My most cherished possession

March 2024

In April 1965, just a few weeks after my eleventh birthday, my dad and I took the train from (then) Port Arthur to Toronto to see our beloved Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens in game 3 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals at Maple Leafs Gardens.

My dad was a lifelong Leaf fan and also played for the U of T Varsity Blues in the late 40’s winning a national championship under the coaching of “Ace” Bailey, himself a legend in the NHL.
With eyes as big as saucers and a pounding heart I saw my first NHL game and my boyhood hero Frank Mahovlich before my very eyes. It was magical. Dave Keon scored the winning goal in overtime and I remember my dad jumping out of his seat in celebration and I immediately grabbed onto his coat because I thought he was going to fall down into the row below us.

Because my dad was friends with Ace Bailey (who was the time-keeper at the Gardens at that time), he arranged for us to go to the Leafs dressing room after the game to meet my hero, the Big M.

This larger than life man was kind enough to give me his autographed, game stick from that game - it was a surreal experience meeting someone who I had watched every Saturday night on our little TV on Winnipeg Avenue.

I treasured that stick my entire life until last year when I began to wonder what would happen to it when I was not around to protect it. I never for one minute considered selling it as, to me, it was priceless. Then the thought entered my mind - maybe I should return the stick to Mahovlich? It might be my chance to meet him once again (some 57 years later) and thank him by returning his stick back to him.

I was aware that my former brother-in-law (I have quite a few of them) was friends with Ken Dryden and that might be a way of contacting the Big M. John Macfarlane was married to my eldest sister until the mid 80’s and was a successful editor and publisher in the magazine industry. In the mid-70’s he was the editor for a book written by Ken Dryden called “Let’s Play Better Hockey.” and has remained friends with Dryden through the years.

I reached out to John with my idea and he gladly reached out to Dryden explaining my offer who in turn reached out to Mahovlich. Several days later Dryden informed John that Frank would be happy to have his stick back since “he gets lots of requests for sticks but has never had an offer to return one.”

We arranged a meeting last May at a Starbucks in north Toronto and it was another magical moment in my life.

I saw him get out of his car and walked up to him stick in hand. He smiled, didn't say much and immediately examined the top of the stick to ensure he recognized the knob. “Yup that’s my stick” he proclaimed and placed the stick in his trunk next to his golf clubs.

We walked into Starbucks together and I got in line for coffee while Frank sat down and opened up his newspaper.

He then looked at me and politely said “I’ll have a breakfast sandwich too.”

I thought, wow, I am buying Frank Mahovlich breakfast!!!

He was tremendously open and comfortable, and we shared an amazing 30 minutes chatting. The moment he started talking it took me back to hearing him interviewed between periods on Hockey Night in Canada in the 60’s. He was very soft-spoken but well-spoken and a true gentleman.

He shared several stories including winning the Rookie of the Year in 1957 finishing ahead of Bobby Hull.

He said that Bobby Hull’s mom never forgave him and “has hated me ever since.”

Thanks to good fortune and a wonderful boyhood hero, for 30 minutes I felt like an 11-year old boy again and that’s something I will treasure forever.

Tom Callon grew up in Thunder Bay and wanted to share his story. He can be reached at

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