Friday, March 30, 2012

Being a Toronto Maple Leaf for a Day

The date was Thursday, March 29th 2012.

My boyhood love, the Philadelphia Flyers were in my hometown of Toronto to play the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre at 7pm. I had tickets to go to the game, but I had a previous commitment to volunteer in downtown Toronto until 9pm, so I thought I would go to the ACC after that and catch the rest of the game.

At least that was my plan...

Then, it all changed. My phone rang at 6:30pm. The Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, went down in the warm-ups after taking a freak shot off the knee. The back-up goalie Jussi Rynass, now focused himself to prepare to start the game after the injury to Gustavsson. However, this left the Leafs without a back-up goalie for the game.

The Leafs farm team, the Toronto Marlies, were on the road so no back-up goalie could be found in their system under such short notice.

Two of the commentators for Leafs TV saw this happen, and I happen to play hockey with them in their weekly skate. Bob McGill and Mark Osborne looked at each other and knowing that The Flyers were my favourite team, and that I lived mere minutes away from The Air Canada Centre, they called me.

"Chuckie, The Monster (this is Gustavsson's nickname) went down with a knee injury and the Leafs need an emergency back-up. Get down to the ACC now if you want to play!" said Osborne

I hopped in a cab for the 3 block drive and arrived at the ACC in 5 minutes flat where I was met by Osborne and The Leafs trainers. They walked me to The Leafs dressing room and while I was signing a one-day Pro contract, which would enable me to be on the roster that night, they suited me up so that I could dress for the game.

In the dressing room, the atmosphere was quiet as the players were preparing for their game and as I dressed, I made eye contact with each one of them. I think they could all remember their first pro game as I prepared to put on that Leafs jersey. -It even said, "Bastie" #35 on the back. I can't tell you the butterflies and the surreal feeling that was coursing through my veins at that moment.

As the time ran down, I was the last to walk down that hallway and take my seat on the bench and have the greatest seat in the ACC that night. -Or so I thought....

Towards the end of the second period it was an absolute horror for the Leafs. They were being badly outplayed by The Flyers and the score was 3-1 for Philadelphia.

And then it happened...

The Flyers scored to make it 4-1 and Maple Leafs head coach, Randy Carlyle had seen enough. Not wanting to subject his only remaining goalie to possible injury, and save him from a seemingly unwinnable game, he walked down the bench and looked at me.

"Chuckie, get ready buddy. You're about to get your shot. You're going in" said Carlyle

My heart stopped beating for 3 minutes and I couldn't get it down out of my throat in order to reply. I just made a silly face and nodded like an idiot.

I skated onto the Air Canada Centre ice surface in front of 18,000+ fans, including a few friends of mine that were in the crowd that night to watch the game. They were going crazy telling everyone around them, "Oh my God! It's Chuckie!!!"

I looked up at the giant scoreboard to see what the time was on the clock that I made my NHL debut so that I could memorize those numbers. 12:03 on the clock and then I saw my face being put up on the scoreboard. It was my childhood dream becoming a reality, and I could barely contain myself.

Here I was, just having turned 40 years old only weeks before, and always wondering if I could've made the NHL before giving up on hockey when I was 16, and more than half my lifetime later when I'd given up on that dream, it happens in a string of wild occurrences. -It really is funny how this universe works...

The Flyers scored 3 goals on me and my team, The Toronto Maple Leafs lost 7-1 that night. I can't remember a time where I've ever celebrated a 7-1 loss like I did that night. When I came out of the dressing room, my phone was ringing off the hook. I was able to bring a couple of my buddies down to see me in the dressing room after the game and got some amazing pictures. I even got a great picture with me and the Flyers' Scott Hartnell after the game in the dressing room.

I got to keep my equipment, jersey and The Leafs gave me $2000 for a night's work. Yet in my mind, that game was worth a million dollars.

Now, I want to be clear that this story never actually happened. Yet, on a night with enough magic in the air to create the stuff that dreams are made of, this is exactly how it happened.

At least it was in my mind...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Can we have class outside today? Pleeeeeeeease?

Even though my high school years are more than half my lifetime ago, I can still look out the window on a beautiful spring day, and imagine that I am 18 again and see the following:

The winters of my youth were long, long seasons. -Almost never ending, in fact. By the time March rolled around, there was a new air of hope in school called March Break. Depending on how unseasonably warm it was getting, you would see kids outside on marginally cold days to bask in the incoming sun. If this had been July, everyone would complain about how cold it is outside, yet after spending 4 months with below freezing temperatures, the slightest hint of warm weather was enough to get our asses outside to meet the sun half-way.

My favourite was having classes in Portables. They genuinely really sucked because they were either too hot or too cold, and you felt like you were getting sent away to prison going out there, yet they did have one small feature of charm... The classes outside!

I can remember all the kids getting ready for the start of class, and then one leader of the group, (We'll call them "Piggy" from Lord of the Flies) would start to enroll other students in greater numbers to ask the teacher if we could all have class outside instead of the stuffy portable.

One or Two kids simply wasn't enough, and even when properly executed, the remainder of the class had to chime in with the obligatory whining, like "Yeah, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?" and then repeat that 3 or 4 times so that the teacher really got the point. It was basically a team effort, and you really needed 100% from everyone to get the job done. Sometimes you'd miss, and the class wouldn't bring their "A" game, and you would suffer the consequences of not being outside to learn on a beautiful day.

The really "Cool" teachers were always game for class outside, and it really seemed to lift my spirit on those days. So much so, that even 25 years removed from the fact, I can still look out my window and ask out loud,
"Can we have class outside today?" and smile...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Thoughts on Turning 40...

"Life Begins at 40" -John Lennon

Of course, John Lennon died 2 months after his 40th birthday...

Yet, I see life pretty much the same way he said it here in that quote. Never before have I had a birthday where I've actually looked forward to getting older since I was in my teens. It seems to me, that my 40's will be the legacy building years that every man hopes for in his life.

Not to say that my 30's weren't great... I had some really amazing moments in my 30's. The most amazing of these was the birth of my daughter and watching her grow up as a baby to a young little girl. There were many others that pale in comparison to this one, but nonetheless, there were some really amazing moments.

I find the one thing different in all of these moments is this...

I have now moved out of my way of getting in my own way of being great. Previously, if I had any success in my life, it was only a matter of time until I got in my own way and sabotaged it. Now, I see things a little differently, and with a new view.

The moments in front of me are armed with a new understanding of how I once perceived my life and how I felt about it. Now that I realize that just because you HAVE a past, doesn't make you your past, I can be free to create what I'm really passionate about.

What you can expect from me in my 40's is going to be full blown expression like I've never shown before in my life. It's going to be in a way that makes and creates something new on the foundation of what I feel that my life was made for. Without the inhibitions of what people think (as if I ever cared much about that this new path of my 40's will yield an amazing trail of inspiration and creativity.

What am I up to, you ask? Well then... You'll just have to keep tuned in to find out, won't you?