By Melissa Wronzberg It was a Wednesday in February, 1997, when
Patrick Marleau and
Joe Thornton stepped onto Maple Leaf Gardens ice for their first game action at the iconic building. They were highly ranked prospects squaring off against one another in the NHL/CHL top prospects game. Marleau had one assist for Team Orr in a 7-2 win. Thornton notched two assists on the only goals for Team Cherry. In the NHL draft several months later it would be Thornton coming out on top as the first overall pick to the Boston Bruins. Marleau would go next to San Jose. Eighteen years later, on another Wednesday, the two entered the building again, this time as teammates during a practice with the Sharks.
As part of a major renovation from 2010 to 2012, the arena now sits 65 feet higher, on the third floor of the building now called the Mattamy Athletic Centre, home of Ryerson University’s varsity teams.
However, the structure still holds its mystique. “To come here is special for the young guys, to come here with so much history,” Thornton said. “I got the chance to play here a couple of times, it’s nice to come and skate at the old Gardens.” Thornton and Marleau played a combined total of three NHL games at MLG before it closed in 1999, the pair’s sophomore year in the league. Marleau was pointless in two games, going 1-1. Thornton recorded a goal in his lone game, a losing effort as a member of the Bruins. “I remember scoring in my last game here, so it was a thrill,” Thornton said. “As a kid you always remember watching TV and games here and this is a special place for fans and kids growing up here.” San Jose’s practice Wednesday consisted of flow drills, five-on-five zone play and a shootout. The environment was loose, the team shared laughs at the bench and took pictures and signed autographs for the small crowd of fans who came out to show their support. Thornton and Marleau aren’t the only Sharks to have been to the Gardens for a game.
Barclay Goodrow, a Toronto native, remembers attending a game with his dad as a kid. But the 22-year-old rookie says he was too young to dream of playing at the Gardens. Other veterans, however, recognized the significance of getting a chance to practice under the old MLG roof. “It’s cool,”
Joe Pavelski said. “You come here, you see how the building’s changed, you heard how it was before and all the history. It’s fun to get out and just feel the energy in the building in a practice like that.” Thornton got one more chance to celebrate at the old Maple Leafs Gardens as his practice team staved off elimination in the shootout competition. “It was definitely,” Marleau said, “one of those arenas that you were glad you got the chance to play in.”