Will Sean Avery wind up playing for the Toronto North Stars in the NHL?
As I sat on the shore of Lake Ontario at the Colonel Samuel Smith Park yesterday, missing the Penguins-Hurricanes game in the Stanley Cup semi-finals, I had a vision.
We were watching the lights along the margin of the bay of the cross-border region called "Tor-Buff-Chester". In case you never heard of it, Tor-Buff-Chester is the big urban area which stretches from Toronto through Buffalo to Rochester.
I had a vision of Sean Avery playing for the Toronto North Stars in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Malkin and Crosby were making life miserable for the 'Canes goalie, Cam Ward, winning 6-2.
Who are you calling hockey-mad?
My friend showed me the park. She said The Smith is one of Toronto's newest and largest waterfront parks. It's located in the community of New Toronto, just west of the downtown core.
Smith Park is almost 200 acres and it was created from lake fill in front of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.
This park with cobble beaches and protected wetland blending into the lawns of the former hospital grounds is known as "the jewel of the Lakeshore", Amy told me.
She was worried I might be obsessed with hockey and with one hockey player in particular. She thought it would be good for me to see the tranquil, waterfront sanctuary of wetlands, woods, shore and meadow, and to get away from hockey for a while.
The park turned out to be a short drive from downtown Toronto, where the Leafs play at the Air Canada Centre, below the CN Tower, and beside the domed home of the Toronto Blue Jays. From the park, we could see the brightly lit towers of Toronto, including the dome and the tallest free-standing structure on land in the world.
On the day Crosby, Malkin, and the Penguins won Game 3 of the NHL semi-finals and pushed the Canes to elimination, we made a pilgrimage to the place many believe the Stanley Cup belongs. And then it hit me...
What if the Dallas Stars filed for bankruptcy, right after the Phoenix Coyotes, and moved up north? Instead of the Coyotes moving to Hamilton, the Dallas Stars could become the Toronto North Stars. And what if Sean Avery had to rejoin the Stars and play hockey in his old stompin' grounds?!
We met at the Pickering Public Library, where I was Writer In Residence, and we traveled from Avery's old hometown up to the new urban area north of Toronto to see “Karshed”: Yousuf Karsh Selected Portraits at The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg.
We stopped at a new library in Markham, north of Toronto, where she worked. They decimated the Dewey decimal system and replaced it with a system that actually makes sense.
“Karshed” featured a collection of thirty rare, limited edition, portraits by Karsh, including Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill, Jacques Cousteau, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and many more shown exclusively at the McMichael.
Amy wanted to see Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Gertrude Stein. I wanted to see Muhammad Ali and Ernest Hemingway.
It reminded me of the Woody Allen routine that goes: "I was in Europe many years ago with Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had just written his first novel, and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said that is was a good novel, but not a great one, and that it needed some work, but it could be a fine book. And we laughed over it. Hemingway punched me in the mouth."
After three hours in the McMicheal, we felt karshed, so we had dinner in a restaurant in Kleinberg called Chartreuse. I said I wanted to go to Warren 77, the new restaurant in Manhattan, and watch Sean Avery punch somebody in the mouth.
The Chartreuse was a fine dining establishment with linen tableclothes, lace curtains, fresh roses, light classical music, and no big screen TVs showing the hockey game. We talked about Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and how Woody Allen said she punched him in the mouth.
After dinner, we drove down to Lake Ontario and that's when I had my vision. We watched the lights come on around the bay, in Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, St. Catherine's, and all the way to Port Dalhousie in the U.S.A.
We noticed that, away from the bright lights of the big city, you could see all the way across Lake Ontario to the lights of Rochester. After it got dark, we drove through downtown Toronto, along Lakeshore Drive, and then back to Pickering.
We saw a lot of sports bars with the big game on the big screen, but not many Torontonians were watching as there are no Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It felt all wrong to fly around the hockey hot-bed without seeing any signs of Stanley Cup fever at this time of year. In this part of the world, this year, people are more interested in the prospect of another NHL team moving to the Toronto area than watching Cam Ward trying to stop Crosby for the Carolina Hurricanes.
We look forward to the 2010 Olympics, when Crosby and Ward will be on the same team, and wonder if Team Canada will have a Sean Avery.
We worry about the war of words between the NHL and the groups that want to move a team from the American sunbelt to the country where hockey is a religion.
Everybody in Canada follows the battle between the BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, if not this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
There is little coverage of the story about the Phoenix Coyotes moving to Hamilton, Ontario, in the American media, but there are constant updates in Canadian media. The owner of the Coyotes is fighting for his team in bankruptcy court in the Arizona desert.
When the NHL and the owner got sent to mediation, I heard Balsillie on The FAN 590 say he saw it as a very good thing. Hockey fans north of the border struggled to share his optimism.
The latest news was that New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on the National Hockey League to ice the potential move of the Coyotes to Canada.
They sent letters to Bettman saying another hockey team close to Buffalo could cripple the health of the Sabres as the team relies on 20-percent of its revenue coming from fans living between Hamilton, Ontario and Buffalo.
The feeling shared by many hockey fans in southern Ontario at the moment is that Balsillie or another group will probably get another NHL team, eventually, but we won't see the Coyotes playing in Hamilton. A location north of Toronto looks more likely.
Hamilton is halfway between the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres, on the highway from Toronto to Detroit. There are fears an NHL team in Hamilton would be so popular, it would destroy the fanbase of the Sabres.
Also, it would interfere with the Red Wings desire to move into the Eastern Conference of the NHL and who knows how it would effect TV coverage on Hockey Night In Canada.
The proposed site for an NHL team just north of Toronto is in a city called Vaughan, which is growing fast. It was a small city when Wayne Gretzky played there for the Toronto Nationals of the now defunct Tier II Junior A league of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League.
The 14-year-old Gretzky went against the wishes of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to sign with the Nationals. He played two seasons with the team, scored 63 goals and got 132 points in just 60 games. The Nationals won the 1977 Metro championship, led by Gretzky with 75 points in 23 playoff games.
Now Vaughan is the home of Canada's Wonderland, the 330-acre theme park, as well as SkyDivers, the trampoline club, and Ritmika Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, which have produced national champions and Olympians, including Karen Cockburn, Jason Burnett, and Alexandra Orlando, on the trampoline and in rhythmic gymnastics.
I wrote books about Cockburn and Orlando and wanted to show my friend where they trained. Vaughan is now part of the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA.
The GTA is getting swallowed up by the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area, which will be one urban region wrapped around Lake Ontario from Rochester through Buffalo and Niagara Falls to Hamilton and Toronto, as well as Pickering and Oshawa. It will go north to Vaughan and then beyond.
Vaughan has grown so much it is ready to engulf the town of Kleineburg, the home of the The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which has a great collection of paintings by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven and Inuit artists.
At the McMicheal, we saw the pictures by the Canadian photographer who became the most famous and accomplished portrait photographer of all time. As I stared at his famous photo of Ernest Hemingway, I read about his time at the Toronto Star and noticed that the picture first appeared in LIFE magazine.
And who is featured in the current issue of LIFE? It's the hockey player so many love to hate, the superpest who got dumped by the Dallas Stars but made a big comeback with the New York Rangers this year. It turned out to be one of the best stories coming out of the NHL this year.
Hemingway would have loved it. Avery went to hell and back but now he is living the life of Riley in New York City.
Avery's former team, the Dallas Stars, is reportedly next in line for bankruptcy and relocation, after the Coyotes. Avery-haters will probably blame him for that, too.
The Stars, as hockey fans recall, were the Minnesota North Stars for 26 seasons, from 1967 to 1993. They made the NHL playoffs fifteen times, including a couple of appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals. In 1993, the franchise moved to Dallas, Texas, and became the Dallas Stars.
Maybe the Stars will move to Toronto, whether or not the Coyotes move to Hamilton. The Dallas Stars, relocated in Vaughan, north of Toronto, could be called the North Stars, again, changing the name to the North Toronto Stars or the Toronto North Stars.
The Stars are still on the hook for half the salary of Sean Avery, since they dumped him, but how can they pay it if they are bankrupt? It looks like he may have to leave New York City and go home to lead the new rivalry between North and downtown Toronto.
Anyway, that was the vision I had at the Smith Park by the old Lakeshore Psychiatric Institute on the shore of Lake Ontario in TorBuffChester while Toronto and Canada missed the Stanley Cup playoff semi-finals and finals.
Don't tell my friend that's what I was thinking of while we were at the new park watching the lights come on around Lake Ontario. She might make like Gertrude Stein and pretend I'm Ernest Hemingway, or Woody Allen, and punch me in the mouth.
(Good thing she's a pacifist and has never punched anyone!)