On December 16, 1998- The Toronto Maple Leafs faced off against the Phoenix Coyotes and defeated them 5-2 at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was my first hockey game.
While the teams may be the same a lot has changed in 11 years.
Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Phoenix Coyotes in an NHL hockey game at the Air Canada Centre. To anyone else, it was just another game on the schedule. But to me, discovering this game on this date was quite interesting and holds much sentimental value.
December 16th is my birthday. Yesterday was my 22nd. In past years, I’ve been fortunate to spend my day of birth (or as birthday presents on days just before or after Dec. 16) watching various sports games in my Toronto backyard. For the longest time, many of those experiences were Toronto Raptors games.
There was the 500 level in Skydome in 1995 against the Indiana Pacers (L, 102-100) on Dec 14, seeing the L.A. Lakers at the Air Canada on Dec. 19, 1999 (L, 94-88), the Knicks on Dec. 14, 2000 (W, 70-68), the Lakers again on Dec 19, 2000 (L, 104-101), and even Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards on Dec. 16, 2001 (L,93-88) in platinum seats.
But as great as all those games were, none of them come close to Dec. 16, 1998, when the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Phoenix Coyotes at Maple Leaf Gardens (their last year playing there).
It was my first hockey game. On my 11th birthday.
Exactly 11 years later, the two teams played each once again, this time at the Air Canada Centre.
But besides Tomas Kaberle and Shane Doan suiting up for the Leafs and Coyotes respectively, the arena wasn’t the only thing different about the two games.
In 1998, the Leafs won 5-2, while last night the Coyotes hammered the Leafs 6-3.
I still remember many of the details of the 1998 game. I tend to remember sentimental things like my first hockey game (yet I can’t remember the score of a game I watched two nights ago.)
Soon after my dad and I sat down in our Row B seats in the Red sections (I still have the ticket!), the Leafs’ Tie Domi got into a fight with Jim Cummins. Cummins was given a game misconduct because his jersey (and his shoulder pads) came off during the fight, which is a no-no… (you could actually see his hairy chest.)
They Coyotes lead 2-0 after the first period with goals by Jeremy Roenick and Oleg Tverdovsky, with the latter coming very late in the period. It was a real bummer… especially after the long washroom lines at the intermission.
But it was a good thing we got back to our seats in time for the 2nd period to begin because the Leafs’ Igor Korolev and Fredrick Modin scored two goals within the first minute of play to tie the game. And by the time five minutes had passed in the period, Korolev (again) and Darby Hendrickson had scored for the Leaf’s giving them a 4-2 lead. The Coyotes pulled their goalie, Nikoali Khabibulin and replaced him with their backup, Jimmy Waite, at that point (4:42 of the 2nd). When we left the game, I looked down at the floor in the row in front of me, where some Coyotes fans were sitting and they had a Khabibulin sign with them. It was on the ground, left behind after the final whistle.
I don’t even want to talk about last night’s game, let alone the final score of 6-3 and that the Coyotes scored 4 goals in the second period (sound familiar?).
I think I’ll just savour those memories of my first game…. for now at least.