It was the return trip to Hamilton on January 27th that offered a true chance for reflection on what was an experience of a lifetime: being part of the 1st Canadian AHL outdoor classic game. Nearly one week prior it was a bus taking the Toronto Marlies to Ivor Wynne stadium, rather than Copps Coliseum and although the battle of Ontario in the American Hockey League never gets old, outside of a playoff series the pinnacle may have been reached on a perfect Saturday afternoon.
Growing up a small town country boy in Southern Ontario allowed me opportunities to play hockey outdoors. My father constructed a small rink in our backyard several years in a row, and I cherished every second my skates hit that ice, even too many if you ask my mother around dinner time!It was also a weekly routine to travel around the town to play on rinks friends had built, as if creating our own backyard rink super series. While those experiences too, are unforgettable, there is is one ice surface that stands alone from the rest, my gateway to Canadian hockey heaven.
Dawning full equipment (which was not easy for a goaltender) the skate guards were on to make the walk down the gravel road to the edge of an inlet which inhabited a pond surrounded almost completely by trees. Well off the main road, this pond had but two houses within shouting distance, however each were welcomed. The first house belonged to an elderly couple. The man would tend to the pond every day: filling in holes, pushing off snow with his lawn tractor and keeping wood around for the old stove that rest on the sidelines. The other house supplied the electricity. A cord coming from the pond ran across the road and acted as our connection to a dream come true. Hockey at night on the pond, under the lights. Hundreds of Christmas lights were hung from trees that surrounded the pond and ensured we were not only granted a full day of exercise, but the 3 on 3 tournament lasted until there was clearly a winner, no matter how long it took!
A vivid memory from the “good old days” of playing hockey was restored when the CFL’s house for the Hamilton Tigercats transformed into the AHL’s temporary home for that city’s Bulldogs. The days leading up to the history making outdoor game on January 21st acted as refreshers for many memories whose origin reside on the outdoor pond. Top to bottom nearly every Toronto Marlie had an experience playing outdoors in their past. Even Greg Scott a BC boy, or Mark Owuya from Sweden could recount a time they had experienced the game Canadians love, played the Canadian way.
Reliving those childhood moments in a setting beyond their wildest dreams, the players helped bring the AHL outdoor classic to a whole new life and everyone who was part of that event could now add a new memory that will last a lifetime.
Taking it all in as broadcaster, it was as if the fans were like neighbours and the players on the ice people who you had grown up with your whole life. It was two rival hockey communities coming together, realizing that they could separate themselves with team colours but unite in enjoying all of the same elements in this once in a lifetime event. It was a return to the roots of the game, and not only in setting. It’s the closest thing to that pond just down the road where you learned to love the game.
If you were not able to be part of the festivities at Ivor Wynne, I encourage you to track down the Steeltown Showdown AHL special on Leafs TV. Behind the scenes footage will provide you with the next best thing to experiencing the event live. Thanks for stopping by the blog, I’ll write you again soon!