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A Month Today It's Opening Night

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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I’m feeling a little queasy right now.

I have been since the middle of last evening when it became clear that a large-scale intergalactic disturbance would not be coming to scuttle Tuesday’s first day of school.

I graduated high school, (honestly, they found an extra a credit after I flunked Grade 10 Geography) 33 years ago. Sadly, I grasped the link between study, completed homework and academic excellence only after the final bell.

This day gives me what leading behavioral scientists have always called The Willies. An ill wind cuts me to the marrow and if you gave me one day where I could stay in bed and pull the covers over my head, it would be today.

But then I do what countless Canadians, perhaps equally afflicted, would do.

I think about hockey.

If winter is a dark, discouraging endless series of inconveniences, only hockey can ease the transition from sunny days to early darkness.

Autumn is a fair play sunk by a horrible third act. Fall and winter are slow acting poisons and hockey, not trips, not Christmas preparation, hockey is my antidote.

I think about playing, first of all. We are Canadians, doers, not watchers. To watch hockey and not play it, is like loving golf but never swinging a club. You’ve got to try the game to discover how wondrous the skills of the professional.

Playing hockey is the single most exhilarating thing I will do through the winter and it would be even better if I was any damned good. Walter Gretzky told Wayne to never go where the puck was. Go instead where it was going. The genius speaks in simple terms that the clumsy journeyman is still powerless to heed.

Today, the Maple Leafs took part in their annual golf tournament. Informal practices will be held through the week and on the weekend, the Leafs newbies will begin competing in the rookie tournament in London.

A host of intriguing names will take the ice. Nazem Kadri, as important as any player at Leafs’ camp will be there. So will Jerry D’Amigo, who assent has been nothing short of staggering. Marcel Mueller, the beefy German will make his debut and undertake the first few strides in his inculcation to the North American game.  Towering defenceman Keith Aulie, a solid bet to make the Leafs in a year or two, will also be there.

This is the first real day of hockey season, the first day where it isn’t ludicrous to consider the Leafs and their fortunes. Already, the predictions are falling from the skies via the pre-season magazines. The sporting goods stores are stocked with fresh replica wear.

The ice at Air Canada Centre is in. The big camp opens a week Friday. Nine pre-season games will be jammed into 12 nights. The Leafs get a four day break before opening the season at home against Montreal on Thursday Oct. 7. For those of you without a calendar, that’s one month from today.

The countdown to the countdown is done. Summer is over. Solace is coming.
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