It was fitting that many hockey heroes from the Maple Leafs history and the NHL took to the ice on Remembrance Day because it was a day to bring back memories for players and fans alike.
According to Paul Henderson, a Leaf alumni and Canadian hockey icon, it may be tough to get the oldtimers on the ice but once they get there it's a fight to the finish.
"It's incredible. The puck hits the ice, the blood starts flowing, and you want to play. There's no fool like an old fool," the laughing Henderson said.
But these were no fools on the Air Canada Centre ice on Sunday at the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Game, presented by Esso, where the Leaf Alumni team played a squad of NHL legends, including many Hall of Famers.
Henderson's teammates included Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Ron Ellis and more while the NHL team included this year's four inductees to the Hall. The event was held in memory of Carl Brewer, Cal Gardner, Billy Harris, and Wendy Sittler, and also honoured the memory of Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis, two scouts from the Los Angeles Kings who lost their lives on September 11.
From Sittler's opening goal 35 seconds into the game, the Leafs dominated for most of the game, so much so that during the third period, officials allowed members of the Port Credit Hockey Association, none of whom stood taller than Alumni goaltender Allan Bester's knee, to try to score for the Legends. In short order, the pint-sized stars tied up the game and were aided by another surprise guest, Carlton the Bear, who took to the net for the Legends.
It would have been difficult to disappoint the 10,400 devoted fans in attendance. Entire families jumped out of their seats to try to catch the t-shirt thrown into the crowd each time a goal was scored. When Mike Gartner's illegal slapshot brought the Leafs an early goal, officials allowed the fans to decide if it should count. Naturally, the answer was a resounding "yes". There was plenty of humour too from broadcaster Jim Ralph, who worked the game as a ref. He took time out to interview the players and coaches from his rinkside vantage point but some players took joy at his expense late in the game when, as he tried to interview Legends coach Bobby Hull, one of them tossed a cream pie in his face.
By the end of three periods of excellent hockey, the game was tied at seven. The crowd went wild at the news that there would be a shootout to determine the winner. Legends shooters Michel Goulet, Gilbert Perreault, Steve Shutt, Peter Stastny, and Brad Marsh couldn't get past the sheer heart of the Leaf Alumni members Sittler, Clark, Salming, Rick Vaive and Norm Ullman. The final score was 9-7 for the Leafs team.
It was clear the players were having a great time on the ice.
"The fans love to see their heroes back together.They know we're not as fast as we once were, but it's a fun day for everyone," said Sittler.
This was the game many fans dream of attending. For the adults in the crowd it was a chance to witness the still-evident skill and talent of their early heroes, and to remember how it feels to watch the game with a child's eyes.