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Getting Back To Hockey's Roots

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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It was put to Jeff Finger during the Leafs’ outdoor practice at High Park that maybe no one had mentioned this when he signed with the Leafs over the summer.

“That’s right,” said the Leafs’ Michigan-born defender. “This is a bonus.”

Finger hit the mark as the Leafs along with corporate sponsor The Home Depot unveiled the eighth city-owned rink they had jointly refurbished.

In three years, the two companies have delivered more than $400,000 for their Hockey Rink Legacy Program. A practice that included participation from skaters from the George Bell Hockey Association kicked off the renovated facility before several hundred students from local schools.

“Look at the kids, look at the smiles on the players’ faces,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller. “This is the eighth rink and they finally got to my home rink in High Park. These rinks are great all winter. I just played with my son Simon on Family Day. We were out here a couple of hours.”

“Hockey is Canada’s sport,” said MLSE CEO Richard Peddie. “Outside is where the game’s roots are. I played in my backyard when I was a kid on cold, cold days when you couldn’t feel your toes. That’s hockey.”

With high registration fees and hockey association feeling the challenge of retaining young players, the eight rinks offer something altogether different from organized leagues: the chance to indulge in pure play.

“That was a staple of my hockey growing up in Manitoba” said Leafs defenceman Ian White. “Ever since I was six or seven, we had a rink in our backyard as well as the local outdoor arena. I spent hour upon hour - from the time you get out of school to bedtime - on the rinks. I owe a lot of my success to outdoor rinks."

Dominic Moore, a Thornhill kid, understands better than most the potent combination that is a beautiful day, an outdoor rink and the presence of the city’s hockey royalty.

“I’ve been a kid here. Growing up here, you know what it’s about and you have the added respect of knowing what the Leafs mean to people. There aren’t too many things more important than hockey in Toronto I really get it because I was the kid on the other side of the fence.”

The hockey legacy program has renovated rinks in Rennie Park in Swansea, The West Mall Rink in Etobicoke and five Riverdale sites: Withrow Park, Riverdale Park East, Greenwood Park, Jimmie Simpson and Monarch Park.
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