomeness at MLG had me laughing out loud. I mean really, really chortling with mirth and slapping my hand on my desk. Hitting up MLG with my dad are my most sacred of childhood memories, and you did them justice a hundred fold. I couldn't even comment on it at the time. I was typeless.

    Gamblor, I for one would dearly love to snatch those mp3's from your neon claws...

  19. email me at holdsthenuts at hotmail dot com if you're interested

  20. I'll never forget the Gardens... Walking through the little entrance way to the ice surface was always an incredible feeling - no matter where you had seats!

    I think my favorites were in the Blues - and I've been in second row Gold behind the visitor bench - right up to last row Grey!

    What about the dirty / heavy red curtians they had?

    My friends and I rented the Gardens just after it had closed - I think it was about $100 each, and I had a waiting list of people who wanted to play!

    We rented it for an hour, which was great - but I think the best part was when we were finished and they let us just sit around with some beers in the Golds... just taking it all in.

  21. They have the mickey mouse hands at the ACC. I think they are a tiny bit more technologically advanced, but not much. They are still disembodied though which is always off-putting.

  22. Being born in '86, I was only able to make it out to probably a dozen games...the most exciting was Game 1/Round 1 1994 Playoffs against Chicago. Leafs 5 - Hawks 1. I remember it like it was yesterday...My dad and I were sitting in the golds, 6 or 7 rows up, visiting end corner, penalty box side. It was amazing. Wendel scores on a slapshot from almost centre least it seemed like that far. They handed out blue foam leaf-shaped "hands". One of my most cherished memories.

    My dad had lucked out the previous year from his accountant who had season tix in the family, but didn't like hockey. As it goes, my dad was in attendance for Game 1,2 and 7 against St. Louis in 93', as well as game 1 and 7 of the Kings series. I would do anything to go back in time and be in attendance for that game 7.....ANYTHING! Instead, i watched at home with my mom and proceeded to tear the Gretzky poster off of my wall immediately after the game...

    Its been mentioned before, but ill say it again...
    There will never be a place like MLG ever again...anywhere.

  23. @C...

    Re: Wendel's goal against the Hawks, not sure if you've seen it but I posted it to youtube a while back:

  24. DGB
    Thanks for that link...I have been trying to find a clip of it for joke, i have tears in my eyes after watching that. Yeah i know, some people might say, "big deal. opening goal of the first game of the first round...not really significant" but for anyone reading who has had the distinct pleasure of attending a playoff game at the gardens in the 93' or 94' seasons, you "get it". There was just something unexplainably special about it...i will remember that night at the gardens till the day I die.

    ps: how would i go about getting the full game tape of that particular game? (i asked this the other day in the post about the OT goal in game 2 of this series.)

  25. I'm late to the party (just trolling at work) but loved this list and loved Maple Leaf Gardens. Probably saw about 10 games there but I have two favourite moments. One is the last Leafs/Habs game at MLG. I remember it was shortly after Jeff Hackett was traded to Montreal the same season the Leafs scored 10 on him with Chicago. The crowd actually laughed when it was announced he was starting. Unfortunately after an early goal, the Habs won 2-1. But the ovation for the leafs/habs greats, including Teeder Kennedy and Rocket Richard, was incredible.
    My all-time greatest moment was the Clark return. My parents bought the tickets for Christmas and who'd have guessed a midweek game against Dallas would be a must-see? Wendel received a standing ovation every time he touched the WARMUPS. Then to score the first goal, well the roof nearly blew off the place.
    I could go on and on....but as for your list, three things I would add.
    1) The fans walking through the bench and in front of whomever was on the lone 'seat' behind the bench.
    2) The Hot Stove Club. I went there every game and between periods they would have popcorn and a drink waiting for you. It was also a great place to snag autographs.
    3) The accessibility to players. Whether it was the opposing team bus pulling up on Carlton or Leaf players walking to and from the arena, they couldn't hide in underground parking lots. I met Freddy Modin, Darby Hendrickson, Jason Arnott and Shayne Corson in and around MLG, and saw Mats Sundin getting into a cab but couldn't get his autograph.

    Lastly, your calling the ACC a soulless mausoleum is about as accurate as you can get. And to think Paul Morris was forced to retire because the leafs fucked him over and offered $300 bucks a game. Bullshit.
    Ah well, I'll have to hold my nose and check out the Grand Old Lady when Loblaws and Ryerson have taken what was left of its soul.

  26. 26, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    Excellent list my friend!!

  27. Thanks for the great article. You captured every one of the great feelings I had about the Gardens. You were bang on about rushing up those escalators ('cause come on who could affort golds even back then?) and walking into the thick warm air of the Gardens and the first thing you would see is the scoreboard - then you knew you were there.

    I wonder if the strong sentiment was just from being a kid or because it was the Gardens and all of its history - probably a bit of both. Would kids today feel the same way when they go into the rink at the ACC? I know I don't, but I hope they do since it is one of a handful of childhood memories I really cherish.

    Thanks for the great article.

    PS I used to do some hockey PA announcing myself and I would always try to copy Paul Morris's voice - priceless.

  28. How about the Canadian and US flag dropping from the old Dominion scoreboard and the fan blowing the flags during the anthem?

    1. I wish they would bring that back at the ACC!

  29. Was looking for MLG, organ-related pieces, found one here. The only place where I've seen the Gardens was on TV and there was nothing like the face-off dot close-up at the beginning of the game. I also think I heard the organist play «Final Countdown» and «The Heat Is On». Pretty sure fans in MontrĂ©al have tons of such memories from the old Forum.

  30. Other memories for me

    -The red moving ticker message board above the endzone blues
    -The railings in the endzone blues with 10 coats of paint chipped down to various levels and colours.
    -That one lone seat in each of the far top corners of the blues.
    -When the golds were red
    -The crowded passageway behind the endzone standing room with little white section # signs pointing to the downward red section stairs or the hellishly steep upward blue stairs
    -Fans who used to drape bedsheet signs over the railings (Get there early for the best hanging spot)
    -Wrestling signs behind the net
    -Holding my Dad's hand so I wouldn't get lost in the intermission crush
    -When the score clock used to say TORONTO - VISITORS
    -The out of town scores above the nets that had these little corner lights when the game went final and wouldn't go higher than 9
    -The Maple Leaf theme of the College Street Subway station
    -Chestnut vendors with their trolley smoke in the cold winter air
    -Walking with thousands of other people in the same direction en masse towards mecca on game night
    -The outside signs facing the sidewalks that said TONIGHT 8PM
    -The Gondola
    -Full seats for "every minute" of the game - unlike the platinum hobknobs at the ACC
    -Standing with my Dad after the game at the souvenir stand near the exits looking in the glass cabinets hoping and praying he would buy me something like the little toy wooden souvenir sticks with little black and white player photos stapled to the blades. For an extra dollar, it came with a foam puck.
    -Looking around the Gardens with my Dad when there was still maybe 100 people left, taking it all in and forcing the usher to walk down and remind you that it's time to go.
    -Having the doors close behind me and wishing I could go back in when we were leaving.
    -Looking at my torn ticket stub in my bedroom when I got home, hanging on to it, wishing it was new again so I could feel that excitement of another game.


  31. Great list and follow-up comments. Thanks all.
    A few of my favourite memories that I didn't see here:
    the unique way the vendors hawked "ice cream bars, " making ice a two-syllable word.
    Fans throwing their programs and popcorn boxes on the ice when they were mad about a call, or celebrating something great.
    Being so close to the ice because of the "unsafe" steep staircases.
    I was lucky to get to see Bobby Orr a couple of times at the Gardens, the last one for a game against Russia in the 1976 Canada Cup, and he got a huge standing O as player of the game. With the Bruins, he was booed whenever he touched the puck, which was often.
    Somewhere around that time, indoor track meets were occasionally held at the Gardens but the only thing I remember from the one I went to is that it got so humid that the condensation on the ceiling caused it to rain in sections of the greys. Incredibly, Ballard had umbrellas that you could rent, so it must not have been the first time that happened.
    The Gardens was full of history in a way that a new rink like the ACC will never be. Nothing will get old and tattered or covered with a coat of fresh paint; it'll just get tossed. Too bad ...

  32. All this talk about the Gardens really does bring back great memories. Born in '90 so I was only there as a young kid, but my Dad has seasons tickets, so I had the pleasure of being there regularly every season till I was nine or ten. One thing I'll always miss is the banners they had hanging from the ceilings in the hallways, the ones with the players faces on them, like Salming, Sittler, Horton, or any of the Leaf legends. Another thing I liked was that met Don Cherry and Ron MacLean countless times because the Studio where they did Coach's Corner was in one of the old community dressing rooms at the Gardens. Now they're not even at the rink, they're in the CBC building, which I find depressing. And there was a certain smell, an aroma that was so strong anywhere at ice level, that I can't describe, but I can remember so well.

    One thing though, I always loved Paul Morris' voice when I was a kid, and it would be great to hear him do a game one time, but I personally am a huge fan of Andy Frost. I agree with the comment about hyperbole and gimmicks from other announcers, but I love that Frost steps up the excitement when there is a positive announcement for Maple Leaf fans, and he has a great voice.

    Anyways, it is far too depressing to think of the Gardens as she stands now, but I'll always remember her as the shrine of hockey- a beautiful building where I got to see Dougie Gilmour, Wendel Clark, even Mats Sundin and Curtis Joseph, play on the same ice that my dad saw Dave Keon, Tim Horton, Darryl Sittler, and Johnny Bower play on. It was the place that I learned the game, and created memories I will never forget.


  33. God I wish you guys won the Stanley Cup back then... just too much love going to waste. I'm originally from Montreal and I have so many similar feelings of the Forum... the Bell Centre feels like some cement big dig project. Later I relocated to Boston and this arena demolition process followed me here with the Boston Garden being demolished. At least it's on pretty much the same foot print, and now referred to as "The Gaaden".
    During my university days I played hockey at Northeastern University. Our rink on campus was the old Boston Arena built in 1910 ! This was actually the Bruins home rink for several years. The Celtics even played in it for close to a decade. It was also the rink where the very first NHL game played in the USA occurred on Dec 1st,1924. The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Maroons 2 to 1. Northeastern University actually purchased the rink from the city of Boston in the late 1970's and did some renovation work (make it safer and improve the appearance to look like it was in 1924). The rink is still going strong, renamed Matthews Arena. Should you fine folks desire an "old school" hockey experience you should come watch a Hockey East game at "The Arena". :)

  34. Best place to watch a hockey game and WWF wrestling was also born in MLG. You are correct with the shot clocks behind the nets above the golds but the clocks up in the blues were score clocks from action around the league not shot clocks.

  35. My unique uniques of MLG.
    - Ballards cabin.
    - the 2 little red goal lights that would illuminate for half a second when goal scored.
    - being able to walk behind the players to get to your seat/concourse.
    - the smell of the cigarette smoke when you still could smoke in the concession area.
    - the wrestling this sat. Banner hanging in the far ends.
    - 8pm sat. Night puck drop back in the 80s.
    - the ramp leading to the ring during a WWF event. You knew it was at the gardens when seen on TV.
    - the smell of the circus lingering around for weeks after. And other things too after concerts from what I hear. I was too young to be at a big peoples concert.
    - the steepness of the blues and reds behind the net, best seats in the house.
    - the standing room only seats behind the reds behind the nets.
    - the MLG soundtrack, the bull march theme before start of the game and all those other little catchy sounds, the ACC uses a few from time to time.
    - just the whole atmospheare that will never be replicated and who ever made the decision not to let Eugene melnyk buy the gardens(mlse) made the biggest mistake. To build Ricoh for the marlies when they could have played at MLG and have the leafs still play there against the original 6 teams with every ticket being sold at a 1st come 1st serve basis to give the chance of true leaf fans to go instead of them corporates that look like larva sitting there at the ACC on their BlackBerrys wearing their stupid office suits trying to look important if they get on TV. One time when I went to the ACC for a game, the guy in front of me called someone to ask if he's been on TV yet and how he looked. What a knob.

  36. There are so many great memories posted on this blog and in the comments. Here is another obscure one. Do you remember the old newspaper salesman that used to have a stand just west of College Station on the south side of Carlton? I would always take the subway to the game and you would walk up the stairs with the crowd and turn towards the arena. You would always hear his distinct 'old man' raspy voice. "Papers here...Toronto Star Newssssspapers....."

  37. So many great memories is a more obscure one. Do you remember the old guy that used to sell newspapers on Carlton St, just west of the subway exit? To me, he was part of the pre-game atmosphere walking to the Gardens. He had that distinct, old guy raspy voice and repeatedly said "Papers....Toronto Star Newspapers....".

  38. I saw 3-4 games a year (usually with my grand-father) between 1982 until it closed, what I would pay to see just one more with him.

    We had color TV at home but in the 1980s the picture quality was dodgy so it was awesome to see the bright red uniforms of the BlackHawks and deep green of the North Stars.

    We occasionally had box 17 Golds, which were the ones you had to walk through the bench to get out to the concourse. As a 5-6 year old boy, I walked along the Leaf bench past Dan Maloney (coach), and decided to touch one of the player's backs. I think I wasn't sure if they were real people. So I put my hand on the back of Dale McCourt, I think he was #14 but my memory could fail me. He turned around and gave me a wink.

    I ended up meeting Rick Vaive years later and he didn't remember how fans had to walk through the bench like that. He was really cool to talk to, but it amazed me how he could forget that.

    I don't think my kids will have the same awestruck memories of the ACC, which is too bad.

  39. I certainly have one memory of Maple Leaf Gardens that I'll never forget. One night I took my 9 year-old son to a Leafs/Blues game. I knew a guy who had a connection to Nick, the manager of the Hot Stove Lounge. The deal was you were to go to the Hot Stove Lounge, and ask for Nick, and tell him who sent you. Nick would hand you one of those envelopes the Gardens used to put their tickets in. You never knew what seats you were going to get, but they were always great seats. He'd tell you how much they were, you'd pay him, and away you went.
    On this particular night, I opened the envelope and saw "Row A" on the tickets. Upon locating the seats, we saw that they were first row directly behind the St. Louis bench. Wow, I remember thinking, looks like my kid is going to get a wee lesson on hockey profanity tonight, as at the time there was no glass between the players and the first row. Oh well, a little late for that. And Harold Snepsts certainly didn't disappoint! LOL! That said, little did I know that the big, and I do mean BIG surprise, was still to come. About mid-way through the second period, my son and I could see the whole opposite side of the Gardens stand up and look upwards to the rear rows of the Blue section. Suddenly a large hum came over the building. As we looked to see what was happening, maybe a fight in the stands or something, we saw this GORGEOUS and TOPLESS 40ish woman standing up and exposing the HUGEST hooters I have ever seen in my life!!! And when I say HUGE, I mean like 78 HHHH huge! She would stand up, lift her top, and shake them very pendulously for all to see. Every time she did this, a loud roar erupted inside MLG.
    Well, I look over at my son, and he's looking over opposite with wide eyes, and a large smile. He looks up at me, with a look of "Well, dad?" ..... Not knowing exactly what to say, all I could come up with was "Wow, big eh?" ..... "Yeah" my son says. Obviously, she was a shaker from Filmores or somewhere thereabouts with her boyfriend "enjoying" the game. We just left it at that and never said another word, although he did make reference to it on the subway on the way home. The Leafs won that evening, and believe me, a good time was had by all. The Gardens never seemed quite the same to me after that night.
    My son is now 35, and he recently asked me if I remembered it.
    "Yeah, I do" I said, "how could I forget?"
    "Yeah me too, dad .... wow.",

    And just as a sidenote ..... I recall the Blues players also taking a shine to that lady that night! And the coaches, and the refs, and .......


  40. OK, here's my foggy memory... I went to this game in 1980:
    Gretzy was unbelievable, but my dad kept raving about the sounds of this other Oilers rookie's skates. Some kid named Messier.
    But the best part is something I can find no trace of on the internet, which is a disgrace... There was some controversial moment in the game--maybe Gretzky's goal at the end of the 1st period--that drew outrage from the crowd. Some guy threw three live mice on to the ice and started yelling "Three Blind Mice" at the refs. Since Bob Myers was the ref, he must have been sure he'd get his opportunity to use those mice. I believe Don Cherry used it in a Rock'em'Sock'em video ("Kenny Linseman on a breakaway!"), but I can't find any reference to this event anywhere. DGB: I need your help in tracking evidence of this down! I was only six years old, so I'm not even sure it happened during this game...

  41. Here are my memories of MLG:
    I had seasons tickets from 1973-1982 and I also went to many Toros and Marlies hockey games as well! I remember one time in 1976 when I went with my aunt (I think it was Toronto vs. Minnesota North Stars, and the message board above the blue section once read in bright letters, "Montreal Canadiens just defeated the Philadelphia Lyers'(the 'F' didn't light up). Everyone was roaring with laughter! Two times in 1982 I met Peter Ihnacak (once before an open practice and once before a game! Wonderful fellow! Both occasions he nodded and said 'Hello, how are you' in a thick Czech accent!