I have an idea I'd like to share with everybody, and as I've been sensing a fair amount of nostalgia lately for the old Maple Leaf Gardens, now seemed like a good time to do it.
Here's the idea: put hockey, specifically Maple Leaf hockey, back in Maple Leaf Gardens. Here's how I would do it:
*MLSE should buy Maple Leaf Gardens
*The Marlies should play there
*It should be open to public skating
*It should be renovated to include a museum, or better yet, the Hockey Hall of Fame should be moved in.
*The Maple Leafs should play 5 home dates a season at the Gardens, one each against the other 5 Original Six teams.
MLSE should buy the Gardens back from the current owners, Loblaws*, who are doing nothing with it right now. I live and work near Carlton St. and it saddens me everytime I go by it to see it sitting empty, unused, and abandoned. The building is an untapped goldmine that was once, and could be again, the hub of hockey culture.
The Marlies should play at Maple Leaf Gardens and not the Ricoh. Attendance and interest would at least double if they played in that location. It's so central, it's so easy to get to, and it conveys a sense of prestige and excitement. It's the difference between "going to a game" and "attending an event". To bring that atmosphere to the Marlies would be terrific for the fans, but also probably, the players.
Personally, I miss the Gardens so much. I used to say I would pay 20 bucks just to walk around inside the building. I'd easily pay $20 to skate on the ice. I just loved the way it felt to be there. Like a privilege. Like witnessing history. I've been to the Pyramids, I've been to the Coliseum, I've been to the Great Wall of China, and I'd put seeing a hockey game (or skating on the ice) at Maple Leaf Gardens in the same category of cultural richness. Seriously.
It is a hockey Mecca. It should be renovated to include a museum, or even better the Hockey Hall of Fame should be moved there. I don't like where the Hall is now, at the far end of a food court underneath BCE Place. It looks good on the outside at the old bank building on the corner of Yonge and Front, but that's not where the entrance is; the entrance is in a mall. Maple Leaf Gardens, itself a colossal monument of hockey history, would be a more appropriate location.
The Best Part Of The Idea!
The points above are good but the whole reason for doing any of it is this: the Maple Leafs should play 5 home games a season at Maple Leaf Gardens, one each against the other 5 Original Six teams. Each of these games could be billed as "black-tie" affairs, with huge mark-ups for ticket prices. Seats in the Reds and Golds could be like $300 and $500. Part of the revenue could be donated to a different charity for each game, and they could have food and clothing drives as well. Celebrities and Corporate sponsors could be honoured publicly at the games, while enjoying ultra-exclusive social functions before and after.
Imagine if tonight's game against the Habs was at the Gardens. The atmosphere would be electric. What a treat it would be to be able to attend that game, to be able to walk into the building, and feel the energy and the vibe, to know that something special was happening and to be a part of it. For when a building has seen so many wins and so many losses, they become part of the continuing story - the spirit of the audience, and while the results are recorded, it's the emotion that is remembered.
Tonight's game would have added excitement, not because of the points at stake in the standings, but because of the significance of the event. It'd be like having 5 outdoor games a year. Far more important then winning, would be the spirit of the occasion. On the other hand, with the uniqueness of the event, and a super-positive crowd buzzing like crazy, the Leaf players are sure to get a lift and be inspired to play a heck of a game. It would probably be just as exciting for them as it would be for us.
So let's make this happen, MLSE. Take your unimaginative hands out of those deep, deep pockets and admit it's a no-brainer. Forget about condos for one second and recognize that hockey is not a soul-less, plastic, pretentious exercise. It is an uplifting, joyous, meaningful - and yes, spiritual - experience, and Maple Leaf Gardens is my temple.
*As of November 21, 2007, no work on-site has occurred, other than some structural testing done prior to the sale to Loblaws. All plans for construction have been put on hold until at least 2008 due to the financial state of Loblaws.
On Monday, September 8, 2008, Matt Damon hosted a concert in support of the charity ONEXONE. It was the first concert at Maple Leaf Gardens in 8 years. Maple Leaf Gardens was last open to the public on October 4, 2008 as a part of Toronto's Nuit Blanche contemporary art celebration.
Peter Horachek with Greg Brady
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