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Leafs open practice reveals many stars on skates

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Jaime Burnham

The Leafs' Season Opening Practice was held this past weekend at Air Canada Centre to the delight of thousands of screaming fans.

With proceeds going to the Ontario Special Olympics, this charitable event is one of the many fundraisers organized by the Go Kids Go! Leaf Fund.

The annual Open Practice allows blue and white fanatics to catch their Leaf stars in true practice action, as well as, seeing first hand new-fangled player highlight videos, exclusive interviews and prize giveaways all to pumping Leaf game tunes. At $7 a ticket, the price made this event accessible to everyone.

"It is great to see so many people come out," said Leaf Fund Coordinator Cora Mattholie. "It gives fans a chance to come into the building and see the team on the ice. Many people don't get a chance to come down for an actual game."

With this year being the Leafs' 75th Anniversary Season, a special tribute was made prior to the practice. The tribute marked the selection of the top 25 Leaf players of all-time as voted by a panel of hockey and media personalities, including Leaf commentator Joe Bowen. The all-time greats were honoured in a video accolade to the overwhelming cheers of the crowd.

Listed in the top 25 were such Leaf legends as Tim Horton, Haps Day, Wendel Clark, Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour and current Leaf captain, Mats Sundin.

One honouree was in appearance at the day's event and was humbled by his selected stature as one of the paramount Leaf players of all time. As captain of the Maple Leafs from 1981-1986, Rick Vaive was the first Leaf to score 50 goals in one season and to this day remains a beloved hockey icon for the city of Toronto.

"It is pretty special," Vaive conceded genuinely. "You think this team has been here for 75 years and there has been a lot of great hockey players that have gone through this organization so to be selected as one of the top 25 is an honour. It is something that may not really sink in for a while."

Organized, not only to bring fans closer to their hockey heroes like Vaive and Sundin, this event more outstandingly commends the heroes of the Ontario Special Olympics. Siemens, who sponsored the event, presented the organization that yields some of Ontario's most courageous athletes with a cheque for $50,000.

In an inspiring performance, one of those young athletes demonstrated to all in attendance (including an intent Leafs' bench) a level of courage, perhaps even when wearing blue and white, many will not achieve.

Special Olympics figure skater, Erin Rynberk skated one of her medal winning routines and, despite the pressure of performing in front of a roaring crowd and a rink lined with her hockey idols, admitted to being just a 'little nervous'.

"The best part of today was skating and hearing the fans clap," Rynberk said modestly.

Watching from the sidelines as their daughter skated, Erin's parents were perhaps more overwhelmed with the whole experience.

"We are really big Leafs fans and Erin was so excited, especially when she found out she would be meeting Mats Sundin and her favourite Leaf, Curtis Joseph," John Rynberk beamed.

Sundin presented Erin with a bouquet of roses congratulating her on her tremendous accomplishments as a proven champion figure skater. It was a moment Erin and her family will not soon forget.

"I am very proud, it brings tears to your eyes," said an emotional Michelle Rynberk.

Erin has been with the Special Olympics for four years and at last year's World Winter Games in Anchorage Alaska won both a gold and silver medal in two of her figure skating competitions.

In the end, this event brought Toronto hockey fans together for a day of fun, entertainment and a few noble examples of shining stars in skates.
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