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An idea to stimulate some energy at the ACC—and give something back

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, I remember that, once a year on Hockey Night in Canada, the Leafs (and CBC) would sort of jointly host what I think was called “Young Canada Night”.  For all I know it’s still going on, just in a slightly different format, perhaps.  If it ended at some point (I’m guessing in the ‘70s but I don’t really know), I don’t honestly recall when or why the idea died.

In truth, I can’t really recall a lot of details.  It was “Young Canada Night”, yes, and there were quite a number of young fans at Maple Leaf Gardens in attendance at the annual mid-season game.  I seem to recall it was held in early December, but it might just as well have been January or February.  My memory is pretty fuzzy on the details.

It was always, I believe, held on a Saturday night.  One other little detail that stands out at this Bill Hewitt, son of the legendary Maple Leaf play-by-play man Foster Hewitt, would invite his son (Bruce?), who was maybe all of 10 years old or thereabouts, to call the game each year live for a couple of minutes in the second period.  It was simple, old-fashioned stuff, but was kind of a nice touch—especially considering the Hewitts’ were the historic name in Leaf TV and radio broadcasting in those golden days.

There was always way more energy in the Gardens when all those kids were in the building.  Let’s face it, Leaf home games have long had an opera-like feeling about them.  I know that everyone got dressed up in the ‘50s.  That wasn’t just the style, it was necessary if you sat in the lower bowel (originally the old “reds”, later transformed into “gold” seats when Harold Ballard owned the team in the ‘70s…) In the Conn Smythe and early Stafford Smythe (Stafford is seen at left) Maple Leaf ownership years years, the season-ticket holders and their guests had to wear a blazer and tie.  If I’m not mistaken, it was part of the season-ticket holder agreement.  Ushers wouldn’t let you in your seat if you weren’t appropriately dressed.

That’s not exactly the “standard” dress today, though the modern-day “platinum” seats still generally draw a rather lackluster crowd in terms of the noise they generate.  (It’s hard to make noise when the seats are empty, eh?)

In any event, my point is that while the Leafs obviously have great fans that support this franchise—inside and outside of the building—our home games are not always the loudest. But “inside” the home building, it’s often too quiet a place.  Oh, some fans get noisy when the Leafs score, of course.  But generally speaking, if you eliminated the unnecessary (and blaring) music and loud announcements, people mostly   watch the game.  They don't always exactly inspire the home side to a better effort.

Maybe we are too analytical.  Partly, it could be that fans were reserved because of the way the building was constructed in the old Gardens.  The seats were built “up and out”, if you know what  I mean.  The further you went up, the further you were away from the play.  I know buildings are pretty much all like that nowadays, but in the “old days”, (and I used to go to a fair number of games at the old Olympia in Detroit when I was a kid in the early and mid- '60s), some of the American venues had balconies that hung over the ice.  It kept the fans close to the action, and the crowd at smaller rinks like Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden and the venerable Chicago Stadium, all smaller rinks (not to mention Detroit, which was the regulation 200 feet in length but still awfully noisy…), could really intimidate the opposition.

It was/is rarely that way in Toronto, where our crowds, while certainly supportive, would generally be much more subdued.  We tend to sit back, watch and analyze (I admit I did when I went to a lot of games as a young man in the ‘70s…although, in fairness, I was usually waiting for something bad to happen).  We aren’t exactly the “7th man” on the ice…

But let me shift to my real thought today.  Maybe I’ve touched on this before (apologies if I have), but along with creating a bit more energy and noise at the ACC, what I have in mind would hopefully also be nice gesture on behalf of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.  Here’s the thought (I’m not suggesting this is unique or has never been discussed by others before): why would the Leafs not have one game a season where, say, 5,000 kids under the age of 14 would get into a Leaf game for free?

It could be part of the season-ticket package.  Regular season-ticket holders would give up their tickets (they wouldn’t have to pay for that game, the Leafs would pick up the cost) and those duckets could be distributed in an organized fashion to kids who would, say, perhaps otherwise never be able to afford such an experience.  It could be arranged through Big Brothers and Big Sisters for example, or alternatively, tickets could go to families who entered a raffle, or something along those lines.  The idea, in any event, would simply be to get a lot of kids into the building (for free, and MLSE could throw in some passes to ensure the youngsters would get a soft drink and a bit of food at no cost) either with their father/mother/guardian, or again, through some appropriate organization that would ensure deserving kids had a chance to go.

Over the course of a few years, a lot of kids would get to a game that might otherwise never get to an NHL game in Toronto.  I realize that the Leafs, as a business entity, exist to make money.  They are a for-profit organization.  I have no idea what it would cost them, but hey, if you consider that they seem to have survived quite nicely financially (what did the franchise just get sold for?) all these years without even making the playoffs—not one playoff gate since 2004, eh—they could surely handle this bit of generosity.  If they can easily absorb the loss of projected playoff revenue every spring as they have in recent years, couldn't they subsidize precisely this kind of undertaking, especially if they started making the playoffs?

I know the Leafs already do a lot of “good will” community stuff and I applaud them for that.  The team has always done that as long as I can remember (Easter Seals was a major area of support when the Smythes' ran the team, as I recall) and will no doubt continue to give back.  Individual players, like Curtis Joseph when he was with the Leafs, did a lot to help youngsters, too.

But this would be something truly special—and something above and beyond.  It would create memories for a lifetime for kids who would surely love and appreciate the opportunity.  And even the organization’s self-interest would be served.  Can you imagine how much publicity they would generate and receive if they opened the entire building one game a year to kids and their families/guardians?

But in the absence of such corporate largesse, I’d settle for, as I mentioned above, say 5,000 seats being donated by MLSE.  I’d be happy if the players also got together and did something similar, but I won't get greedy.  If corporate Leaf partners, or corporate sponsors, etc. wanted to contribute as well, all the better.  But this would have to come from MLSE.  They can afford it, and I would argue they owe it to the community that has supported them.

It’s not only the wealthy or those with money, or hugely profitable banks and other sponsoring companies and advertisers that “pay” for the Leafs to operate. It is everyday fans, including all those kids all those years who listened to Leaf games on their old transistor radio tucked under their pillow when they were supposed to be in bed, in what I remember as the good old days.  It’s those kids then and now who loved/love hockey and the Leafs—whether they contribute by “paying” for things are not- that help to keep Leaf pride alive and well.

Pay them back, MLSE.  Do it.


  1. Great idea, Michael!

    It would be wonderful to 'give back' something to the kids (who may well become greatly enamoured of the team and be future supporters - if they aren't already).

    Perhaps MLSE will find it hard to implement quickly, but what if they transitioned into the regular season idea by doing this during the pre-season! Great way to create a buzz right away, and see what it might do in the larger picture down the road.

    I like the way you're thinking here! Hopefully MLSE will catch the vision...

  2. Thanks InTimeFor62. I'm sure I'm not the first to propose something along these lines, but with the new ownership now in place, wouldn't it be timely and a nice way to truly give back?

  3. I know the seats weren't the best at the old Gardens, but calling it "the lower bowel" may be going too far!
    I seem to recall that, originally, Foster let Bill call a few minutes during Young Canada Night...
    Since MLSE sees fit to charge season ticket holders full price for exhibition games, I doubt they'd pick up the cost for kids' tickets. However, I understand they do something similar for our troops on one night a year, (though I'm not sure ticket holders get a credit).
    I love the idea of setting a game aside for all the kids who might never get a chance to see a live game. Great suggestion!

  4. I think you're right, Gerund O', that Bill started off his broadcasting career with Foster letting him get a few minutes in on Young Canada Night, as Bill did with his son in later years.

    Yes, whether the Leafs would ever consider this suggestion, who knows?

    Thanks Gerund O'...

  5. I remember the last time you posted this idea, Michael. I like it then and I still like it now, particularly after attending this past Saturday's "Jays Kids" game at the Rogers Centre. It was fantastic to see the families that came out. I noticed an uptick in grandparents attendance as well -- I gotta believe an initiative such as this would bring out more than just kids. My girlfriend was reminiscing about her time as a Jays Kid when she was younger -- seemed like great memories.

  6. Thanks Steve. (I rarely go to Jays games anymore; I used to take our sons when they were kids. But I also was there this past Saturday with my better half and all our boys and their wives because it was a chance for us all to get together in one place...You're right, it was a great atmosphere.)

    I think you're absolutely on the money when you say it would connect with entire families as well. Memories would be created, for sure. All it would cost MLSE is a little money...

  7. Hi Michael,

    Great idea and I agree fully. Loading the building up with kids is just one way to inject some life into an atmosphere that often seems to swing between "pensive" and "morose". Might result in an extra win or two on one of those dull Tuesday night games against a Southeast opponent. However to get the building back to being an intimidating place to play, only one thing will do: playoff games. The cheering of kids is all well and good, but it's nothing compared to the can't-hear-yourself-think din of the 19,000+ who are lucky enough to be there when the Leafs finally return to the postseason. I imagine nobody in the building will be seated for the entire game as fans will have such an enormous amount of pent up frustration and, let's face it, joy, to release.

    Right now too many Ontario-born players come into the ACC raring to play the game of their lives in front of 20+ family and friends, and they are allowed to get comfortable by the subdued atmosphere and the generally poor quality of the opposition. Only once the city truly believes that the Leafs are back and ready to do some damage will the ACC become a building teams don't want to play in.

  8. It's so true, Mills- we need a playoff atmosphere to jump start the passion and the interest inside the building. And I totally agree, I'd love for the ACC to become a place that other teams don't want to visit (finally). It's too comfortable a visiting spot for too many players, as you mention, and it's been this way forever, it seems.

    My thought would hopefully do something for kids...even as a one-time thing...Thanks Mills.

  9. Hi Michael,

    Well, it's not on as grand a scale, nor it is MLSE specifically holding out the tickets, but they do something like this already:

    For many kids, the opportunity to experience the excitement of a Leafs game simply does not exist. However, through the MLSE Team Up Foundation’s Give-A-Kid-A-Game ticket donation program, Season Seat Holders can make this a reality. In partnership with Kids Up Front Toronto, donated tickets are distributed to local youth-based charitable organizations.

    The season's ticket holder gets a tax receipt for the face value of the ticket.

    I would imagine it is logistically near impossible to organize even 1000 season ticket holders to all give up the same game. Or even to declare a game unavailable to the season ticket holders, even for a charitable event. This way at least they have the option.

    Of course, you can't legislate charity. I would imagine that seasons tix held by major corporations either donate some on their own, or simply have few to donate once all interested parties have picked their games. Those held by smaller businesses and individuals, once you have chosen your games you want to see, and given a couple pairs away as birthday and Xmas gifts, you may have few left.

    I used to know a guy who was part of a group of about 4 guys who bought seasons tix. Once the 4 of them picked their games (MTL, BOS, PIT, etc, big games), they sold the rest, mostly to cover their costs. Generally they had about 10 or 12 games of the 41 available, and they had no problems adding a not-so-small service fee onto the price. Back then I was single and flush with cash, so a friend and I bought 8 pairs for a few years running, and we'd use them to take dates or each other to games. We'd generally get stuck with MIN, FLA, CBJ games like that (this was in the Mike Murphy and Pat Quinn eras, so those were not great teams). But, it was a point of access to see games anyway.

    The point was that I wonder how season tix holders would react being told that game X was not part of their package, even if for charity. Probably not as poorly as I think, but you never know... some folks just prefer not to be told they have to give something up.

  10. Thanks for sharing that information, Mark.

    I'd still love to see an organized event. As you say, some season-ticket holders might not like it, but too bad. Since they wouldn't have to pay for the tickets, they're not losing anything. And if it was a game against, say, Columbus, they'd miss nothing, but it sure would be a thrill for kids who've never been to a Leaf game before.

    It's probably not realistic, but I honestly believe if MLSE wanted to, this could happen. Thanks Mark.

  11. I seem to remember Foster having young Bill do some play by play too. Also, I think Young Canada Night was always the Sat night before Christmas.
    How was the ticket situation handled in those days? How were so many kids at the game that night? Anyone know?

  12. That's a very good question, Ed. I, too, wonder what the arrangement was in those days to ensure there were so many kids in the building.

    Surely, with the sophisticated marketing and communication approaches available today, MLSE could organize something on a much bigger scale to connect with the community- especially kids who may not otherwise ever get to a game...