Charlie Hodge column

Charlie Hodge column

Hodge: Rekindling childhood love for Leafs

Davey Keon, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower and the wild, wacky Shack were immortals

By Charlie Hodge

There is no more Sing’s Cafe or Syd Hodge. But there is hope.

That hope regurgitates marvelous memories.

How many kids ever get to enjoy a scrumdilicous cheese burger and chocolate shake with Eddie Shack?

Like the large majority of Canadian kids I grew up fixated with hockey and like many Canadian kids my team was the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the 1960s the choice was simple—you either adored the Leafs or Montreal Canadiens—and despised the other. The only other distinct line in the sand back then regarding loyalty was whether you were a good, God-fearing defender of democracy or an evil Communist.

Things were much simpler back then.

For an 11-year old the Toronto Maple Leafs were it. Davey Keon, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower and the wild, wacky Shack were immortals.

Shack had been an outstanding junior hockey star in Ontario. Former NHL Calder Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup Leaf veteran Howie Meeker had scouted Shack and saw his potential, recommending the Leafs sign him rather than another junior star Bobby Hull. Meeker wrote Leaf owner Conn Smythe saying so. (I still have the original letter).

The Leafs eventually failed to sign either player, however after two seasons with the New York Rangers Shack wound up traded to the Leafs for the 1960-61 season. For six years Shack thrilled fans with his skill and antics, culminating in the Leafs winning their final cup in 1966-67. As thrilling as that day was, it never matched a magic afternoon the summer before.

Dad worked with Royal Trust so was invited to the annual high flaluting Bank of Montreal Mansion garden party, an event for local mucky mucks featuring, food, booze and celebrities. Shack was in town for a fund-raising hockey spectacular game and was at the garden party.

Dad, seeing raucous Eddie standing out like a uncomfortable sore thumb in the crowd, approached him. Within minutes Dad convinced Eddie to slip away for a burger and beer downtown. The two of them picked me up on route to Sing’s Cafe.

When I saw who was in the front seat of the car my jaw dropped.

For the next hour and a half I sat with eyes bulging and hamburger half eaten as Eddie Shack entertained us. I thought I had literally died and gone to heaven.

The following season (May 4, 1966-67) the Leafs won their final cup. Dad and I were delirious. However less than a week later the Leafs traded Eddie to the pathetic Boston Bruins.

That was the day I stopped cheering for the Leafs. I hated the Leaf management of Ballard, Smythe and others for how they treated Keon, Brewer, Shack and others and decided to follow my heart with Eddie and the Bruins, who had a new kid in town named Orr. He looked pretty good.

Flash forward to this season. With old ownership and management gone, pompous Phil Kessel traded, and the Leafs bringing in classy Mike Babcock I decided to once again rekindle my love for the Leafs.

I never would have imagined in one short year how much fun and thrills the likes of rookies Mathews, Marner, Nylander and others would rekindle in Leaf land. While the Leafs are currently battling the best team in what is now a best of three series, it is cause for joy.

The odds are against them progressing any further, but just for this week there is hope again for Leaf fans. I have dusted off my sweater, pulled out my autographed picture of Eddie Shack, and ready to believe in dreams yet again.

Go Leafs Go.