Friday, December 28, 2007

Of wintry dreams and the crowd goes wild

THE OL' COLUMNIST was having a midwinter's night dream. And echoing in those wide-open spaces between my ears I could hear a voice: "Hello, hockey fans, this is Foster Hewitt from the gondola in Maple Leaf Gardens ..."
It could have been senility setting in; then again it could have been Father Time giving me a checkup to see if I was still breathing.
What brought up all this hubris (see, I told you I could spell, even if I barely know what the word means), about when times were simplier and kids from B.C. to Floral, Sask. to Bass River, Nova Scotia had one dream; that of joining the likes of Syl Apps, and Teeder, and, for some of us, usually the fat kid down the street of putting on the pads and becoming the second coming of Turk Broda.
Do I sound older than dirt? You bet, but the dreams such as these don't cost one inflated nickel,
So there I was, sports fans, facing a slapshot from the dreaded Ronnie Fulton, the older brother of my little girlfriend, Joycie, and, of course, he was firing a heavily-taped and frozen rubber ball at my shins, which were (lightly) padded with department store catalogues.
It's Christmas 1949 and, in my mind, I could barely hear Foster Hewitt's radio voice delivering his famous line: "He shoots, he scores ..." Then I turned up the volume and it became "And ... Corbett makes another magnificent save."
Of course, the massive crowd went absolutely wild at this superb display of goaltending.
Then there were hundreds of reporters milling around Willard and Annona Corbett's kid, who was about to be ranked among the greats.
Ah, what a dream.
It was a different era; for in summer, I was the greatest baseball catcher of all time until one hot day in July when Ronnie Fulton's "fastball" hit my big toe. It curled under me and after spending a night in pain, I decided my only sports career would be as a celebrated NHL goalie or as a world-famous explorer, who travelled down the Amazon River in South America.
And then the Corbetts moved away to St. Catharines, Ont. and those goaltender dreams quickly vanished as I watched the likes of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita send howitzers towards the invited goalies at training camp.
However, I did get to take my so-called "career" to another level as I stood in front of Bobby Corupe's garage in the St. Catharines suburb of Port Dalhousie and he DID fire real pucks at me. Corupe went on to star with the junior team and I was left with welts on my shins, which I still have to this day.
Now it's Christmas 2007 and I'm left with these welts and a boxful of hockey pocketbooks, which for some reason I have never opened before. Two are by the late Scott Young, whom I worked with at the now-defunct Toronto Telegram, and then there's another one called Champions -- The Making of the Edmonton Oilers. It's by Kevin Lowe with Stan and Shirley Fischler.
On the book jacket of Young's A Boy At Leafs' Camp, it read: "For 18-and-a-half-year-old Bill Spunska, the jump from high school hockey to the NHL was no bigger than the move from his native Poland. In two years he had learned to skate, shoot and pass. But now, as the youngest boy at the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp, he has only two weeks to learn what it takes to be a pro."
Then the second one by Young was more serious, for The Boys of Saturday Night, obviously, delves into the stormy history of Hockey Night in Canada, from the invention of the instant replay to the ascent of powerful corporate interests.
Since I worked in Edmonton and became a friend of Lowe's during the Oilers' glory years, Champions, really fascinates me since it, indeed, was a magical time.
So now if you'll excuse me I'll settle in for a short winter's nap and once again listen to the voice of Foster Hewitt, in my mind: "And ... Corbett makes another magnificent save."
Even the Ol' Columnist can have dreams of what might have been.
ONE MORE TIME: Often when this scribbler comes up a bit short, he turns to The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Room. Without further adieu, here are some more origins of common phrases:
Son of a gun. Meaning: An epithet. Origin: In the 1800s, British sailors took women along on extended voyages. When babies were born at sea, the mothers delivered them in a partitioned section of the gundeck. Because no one could be sure who the true fathers were, each of these "gunnery" babies were jokingly called a "son of a gun."
FINALLY, A PRIMETIME PROVERB: Herman Munster of The Munsters concerning pets: "He who lies down with dogs gets up with fleas."

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