Of all who’ve entered The Danforth Music Hall in its near-century as cinema, concert venue, meeting place and Greek movie house, Tom Carmichael must be the first one admitted wearing full hockey gear.
But shoulder pads and shin guards were de rigueur for the nine-year-old on Sunday, if he wanted to watch Team Canada go for gold on the big, big stage – and make his 10 a.m. practice at East York Arena. With bars and diners on the popular Danforth already packed by game time, the Hall gave its 1,100 seats and 424 square-foot screen to hockey families, early rising fans, all-night flag-waving revellers, churchgoers and a few off-duty civic workers.
The diverse group, with a few excited toddlers running up and down the aisles, bonded instantly through cheers as a two storey-high Don Cherry exhorted them from Sochi – at twice the decibels of his regular Coach’s Corner on a regular TV. They spent the next hour nervously gripping he armrests of their plush seats as if this were the opening scene of Jaws, while Canada gradually found its stride and nursed an early lead.
Long lineups in the lobby for beer and liquor meant the adults in the crowd were coping well with the tension. General manager Michael Sherman had only decided to open his doors after Canada’s semifinal win over the U.S., hanging flags outside, slapping up handbills and getting out the word on Facebook.
Close to 300 took up the late invite for a rare national/neighbourhood embrace.
“We had no idea how many we’d get, but people love it,” said Sherman. “If the Leafs make the playoffs, we might do this again.”
I’ve sat in these seats before, a 1980 visit by the Ramones (the best, if not the shortest concert I can recall), watched Riverdale Share Christmas, saw my kids’ school pageant and when they were older, a re-run of Monty Python and The Holy Grail. The noise from Canada’s three goals wasn’t comparable to punk rock, but the passion was three times as strong, as each strike was celebrated with a concert light show.
Pals Shawn, Veronica and Stephen co-ordinated their alarm clocks for 5:45 a.m., took the best front row seats and kept the wait staff, in their red and white ‘Eh!’ t-shirts, hopping with drink orders.
“I love Olympic hockey,” declared Stephen, who works in the financial district. “No fighting and a team that doesn’t break your heart.”
But a few blue and white patrons couldn’t help themselves, showing up in Leaf sweaters with Canadian flags fashioned as capes. Local Withrow Park men’s ball hockey league buddies Lenny Abramowicz and David Valenta both dug out their Team Canada jerseys.
“This is a great place to see the game and be with the community,” said Valenta. “I think the last time I was in here was to watch a Godzilla movie – with about four other people.”
Ambramowicz had his wife Donna and grown children Emma and Brendan in the crowd, a better result for the family than when they gathered in Malmo, Sweden, as Canada lost at the world juniors last month.
“But there was a Canadian-themed bar in Malmo called Moosehead’s,” said Abramowicz. “Our fans tapped them out after just two days.”
Tom’s father Michael thought it was important to have him and six-year-old brother James get out of bed in the Sunday darkness and see the game.
“They were very keen,” Michael said. “For a school day, they couldn’t do it. But for this hockey game, no problem.
“This is a great feeling to have. In England (where Michael spent much of his life), we do this for the World Cup, get together and cheer on the country.”
The Danforth mob tried to match the enthusiasm of the sports bar scenes being shown by CBC, counting dfown the final seconds of the 3-0 win, with hugs and high fives. The sound was cut and We Are The Champions by Queen flooded the house. Many ran into the street to start celebrating, but returned for the medal ceremony and national anthem, a few slurring their way through O Canada, mindful to remove their ear-flapped tuques. The house lights finally went up to The Hockey Song by Stompin’ Tom, with an impromptu square dance by stragglers.
Guitarist Zakk Wylde is the Hall’s next scheduled act on Thursday night. He might pack the place. but something tells me it just won’t be the same as this golden Sunday morning.