On a frosty November evening, Leaf Alumni, their spouses and partners, and fans crowded cozily into Reds Bistro and Bar for the Vintage Leafs - Skating Through Wine Country event.
This year's gathering, the second in two years, raised over $20,000 to be dispensed to Rose Cherry's Home, Dr. Tom Pashby's Sport Safety Fund, the International Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation, the Kidney Foundation of Canada and Wendy's Kids Youth Scholarships. It was also held in honour of late Leaf greats Carl Brewer, Billy Harris and Cal Gardner, and in memory of Wendy Sittler.
Tasting stations were set up in corners of the intimate restaurant, and servers strolled through the capacity crowd offering hors d'oeuvres to complement the wines.
"This is a chance for players from across the generations to spend the evening together and to raise funds for charity," said event organizer Angela McManus, director of Go Kids Go! The Leaf Fund. "It's a good excuse for them to get together while giving back to the community."
Reds Bistro generously donated their facility, staff and food for the event, as well as arranging for their wine suppliers to offer plenty of splendid vintages for sampling. Among the participating wineries were Robert Mondavi, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits, B & W Wines, Kacaba Vineyards and Luigi Righetti.
While sipping, fans also had the chance to bid on silent auction items such as autographed sticks and jerseys, seats to an upcoming Leafs game, a Billy Harris tribute sculpture by Leaf alumnus Gary Aldcorn, wine tasting packages, tickets to a Shaw Festival production, several outstanding bottles of wine, and more.
"The Alumni deserve recognition. They are the ones who created the reputation of the Toronto Maple Leafs," said team president Ken Dryden.
The event had the air of a high school reunion as Leaf Alumni caught up with each other, some for the first time in years. Many talked glowingly about the value of the Alumni Association, particularly as a resource for players just retiring from the game, who often need assistance making the transition from professional hockey to the "outside world."
"Ultimately, I'm a big fan at heart, and I love the team," said Stew Gavin, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Association. "It was a real honour and privilege to play and now I can go to events like these and have a glass of wine with some of my own heroes. The Association has come a long way in the last five or six years and we've created a lot of unity in the group. We can still be involved in the sport we love."
Also fortunate were the fans in attendance, who grabbed the chance to talk to heroes like Borje Salming, Ron Ellis, Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark. As the event wound down, good wine and the knowledge that they had done well for their community warmed attendees as they headed out into the chilly night.