by Steve Paikin Tuesday August 21, 2012

For those of us who are old enough to remember when the "Original Six" hockey teams made up the entire NHL, yesterday was a great day.

The Chicago Stadium is no more. The original Madison Square Garden is gone. So are the Detroit Olympia and Boston Garden. The Montreal Forum is movie theatre now. 

And it looked as if the original home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, built in 1931, would join that list.

But thanks to some forward thinking by many folks, Maple Leaf Gardens is alive and, even better, has ice.

The marquis at 60 Carlton Street still proclaims it's Maple Leaf Gardens. But a lawsuit with one of the worst teams in hockey means the new owner, Ryerson University, can't call it that anymore. Like it matters. Everyone's going to call it "The Gardens" anyway.

But thanks to a $15 million donation from housing developer Peter Gilgan (Mattamy Homes, named after his kids Matt and Amy), and assistance from various levels of government, Maple Leaf Gardens lives on as the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Yesterday morning, the folks at Ryerson opened the doors to the media for a skate, so I can report to you that the ice is as smooth as glass. I once played a charity hockey game at The Gardens more than 20 years ago. This was the first time back on the ice and even though the old ice pad has been taken over by Loblaw, and the new ice pad has been built on the second storey, it all looks glorious.

The new rink seats 2,600 (3,000 with standing room). 

A couple of rows of old blue seats from the original Gardens now makes up one end zone.

The place is still a bit of a work in progress as the "wet paint" signs attest.

The exterior has been cleaned up to the point where it looks so much better than it ever did, both during the day ...

... and at night.

So, yes, it's good news for the students at Ryerson, who have a magnificent new facility to play in.

It's good news for Loblaw, who have wonderfully repurposed the old ice level. It's good news for Ryerson, which has moved big time into the big leagues with significant new facilities on its campus.

But most of all, it's good news for Toronto. One of its most famous intersections --- Church and Carlton --- had been allowed to fall into disrepair. But through this collaboration, the neighborhood has been brought back to life. 

When the NHL owners lock out the players as they surely soon will, I intend to hop the subway and catch a Ryerson Rams game. 

After all, it'll be the best hockey in town that you can see on a subway line --- just like when the Leafs played at Church and Carlton.