Volume 92, Issue 80

Thursday, February 18, 1999


Dean of Western women's volleyball

Farr rounding the final turn in career

Keep the Gardens spirit alive

Garth don't know baseball

Keep the Gardens spirit alive

It's been a few days now since the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens, which is enough time to allow the meaning of the night to sink in.

The week leading up to the closing was a virtual love-in for the historic Toronto franchise and its beloved building. All the memories of the past were conjured up, as television shows aired countless highlights of Darryl Sittler's 10 point evening and Bill Barilko's famous last goal – the glory years of the team.

Sadly, after the ceremonies ended early Sunday, the meaning of the night was forgotten. People complained it took too long and wasn't grand enough to do justice to the old barn. Others felt the game did an injustice to the franchise by getting blown out by the hated Chicago Blackhawks, which put a damper on the night's celebrations.

The truth, however, is the Maple Leafs couldn't have left the Gardens in a more fitting fashion. The upper-management team for the Leafs, specifically Ken Dryden, believe they have mended the burnt bridges from the Harold Ballard era. The organization is once again respected.

Getting shellacked 6-2 by a team that's playing well below .500 hockey, served as a reminder they aren't nearly as far along as they think. This year's Leafs are having surprising success on the ice, with extra emphasis on surprising.

People should remember that at about this time last year the Boston Bruins were riding high and seemed to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. This year, however, they are struggling to make the playoffs in the tight Eastern Conference, an almost complete reversal from last season.

The fact remains the Leafs haven't come nearly as far as they would like to believe and this year's team is as close to being Cup contenders as they are to being basement dwellers. A few losses here or a few wins there can decide which direction the team is headed.

The night itself was a wonderful tribute to the past and many fans got to remember the days when the Maple Leafs would evoke respect and not laughter. Johnny Bower, Red Horner and the rest of the Leaf alumni got one last chance to feel the roar of the crowds, something they so rightly deserve.

Once the "memories and dreams" flag was passed from the players of the past to the players of the present, the message should not have been "don't forget us," but "listen to us and learn from us."

For too long the great past of this original six team has been ignored. Unfortunately one year of celebrations and ceremonies is not enough to repair the damage and it can't stop with the closing of the Gardens.

Keep the alumni around. Include them in functions to interact with today's players. Have Mats Sundin, Bryan Berard and the rest of the current Leafs learn that wearing the Maple Leaf isn't about money or contracts. It's about pride. If it's money they want they can go play in Florida.

Get Dave Keon and the rest of the former Leaf greats, who feel slighted by this organization and give them a night where at least the fans can show their appreciation for their heroes' years of service. Retire some more numbers. Do anything that continues the long process of restoration.

The drubbing on Saturday night served notice that the Toronto Maple Leafs still have a long way to go, but the ceremonies showed at least they are moving in the right direction.

John Dinner can be reached at gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

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Copyright The Gazette 1999