Legends of Maple Leaf Hockey score huge audience of fans in Wiikwemkoong

WIIKWEMKOONG—Over 800 people packed the Wiikwemkoong Thurderdome on Saturday night to meet and watch  former Maple Leaf stars play a fun, Blue Vs. White match, along with well known, local players. The atmosphere was absolutely joyful thanks to the generosity of  the Leafs’ Alumni and the combination of the likes of the NOHA, OHF, ITO, TMLAA, MLSE, WT, Etc! The whole evening was suprmely organized with even trivia questions for the elder and young along. Could you answer when the Bond Head Treaty was signed? (1836) or when Wikwemikong was officially named (1968)?

Former Leaf Captain and still record holder, record holder Rick Vaive took a wide pass to score the first goal of the game agaisnt former Manitoulin Panther, Joel Naokwegijig. 

I had the privilege of getting to get the VIP treatment and being able to meet the players before the game. The players were very gracious and willing to be open and share their experience with us older fans and give encouragement to the young players present. 

As a died-in-the-wool Canadiens’ fan, yet not as brave as others were to wear a Habs’ jersey to the event, I received only a gentle, rough ride from the Leafs faithful. However there were a couple of players who toiled for both the Leafs and the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge who were not willing to reveal their true loyalties! 

Players like Shayne Corson and Ric Nattress, former Montreal players would not reveal their true loyalties but were most accommodating to requests like, “can you write a personalized autograph to a student who is yet a Leafs fan” There were many personal comments like this shared. Local Alumni, Gerry Obomcowai, wore his colours on his sleeve, literally with a Habs jacket, touting every year that Montreal has won Stenley’s cup.  

The veterans were seated at a table and were so forgiving at an amateur questions. Trevor Kidd was very open to the realization that his world Junior experience was the most important in his mind. Despite the fact that he made the NHL, his goal as a kid, “there was nothing like putting on Canada’s colours to play for Canada” He was among the few Canadian players (and gold medalists) that were on the inaugural TSN coverage of the World Junior Tournament fom Saskatoon. 

Dave Mcllwain, a star with the then North Bay Centennials had been sad to see the loss of an OHL team to Michigan but glad to see a team come back to North Bay as the Battalion. Brad May was equally effusive. He actually played against and with (as a fill-in goalie) my brother Wade Leblanc when they were playing in a “AAA” summer league back in the day. May, as he said,”was not the best player on the team but I was the only one fortunate to make it to the NHL.”

Leaf player but Canadiens catalyst Shayne Corson was super generous with his gift to a super-Leafs fan student, “Go Habs Go”! Thanks to all of the great converasations , Leafs!

The nice thing to see was that despite some silly antics through the game (stick and glove throwing during penalty shots) that when it was winding down and tied at 5-5, even the old guys had that competitive flame burning, the shifts got shorter, the pace picked up and both sides tried to notch the game winner.  Those near the benches could hear lots of heavy breathing as the end drew near. The fans could sense the old fuels fired and were thankful. 

The game was a culmination of a lot of moving parts all coming together to make it happen. Well known hockey aficionado, Kevin Eshkawkogan, president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario relays that, “ITO first formed a relationship with Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni representatives through their mandate to improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous people through tourism. ITO does that in many ways and works with groups who embrace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. TMLAA and MLSE do this and it creates an environment for us to collaborate. We are already starting to plan more of these types of games in other parts of Ontario.”