Worshipping at the temple of hockey

(This post originally appeared on my old Open Salon blog on March 15, 2009)

It's hard to pay attention to the Stanley Cup when this is overhead

Hockey and I, we go way back.

I’ve pretty much been a hockey fan, in particular, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, since I was born.  Some of my earliest memories when I was a kid was of me watching Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night.  My parents allowed me to watch the first period and the ever-popular Peter Puck cartoon at the first intermission, then I was supposed to go to sleep.  My dad would later carry me up to bed.

Little did my parents know that I would put my head under the covers and strategically peek out from the blankets so I could watch the rest of the game while I was “sleeping.”

Sorry, mom and dad.

So when you eat, sleep and breathe hockey like I do, where do you go to revel in its history and even touch it?  The Hockey Hall of Fame, of course.

Hockey temple

The Hockey Hall of Fame, whose French name is Temple de la renommée du hockey, really is a temple and it looks like one.  The building is in an old Bank of Montreal building on the corner of Yonge and Front Streets in downtown Toronto.  The picture above of the stained glass is in the main hall, which happens to be where the Stanley Cup is held in a place of honor, along with other major hockey trophies.  The hall is grand and beautiful and full of history, just like the Cup itself.

And there's a lot of intricate woodwork as well

Never before have banks (even ex-banks) looked so awesome.

The extra bonus of the grand hall is that the old vault is still in use – for the rings of the Stanley Cup.  Have you ever noticed that the Cup never keeps getting bigger, despite its age?  That’s because each of those silver bands around the Cup are actually long strips of silver that, as the Cup gets filled up with names, are removed in order of seniority.  They are then placed in the old bank vault to remain on display.

I may be a little biased, but I’m pretty impressed with the presentation of the exhibits in the Hall of Fame.  There’s a lot of history to display and it’s done in an informing but not too overwhelming way.

Hockey collections

There are a lot of nods to history.  If you’re a hockey fan, you know.  There’s a lot of that.

Moth eaten

This jersey was worn by Marshall Johnson during the 1964 Winter Olympic games in Austria, but with the holes and wear, it looks as if it should be much older.

This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens, which is being celebrated in grand style with a display of it’s own.

Celebrating 100 years of Les Canadiens

The smell of history in this area is just intoxicating.  And, to add to the fan experience, you can even walk into a full sized mock up of the Montreal dressing room in the old Forum.

It's the Canadiens 100 birthday, so they had a mockup of the dressing room in the Hall of Fame

Some displays get more attention than others, like this one for some guy, Wayne Whatshisname…

The Gretzky display

There are also a lot of items that are firsts in hockey history.  Some people may be surprised to know that goalies didn’t always wear helmets while standing guard against 100 mph pucks.  Of course, these often ended in bloody disaster.  It wasn’t until 1959 that Jacques Plante, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, got hit in the face by a shot that literally changed the face of the game forever.  After being stitched up in the locker room, Plante refused to return to the ice until his coach allowed him to wear the mask you see below.  He lead the Canadiens to a 3-1 victory over the Rangers that night and never went bare faced in the net again.

First version of a hockey mask.

Also fun to see are the collections of hockey paraphernalia.  There’s old hockey cards, breakfast cereals with various hockey players emblazoned on the boxes, albums, magazines – you name it.  If it has something to do with hockey, it’s in the Hall of Fame.

If it's related to hockey, the Hall of Fame has it

Since the majority of hockey fans are also players, there are some great interactive exhibits too.  You can get in goal yourself (complete with goalie mask, gloves and stick) and stop sponge pucks that are shot at you, or even go one-on-one with a virtual goalie to try to get your best slap shot into the net. Or, if you’re not feeling too brave, you can sit in the stands and cheer on other visitors who are.  If you think your talents are better behind the microphone, you can call your very own play-by-play of classic games.

I didn’t do any of those when I was visiting.  I’ve done them in the past, but to be honest, there was one major reason for my visit.

I gave the Stanley Cup a BIIIIIIIIG hug

I wanted to touch the Stanley Cup.  So I got in line with my mom and we had our pictures taken with it.

I gave it a really big hug.  And for the record, it smells like your grandmother’s silver teaspoon set.


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