Monday, February 18, 2008


Deja Vu, Once Again

Bobby Hull began his NHL career in 1957. He played two years of Junior Hockey in St. Catharines, and was invited to the Chicago Black Hawks training camp in the fall of 1957. He was eighteen years old. He also played junior hockey prior to that in Woodstock, leaving his home in Pointe Anne when he was fourteen.

The Chicago brass had little difficulty deciding to keep Bobby with the parent squad following the training camp. He possessed all of the tools to play in the NHL. What they did not know at that time, but soon learned, was that he was destined to become one of hockey’s greatest superstars.

Some time in the late 1950s, my Dad escorted my brothers and me to a Hawks game in Toronto. I had been a Leafs fan until Hully came on the scene, then quickly transferred my loyalty to the Hawks. He had visited my Boy Scout troop at Bridge Street Church in Belleville as a guest of our troop master, Frank Insley. Frank also hailed from Pointe Anne, was a great friend of the Hull family, and often invited interesting guests to the meetings.

As you can well imagine, we hung on every word that Bobby spoke at that meeting. I distinctly remember that he told us to stay in school, and get a good education. I fought with that concept for a good number of years, having to consider that Hull himself did not graduate from high school. My slap shot, however, did not quite measure up to his, and I chose the education route.

Bobby had a fine game at Maple Leaf Gardens that evening, scoring twice and ringing a third shot off the crossbar. After the game, we wandered down to the hallway near the Hawks dressing room, hoping to get a glimpse of “The Golden Jet” and his teammates. At that moment, Bobby opened the dressing room door and motioned for us to enter the room. He personally escorted us around the dressing room, introducing us to every player.

Eric Nesterenko gave me his Northland Pro hockey stick which was reduced to firewood shortly thereafter as we used it for several games of driveway hockey on Church Street.

The air conditioner seldom worked in the visitors’ dressing room at the Gardens. I recall that it was hot, smelly, and very crowded with equipment everywhere. I also recall it being the most exciting event in my life at that point.

Last Thursday night the Toronto Maple Leafs came up one goal short in a bizarre game with the New York Islanders.

Following the game, I lent an ear to a few post-game summaries in the Leafs dressing room. It is the room where the players leave their equipment following the game. Each player has a stall, with a name plate.

Behind that room there is an area, out of bounds to the media, where the players keep their “street clothes”. There are also shower areas, work-out areas with stationary bikes, whirlpools, training rooms, and the mandatory washers and dryers for the uniforms.

Nowadays, only a few players face the media hoard after a game. McCabe, Toskala, Steen, and Stajan each shared the stage for a moment or two after the game.

Shortly thereafter, Eden Austorian came into the dressing room with his father. Eden is about ten years old, and he had a firm grip on a Leafs’ hockey puck. Tailing behind Eden and his Dad was Matt Stajan.

Stajan escorted them around the room, pointing out the locker areas of all of Eden’s favourite players. He then sat at his own stall with the youngster while his father took a couple of important photographs---ones that likely went to school a day or two later, as evidence of his experience.

Stajan told me that he had never had the opportunity to visit the Leafs room as a kid growing up in Mississauga. He added that was one of the reasons that he enjoys doing things like that now.

The Chicago Black Hawk bus often had to wait for Bobby Hull following a game. He took time to sign more autographs than any other player. Thousands of youngsters left the rink clutching those valuable slips of paper that Hull had signed. He was the most personable, most friendly player of his time. Kids never forget.

Young Eden will likely never forget his night at the Air Canada Centre. Matt Stajan has a new friend, and that is not a bad thing at all.

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