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Matthews, Marner likenesses crop up in corn maze

Forwards' images included in salute to Maple Leafs at farm in Canada

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

To many of their fans, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the greatest team in hockey. As the very least, on a Canadian farm in Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick, two of their young players are outstanding in their field.

Both a century of the Maple Leafs and their promise for the future are being celebrated this season in a 6-acre field on the Hunter Brothers Farm about 150 miles northwest of Saint John. It's the latest of 17 annual corn-maze creations by brothers Chip and Tom Hunter, fourth-generation farmers who for 38 years have worked soil that's been family-owned since 1890.

The helmeted, visored likenesses of Toronto forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner are featured this season with a gigantic Maple Leafs logo and a banner reading "100 Seasons," all part of a colossal maze through which the public soon will be invited to wander.

Along the way, fans will be able to take part in a multiple-choice trivia game, with 10 question stations scattered (and well-hidden) throughout the maze. Each station tests the knowledge of casual and hard-core fans with questions about topics such as training camp and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with additional nickname- and player number-matching activities featured on the maze's observation bridge.

The Hunters planted their feed corn on July 4, with very dry weather slowing growth. When stalks did begin to emerge, areas were sprayed to kill off strips that would become the paths.

From the farm office on Wednesday, Chip Hunter, who at 67 is three years older than Tom, said the stalks are now about 6 feet high, about half what they'll finally be when the corn is ground back into the soil as fertilizer after Halloween.

Video: Hunter Brothers Farm creates Leafs-inspired corn maze

The brothers' first corn-maze foray into hockey was in 2003, a celebration of the career of retiring Hall of Fame-bound goaltender Patrick Roy, who played with the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. Six years later came their tribute to the centennial of the Canadiens, featuring a towering figure of center Jean Beliveau.

"I have seen statues of myself in bronze, wood and ice. But I have never been made of corn," Beliveau said in 2009 when told that he would dominate a New Brunswick field that is about 600 by 425 feet.

Chip Hunter, a 1974 graduate of a Montreal-area college's agricultural program and a huge Canadiens fan, knew in his heart that he had to feature the former Montreal captain in the 2009 maze.

"It's the quintessential image: upright stance, fluid movement," Hunter said at the time, having used a classic portrait of Beliveau as the template. "I wanted an iconic symbol. I love Jean Beliveau, I grew up with him."

Hunter's brother-in-law, Kevin Rea, a Maple Leafs fan, scored a respectable seven out of 10 on the 2009 maze Canadiens quiz, and for that he was heckled severely.

"I told him, 'How ironic that you'd do so well on a quiz about the Canadiens,' " Hunter said with a laugh. "I asked him, 'Do you study their statistics out of envy?' "

But Hunter did promise Rea that the Maple Leafs deserved a corn salute "on the 50th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup win," which brings us to this season's salute, following a 2016 tribute to baseball's Toronto Blue Jays.

That the Maple Leafs have a strong nucleus of exciting young talent adds to a healthy rivalry in this family and a community that loves the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins, with some suggesting that Toronto might win the Stanley Cup again before the Canadiens, who last won it in 1993.

"They still have a long way to go to catch the Habs," Hunter said, his Canadiens having won 24 Stanley Cup titles compared to 13 for the Maple Leafs, who will soon begin the franchise's 100th season. "The Leafs have been a good doormat."

His Canadiens allegiance showed when he mentioned in passing that four of the farm's goats are named for current Maple Leafs players.

A maze theme is chosen with three criteria in mind: an anniversary, a Canadian connection and, in Hunter's words, "a really great image that resonates with people."

From Sept. 9 through Oct. 29, visitors will be able to navigate the paths, which are about 2½ miles, through a quarter of a million cornstalks in this extraordinary maize maze.

The Hunter brothers have come a long way since their maze-building began with small fields to attract visitors to their public market. 

Today, an engineer maps out the maze with a satellite-based GPS, a highly accurate tool for mapmakers and land surveyors. This year, the brothers used a graphic designer to help with a layout that features two faces and an intricate logo. 

"Engineers are good, but they're not artists," Chip Hunter said.

Aerial photos of the field were once taken from a small plane, but Chip Hunter's son, Leigh, shot images this year with a drone.

The maze is the cornerstone of the farm's fall festival and its kid-powered Field of Fun. The brothers hope 7,000 or more visitors will come over the next two months, weather permitting.

Hunter said that his Maple Leafs-loving brother-in-law hasn't yet taken this year's trivia quiz. But heaven help him, he added, if Rea scores lower than he did on the 2009 Canadiens quiz.

"They'll take away his Leafs membership," Hunter said with a laugh. "And his Darryl Sittler jersey."

The Toronto Maple Leafs maze and the Hunter Brothers Farm's Field of Fun in Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick, will be open weekends and holidays from Sept. 9 through Oct. 29. Visit hunterbrothers.ca and facebook.com/HunterBrothersFarm to learn more.

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