Disneyland is often referred to as "The Happiest Place on Earth".
But for true blue hockey fans?
The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto can definitely give old Walt a run for his money.
At least twice a year, my two little lads head for the Hall; usually once in the summer and once in the dead of winter. Our annual winter trip took place a few weeks ago and, as usual, it was a ton of fun. So, if you've never been to the Hall before (or if you have, and want to re-live the experience) you can follow our footsteps and view the Hall through the eyes of a nine- and 11-year-old.
The first stop?
It's always the same. There's a great exhibit of old goalie masks just before you officially enter the Hall. They do a great job of mixing up the masks and, on this visit, I was thrilled to see a pair of 1979 masks worn by Montreal Canadiens superstar Ken Dryden and Gilles Gilbert of the Boston Bruins. Dryden and Gilbert went head-to-head in a scintillating '79 Stanley Cup semifinal series that featured the great Guy Lafleur winning it for the Habs with an overtime goal in Game 7. It was fun to tell the tale of that epic series to my two little guys, and it was a great precursor to all of the famous hockey history we were about to soak up.
Once inside the Hall, the boys are always ready for a little action. They sprint straight to the shooting and goaltending video games that are a huge hit with hockey fans of every age. Grabbing a stick, they start firing rubber at Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier. (More hockey history, as Bernier was bounced out of town in favour of current Leafs puckstopper Freddie Anderson.) Bernier never lived up to his billing in Toronto, which might explain why my nine-year-old promptly fired three pucks past Bernier's beleaguered video image. However, underlining the fact that playing goal definitely isn't easy, the lads quickly get their comeuppance when they slap on a pair of goalie gloves and face video recreations of NHL snipers such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid – and as the rubber flies by, they have newfound respect for the job pro puckstoppers face on a nightly basis.
Of course, the game is much easier up in the broadcast booth and that's our next destination. TSN has put together a really fun Hall display that offers visitors a chance to get behind the microphone to call and record their own versions of some of hockey's most famous goals. The 1970 Bobby Orr "flying through the air" Stanley Cup winner is a big favourite of my guys, and it's hilarious to hear their tiny voices fill the air with a passionate description of "Sanderson to Orr! He Scooooores! The Bruins win the Stanley Cup!"
The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, have captured an amazing 24 Stanley Cups. No wonder, then, that the Habs are a huge part of the Hockey Hall of Fame. In fact, their famous dressing room from the old Montreal Forum has been re-created for Hall visitors, and that's the next stop on our tour. The boys always get a big kick out of stopping by the locker of goaltending great Jacques Plante. They never get tired of hearing the story about the 1959 night in New York when Plante, after being bloodied by a shot off the stick of Rangers captain Andy Bathgate, became the first netminder in modern history to pull on a mask. They also get a kick out of trying on Plante's heavy leather pads – a big difference from the light and sleek equipment that today's goalies model.
Vacating the Habs locker room, the hockey world is still our personal oyster. There's so much to see, including a spectacular 3-D movie celebrating the Stanley Cup, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the Pittsburgh Penguins journey to last year's Cup and a brand new exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Toronto Maple Leafs. With young guns such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner lighting it up, the Leafs may actually have a chance to finally win another championship before my two kids turn into old geezers.
With that dream in mind, we wrap up our journey to the Hall in a familiar place; the trophy room which contains all of the gorgeous hardware the NHL hands out at their end-of-the-year awards night in Las Vegas. At the front of the room, in all of its glory, stands the Stanley Cup - the most beautiful trophy in sports. Snapping a photo of my two lads caressing the Cup, our latest trip to the Hall of Fame is complete. But even though we've toured the Hall on countless occasions, we never see everything and there's always a brand new exhibit to check out.
So, with that in mind there's only one thing to say as we take our leave from the shrine.
"We'll see you again this summer, my old friend."
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