It’s a sight for sore eyes, as they say. The first time in, what, 42 years? And only in Canada, where, they say, hockey is a religion. Once again, I’m not sure who “they” are but they sure seem to have a lot of sayings.
But this year, after four long decades, there is occurring an event so iconic that no one thought it would ever happen again. And no, it’s not the return of Halley’s Comet or Topo Gigio on the Ed Sullivan Show, it’s more epic than that. Yes, it’s those famous blue and white sweaters against those famous red, white and blue sweaters. It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens!
Big deal, you might say: it’s not world peace, is it? It’s not like we’ve solved poverty and crime; it’s not like they’ve finally found a way to slam a deranged ex-president into the slammer (yet). But for many here in Canuckville, it’s close enough.
For those fellow fossils familiar with names such as Davey Keon, Johnny Bower and Tim Horton (who was named after the coffee) or Jean Belliveau, Yvan Cournoyer or Gump Worsley, this year’s puck playoffs sparked many mashed up memories of a raucous rivalry not equaled until the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers face-offs many hockey years later.
Yabut, you may say, the Habs and the Maple Buds play each other all the time, but the thing is: not in the playoffs. With COVID, because of travel restrictions and other necessarily unprecedented precautions, the Great White North was separated from the U.S. of eh? Hockey-wise. And this year, as luck and win/loss statistics would have it – eh voila! – old time playoff hockey!
And there they are: those jerseys. The white-on-blue maple leafs swirling around on the ice, the small white H inside the big red Cs bobbing and wheeling. And bashing and crashing into each other just like the good old days.
We used to meet at John and Fred’s place over on Michener Hill most Saturdays during hockey season. Especially during the playoffs. They had the best table hockey game in town, and get this: John had perfectly painted the uniforms, numbers and names on the back of each of the four inch-high hockey players. And of course, it was the Maple Leafs against the Canadiens, frozen in time.
Our playoff tournaments were feverish affairs – you’d think Lord Stanley was standing right there ready to present his famous trophy. John and Fred, who happened to be brothers (non-identical twins, in fact) were the best, of course – no two table hockey games were the same and the “home ice” always had the advantage, but like the real playoffs, anything could happen and often did. The clack, thwack, smack of the push-pull-twists of the control rods and spinning players and flying miniature pucks filled the kitchen “arena” with an intensity worthy of a Toronto/Montreal game six overtime.
And during the last period intermission, out would come the vat of chocolate ice cream and everybody got a bowl full. And then back at it, whoever’s turn it was next calling the game action like Foster Hewitt. Then, finally: whoops of victory; groans of defeat, and then home for supper, Bugs Bunny at 5:00, Hockey Night in Canada at 6:00. A perfect Saturday.
And now, in 2021, as I watch the Leafs and Habs once again, the screen blurs… Marner becomes Mahovlich and Toffoli is somehow Tremblay and the play by play sounds an awful lot like Foster Hewitt, and somebody scores and I have sudden powerful craving for a nice big bowl of chocolate ice cream.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea at email@example.com.