By Anthony Lopopolo
It’s where Ali fought Chuvalo, where Canada beat the USSR and where the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrated 11 Stanley Cup victories. Now it can be host to the first ever Ryerson championship.
Maple Leaf Gardens holds prestige, history and iconic status. But the vaunted arena is also a few minutes away from campus and that may be the most alluring aspect for Ryerson athletes eager to finally enjoy a true home game.
Playing out of George Bell arena – a good 40 minute commute from campus – the men’s hockey team, for one, haven’t been able to strive. The commute to the arena not only makes it difficult for fans to fill the empty bleachers, it’s also tough for the team to practice effectively.
Despite bringing in notable hockey coach Graham Wise, the team has had a tough time luring top athletes. Last year, they won only five times and had the second-worst record in the country.
“It’s an incredible facility and the fact that it’s a two-minute walk from campus will generate more fans. Ryerson has been a commuter school for so long,” said Kevin Krasnowski, a fifth-year centre. “We as a hockey team are always stuck with commuting two hours for practice, so eliminating that would make it easier on everybody.”
The change of scenery will also be a big boost to Ryerson’s emerging women’s hockey team and figure skating program. The figure skaters, who battle for ice time at Moss Park, are often forced to wake up before sunrise to practice.
The building’s history and significance in the hockey world isn’t lost on Krasnowski. There is little doubt that approaching potential recruits with the opportunity to play at Maple Leaf Gardens could draw more than a few elite players.
“Everyone knows about the history of the Gardens,” he said. “Not only would it make the school more appealing to high school graduates, but to (OHL) players who would want to play here. To play in it, in the heart of the city, having that arena would allow us to see a fresh flock of athletes every year.”
But Graham Wise, head coach of the men’s hockey team, also sees this as the next surge of a peaked interest in athletics at Ryerson. Wise believes the passing of April’s athletic referendum ushered in that kind of response.
“Not only would Maple Leaf Gardens help varsity athletes, but also the student body,” he said.
The arena could also save the future of hockey and soccer at Ryerson. Athletic Director Ivan Joseph said hockey costs the school about $250,000 every year. If money continues to be pumped into those programs without a venue for home games, he has a hard time foreseeing their survival.
“To me, I have two things that are major issues for me: a hockey team and a soccer team. Without either of those, we’ve got an issue,” he said. “I’ve told my guys we can’t continue to have hockey without a rink. We can’t continue to have soccer without a field.”
And the Gardens, with the option of adding multiple floors, happens to have a large enough area to embrace that burden.
“We’re always talking ice. We’re always talking indoor field turf because I would like to have, of course, all of those things. In my perfect world, I’d like to have it all in one spot.”