Grassroots Hockey

We as hockey fans all have our favourite teams. Maybe the team we grew up watching on television with our father on Saturday nights. In Canada games on Saturday night and occasionally Wednesday evenings were like religion.

Growing up in Southern Ontario in the early seventies’ options became reality. The Maple Leafs every Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens occasionally were televised as well. Hockey Night in Canada on Wednesday nights the Maple Leafs or the Habs, the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday or Thursday nights as well and the Detroit Red Wings on occasions. The game of hockey was so influential not only in my small town, but it touched almost every home in one way or another.

Growing to love the Detroit Red Wings because of my Father’s love for the game and superstars like Gordie Howe was a huge influence on my life. Even to the point my parents told me that if I did not eat my vegetables, they were going to call Gordie, so I took no chances and ate up. Most people I knew were Maple Leaf fans, some were Blackhawk, or Habs fans. Many of us were Detroit Red Wing fans because of their influence in our region. Back before than NHL draft was introduced designated communities were the lifeline for young players. Our junior team in my hometown was the property of the Detroit Red Wings and many of our locals graduated through the ranks to the “show”. Nick Libett, Hank Montieth and Rick McCann were all hometown boys that we knew were going through the system.

Times have changed. The draft has now become such a huge event. It is the goal now for so many young players. Now they are not so sure what team they want to play for. The one thing they know for sure is that just getting drafted is an honour and it may open doors. What young players do when the door is opened is the real test.

Living in Ontario I am sure people occasionally change their allegiances from team to team even at the dismay of family members. One thing is for sure, I have never seen a Maple Leaf fan change to become a Montreal fan or vice versa. That is the making of true family feuds in Canada. Loyalties are generally family traditions and become an integral way of the true hockey family.

Although I was young, I remember vividly the last Stanley Cup victory in Toronto in 1967. I remember Johnny Bower winning the Stanley Cup as a forty-year-old goaltender and Bobby Baun playing on a broken leg. I remember the parade in downtown Toronto that seemed larger than life. I remember the players riding along in convertibles with their wives along side of them. All the Leafs were dressed in suits and ties, white shirts, and light-coloured trench coats, certainly an era gone by.

Although not a Maple Leaf fan and quite frankly I never have been one, I still often wonder if I will ever see another Maple Leaf parade with the Stanley Cup raised. I really do not think it is going to happen in my lifetime. Maybe in my son’s lifetime. I will stick to pulling for the Red Wings a more realistic goal or maybe the Bruins if Ray Bourque or Bobby Orr make comebacks. Maybe “Grapes” Don Cherry gets back behind the bench.

Canadian hockey remains entertaining in the NHL. Even with the Maple Leafs being the frustration of a community like Toronto, a province like Ontario and a country as proud as Canada, the fans keep buying the tickets and all the merchandise. A tremendous number of fans south of the border and around the world prove that the Maple Leaf Nation is alive and well.

I am sure there will be defectors to different teams. Fans will try to find the true team that does not continue to dash their hopes and let them down. I recently recognized the team that Canada cheers for from coast to coast and places in between. The Tim Horton’s Timbits Hockey Program for the kids is my new favourite team everywhere. The Red Wings do not let me down and I am not taking chances by changing to the Leafs that is for sure so for now the safe bet for me is the Timbits.

Walk into rinks everywhere and see the true beauty and innocence of the game. Seeing a four to seven-year-old bursting down the ice chasing the puck like a puppy
chasing a bone will make your day. Arms raised or a “pumpernickel” after a goal are sights to be seen. Tim Horton’s logo on an array of colors in little jerseys is the true enjoyment of the game. You will never leave the rink saddened that your team lost I guarantee you!

I am convinced that seeing those little players enjoy the game they are just starting to love is the truest form of hockey. It is exciting thinking about the experiences and lessons they are about to learn along the way. There will be disappointments ahead for them I am sure, some may even be Maple Leaf fans already. Guaranteed though when they are playing in the Tim Horton’s Timbits Programs they will look more forward to the drive thru line for Timbits and Donuts than the score at the end of a practice or a game. For now, the little ones know they wear Tim Horton’s on the front of their jersey and Timbits on their back.

Tim Horton’s Timbits figured it out, they sponsored a true winner. You got to love it!

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