Before 1995 I was at BEST a passive Hockey fan. Sure I had seen the Blackhawks on TV in the playoffs a couple maybe a few times before this, but I never was anything close to a puck head. I cheered the Blackhawks chiefly because they were from Chicago. I remember the first series of Wolves commercials as well, I mean Christ they were suggesting throwing raw steaks on the ice for Hat Tricks vice Hats. In High School in the early '90's I remember a friend of mine being bummed about the 1995 lockout (my times have changed, wait, what?) and how he talked about players, to be entirely honest for the most part I never heard of. I think I knew who JR and the Eagle were, but Michel Goulet? Who the Fuck names their son a girls name (expect Johnny Cash and his boy named Sue). To be frank, I knew jack and shit about hockey before a fateful night, November 24, 1995.
The crazy thing about that night, it had almost NOTHING to do with the Blackhawks! Except for a brief 1 hour excursion to Sault St. Marie Ontario with my Grandparents earlier in the year, I had never left the United States. I was working for Motorola in Libertyville, and decided for a scheduled Holiday layoff period, I would go to Toronto. It was a city outside the US, and a city that always intrigued me, it had SkyDome (now Roger Centre) the CN Tower was close to Niagara and was as already stated, in another Country. So I made plans a set off to Toronto in late November 1995.
I stayed at the Days Inn Toronto on Carlton ST. I went to CN Tower, SkyDome ate at the Hard Rock in Right Field, the Blue Jays were done playing, but the Field was set up for the CFL on my tour of the stadium. After a day or two of seeing the sights of Toronto, which is a fabulous City to visit, I was resting in my hotel one night on the 14th floor (I remember it was the 14th because their was no 13th floor in the Hotel, which it seems is fairly common). I heard a bunch of commotion outside, even from that height. I looked out the window down to the street and it was just filled with people, I had no idea why!
I went down to the street and asked a guy standing a little off the Hotel entrance, "what was going on?" He looked at me like some sort of idiot, and said "The Leafs are playing tonight". I responded (like the idiot I was) "where". He pointed over his left shoulder, and it was ONLY then I noticed down the street a little ways the sign, though not small it was not really that large either that said "MAPLE LEAF GARDENS". Now mind you the entrance to the hotel is on the same sidewalk that goes under the overhang in fact the buildings were connected to each other, it was not easy to see from that perspective. The man's next comment was "you want tickets?" So I ask the scalper "how much". Eventually after a little haggling, we settle at $50 Canadian (I think was like 75 cents in those days! lol).
It was a standing room seat, which was actually not a bad view at all. It was at the top of the lower section behind the net toward the right corner. Though I was standing, it was still a nice view, and I did not care, I was going to see my first NHL game. I had seen an AHL game a year before in Milwaukee vs KC Blades, but the only thing I cared about seeing was a fight. The seats were at the top of the upper deck in the Bradley Center and no fights happened that game. The game itself in Milwaukee did not interest me and until this night I had not thought about that game again. But there I was, in Maple Leaf Gardens getting ready to see a hockey game and thought to myself "Hey I am only 18, but 18 is legal in Canada" so I went and got myself a beer. Shortly afterwards the game between the Hartford Whalers and Toronto Maple Leafs began. I honestly could not tell you jack about the game other than Hartford won 4-0. I was just totally taken in by it all, the atmosphere the fans, the game! I remember watching the scoreboard to see how the Hawks were doing, because they were Chicago's team and cheering when Hartford scored because Toronto at the time was in the same division as the Hawks (Chicago beat Anaheim By the way that night 5-4 in OT). But for the game itself in front of me that night, I can not recall much of anything, other then it was AWESOME to watch, and I wanted to see more!
After I got back home to Illinois, a buddy and me decided to go see another Hockey game (he went to the one in Milwaukee as well). We went to Carson Pierre Scott in Lakehurst Mall (which is LONG GONE) because it had Ticketmaster and got two tickets to see the Chicago Wolves play the Atlanta Knights at the Rosemont Horizon. We got Glass seats in the 1st and 3rd shooters left corner. The Wolves won 5-4 in weird OT tie breaker called a Shootout. I got a puck from the game, and was officially hooked on Hockey. I went to probably 15-20 more Wolves games that season and my passion for Hockey quickly grew.
Before this I was a Baseball and only baseball fan. Baseball ran through my veins as if it was blood. But now Hockey joined it. The following Winter I went back to Toronto, the Leafs were not in town, but it was not a wasted trip. I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and skated (I just started learning how to skate and play) on several of the Toronto Public outdoor rinks they had. I also quickly learned more about the Hawks and Bill Wirtz. It did not take me long to decide I would stay away from the Hawks, not because I did not like them, but because I wanted more of them and Wirtz was not doing it they way he was going.
I was at the Wolves game that Sunday they outdrew the Hawks at the UC, I saw the Hawks take on the Bruins with a girlfriend in a pre-season bout in Providence RI. I have seen the Hawks a couple times at the UC but the last time was in 2005 and Keith was just a green horn rookie. I have seen hockey in Boston and New York and various other places. Through all that time that fire of Hockey inside of me has grown, and in 2008 it started to explode out of me. I "Committed to the Indian", followed the Hawks like I did the Cubs and FINALLY watched a team I lived and breathed win its Championship in 2010 when Toews hoisted the Cup. Sure I like football and am a Packers fan, but not like I am with Hockey or Baseball! My passion for Hockey continued to grow and still does to this day. Occasionally I go back and look at the box score of that first NHL game in Toronto. I saw Doug Gilmour play, I saw a game in Maple Leaf Gardens, I saw Brad McRimmon play who tragically died last year with the rest of HIS Locomotive team. But it was that fateful night of chance on a vacation, November 24, 1995 that started my love of Hockey for me, and I am glad it happened!