This is the fourth and final part in the series on my tour of the major sports' Halls of Fame.
After a week spent in foreign lands viewing Halls of Fame for less-known sports, going to the Hockey Hall of Fame was a sort of homecoming of sorts for me. While the other Halls of Fame were learning experiences, going to Toronto gave a purely emotional experience that flooded me with glorious memories.
I can only imagine how it would feel for somebody who has been living and breathing hockey since before the new milennium.
The Hall is an incredibly unique complex. It is housed in the figurative belly a futuristic, two-storey mall resplendent with glass arches, escalators, and stratospheric lights hanging from the ceiling. Yet, the actual Hall itself, from the outside, is the jewel inside an old, stone, rustic building. This seemingly acts as a way to combine the old guard of hockey with the new directions that the league is pushing in. This is also displayed in the Hall's exhibit on the evolution of the goalie mask that is shown outside the actual building.
The Hall itself doesn't have a predetermined path like the other Halls of Fame; rather, it is a massive complex that houses a wealth of treasures that lets you find your own way through the history of this great game of hockey. Below, I will describe my quixotic path through the mecca of hockey towards its holy grail, the Stanley Cup.
After entering, I passed through the line of exhibits showcasing artifacts used during the recording of certain milestones, such as the net that Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd career goal in to tie Gordie Howe's all-time record and the puck that Detroit Red Wing Mud Bruneteau shot into the net in the sixth overtime of a Stanley Cup Finals game to end the longest game in history. I also saw boxes displaying skates, sticks, and other valuables belonging to other hockey legends, such as Red Wing Gordie Howe, and this year's Hall of Fame inductees (Ray Scapinello, Glenn Anderson, Ed Chynoweth, and Igor Larionov), before entering a large display room dedicated to honouring the greatest moments and players in the Montreal Canadiens' first 100 seasons. After the Habs room, I went into a mock dressing room featuring jerseys, sticks, and pads from a select group of Montreal's Hall of Famers, and soon walked through a room showing artifacts and details from the NHL's great dynasties (three cheers for the Red Wings of the early 1950's!), along with select facts from the NHL's first 100 years.
After, the Habs-mania, I walked through displays honouring the minor leagues of hockey, whether the AHL or the CJAHL, the league where my cousin plays. Located on either side of these exhibits are two theatres: the Esso Theatre and the Hartland Molson Theatre. The Esso Theatre runs continually throughout the day, showing various hockey-related short films (whether about a boy who loved the Canadiens in Leaf-land or the story behind Wayne Gretzky's last game), and is an excellent way to kill time in the heart of hockey. The Molson Theatre, meanwhile, shows one movie in different showings around the day, detailing hockey's road from its humble roots to today, and ended with a film on the most recent Stanley Cup Champions, the 2008 Detroit Red Wings. This movie truly encompassed the game and all it stands for, and the section on my Wings almost brought me to tears. Afterwards, I saw boxes heralding memorabilia from every NHL team and their minor-league affiliates, and a touch screen display showing minor league teams and NHL players from almost every Canadian city, and several American ones.
In the centre of the Hall is the interactive section, which allows visitors to save pucks shot out from a screen or virtually save through electronic wizardry. You could also test your shot against a virtual goaltender. Unfortunately, I was unable to partake in those activities, due to the insane long lines and my lack of time. I was, however, able to pretend to be Al Michaels and Sam Rosen by recording my take on their famous calls (I came nowhere near touching Al's legendary "Do you believe in miracles?" call), as well as play director by mixing camera angles on a goal to create my own highlight.
After the fun part, I walked through a collection of old hockey cards (stopping to take a picture whenever I saw a Red Wing), and walked across the whole Hall into an exhibit showcasing international hockey. I marvelled at some of the teams that play international hockey, struggled to pronounce the name of Mongolia's goaltender, and of course payed a visit to Team Canada's legendary Lucky Loonie, buried under the ice in Salt Lake City when Canada won gold for the first time in fifty years.
The next stop, though, was easily the most moving: the aptly named Great Hall. The Great Hall is a majestic structure that is steeped with history. The roof is made out of stained glass, which casts an almost holy effect on the room. At the front are the major NHL awards, at the back are the names, sketches, and biographies of every Hall inductee, and in the middle is the single biggest symbol of hockey: the Stanley Cup.
You can't appreciate the true meaning of the Stanley Cup unless you are a true hockey fan. When you look for your favourite players and favourite teams (in my case, the 2001-02 Red Wings), all kinds of memories come flooding you. I vividly remembered Ray Bourque crying as he lifted up the Cup for the first time (which was the first and only time I ever felt good for the Avalanche), smiling broadly when Dave Andreychuk finally got his turn with the Cup as a member of the lightning, and of course Steve Yzerman lifting the Cup over his head and shaking it. I also felt the memories that I can't remember, such as the Ottawa Silver Seven drop-kicking the Cup into the Rideau River, Ted Lindsay taking the first ever lap with the Cup, and Bobby Orr sweeping across the goalmouth to win the Stanley Cup for the Bruins. It is truly a transcendent experience, and one that isn't easily forgotten.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is a must-see spot for hockey and non-hockey fans, not just because of the priceless artifacts, the playful fun, and the powerful memories and feelings they stir up, but just to be there. There is nothing that makes you feel the power hockey has more than when you see grade-school kids running around, finding memorabilia belonging to their favourite players, and gaping in awe. It truly is the great game, and the Hockey Hall of Fame makes you feel it.
For lunch, make sure to eat at the nearby Richtree Market, a buffet-style restaurant that prides itself on its fresh ingredients and covers food ranging from French in style to Japanese, a microcosm of Toronto's beautiful multicultural spirit.