Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Leafs Invade Trenton!
Toronto Maple Leaf hockey fans have come out in droves to watch their favourite players go through their paces in Trenton, of all places.
After winning their first two games in Toronto, the team headed east for three days in eastern Ontario. Most of their agenda is a deep dark secret, military style. But they are practising, and the practices are open to the public, and the fans could not be more happy.
They lined up patiently outside the home of the RCAF Flyers, and entered the building in groups of four to five hundred to watch their heroes. They were shuttled into the seating area on the western side of the rink, chatting excitedly while snapping thousands of photographs behind the glass.
There were hundreds of blue and white hockey sweaters in the throng. There is no doubt that the people were there because they were hockey fans, and faithful Leaf supporters.
This is not something that happens on a usual basis. I would venture to say that it is unheard of in the Quinte area. I cannot remember any NHL team ever spending more than a night in the area.
Several old timer teams have entertained fans in area rinks. Years ago, teams played exhibition games in support of local organizations. On one occasion, the Detroit Red Wings played an intermediate team in Napanee. They had played in Toronto, and were en route to Montreal, by train. A game had been arranged against the Napanee squad.
Hugh Brennan played for that Napanee squad, and remembers it well to this day. “We were young and had some skill. Naturally, they toyed a bit with us. But at the end of the first period, the score was close. I walked by the Wings dressing room and was astounded to hear their coach, Sid Abel, tearing a strip off their players. He was not at all happy with their effort.”
The Wings goalie, Terry Sawchuk, did let a couple of shots get by him in the game. Brennan remembers that the great Hall Of Fame netminder complained that the net was too wide. They measured the net the next day and found that it was indeed, a couple of inches wider than regulation.
In the mid Sixties, the New York Rangers trained in the Kingston area. Several teams have used the Peterborough area as a training ground. On one occasion, the Canadiens played against the Petes in support of a young Pete who had lost an eye playing the game.
The practice in Trenton was intense. There were the usual drills of two forwards chasing a puck dumped into the corner, then a three on two, etc.
All the while, James Reimer stood patiently between the pipes at the north end of the rink, anticipating the odd rush to the net. He was clad from head to foot with his warrior-like gear, masked in blue and white.
In another drill, Coach Greg Cronin stood in the corner to Reimer’s right, with fifty pucks at his feet. He fired one puck directly at the net which Reimer deflected away from trouble. He then passed the second puck to a semi-circle of players in front of Reimer. One of that group blasted that puck at the net. Again and again. One shot hit Reimer’s mask, another made him grimace as it glanced off his shoulder, striking an unprotected area.
Captain Dion Phaneuf is now in his third year as a Leaf. He was the first to take the podium, to address the hoard of media at the arena. “This is almost like training camp. It’s exciting. We’re here with the military on the base. We’re here to hang out and have some fun. After practice, we are going for lunch with some of the military personnel. It’s like the first road trip each year during the season, which is always a lot of fun. It gives us a chance to get to know the new guys.”
To a man, the Leafs spoke in grateful terms about their experience on the base. They appreciated the turn out from the fans. They were most pleased with the hospitality of the Canadian Armed Forces. Phil Kessel, Reimer, Luke Schenn, and others spoke of their appreciation for the invitation. Coach Wilson smiled when he talked about this respite from the usual grind.
They will be on the ice at the Air Canada Centre next Saturday night at 7:00pm to face the Calgary Flames. Thousands of Leaf fans from the Quinte area will park themselves in front of their television sets to watch the game. They have had a taste of the real NHL experience, and will appreciate the game all the more because of that. Thank you Mr. Wilson.
October 11, 2011