It is written that all able-bodied hockey fans must make a pilgrimage to The Hockey Hall of Fame in their lifetimes. Well, now it is written. Anyway, I finally got to achieve that goal last week in Toronto, and held the Grail itself.
Yep, that’s me (right), friend Alex, and Lord Stanley’s Cup. I also planted a big smooch on it, though the photo of that tender moment will remain private. I’ve now been closer to the Cup than every current Washington Capital except Ben Clymer… though hopefully that won’t be the case a few years from now! Okay, back to the Hall…
The HHoF is truly amazing, and much more than simply a home for the Cup. I was moving a little slowly at first due to lingering effects from the previous night’s Molsons at the Leafs game, but the Hall brought be me back to life. Just through the entrance is a hockey collector’s heaven — display after display of jerseys, pucks, and classic memorabilia from the game’s great history. One thing that truly impressed is that the Hall is for all hockey, not just the NHL. So in addition to everything from Gretzky’s sticks to Plante’s mask to a Bobby Orr pinball machine, the Hall has an impressive array of artifacts from international play, defunct leagues, junior/amateur clubs, and other goodies (such as wooden skates used for early hockey-like games in the mid-1800s). I felt like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story when he entered the downtown toy store at Christmas — wandering about with wide-eyed wonder.
More than just a museum, the HHoF has virtual hockey fun for all ages. You can launch slapshots at a virtual Leafs goalie, or you can don the pads yourself and stand in front of a screen that shows a goalie-view of oncoming players (and pucks shoot out at you from holes in the screen). More fun for adults is the TSN Sportscentre booth, where you can record your own voiceovers of classic hockey moments. They tell you the player names, then “you make the call” while watching the play develop onscreen. You can even sit in the “control room” and edit together multiple camera angles of the same play to create your own game view. Plus there are trivia games, a film on the most recent Stanley Cup Finals (with amazing, Miracle-esque camerawork and sound), and lots more to entertain kids and adults alike.
Still, as much fun as the main part of the Hockey Hall of Fame is, museum fatigue began to set in. There’s only so much you can process, no matter the quality of the museum or exhibits, before things start to blur together. So after a couple hours we thought we’d better head up to…
… the MCI Great Hall, with a stunning stained glass ceiling over the Cup. The hall is truly impressive, and any feeling of museum fatigue vanished immediately upon reaching the top of the stairs and seeing the Cup. The Great Hall is more shrine than museum. Housed in a bank built in the late 1800s — appropriately enough, around the same time that Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley commissioned the Cup — it operated as a financial institution until 1982. The gorgeous stained glass dome that tops the 45-foot-high ceiling is from that original bank, though its religious overtones were quite fitting for this fan’s fervor in the presence of the Hockey Grail.
All the great NHL trophies are scattered around the room — Vezina, Calder, Pearson, etc. I looked for and found Olie’s name on both the King Clancy and Vezina trophies. In the middle, right below the glowing ceiling, stands the star of the show. Surprisingly there were no restrictions on touching the Cup, though the other trophies were all in well-lit but thick plexiglass. I spent some quality time with the Cup, relishing the feel of it and the shine of the silver.
Then, into the Vault. It’s an old bank vault, a daunting and claustrophobic room that holds the true original Cup, the bowl commissioned by Lord Stanley of Preston all those years ago. The vault also contains the “retired” Stanley Cup bands, as if hammered flat on Hephaestus‘s anvil to be preserved for eternity, kept away from the bottom of swimming pools and other indignities that the Cup must endure. Not that I’m complaining — the Cup’s journeys make for great tales.
Then, as my finger trailed across the past championship teams . . . a moment of silence as I saw The Lost Season. Sadly, the lockout has literally made its permanent mark on The Stanley Cup. Say what you will about the lockout — I for one believe it will help the league in the long run, but can see both sides — seeing “2004-05 Season Not Played” on the greatest trophy in all of sports is a shame. One silver lining: directly above this figurative black mark on the Cup is Ben Clymer’s name (top left corner of the photo). Let’s hope he gets another Cup name-carving as a member of the Capitals.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is incredibly satisfying. Part museum, part shrine, it strikes a perfect balance between the historic and modern games; the professional, amatuer, and international; the traditional and the interactive. There’s something for everyone, from the casual beer-league player to the die-hard fan, and even those history buffs who just want to know where this game came from and how it has become such an integral part of Canadian culture.
For a virtual tour of the Hall, if only to tide you over until your own visit, check out the HHoF website. But nothing compares to being there in person. Make the pilgrimage, you won’t regret it.