Volume 92, Issue 22

Wednesday, October 14, 1998

in living colour


A little piece of history is lost

Last Saturday the Toronto Maple Leafs took to the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens for their last home opener there ever. Filled with ceremonies for the building, involving several guests representing the arena's years of history, it was truly a sad occasion.

It was not sad because the building could eventually be reduced to rubble or that condominiums might stand in its historic place. It was sad because of what the Leafs are leaving behind.

MLG is the last symbol of the great Canadian game. Since 1931 fans have piled into Toronto's home for its professional hockey club to cheer them on because they loved the game and they loved their Leafs. The Gardens has witnessed countless Stanley Cup victories as well as countless losing seasons.

It even witnessed a time period absent of player lockouts, contract disputes and multimillion dollar salary figures.

Maple Leaf Gardens has seen the transition from hockey being just a game to hockey being part of the entertainment business, constantly in pursuit of the almighty buck.

How fitting. The end of the last true symbol of Canadian hockey has fallen victim to the same thing that killed the great Canadian game years ago – money. The need for more revenue has materialized into the Air Canada Centre with more corporate boxes, more seats and a display of what the off-ice officials, those in suits and ties, can do to the game.

For anyone who has stepped onto the ice at the Gardens, put a puck into one of those nets at either end of the ice or sat in the same penalty box as just about every great player in the sport has, MLG is more than just a piece of ice surrounded by plexiglass and a bunch of metal seats. It is part of a great Canadian tradition – a great Canadian tradition which will end when the Leafs step on to the ice for their first game at the Air Canada Centre, Feb. 20 against the Montreal Canadians.

For those who have sat in those uncomfortable seats throughout the Gardens, it is more than just watching hockey. It is watching a part of our heritage. It is a part of what brought together so many Canadians throughout this century in a sense of pride for their country and a sense that they are not alone.

So bring on the glitz of a new arena, bring on more corporate boxes and keep concentrating on the bottom line. Hockey, as the great Canadian game is gone and will never return.

All that's left is concern over television contracts, ticket prices and contract negotiations.

You can't even go to a game anymore unless you have at least a couple hundred bucks lying around and an extra few thousand for a seat license. You can't watch a game without the constant barrage of advertising after every whistle, interrupting the flow which used to be a big part of hockey.

There used to be such great rivalries, but now some teams have been reduced to facing off only twice a season.

So where does that leave the fans? Likely with the same feeling in their stomachs as a Maple Leaf Gardens hot dog has always left.

These fans have supported their team day in and day out. And they haven't done it for any other reason besides the love of the game.

There used to be a great feeling of triumph and pride when the hometown team won, but that has since fallen by the wayside. Fans will never again feel the same with their team's victory. They are no longer cheering on the great Canadian game – they are cheering for the emotionless transactions of the entertainment industry.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998