Thank You, Ron Ellis

Mike AllderContributor IMarch 1, 2009

How many hockey fans, if you were to ask them, could actually remember that exact moment they became a fan of the sport?  Could they recall the exact  moment when they were seduced into becoming a lifetime hockey fanatic?   

My name is Mike Allder and I am a hockey addict.

After my parents had separated back in 1966, my mother took her two boys, I being the oldest at six years of age and sought refuge at her own mother’s house, a small bungalow in the Toronto suburb of Williowdale. We had very few possessions and the three of us shared a small back bedroom in the little white house. 

My mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness did everything she thought was right for us but her religion was her priority and I spent the next ten years following hers and the Bible's many over bearing commandments.

It was a Sunday afternoon I was in our living room where the big black and white Viking console television set seemed to be always on. This afternoon there was a hockey game being played and I just stood in front of the television and watched for a few minutes. I remember three things like it was yesterday.

One, a couple St Louis Blues logo's on the ice.

Two, Ron Ellis skating down the right wing and drifting a slap shot past St Louis goalie Glenn Hall.

Three. My mother telling me to turn the television off because I had to get ready for our Sunday meeting at the Kingdom Hall.

From that Sunday afternoon, I would be a different person. The change was not drastic and did not happen right away.  It happened gradually over the next two years until my mother finally got us our own apartment in a subsidized housing project affectionately known as the "Jungle".

While living at my grandmother's house, it was there in the other back bedroom I would find a big red duffle bag with a draw string that had a Montreal Canadiens crest on the bag with the letters C.C.M. The bag was buried in the closet and belonged to my uncle Richard who also shared the house with us. From what I could gather, it was Richard’s old bag of hockey equipment from his younger days when he would play at the old Mitchell Field, about a half hour walk from our house on Byng Avenue.

My brother and I were forbidden to go into Richard`s bedroom but one day I would succumb to my curiosity. I would disobey my mother and I would ravage that bag and try all the over sized equipment on.  

The bag contained old TruLine (TruLine was a name brand sold exclusively at Eaton’s Department Stores in Canada) hockey gear with Gordie Howe’s trade mark signature embossed on each piece. It had a musty smell and after trying it on to see if anything fit, I threw it back in the closet and never touched it again until many years later when my uncle moved out and my grandmother gave the bag of gear to me and my brother. I remember taking the long brown leather gloves.

My grandmother would have the Toronto Telegram delivered daily, this paper became my only link to my new world, the hockey world. I scoured the sports section every day during the hockey season. I read everything and quickly learned everything I could about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs played every Saturday night on television but watching Saturday night games would be next to impossible since my grandmother and mother would selfishly hog our only television every Saturday night to watch the weekly Lawrence Welk Show. 

During commercials I would quickly try to change the channel over to the game but that never sufficed since grandma was always afraid I would wear out her tuning knob or whatever the hell it was called. We had no remote control in the sixties and bedtime was usually at nine or nine thirtyish around the same time good old Lawrence Welk would wrap up and call it a day.

I attended Finch Avenue East Public School during the years we lived in Willowdale and it was at this school I would be introduced to hockey cards. Now I could carry hockey with me right in my pocket wherever I went.  I always had a stack of hockey cards with me.

I would study and memorize player’s stats and bios and nicknames. Did they shoot left or right?  What number did they wear on their uniforms? Did they tie their jersey or did they even have a lace?  I would even remember the actual card number.  I was slowly becoming a walking hockey encyclopedia but the best was about to come.

The best came in the form of a small blue covered paperback book titled 50 Years of Hockey, 1917-1967; An Intimate History of the National Hockey League by Brian McFarlane. This book would now become my Bible, my gospel and along with glossy black and white photos, every famous hockey story from the previous half century had been recaptured in print.

I probably read that book from cover to cover a half dozen times and vividly remembering the story of the Richard riot in Montreal along with that famous black and white photo of the Rocket and his fiery satanic eyes.

Stories of George Vezina, Howie Morentz, Eddie Shore, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Bill Barilko, I would read them all over and over again. It is too bad that during my school years we never had a hockey class, my mother would of been proud of all my straight A’s in at least one subject. School would have been much more enjoyable with math, hockey, geography, science, hockey, English and gym.

The Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in May of 1967 and I don’t remember anything from that team. It would be the Ron Ellis goal on Glenn Hall in St Louis the following season which would flip a switch inside my head and my crystal clear recollections would begin, seemingly lasting well over forty years.  

I have thought long and hard about how that afternoon triggered something deep inside my conscious out of which my love for hockey would be born.  I don’t understand how it happened and probably never will but I still find it amazing how I can remember my first hockey memory that being a single goal scored by Ron Ellis who scored 332 goals in his career. I would hazard a bet that even Mr Ellis would not remember his goal on that Sunday afternoon in St Louis.

When the three of us finally moved from Willowdale to the projects it would be on the same day that man landed on the moon, July 20, 1969. My mother had accumulated a few more possessions although our furniture was all second hand or had been taken from the garbage. My most valuable possessions were stored in one box. I had my hockey cards, brown hockey gloves, and my bible 50 Years of Hockey, 1917-1967; An Intimate History of the National Hockey League by Brian McFarlane.

As the decade of the sixties came to an end, the sport of hockey was quickly starting to consume my young life. Hockey was everything for me and has my mother started to get more involved in her religion hockey would become my escape. Although any addiction can be a negative, there was a very positive upside to my addiction though, no one ever died, or would die of an overdose.

Sadly in the "Jungle"  many would not be able to say the same.