Hockey is back at the Gardens

This article first appeared at on September 9, 2012

by: Ryan McKenna

TORONTO- Although the name may be different, and the look changed, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens still bore traces of the old.  Several Toronto Maple Leafs alumni were on hand at the game, including honorary coaches Tom Watt (Ryerson) and Leafs legend Bobby Baun (UOIT). The man who sang the national anthem in 1999 when the last game was played at the Gardens, Michael Burgess, also sang the national anthem to kick off this evening’s contest.

Another familiar face, Jim Holmstrom, who played the organ in the old Maple Leaf Gardens, was on hand to once again play the organ.  Holmstrom was impressed with the new facilities.  “This is just great, the atmosphere is just as good as it was back in ‘99.  This crowd is pumped up.  What a great bunch of people, wow,” said Holmstrom.

With the new facilities, much has changed since the original look.  Holmstrom is a fan of the changes.  “I didn’t have to walk up 122 stairs to get here to play the organ and it’s warm (the building), it’s not freezing cold.  It’s a beautiful temperature,” said Holmstrom.

One of the biggest differences is the view, said Holmstrom.  “It’s intimate, I can see everything. Before, when I had to hit the goal horn, sometimes I was guessing, the other end of the rink felt like it was a 100 miles away, but now I can see.  I think the lights are better than it was,” said Holmstrom.

Before the puck was even dropped, the pre-game ceremonies got the crowd excited.  When Maple Leaf Gardens first opened in 1931, the Highlanders played the bagpipes and banged their drums.  The re-opening of the facility, was started in the same matter.  A video tribute showcasing the old Maple Leaf Gardens being transformed into the new Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens was then played followed by athletes and Eggy the Ram, who was dropped from the ceiling.  The ceremonies were then capped off by Burgess and the Canadian national anthem.

Getting the chance to play in Maple Leaf Gardens came with a lot of work, including a referendum in 2009.  Two current Rams, left-winger Greg Payne and defenceman Michael Paolo were around for the referendum and finally playing in the building is a great feeling.

“Words can’t describe it.  It’s amazing with all the fan support today.  All the guys were pumped up,” said Paolo.

Payne echoed his teammates feelings, “I’m speechless.  You walk in the front of the building and you just think of all the history in the building before they shut it down.  It’s amazing to be a part of it and amazing to get back into the building,” said Payne.