In these complex times of postponed sports, fans have been taking to social media with their favourite games and memories. The lacrosse world is no different. A quick scroll through any fan’s timeline will show pictures from player’s youth, coaching, throwback games and, yes, father/daughter TikTok dance battles. It is with all this in mind we ask your indulgence as we personally look back on some of our favourite games we’ve had the pleasure to be a part of as either reporter, writer, fan, commentator or broadcaster. It is the hope this unique look back will provide a new perspective while giving readers some form of comfort in these different times.
Maple Leaf Gardens is an institution in the city of Toronto. The former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Rock. Since the Leafs relocated to Scotiabank Arena (formerly Air Canada Centre), the building has been taken over by Ryerson University and features a Loblaws on the ground floor with the rest renamed the Mattamy Athletic Centre. It is this iteration of the facility that, for the 2013 Canadian Lacrosse League (CLax) season, would be home to the Toronto Shooting Stars.
Flashback to the 2012 Mann Cup in Peterborough, some four months before the Shooting Stars home opener. I was working as a replay operator for the internet broadcast. Setting up a camera behind the net of the Peterborough Lakers when I spotted CLax commissioner Paul St. John and Jim Veltman. The two were preparing for the second season, which, they informed me, included a new expansion team – one to play from the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The 2013 season opened at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena with a Creator’s Cup rematch between the Ohsweken Demons and Iroquois Ironmen. Admittedly, a lot of people involved, myself included, were looking past this game to the next day, Sunday, January 13th – the Toronto Shooting Stars debut at former Maple Leaf Gardens.
The moment was not lost on this commentator as I realized shortly before going live for a 30-minute pregame show (including interviews with Veltman, Shooting Stars’ head coach Glenn Clark, and assistant coach Dan Ladouceur, all three having played in the building with the Rock), I was mere feet away from the spot Foster Hewitt pioneered nationwide hockey broadcasts. Toronto would drop their opening game 11-10 to the Durham Turfdogs.
The allure of the building aside, anyone involved with the Toronto Shooting Stars recall one game in particular, Thursday, March 14th, 2013.
There was something in the air that day as even the junior games prior to the main event – Toronto vs. the Brampton Inferno – featured numerous penalties, including a 13-minute power play. Twelve days prior to this rematch, the Inferno hosted Toronto at the Powerade Centre (now CAA Centre) in Brampton. That game saw 84 minutes in penalties, including a line brawl in the second quarter. Angus Dineley, Toronto goaltender, was hit by Brock Boyle, which sparked a scrum in the crease. Both players were assessed fighting majors, as were Ben McCullough and Joe Wasson. Speaking with players after the game, many were upset with McCullough, one of the top defenders in the league’s history, who was also assessed a game misconduct.
Which brings us to the March Break game at Maple Leaf Gardens 12 days later. In a recap that would make Stefon from Saturday Night Live proud, “this game had everything” – an opening faceoff scrap between McCullough and Jon Durno; a Toronto player having words with a fan at the Toronto penalty box; and, oh yeah, the benches clearing. To this day, what was said and how it started is still unsure. At some point words were exchanged across the benches between Inferno backup netminder Steve Fryer and Toronto coach Glenn Clark. Eventually a water bottle was tossed across, and returned, which ignited Clark.
One of my lasting images is of referee Ian Garrison with Clark in a bear hug, ushering him down the tunnel (behind the benches). While they were making their way off the floor, Dineley, who was involved in the battle in Brampton, approached the Brampton bench to have words. A separate fight broke out near the door, which spilled into the Brampton bench, prompting the entire Toronto roster to rush over. This included players who had previously been ejected returning to the floor from the stands.
If my first lasting image is the Garrison/Clark encounter, the next is of Brock Boyle. Boyle had been in the box serving a misconduct for some time, and would be for the remainder of regulation, as such he had removed his gear. Picture a player in just his red shorts (no shoes) racing across the floor to superman dive into the pile. Eventually the referees regained control and ran out the remaining 35 seconds making the final score 9-7 Brampton with 336 minutes in combined penalties.
I also had the call the next day, a battle for first place between Toronto and the Niagara Lock Monsters. Our instructions were clear: don’t reference the brawl, focus on today’s game. Initially this seemed impossible with key suspensions. It was also a great crowd, no doubt fans hoping for a repeat of the previous day’s drama. What we were all treated to instead was one of the best lacrosse games I’ve had the pleasure of calling, a back-and-forth 18-15 Niagara win.
The Toronto Shooting Stars only lasted one season. It was a fun team to watch led by stellar goaltending from Angus Dineley (prior to his call up to the Philadelphia Wings) and fuelled by breakout transition from players like Mack O’Brien. They would finish the season winning a three-way tie for second place, and a quarter-final bye. Aaron Grayson won their semi-final in overtime with an outside shot, but they would come up short losing the Creator’s Cup final 14-11 one day later to the Iroquois Ironmen, despite scoring the final five goals of the game.