Recently I had the opportunity to relax at a luxurious cottage in Muskoka with my better half Jessie, and a group of young Leafs. Warm summer days and nights enjoying cool water over bare skin, hot food roasted over an open fire and refreshing cold beer down a parched throat. These are the memories you take with you forever.
The first day there, as I emerged from the cottage in a tight speedo, I got a ton of comments and laughs from the boys. "Buddy we're not in Europe here man, holy crap!" I brush it off and dive into the lake, happy to have the day's heat taken away from my sweaty body. As I gaze around at this group of Leafs I realize that I should have no fear of going under in the lake, these specimens would rival any ripped California life guard on any Malibu beach. I'm still always amazed at the shape that the players of today are in. In my day, young hockey playing lads were never this strong, this
precocious, this physically imposing. As I swim up behind Dion, the new captain, these thoughts are raging like a hurricane through my head.
"Hey man, give me some space!", he yells and laughs. Jessie's head shakes, and my better half decides to go and relax with a good book as I frollick in the water some more.
Hockey talk comes up only sparingly during our stay there. We speak more of our childhoods and family memories. Those innocent days when you believe you can accomplish anything in life. Although the days are hot and humid, I get chills as we open up like this. I'm in my element here among these young lads, and I count my blessings at being able to spend this quality time with them. When we do get around to talking about the upcoming hockey season, the confidence that oozes from the players is quite impressive.
"Many fans will be taken by surprise this year", one player remarks. I try to go deeper inside that thought, what exactly does he mean, will the Leafs
be challenging for a playoff spot? "More than that, we'll be comfortably in, not fighting for a spot". I raise the "Cinderella" term, can the Leafs be the story of the upcoming season for all the right reasons? A pause, a gaze down at impressive pecs and lats oiled up with Banana Boat and tanned to a deep bronze perfection. "Yeah, 'cinderella team' won't even begin to cut it".
Wow. I feel one of those shivers again as I stare at this 24 year old Adonis-like body, with uber confidence spewing from his mouth. Not even the bikini clad girlfriends and wives could make me turn away from such a spectacle.
The days melt into each other, the days are always bright, hot and humid, the nights warm and oh so sticky. I lament the fact that this time must come to an end, as Jessie worries I'm far too excited over 'mere' hockey players. Some people will never understand.
On the last night there, sitting by the campfire we are roasting marshmellows. Lights flicker playfully over the players faces and I go into a bit of a trance.
I stare too intently at Phaneuf, see a twinkle in his eye, something special there. I close my eyes and realize all too well that I've never seen the Leafs hoist a Stanley Cup in my lifetime. I have a sort of a vision then, I see a Stanley Cup being hoisted, these very players whose company I now enjoy are all celebrating together, holding the Cup high above the glorious blue and white Maple Leaf. I open my eyes to take the now well roasted marshmellow off it's stick and put it in my mouth. I close my eyes again and let the warm sticky goo melt in my mouth. I let out a very aubile moan of delight to which a player comments "That must be one hell of a marshmellow, dude". I open my eyes, stare directly at him, wink and say oh so softly, "You have NO idea."