WHAT IT’S LIKE...
….to go to his first NHL game
When I first signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA – where I would play eight glorious games – goalie Gary Smith was one guy who took me under his wing. They called Gary ‘Suitcase’ because he had been traded so often or ‘The Axe’ because he’d been axed by so many teams. The first time I met him, I told him he played in the first game I ever saw live at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was New Year’s Day 1969 in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Oakland Seals. “How many did I let in that night?” he asked me.
“Seven,” I said. He thought that sounded about right.
I was seven years old, and I remember sitting mesmerized in the stands with my grandmother that night watching the Leafs beat the Seals 7-3. After the game I told her, “We can’t leave because I have to see the three stars.” The three stars were so big back then. The guys would skate out, and they’d have this big star around them. If the home team won, they would get the first and third star and the visiting team would get the second star and the guy would never come out.
The first WHA game I ever went to, I was involved in a shootout at Varsity Arena in Toronto between periods of a Toronto Toros game. (Toros) owner John Bassett called my dad when I was 12 and said they had a promotion where three young kids would take a penalty shot against the backup goalie that night. Les Binkley was the goalie, and I told him years later, “I thought I had you beat, then this big foot came sliding across and I didn’t score.” I was so mad.