What would an alumni game be without a ceremonial puck drop? From left: Guy Carbonneau, Montreal Canadiens alumni, Justine Plummer, WDMH Foundation, Matt McLean, Liam Maguire, author and hockey trivia expert, Doug Gilmour, Toronto Maple Leafs alumni.  Tinkess Photo

WINCHESTER – No matter what your interests in this life are, it is reasonable to say that most, if not all of us have heroes. It could be a musician, perhaps an artist, or even a doctor or scientist. During the pandemic our front-line healthcare workers were the heroes that walked among us.

Growing up in Canada, for many, the heroes in their life wore skates, carried sticks and were often missing teeth (at least temporarily.) That’s why when an NHL alumni team comes to town, all those childhood memories come rushing back.

You could see that quite clearly on the faces of those who attended the NHL Alumni fundraiser game that took place at the Joel Steele Community Centre and Sam Ault arena on Sat., Oct. 14. They didn’t come to see Doug Gilmour, Guy Carbonneau, Chris Neil, Jason York, Laurie Boschman, Todd Gill, Mike Krushelnyski and Mathieu Dandenault. They were there to see Dougie, Carbs, Neiler, Yorkie, Bosch, Gills, Krusher and Dan. And they weren’t disappointed. Magic happens when you step onto that perfect frozen world on the other side of the glass. Let’s face it, the furry-faced Todd Gill who arrived in Winchester didn’t look much like the baby-faced defenseman with an offensive flair who played for the Leafs. Yet, when he touched the puck, everything he did seemed so effortless.

For some, like Matt McLean, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not only did he get to drop the puck for the ceremonial face-off, but he also got to meet one of his heroes.

“It was good, pretty cool,” said McLean in acknowledging that it was fast hockey and that everyone seemed to be having a really good time.

McLean is a Leafs fan, so it isn’t difficult to figure out what meant the most to him. The Gilmour years were the time in recent memory when the Leafs came closest to having a real chance at the Stanley Cup. Leaf fans remain true to their heroes and McLean is one of very many who appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears that Doug Gilmour shed for the team. The best part of the game for McLean? There is no hesitation, “I’d have to say probably meeting Dougie.”

And if it was that great for the spectators, imagine what it was like for the players who lined up with and against them? It is fantasy, sure, but that doesn’t take away from the moment one bit. Lining up at centre ice beside tough guy Chris Neil, who always seemed to smile before he took you apart, or having Gilmour or Carbonneau go by you like you were standing still. For that short period of time, you were not only on the ice with players who made it to “The show,” they were playing the game you love with you.

Yes, it was a magical night, only made better knowing that the proceeds were going to such an important part of this community. According to Kristen Casselman, managing director of the Winchester District Memorial Hospital Foundation (WDMH) the funds raised will go directly into the general equipment fund. A final total on the amount raised will be finalized in the coming days.

Casselman confirmed how positive the response to the game was. “It was a great night,” said Casselman via email. “It was awesome to see so many smiling faces and feel the energy before and after the game. We have received a lot of positive feedback, and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. Yes, we plan to host the event again next year and can’t wait!

Let’s hope that happens. A little bit of dreaming and fantasy is a welcome diversion in any life, especially when you consider the benefit it provides to so many others.