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Cornered Coach: Going to "The Show"


Let's go (to) Buffalo!
Tonight my lovely wife, and fellow hockey fan, are crossing the border to take in a Buffalo Sabres game, as they take on Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We live in Toronto and cheer for the Maple Leafs, but it's tough to get your hands on Leaf tickets; unless, of course, you're willing to take out a second mortgage or sell a body part. I once forked out $300 bucks on a pair of Leaf ducats (and that was for an exhibition game) but that was when my wife and I were in the courtship stage of our relationship. So, now it's the lowly Sabres and Buffalo wings, baby!
Still, there's nothing like going to a live hockey game. Last year, coaching the Novice Penguins, we were lucky to have an assistant coach who worked for the Maple Leafs.  As a result, the whole team got a great deal on a private box for a pre-Christmas tilt between the Leafs and Red Wings. It was thrilling to see the excitement in the little lads' eyes, with many of them attending an NHL game for the very first time.
My first NHL experience didn't come until I was 17 years old, attending a Calgary Flames game at the old Stampede Corral. The Flames had just moved to town from Atlanta and nobody could believe that we'd now get a chance to watch our "Hockey Night in Canada" heroes live and in living color. My first taste of the big leagues was a Flames-Philadelphia Flyers contest, and I'll never forget it. At the time, I was a rookie goalie with the Drumheller Falcons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and, like a lot of young guys, I had hopes of playing in the NHL one day.
But all it took was one NHL pre-game warm-up to put the boots to that fantasy.
Our tickets for the game were up in the "Standing Room Only" section, but my dad and I snuck down to ice level to watch the warm-up. Bobby Clarke… Bill Barber… I couldn't believe a plane of plexiglass was all that separated me from NHL superstars I'd watched on the tube all those Saturday night's. Then, the Flyers started firing pucks at their goalie to get him limbered up for the game and…Yikes! Could these guys shoot. Everything hard… everything on net… and it suddenly dawned on me. 
"There's no way I could stop these guys," I thought, as my NHL dream took a swift kick in the rear.
No, the NHL wasn't in the cards. However, I did eventually get a chance to broadcast NHL games, serving as the Calgary Flames television play-by-play voice for a brief period in the mid-90's. Like my first NHL game as a fan, I also recall my rookie NHL broadcast… a less than scintillating 0-0 tie (in the days before the shootout) between the Flames and Washington, as I didn't even get the chance to scream "He shoots… He scores!".  In fact Ron Wilson, the coach of the Capitals back then, called it the worst NHL game he'd ever witnessed; which, of course, was prior to his stomach turning on a nightly basis during his stint behind the bench with the Leafs.
Speaking of the Leafs, my seven-year-old son recently won two tickets to the December 20th Leafs game against the Anaheim Ducks. Since my other son and I were part of last season's Novice Penguins trip to the ACC, my wife and little guy will be up in the stands cheering for the blue and white this time around.
But if it's Tuesday, it must be Buffalo.  
Sure, it's a night to get away from the kids.
But, to be honest, going to an NHL game brings out the little kid in all of us.

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