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Memory box

 It would be easy to slide on up to my keyboard this week and gush the praises of a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has, we are led to believe, overachieved on its way to a 3-0 start to the 2010-11 National Hockey League season.

 But this week, I want to reflect on Vinay Menon, who caught my attention a few weeks back when he began writing a blog for the Toronto Star's website which offered something of a fan's inside viewpoint on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

 With access to players and trainers and the like, Menon offers a different perspective than one gets from the press-card-carrying members of the media circles.

 Sometimes the format works and sometimes it doesn't.

 But what the blog does do, very effectively, is it gives fans the opportunity to interact with the author, asking questions and expressing opinions and, more often than not, getting a speedy response.

 It is, in essence, part of that great philosophical marketplace of ideas when people from all walks of life are free to come in and share their ideas and feelings.

 One such topic that sort of effectively dodged the extremely partisan nature of the National Hockey League's fraternity of fans dealt with specific Maple Leafs memories.

 Evidently inspired by a discussion with a drunken friend that blended their love of the Leafs with a side conversation about the human genome project (seriously), Menon suggested that particular entry in his blog could be the start of a very special Maple Leafs Memory Project, where fans were free to come in and write about their own, very personal experiences as Leafs fans.

 Now memory ... that's a wonderful thing, isn't it? Any ardent fan of any hockey team in this country can recall the emotional sensations and the physical reactions during especially stressful and particularly rewarding moments in club history.

 Sometimes, those lingering sensations of those memories, those experiences, are further enhanced by our circumstances at the time - our own personal distress or joy adding to the importance of the moment, making it feel, as W.P. Kinsella described once upon a time, "as though all the cosmic tumblers had clicked into place."

 There is little question, when I close my eyes and open my mind's eye, when that moment occurred for me as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

 As exciting as the playoff runs in the mid-1990s were, and as much emotion as is attached to them in my living memory tucked carefully behind my eyes, nothing has yet compared to May 12, 2002.

 Three days shy of my 20th birthday, I was in the QEII hospital in Halifax recovering from my second open-heart surgery. Four days into recovery, I was moving about in my johnny shirt, an IV pole tagging along behind me, clutching my red cardiac recovery pillow, still grimacing in pain with each vertical movement my body tried to make.

 Through the process I had pleaded with my father for regular updates on the Leafs' post-season matchup with the hated Ottawa Senators.

 Bits and pieces of information leaked through and, by the time May 12 came around, I was able to march myself as far as the family lounge on the seventh floor where I could watch CBC.

 That night, the Leafs played Ottawa in Game 6 of the series, with the Sens up 3-2 in games. Toronto would have to win this game, in Ottawa, to merely force a seventh and deciding game back in Toronto.

 Sitting in the lounge area, I watched in horror as the Leafs surrendered two early goals within the first five minutes of play, much to the jubilant delight of Ottawa fans.

 Stressed, exhausted and hurting from my own recovery, I fell into despair when the second goal drifted past Curtis Joseph.

 "No," I thought to myself. "Please, this can't end like this. Not tonight, not now, with me still recovering literally from a broken heart ... not like this. And NOT to Ottawa."

 With things seemingly at their worst, and my beloved Leafs apparently already condemned just four minutes into the game to a loss, a heady feeling suddenly came over me.

 I don't quite know how to describe it, except to say it was as though someone sat down beside me, in the dark of the lounge, put a hand on my shoulder, and whispered quietly in my ear, "Don't worry. It will be fine. Just give them time."

 At first my hair stood on end and then an odd feeling cascaded over me, an eerie calm, a warmth, and I suddenly found myself believing it, believing the voice in my head ... "Okay, two goals down, elimination game, visitor's building - no problem."

 And it wasn't.

 The Leafs went on to tie the game in the next 10 minutes, traded goals with Ottawa in the second and then, as I let out an excruciating scream of joy and rib-cage-pulling pain, Alex Mogilny tallied to put the Leafs ahead - for good - in the third period.

 That night was a raw, lonely, powerful, uplifting and incredibly special happening for me. It felt as if I had connected with something greater than could be seen.

 And for that reason, so far, it stands the test of time as my most vaunted memory in my own little Leafs memory box.

 What about you?

posted on 10/19/10
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Photos courtesy of Chriss Herman

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