Earlier this week, our weekly ball hockey game, normally played on the outdoor pad at Withrow Park in Riverdale, was moved indoors due to rain. This happens now and then. Frankly, it happens more frequently than we might like. It just seems that if it’s going to rain, even if only for a short time, it tends to happen on Tuesday evenings during ball hockey season. However, on the positive side of the ledger, this sometimes means we play at Leaside Gardens. Such was the case this week. For someone as sentimental and nostalgic as I, being back in the arena where I played my entire minor hockey career, starting more than 50 years ago, can be a little overwhelming.
It’s easy to be distracted by familiar sights and the memories they prompt – like the display cases with team photos and trophies along the west wall, or the dressing rooms that still look (and smell) pretty much as they did back in the ’70s. Now, mentally glazing over and drifting away occasionally to reminisce is usually fine, but doing it during the game in the middle of your shift is not recommended. At one point the other night, I was waiting for the ref to drop the ball for a faceoff when my eyes, and my mind, shifted to the gondola up above from which my brother and I would often watch our sons’ games in their final season on Leaside’s Select team. (It was a joy to coach our sons and watch them play, but I digress.) Anyway, it turns out I was still standing there at the faceoff circle gazing up into the gondola long after the play had moved into our zone. “Wake up!” came the call from my bench – I won’t repeat the profane epithet that accompanied it. It seems most of my teammates aren’t quite so wrapped up in their Leaside arena memories. (I will point out that I did score in that game, which is as rare these days as the Leafs making it through round one of the playoffs. So all was forgiven.)
Being back at Leaside Gardens this week brought back other memories, like spending summer Saturday afternoons swimming at the pool and perfecting our can-openers off the high diving board to yield splashes of maximum height. Or Friday night free skates and the adolescent hormonal currents running just beneath the surface, which I’ve written about in this space before. Or when I was invited to speak at a couple of Leaside Sports Hall of Fame events in the William Lea Room. (When I was first approached about speaking, I thought they wanted to induct me into the Hall. But no, it was Terry Caffery inducted that year, not I.) And I’ve lost count of all the hockey tournaments I played in, coached in, or volunteered for over the years, but they all trigger great memories of long ago, growing up in Leaside.
Early in our Leaside hockey career, such as it was, my mother would always try to feed us a big breakfast on Saturday mornings before we’d head off to the arena for our game. But my twin brother and I were always a little tense before taking to the ice – you know, with the stakes being so high and all – so we had very little pre-game appetite. So the phrase, “we’re not hungry on hockey days” became legendary in our house. Unfortunately, I seem to have outgrown my pre-game fasting and all the benefits that came with it. Now, at 62-years-old, I never pass up the opportunity for a meal, before, after, or even during the game.
Being back at Leaside Gardens this week also reminded me what an extraordinary community resource it is and has been for so many decades. It was great to be back there, even if we did lose our game. (Did I mention I scored?)
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers. His most recent, Operation Angus, is now in bookstores. You can also subscribe to his newsletter: https://terryfallis.substack.com.