The Lighter Side of Hockey: A Toronto Maple Leafs Christmas Story
Ah yes, Christmas. A time to spend with family and friends, sip eggnog, and receive cards from people you weren't sure still existed.
It's the most wonderful time of the year (though some would argue playoff time rivals it) and allows people to take a few days and step back from their lives and enjoy the holiday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, though mired in yet another slump, still took some time out of their busy losing schedule to hold their annual Christmas Party. Here is an eyewitness account of the night that was.
It all began with rumours swirling about Tomas Kaberle. His father was accused of telling a Czech newspaper that his son not only hated the team's coach, Ron Wilson, but would not be attending the evening's festivities because of it.
Amidst the speculation Kaberle showed up, and walked in the room wearing a large white beard. I sheepishly asked him who he was supposed to be and he replied,
He couldn't be reached for comment at the time, but word is GM Brian Burke supported Kaberle's beard at the party, and would not ask him to remove it under any circumstances.
The Leafs trusty GM was actually said to be back in Vancouver, spending quality time with the boys rather than the team. He sure does love his Sedin twins.
When asked earlier about what he wanted to find under his tree on Dec. 25, Burke replied, "all I want for Christmas is two front Leafs."
Tables were set and players assigned seating, though during the meal Wilson continually ran around telling the players to switch to a different table, not settling with keeping one group together for an entire night.
Though one player, Mikhail Grabovski, was seated alone at a table in the corner. I walked over to inquire as to why, but understood once seeing the table card which read "Reserved for Top Six Forwards".
Just then J.S. Giguere walked in the door, gave a wave to those around him, and abruptly pulled his groin. He's out three to six weeks.
Suddenly, panic ensued and out from the kitchen burst the head chef. "Fire Wilson, Fire!" The Leafs coach, sick of hearing fans call for his job at home games burst out of the room in a rage, sickened at the poor attempt at a joke.
"No, really," the chef pleaded, "there's a fire in the kitchen."
Common misunderstanding, but Wilson doesn't pay any attention to it at Leaf games, clearly.
A while later, from across the room, Colton Orr—the only player on the team old enough to drink—calls out to captain Dion Phaneuf to fire him a beer.
The fearless captain obliges and rockets a bottle 16 feet wide of his intended target.
Soon appetizers are available at the front table and as the players line up to gather a few finger foods, youngster Nazem Kadri looks to bud in line. Mike Komisarek, the trusty blue liner and his pal Francois Beauchemin don't find this appropriate and look to block the rookie.
Beauchemin lies on the ground, tripping Komisarek who stumbles off to the side and lands in a heap on the floor.
Kadri steps untouched to the table and collects his food.
Later, after recovering alone in the hallway, Wilson returned to the room and raised a glass to the players in a toast.
"Here's a toast to the second half of the season. May we forget the struggles we've been through, the lack of goal scoring, and questionable defensive play. May we forget that Phil Kessel is being outperformed by a player who makes the news more for fighting woman in bars than scoring goals, or that our leading scorer is a castoff from the Atlanta Thrashers. May we move on from terrible decisions by coaching staff, like sending Keith Aulie back to the minors and inserting Brett Lebda."
"Here's to Tyler Bozak, the feisty centerman who wouldn't make any other team in the NHL, or John Mitchell, who wouldn't make the ECHL, that they may finally learn to score. Or pass. Or demand to be sent to the minors."
"Let us now look to the future, where there will be no more losing, no more booing, and no more nights of answering the same old questions of why this club can't perform. Let us look towards the playoffs, that we may end the misery of this city and find ourselves back in the fight for the Stanley Cup."
"Cheers gentlemen, may we forget about the past and everything that reminds us of the depressing state of our sad team."
Just then, out came a line of servers pushing tables of glorious smelling food, followed by the chef who walked right up to Wilson carrying a plate of food.
"First up, waffles."
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