Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Big M

And old Maple Leaf fans will know I am not talking about McDonald's. You can say a lot about the Senate, mostly negative stuff that I will agree with... but I am fond of any institution that is home to one of hockey's magicians. On the back page of today's Post sports section runs a column entitled "A Taste of Greatness" by Wayne Scanlan. I ask forgiveness from the author from quoting verbatim the opening to his column, that resonates with any sportsfan and almost brought a tear to my hungover eye over coke and fish & chips at lunch today. Back when athletes were heroes:

Frank Mahovlich is a child of 19. So young, that he sitll has water from Timmins behind his ears. Howie Meeker is coaching the 1956-57 Toronto Maple Leafs, and he fills those eager Mahovlich ears with this single instruction before the Big M skates onto the ice for his first NHL game. "Don't let Rocket loose," Howie says. The Rocket, of course, was Richard. Number 9 of the Montreal Canadians. Tough. Mean. Black eyes of coal that could bore a hole through wood or cast iron, let alone the fluttering heart of this child from Northern Ontario. His first shift agains Richard, playing right wing to Frank's left, Mahovlich sees the great Habs defencemen, Doug Harvey, rush from his blue line and deliver a slick pass to the Rocket. Uh-oh. He has the puck already. Mahovlich still has the coach's instructions ringing in his mind. "Don't let him loose." So the big lad from Timmins wraps one arm around Richard and then the other, practically has him in a bear hug when the Rocket glares at him with those burning eyes and barks: "Let go, kid." "Now I'm thinking," Mahovlich says, "who do I listen to: Howie Meeker or Rocket Richard?" The answer will seem as simple to you as it did to the then 19-year-old rook. "Yes, Mr. Richard," Mahovlich said, realeasing his clutch of the Rocket. "At least," Senator Frank W. Mahovlich says today, "I distracted him and he lost his focus for a moment."


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