(pictured: The rink at Mattamy Athletic Centre, on the site of the former Maple Leaf Gardens).
By Monika Moravan
My last visit to Maple Leaf Gardens had me in tears. No, I was not there for Game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals. Out of all my visits to the Carlton Cashbox for various events – concerts, Leafs games, Toronto Marlboros hockey – the most memorable had nothing to do with any of them.
It was Saturday, February 6th, 1999 – the final public skate at 60 Carlton. Instead of lacing ‘em up and taking a few final laps round the rink, I sat in the golds, inhaling that old rink smell, imbued with 68 years of crisp ice, fresh sweat, and stale popcorn. I sat there soaked in sound – skates slashing into this massive indoor pond, teenage boys chirping at their buddies, parents encouraging little ones to take their first strides. I sat and cried because being in the final weeks of pregnancy, skating was forbidden. Even setting my boots on the ice was forbidden, doctor’s orders.
I’ll spare the obstetrical details, save for the good doctor was worried about the continued rise of my blood pressure readings and a lack of fetal movement. There was a heartbeat but not much else could be detected. He told me to pick one day that weekend to go out and get whatever we might need for the baby, one last outing as a couple. Other than that, I was to be on bed rest until a full slate of tests in hospital the following Tuesday.
Telling my husband, it was the first time since we’d been together that I saw fear in his eyes.
“Do you still want to go?” he asked. I’d been talking about going to the final skate at MLG since it was announced. Unless our baby was born before Feb.6, I’d be there, and he would have to tag along.
“Of course! I can’t think of a better place for my last big day out.”
He sighed. See, my husband hates hockey. On occasion his love for me trumps this defect and he indulges me by doing things like driving in pitch black and pouring rain from our campsite to see Bobby Orr’s memorabilia in Parry Sound, or setting aside his plans for a tour of Toronto camera shops so I get that last visit to Maple Leaf Gardens.
I wasn’t prepared for the emotional onslaught. Throughout pregnancy, I’d been on an even keel, no stereotypical mood swings, no weird food cravings. It was business as usual.
Until I sat down. I was okay with staying off the ice – no way would I do anything to jeopardize a pregnancy that grew in risk with every breath. It was the thought that my child would never set blade to blueline, never set foot in MLG. I dreamed of going to Leafs games with my offspring the way most women dream about their wedding day, something special, something so personal, and a joy you cannot help share. Those dreams of passing on my memories to a son or daughter would never be experienced at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Three days later, we welcomed our son into the world and were elated. Being small-for-date and a reluctant feeder, he spent 10 days in intensive care. Hockey could wait! Until the last game at Maple Leaf Gardens on Feb.13, 1999. I called my husband to make sure he was taping it, several times. There was a steady stream of dads running in and out of the parents lounge to watch the game – and me. I brought my son in for a few minutes, knowing it would be his only MLG experience.
Thankfully I was proven wrong. After years of negotiation and neglect, 4,928 days or 13 years, 5 months, 29 days if you prefer, I was finally back, and even came back through the back door. Thanks to multi-media master Roger Lajoie, I was invited for a special tour through the building. Clad in work boots several sizes too big and a hard hat, I plundered up the series of massive steps from ground floor up to the rink.
The newly christened Mattamy Athletic Centre harmoniously meshes modern facilities with homage to history. It’s a far cry from the drab gym where I and my fellow students at The College of Sports Media filmed Ryerson’s basketball and volleyball games.
But I had come for the rink. The doors opened, and just as the wardrobe in Professor Kirke’s bedroom led to Narnia’s wonders, I was transported into the mists of my memory.
There I was, once again at 60 Carlton Street. And there I was, once again crying. This time tears flowed because I was overjoyed that my son will be able to carve a trail across the ice, every stride securing his own memories, mingling with mine.
Monika Moravan is a long-time poster at tmlfans.ca. She is a writer and journalist. Her most recent project was helping write for Keith Primeau and Paul Rosen in “CONCUSSED! Sports-related Head Injuries: Prevention, Coping and Personal Stories” by Keith Primeau and Kerry Goulet. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org