Welcome back. To me.
I want to tell you a hockey story. It’s also a love story, for the 99.8 per cent of you (based on its ratings on TV) who don’t care about hockey. “Don’t care about hockey.” I’m shaking my Canadian head.
Okay. A hockey-love story. Something for everyone.
This is a true story. Lacking subterfuge or guile, and perhaps imagination, they’re the only stories I am able to tell. I know it’s a true story, because I recently met the woman it’s about and I asked her if the story, which happened to her as a teenager some decades ago was true, and she assured me it was. And it’s unlikely she’s lying, because she doesn’t come off that well in this.
I’ll call the girl Debbie because that’s her name. Again, no imagination. Debbie was a typical Toronto teenaged girl, meaning she had a raging crush on a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player. The object of her attention was one Dale “Duke” Edmundson. A looker? No question. Even a guy could see that. More important to guys, however, was the fact that “Duke” Edmundson couldn’t play hockey very well. I tried looking up his statistics on Google, but I’m no good at stuff like that, so I gave up. You’ll have to trust me on this. “Duke” Edmundson was no good. A perennial benchwarmer who rarely got into the game. Of course, none of that made any difference to Debbie. She thought he was so-o-o-o-o-o cute! And that was all that mattered.
Debbie maintained an ever-fattening scrapbook crammed with clippings of her man culled and carefully cut from the newspapers and magazines she meticulously pored over. Her bedroom was a veritable “Museum of Duke”, her walls plastered with pictures, small, large, black and white, and in glorious color. (There were no “bobbleheads” back then; if there were she’d have had legions of them.) Worshipping a nonentity. I just didn’t get it. Bob Pulford was cute and good. Frank Mahovlich was handsome and scored goals in bunches. Even Eddie Shack had a certain maniac appeal. I guess you had to be a teenaged girl to understand it. Statistics were irrelevant. Debbie’s heart was lost to “The Duke.”
Okay, so here we go.
One day, against enormous odds, Debbie procured two tickets to an upcoming Saturday night game at Maple Leaf Gardens. I don’t know how to explain it to you. To truly comprehend what it means to get tickets to a Saturday night game at Maple Leaf Gardens, you need to understand the depth and enormity of what hockey means to Canada and what the Leafs, at least back then, meant to hockey. Take Red Sox tickets, Knicks tickets, Packers tickets, multiply by a million – Leafs tickets. Hockey Night In Canada was and, for all I know, still is the Number One rated show on Canadian television. Maple Leaf Gardens had been sold out since 1942. Are you getting the idea?
Days of excruciating anticipation, she’s finally at the game. To which she pays absolutely no attention. Ask her who’s playing? She probably wouldn’t know. She didn’t care about the opposition, she didn’t care about the game. Ignoring the action on the ice, Debbie’s eyes remain lasered on her man, Dale “Duke” Edmundson, planted, as per usual, at the farthest end of the Maple Leaf bench.
It’s not enough.
Debbie needs to get closer.
Making a momentous decision, Debbie gets up and, accompanied by her girlfriend, makes her way down from the cheap-seat “Grays”, past the medium-priced “Blues”, beyond the high-roller “Reds”, till finally, she’s at ice level. Casually, unobtrusively, Debbie and her friend head along the aisle paralleling the ice. Destination: the Maple Leaf players’ bench. Reaching the bench, they edge their way to the farthest end, the end where Debbie’s heartthrob hero watches the game. And there she stops. Standing directly behind him, an arm’s length away.
It’s not enough.
Maybe she didn’t decide to do it, maybe it just happened. Maybe she did decide to do it, consequences be damned. It’s hard to know. However way it happened, Debbie, lost in an intoxicating whirl of hormones and excitement, slowly reached out her hand and touched The Man of a Thousand Dreams gently on the shoulder.
Responding to the touch, “Duke” Edmundson immediately jumped over the boards and the Leafs were penalized for “too many men on the ice.”
Wait. Does that story depend on understanding that tapping him on the shoulder is the coach’s signal for sending a player into the game? If it does, I messed it up. I didn’t mention it earlier, fearing I’d “tip” the ending to the people who know the game; unfortunately, by doing so, I may have ruined it for the 99.8 per cent of the rest of you. Trust me, if you’re a hockey fan, it’s a really funny story. Now knowing about the “tapping” thing, you might try reading it again.
Today’s my birthday. I’ll keep the number to myself for fear of an agistical backlash. All I know is I used to be six. I take some comfort in the words of the Negro League pitching icon “Satchel” Paige, who’s reputed to have said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Still, as I mentioned before, this is the oldest I’ve ever been.
I love my birthday. I just don’t love getting closer to dead.
To everyone I met at the Ranch, “Sweet Adeline” Steve, “Where’s My Keys?” Judy, “Piano Man” Henry, “Jewelry” Julia, “Real Estate” Renee, Kari, Beverly and many, many others, thank you for an unforgettable week.