Cheering hockey fans chased away the silence at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night. It may not have been for the Toronto Maple Leafs – but it was an object lesson in the love of the game.
Too bad NHL chief Gary Bettman wasn’t there. He’d have re-discovered that hockey’s not just about money, drawing battle lines, quibbling about how to divvy up billions of dollars. It’s about teams working hard to get the fans to come out, players putting their all into delivering a good game and fans coming out to cheer them on.
Poor, lonely, ACC has seen very little hockey enthusiasm this season – the only real treat for fans was the Legends Classic game on Sunday Nov. 11 during Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend. But the Toronto Furies women’s hockey team marked the opening of their season at the ACC against Team Alberta – with a free game – Saturday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs has just signed a partnership deal with the team to provide support and $30,000 a year to offset the cost of coaching and equipment.
Despite the fact that this game wasn’t widely publicized, word spread quickly within the hockey community.
The one moms and dads and coaches donate their time to.
For the love of the game.
Legions of girls showed up in their own team jerseys – Etobicoke Dolphins, Scarborough Sharks – and watched these women take over the ACC. They are role models for these young girls – who want to be a Sami Jo Small or Hayley Wickenheiser as much as young boys dream of being a Jonas Gustavsson or Mats Sundin. And on Saturday night they showed them a blend of hard playing, strength and humility.
Every time they scored the fans, who numbered about 3,000, were so noisy you’d think the Leafs had taken the ice. They were screaming. Jumping up and down. Clapping to the beat. Enjoying every second of ice time these players had to offer.
And the players were enjoying it right back.
At the end of the game, they thanked the fans for coming out – the whole team turning to the crowd and tapping their sticks on the ice to say thanks. The captain of the Furies took a mike in her hand and thanked the fans for their support.
The fans screamed their love. And everybody left that building feeling good (except, perhaps, Team Alberta; it left nursing a 3-0 shut-out).
The girls are learning from their idols what the game of hockey is really all about.
Could you imagine that happening at an NHL game?