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My fiancee, young love and ex-Leaf goalie Gord McRae: How much does that guy make?

In 1977, I had recently met the young woman who would eventually become my wife of now some 30+ years.

When we first connected and started going out in the spring of 1977, I was also in the early stages of my time in the broadcast field.  I loved a lot of what I was doing, but made precious little in the way of an income.  My old high school chums claimed envy about my great job in broadcasting (albeit small-time broadcasting, such as it was at the time) covering sports.  They often said they would love to be doing what I had the privilege of doing.  But they were also, in most cases, making three times as much (or more) a year as I was. 

I didn’t see any of them actually giving up their jobs to try to break into my field…and I couldn't blame them.

I complained often in those early days about my paltry earning ability.  In any event, this all triggers a recollection of Mary-Louise and I attending a Maple Leaf game together.  Before I ever had a real, full-time job, I had managed to scrape together enough money during my university years to share a pair of Leaf season tickets with a long-time friend. 

You may wonder how a poor student (and I was) could afford that?  Well, Leaf tickets were not what they are now—completely out of reach of the everyday individual.

The seats were way up in the old “greys” at Maple Leaf Gardens.  (My friend and I had noticed an ad in the Toronto Star, I think it was, one morning early on in the 1975-’76 season, and we took the TTC down to the Gardens to grab the seats…)

The greys were as far up as you could go in the building, the “cheap seats” in the Gardens.  But our seats were at least between the blue line and center ice red line, so it wasn’t bad at all.  You had a great perspective on the play developing from way up their in the nose-bleed section.

And here’s the thing:  It was only $4 a ticket in those days and I lived very, very cheaply, otherwise.  It was an extravagance for a student, but a relatively inexpensive one.  (Can you imagine—$4 to see an NHL game, in a good, obstruction-free seat to watch Guy Lafleur, Bobby Orr, Marcel Dionne, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming…you get the idea…click here to read more)

Fast forward a bit and I was in the work-world,  gaining some experience in small-market radio.  I can’t recall precisely when Mary-Louise and I attended this particular game that is coming to mind.  It may have been in my “in-between jobs” period, or when we were back in the Toronto area visiting her family during my time working up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  I’m not quite sure.

But I believe it was during the 1977-’78 NHL season, probably the spring of ’78, before the playoffs.  We would have just been engaged at the time.  We were up in the greys.  It was hard to talk “hockey” since she wasn’t really exactly a keen fan of the sport.  She sort of tolerated it (still does…) So the conversation went different ways.  At one point I started grumbling, as I often did, about how little I was making, and how my old buddies were all doing much better than I, in terms of income.

Mary-Louise took all this in, and while she had precious little interest in or knowledge about hockey, she listened and watched the game unfold.

Something had obviously been brewing in her mind because, as the two teams were skating around the ice at the beginning of the third period, Mary-Louise leaned over and said, “Who is that guy”?  She was pointing out Gord McRae, the Leaf back-up goalie behind the very popular first-stringer, Mike Palmateer (right).  She had little idea who Mike Palmateer was, let along Gord McRae.

I said “Gord McRae.  Why?”

“Well, I’ve noticed that, before every period, he just skates around with his pads on, then when the game actually starts, he goes and sits at the end of the bench and just opens the door for the players coming on and off the ice.”

I said, “Yeah.  So…”

“Is that his job?”

“Pretty much, yeah” I indicated.

“How much does he make a year?”, she asked.

I responded, “About $60,000 a year”. (That was not a bad NHL salary for a back-up goalie at the time, if I’m remembering correctly—and far more than the “average” person was making in those days, not to mention me...I was maybe making $7,000 a year.)

After a pause, Mary-Louise said, “Well, you could do that”.

I knew she was being funny, but I've always kidded her that, with her not being a hockey fan, maybe she figured anyone could just audition for the “skate-around” job.  In any event, it caught me off guard and just cracked me up.

After a pause and some laughter, I assured her that, despite my earlier complaints, that particular job was not available—and not possible for me.  I explained, “You see where that other goalie (Palmateer) is?  Well, every once in a while, maybe every 7 or 8 games, that McRae guy has to go stand where Palmateer does and face those shots- in a game.”

“Oh…” was her reply, still playing along.

Motivational speakers will tell us “we can be anything we want to be”.  Well, no matter what, I was never going to be a goalie, even a back-up goalie.  No matter how much I might have been able to earn.  But I’ll never forget Mary-Louise asking that question.  It was the perfect topper on our night out at the Gardens.

I still laugh about it.

Maybe you've had a wonderfully light-hearted moment with your partner and best friend, who may like hockey a bit (lot..) less than you.  Share any stories that you can tell in public....


  1. Great story, Michael. I don't have a hockey-related story that includes my wife but your post made me recall another story that you may or may not remember.

    This probably happened in early '76 or '77. It was a night when you and I and a couple other buddies went to the Gardens for a Saturday night game - somehow you or one of the other guys managed to wrangle an extra couple of seats besides the ones in the greys so we could all go although I don't believe we all sat together.

    Since we were going to the Hot Stove Lounge between periods and after the game, we were all dressed up in suits/jackets and ties. After a game, it wasn't uncommon for some of the Leafs to walk through the lounge dressed in their suits on their way out of the Gardens. I recall seeing a few of them that night though I don't remember now who they were.

    Anyway, after a few drinks, we decided it was time to head out. As we stepped out, I was surprised to see a number of young kids still hanging around outside the door looking for autographs. I must have been the first one out the door because I recall being besieged by a number of them.

    I tried to tell them that I wasn't a player, just a hockey fan, and started walking away. A couple of them persisted and began following me. At the time I was wearing a knee-length long leather winter coat, maybe it looked like something a player would wear, I don't know.

    After continuing to refuse them, I saw the look of disappointment on their faces (I can't imagine who they thought I was, because I certainly didn't look like a player!). So I had this idea.... nobody recognizes the backup goalie, right? Especially one that plays more infrequently than most.

    So I grabbed their papers or magazines or whatever it was they gave me (I can't recall) and purposely illegibly scrawled the name of the backup goalie and then quickly took off. I was afraid the rest of the horde would come running for autographs too, or maybe the real backup goalie would actually come out and start signing!

    Many times over the last 35+ years when I've thought about that story, I could never remember who that goalie was. I just knew he didn't play much and wasn't with the Leafs very long. After today's post Michael, I believe you've answered the riddle - it must have been Gord McRae!

    Gord, if you're reading this, I apologize for signing your name (not that the two kids could possibly make it out), I just wanted to make a couple of young kids happy.

    And if you're one of those young kids who's reading this now, I hope you bragged to your friends at school the following Monday about the autographs you got!

  2. Gene...thank you for a wonderful memory. You know, I would not, off the top of my head, have remembered that night, but I do know- including your coat, which was a very nice coat and may well have given youngsters around the Gardens the notion that you were a player, and maybe even a Maple Leaf.

    Great days, great to be young back then. Thanks Gene.

  3. I was born in 1977. So there's that. :) Great story!

    My early Leaf games were also in the greys, up in that fog of smoke, before you weren't allowed to smoke inside. My uncle or my dad usually took me. It's true, tickets were available, but not given away (like Blue Jays tickets today, for example). It was special, but not crazy special.

  4. JTL..those were wonderful times. Sounds like you would have been attending games in the '80s, up in the greys. Great seats.

    Thanks for posting- glad you've found the site!

  5. Those are wonderful stories which would be difficult to match. I certainly cannot, but I have a little anecdote that animal lovers might find amusing. A couple of years ago my wife and I saw an all-white cat at our local exhibition put on display by the Humane Society. While they were not able to place him in a home, they told us he worked as a “therapy cat” comforting the elderly, infirm and terminally ill. We had planned a camping vacation up north, and while impressed with his gentle nature, we put the animal in the back of our minds until we returned home. I should add that this older cat is unusually large for a domestic cat with a healthy chunk of his left ear missing and more than a few battle scars that attest to time spent on the streets. The best way to describe him is that if he was human, he would be like one of those 6’10” 375 pound linemen that pass through Saskatchewan on a regular basis to play professional football, titans on the gridiron with kind and gentle dispositions in real life.

    Upon returning from a camping trip we enquired if he was still available and pulled him out of a cage, where he seemed like a creature who had given up all hope. It didn’t take him too long to fit in our messy household. His gentle disposition includes an unwarranted tendency to cower, betraying probable ill treatment by human hand at some point in his life. In time, on account of a permanent smile pasted on his face, we gave him the name “Buddha” usually contracted to a simple “Boo”. Recently I went outside to break up a disagreement between Boo and the toughest, meanest looking cat in the area, one who lives in the nearby exhibition grounds. If I am not mistaken, the tough guy, who we nickname “Scruffy”, seemed relieved by my intervention. Even if he is the most reluctant of fighters, Boo’s gigantic stature must intimidate other animals.

    I know that some, particularly those without pets, may find this hard to believe, but Boo soon became a dedicated hockey fan. Whenever a hockey game comes on the television (not a movie or anything else mind you) he comes running from wherever he happens to be, jumps onto my lap and remains glued there, staring at the game from beginning to end. He rarely moves once the game starts and jumps down from my lap at its conclusion. While this may seem odd, it gets even stranger. When the Leafs score and I let out a cheer, the normally quiet Boo cries out as well and rolls around and stretches out in celebration. If the opposing team scores, he turns to look at me, sees my disgruntled expression and responds with an expression his own, which looks all the world like the word “harrumph”.

    Being a Leaf fan outside of the GTA can be a lonely endeavour at times. Without doubt, my friends and family are mystified by my dedication to a team that struggles so mightily. I usually watch the games alone, or without human company at least. Not unlike this cat, who surely thought that he was never going to get a chance at another home, I did not think I would find another being with which to share my passion for watching Leaf games. Imagine my surprise that the one who finally shares this pleasure turns out to be a domestic cat!

  6. Bobby and your wife gave "Boo" an extra life, which is a wonderful thing. He's obviously given you something special in return.

    The fact that his association with you has evidently turned him into a Leaf fan fits in with his history of having had a tough life. He is well prepared to handle it, though!

    Thanks for a great story, Bobby....

  7. Enjoyed your backup goalie story, Michael. I attended all Maple Leafs games during the 1957-58-59 seasons but I was not as lucky as you to have a seat. I stood in line for standing room seats @ $1.00, usually in the "greys" just above the "greens", as I remember. I was generally one of the first 20 or 30 to rush through the gate when the Gardens doors opened. Ed Chadwick and Bruce Gample were Leafs goalies in those days.

  8. Thanks for posting on this one, Webmaster...interesting that you mention Chadwick and Gamble. Chadwick was one of the very first Leafs I "remember" as a kid in the late '50s...and I've also posted a few times on Gamble here.

    A dollar to see an NHL game...amazing. Even for "standing room", that's something. Thanks for sharing...