Back when the Leafs were good, my dad took me to my first hockey game. He was a die-hard Bruins fan and it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see the road but dammit, his nine year-old daughter was going to see at least one game at Maple Leaf Gardens before it closed.
The Gardens was old-school even then. I seem to remember that you could see right through to the rink itself from the street but that can’t be right. I also remember that it was loud, so loud my ears rang all that night and most of the next day. It smelled like old beer and sweat and every time a player got checked into the boards, the whole building shook. At least it seemed that way. In my memory, the Gardens rattled with every passing streetcar, rumbled with every subway train rocketing beneath Yonge Street. Or maybe not. I was only a kid. The snowdrifts that night were literally taller than I was.
From the moment they dropped the puck, I knew I loved hockey. I think every Canadian kinda loves hockey by osmosis but I was one of those kids who either loved things completely or not at all. I knew that my asthma would keep me from playing, but I didn’t want to play anyway. I wanted to be on Hockey Night In Canada.
My new dream seemed completely realistic – you don’t get the lead in every elementary school play for nothing , you know – but I knew I had one small hurdle: there were no girls on Hockey Night In Canada. I spent the ride to school the next morning preparing for the inevitable argument with my friends. So there’s never been a girl on Hockey Night In Canada. So what? I could be the first. And when we grew up, it would be the future! Of course there would be girls on Hockey Night In Canada by the future.
I walked into my Grade Four classroom and my friends gathered round to hear the tale of a thrilling come-from-behind Leafs victory. Down 4-1 to Tampa Bay halfway through the second period, our boys had rallied to win 5-4 in overtime. Mats Sundin had scored a goal and become the love of my life. Steve Thomas had punched a pre-Leafs Darcy Tucker in the face. It was the best thing I had ever seen in my little life and my friends hung on my every word, mesmerized. “Man, I love hockey,” I finished. When I grow up, I wanna be a reporter for Hockey Night In Canada.”
My friends all looked at me funny but I had come prepared. “Just because I’m a girl-” I started.
“They’ll never let you in the dressing room though,” Sam interrupted, looking more than little sorry for me.
Kevin nodded sagely. “The players walk around naked in there.”
“Yeah,” said William Mitchell. William Mitchell was that kid everybody only ever called by both his first and last name. “If you wanna go in the dressing room…” He lowered his voice to a whisper: “…you’re gonna have to see their ding-a-lings*.”
I hadn’t considered this.
I was nine years old – puberty still loomed vaguely on the horizon. Adult Me realizes that seeing Mats Sundin’s ding-a-ling is far from the worst fate that can befall a woman but Child Me found the entire concept of boys patently repugnant.
So that was it: either abandon my dreams of Hockey Night In Canada glory or be some kind of creepy weirdo who looked at ding-a-lings. The choice was clear. I admitted defeat and decided to go with my back-up dream: Prime Minister.
*He might have said “ding dongs.” It was a long time ago.