Who’s your team?

The days of Leaf jokes may fi­nally be over

Cape Breton Post - - Weekend - Paul MacDougall Paul MacDougall is an ed­u­ca­tor and writer. He lives in Syd­ney. His col­umn ap­pears monthly in the Cape Bre­ton Post. If you’ve cheered for the same team longer than 80 years like Paul’s fa­ther-in-law Charlie with his Rangers send him a note

If you’re a long suf­fer­ing Maple Leaf fan like my­self those sad old days of lis­ten­ing to Joe MacInnis’ Leaf jokes are over now.

Mathews, An­der­sen and crew made sure of that. Leafs hats and sweaters are seen all over the place and even as hard as it is to be­lieve, some diehard Habs and Bru­ins fans were openly say­ing they wanted to see Toronto beat the Caps. It got me won­der­ing about team loy­alty and where it all starts.

For me it was easy. Dave Keon was my fa­vorite player, he cap­tained the Leafs to four Stan­ley Cups in­clud­ing their last one in 1967, the year I started to pay closer at­ten­tion to Hockey Night in Canada.

My dad wasn’t into hockey very much him­self, and if he had a fa­vorite I think it was Mon­treal, so he didn’t in­flu­ence ei­ther me or my younger brother who to cheer for. Brother David took on the Bru­ins man­tle in 1970 the year they won the cup. That would make us both the same age in grade three when our team loy­alty was de­cided.

For oth­ers team al­le­giance can be more com­pli­cated. Ty­rone Gar­diner, 1965 Cana­dian Light­weight Box­ing cham­pion, when not cheer­ing on the lo­cal Q league Scream­ing Ea­gles, is an­other long­time Leaf. Ty­rone says his team is Toronto since a young age, but likes to see all the Cana­dian teams do good, even the Habs, and that’s be­cause of a long time con­nec­tion with them through Syd­ney na­tive Al MacNeil.

MacNeil got started in the NHL with Toronto in 1956/57 play­ing 53 games. Over the next few years he was moved around on var­i­ous AHL and EPHL farm teams in­clud­ing Mon­treal’s. In 1961/62 he played with the Habs, and in that sum­mer got traded to Chicago. Dur­ing these hec­tic for­ma­tive years for MacNeil he would end up back in Syd­ney for the sum­mer months. In or­der to keep in shape he would spend many af­ter­noons at the Vene­tian Gar­dens Gym on the Es­planade.

Ac­cord­ing to Gar­diner the gym was full of box­ers at night, him­self in­cluded, so MacNeil pre­ferred the time alone in the day in­stead.

“I was friends with Al back then and I’d of­ten go down there with him,” says Gar­diner. “He wanted to stay in shape, but he also wanted to pro­tect him­self if he got in a fight so we did a lot of spar­ring to­gether.”

Gar­diner at the time was a se­ri­ous up and comer in the box­ing world and was knock­ing guys out of the ring left, right and cen­tre. He had al­ready won nu­mer­ous re­gional awards. MacNeil was a force of his own and for four years played de­fence with the Chicago Black Hawks, a team lead by greats like Stan Makita and Bobby Hull.

In 1964 the year be­fore he won the Cana­dian Light­weight Cham­pi­onship, Gar­diner got a call from Black Hawks coach Rudy Pilous. He was be­ing hon­oured by them as their athlete of the year. He was flown to Chicago, Toronto and Mon­treal for three games and es­corted ev­ery­where by Elmer “Moose” Vasco, who paired with de­fence­man Pierre Pilote, helped his team win the cup in 1961.

“It was a fab­u­lous time those five days,’” re­mem­bers Gar­diner. “It was Al of course who had to have sug­gested me for this award, which they gave out yearly.”

In the 1970/71 sea­son Habs GM Sam Pol­lock called upon MacNeil to get be­hind the bench in De­cem­ber to try and turn a lack­lus­tre Mon­treal sea­son around. MacNeil did just that and with a late sea­son ad­di­tion of goalie Ken Dry­den they took Chicago to a seven game fi­nal and won, mak­ing Al MacNeil the first At­lantic Cana­dian to coach an NHL team and then win the big prize. Dry­den went on to back­stop five more Stan­ley Cup vic­to­ries in the 1970s.

For Ty­rone Gar­diner he had no choice to cheer on both the Black Hawks and the Habs since his old spar­ring part­ner played for one and was at the helm of the other.

But given a play­off se­ries be­tween Toronto and Mon­treal it’s still the Leafs all the way.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO/PAUL MACDOUGALL

Ty­rone Gar­diner in his per­sonal mini sports ar­chives. Ty­rone has vo­lu­mi­nous files and pho­tos on most box­ers and other Cape Bre­ton ath­letes over the decades here.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Ty­rone Gar­diner gets a les­son from Bo Jack 2 in Vene­tian Gar­dens Gym some­time in the 1960s.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Al MacNeil sport­ing Habs and Black Hawks jer­seys in the 1960s.

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