Hodge Podge by Charlie Hodge – April 21st, 2017
There is no more Sing’s Cafe and no more Syd Hodge – but there is hope .And that hope regurgitates marvelous memories from my equally marvelous childhood in the Okanagan. I cannot recall the exact date but the rest of the memory is burned into my brain forever. After all, how many kids get to enjoy a scrumdilicous cheese burger and chocolate shake with Eddie Shack?Like the majority of Canadian kids I grew up fixated with the sport of hockey and, also like many Canadian kids, ‘my team’ was the Toronto Maple Leafs. Perhaps because that was my Dad’s team, or perhaps simply because the only other Canadian team in the NHL was the hated Montreal Canadians. In the 1960’s the choice was simple – you either adored the Leafs or Habs – and despised the other.The only other distinct line in the sand regarding loyalty back then was whether you were a good, God-fearing defender of democracy – or an evil closet Communist.Things were a lot simpler back then.But I digress.For an 11-year old boy the Toronto Maple Leafs were right up there on par with the Beatles or GI Joe as far as heroes go, and since I’d recently been deflated by acknowledgement that Santa did not really exist in human form – legitimate heroes were hard to find. For me, Davey Keon, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower and a wild, wacky talented guy named Eddie Shack were immortals wearing a stunning blue and white super hero costume with a giant maple leaf on their chests.Shack had been an outstanding junior hockey star in Ontario, however since the NHL draft did not exist back then NHL teams simply signed players to lists. Some players belong to teams by territory while others signed promissory notes with various clubs.Former NHL Calder Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup leaf veteran Howie Meeker was assigned to scout a junior game featuring youngster Bobby Hull. However Meeker was more impressed with a lanky forward from the opposing club, the Guelph Biltmore’s, and wrote Leaf owner Conn Smythe saying so.The Leafs eventually failed to sign either player initially, however after two seasons with the New York Rangers Shack wound up traded to the Leafs in the 1960-61 season. For the next six seasons Shack thrilled fans with his skill and antics, culminating in the Leafs winning their final cup in 1966-67 (beating the hated Habs in six games).As thrilling as that Cup winning day was, it never matched a magic afternoon the summer before.Dad worked with Royal Trust so was invited to the annual high fluting Bank of Montreal Hochelega Mansion garden party, a social event for local mucky mucks featuring food, booze and celebrities. Shack, who was in town for a fund raising Hockey Spectacular game was at the event.Dad, seeing raucous Eddie standing out like a uncomfortable sore thumb in the crowd approached him. Within minutes Dad convinced Eddie to slip away for a burger and beer downtown. The two of them picked me up on route to local popular restaurant Sing’s Cafe.When I saw who was in the front seat of the car my jaw dropped.For the next hour and a half I sat with eyes bulging and hamburger half eaten as Eddie Shack entertained us. I thought I had literally died and gone to heaven.The following season (May 4, 1966-67 to be precise) the Leafs won their final cup. Dad and I were delirious. However, less than a week later the Leafs traded Eddie to the pathetic Boston Bruins.That was the day I stopped cheering for the Toronto. I hated the Leaf management of Ballard, Smythe, and cronies for how they treated Keon, Brewer, Shack, and others and decided to follow my heart with Eddie. The Bruins had a new kid in town named Orr and he looked pretty good.This season, with the old ownership and management finally gone, pompous Phil Kessel traded, and the Leafs bringing in classy Mike Babcock – I decided to rekindle my love for the Leafs.I never imagined how much fun and thrills rookies Mathews, Marner, Nylander and others would kindle in Leaf Land in one short year.While the Leafs are currently battling the best team in the NHL in what ‘s now a best-of-three series, there is still cause for joy. The odds are against Toronto progressing any further. However, for this brief week there is genuine hope and joy once again for Leaf fans.I’ve dusted off my sweater, pulled out my autographed picture of Eddie Shack, and am fully prepared to believe in dreams yet again.Go Leafs Go.