I won a contest run by Molson to go to a pre-season Toronto Maple Leafs party at the Air Canada Centre last Thursday. The pre-season is the best time for Maple Leafs fans to celebrate, with our hope unadulterated before the long period of disappointment called the regular season begins.
At the party, we dined on horrible, greasy foods that came in the size of hors d'oeuvre. We quenched our thirst with two free beers. We had photos taken with Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler. And we heard the Maple Leafs head coach, Paul Maurice, blabber on about something. I could barely hear him.
One other thing: my friend, who I brought along to this heady party, won us tickets to that night's friendly against the Wayne Gretzky-coached Phoenix Coyotes. O.K.: we were all assured tickets before we agreed to come to the party, but my friend got us gold seats a mere 13 rows from the ice.
We sat a couple rows ahead of Gretzky's father, Walter. I assume Walter sat at his usual seats for Leafs games, as he is quite often there. It must have been fun to watch his son coach. Well, if he ever saw any of the game.
From the second period to the end of the night, Walter Gretzky was pestered for autographs and photos, and he happily signed and posed for all of them. This part I don't understand: Walter Gretzky never scored a goal or tallied an assist in the NHL. And yet people worship him. The man had five children; one of them was bound to become the greatest hockey player who ever lived.
With about eight minutes left in the game it was clear the Leafs would lose. As what I can only assume was retribution for his son coaching the winning team, someone threw a cup of coke on Walter Gretzky. The cup may have come from as far high up as the upper level. I'm not exactly sure. Some of it splashed on my arm, but Walter's back was, according to him, soaked.
The point in all of this: imagine this wasn't a meaningless pre-season friendly but a regular season match between Toronto and Phoenix. What then when it's clear the Leafs are headed for a loss?
Probably toss beer; a cup of that goes for $9 or so.