If you’re a passionate sports fan, I am sure that you have at least thought about trying to go see every one of your team’s games in a given season.
For most, this is impossible. There are things like family, kids, work, etc., that are always there and are all valid reasons why one would not be able to make this kind of dream come true.
For one sports fan, however, he has gone ahead and made it a reality. If you’re a hockey fan, especially a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, than you may already know who I am talking about.
His name is Mike Wilson. Wilson is known as “The Ultimate Leafs Fan” and is someone who is also well known for having an unbelievable collection of hockey memorabilia, artifacts, and much, much more.
Anyways, back in in September, Wilson announced that he would be taking a season long trip to see every Maple Leafs game this season. This trip was a life-long dream hat Wilson had because not only is he a Leafs fan, but he is someone who wants to interact with Leafs fans throughout North America this season.
I am pleased to say that I was lucky enough to conduct an email interview with this hockey/Leafs fanatic. In this interview, you will read about how he became a Leafs’ fan, what he will be doing on this special journey, and a whole lot more.
PH: Growing up, how did you become such a big Leafs’ fan?
ULF: Growing up in the late 1950’s/60’s winters were long and cold so we had lots of outdoor rinks surrounding the neighborhood. TV was a few channels so it was outside playing on street and hockey was the game. It went from road hockey all day progressing to the local school rink and I became obsessed with the game.
When I started to play it was all I wanted to do. I was the first one at Gooderham Public School (a 5-minute walk from our house) Saturday mornings and unless I had a game, I’d play until dinner and back until my dad dragged me home.
During the week I was allowed to go after dinner for a few hours, but my dad would have to come get me (around 8:30) and it got so bad the man who flooded the rink would often say, “Your dad will be coming. Isn’t it time to go?”
When not playing for my own team, which was only a few time a week for top level (Metro League) and not at the local rink, I’d be shooting pucks in the basement or on the street playing road hockey.
The natural progression became to watch the pros on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday nights. Games started at 9 p.m. in those days (8 p.m. at Gardens) and I was allowed to stay up as long as I could to watch our black and white TV. The Maple Leafs were on and they became my team.
My obsession from the game itself leads to my love of all things pertaining to the Maple Leafs. When I saw my first live game at the age of six and saw those magnificent blue colors in person I was mesmerized.
From that moment on they became everything but remember they were the only game in town, Argos in the summer months along with the Toronto Maple Leafs minor league baseball team. Outside of cartoons it was Hockey Night in Canada and the Leafs every Saturday night, no games during the week. I’d listen to away game on radio in bed.
PH: As a kid, who was your favorite Leafs’ player? How about now?
ULF: Dave Keon was my favorite with Frank Mahovlich a close second because my dad played hockey at Leaside Arena and Frank’s dad was the skate sharpener. He gave my dad a poster of Frank as a kid, he hung it in his tiny shop and it stayed there until he retired. When Frank visited our Room a few years ago he told me that and they have family photos with that in poster in the background.
Today I marvel at the skill set of kids like Matthews, Marner, Nylander etc., who do things with the puck at elite level speeds that weren’t possible years ago.
PH: How did you start getting into Leafs memorabilia and how were you able to grow such an extensive collection?
ULF: My love of the Leafs at that early age encouraged me to have anything with the royal blue color on it or that beautiful crest. So it was cards, paper clippings, cereal box cards, cons, marbles anything with a Maple Leaf I wanted.
My first real piece of memorabilia was a game used team signed Carl Brewer stick from a family relative who was best friends with Carl.
The second was the Frank Mahovlich poster I mentioned earlier that was a promotion from Libby’s beans and it was my first over-sized color photo my uncle got from Dominion (we shopped at Loblaws). He got two, one for me and one for me to give to Frank’s dad. It then just continued on from there to have anything with a Maple Leaf.
I still have that same passion today 56 years later. It’s something I think people like me either have or don’t regarding collecting because it’s so much more than just that.
PH: What is it like to have famous people in hockey want to visit your cave?
ULF: It’s pretty cool to have them share their experiences with us. Remember, they were all kids as well and had their heroes growing up, scoring the winning goal in a Game 7; making a big save or anything to win the Stanley Cup.
I never look at it other than here’s someone we share a common interest because I played the game competitively; they just played it better; now were exchanging childhood memories related to the game.
PH: Tell us about what inspired you to see every single Leafs’ game this season? Did you ever try and do it before this season?
ULF: With the collection receiving the media attention it has throughout the hockey world, Deb and I have used it too help with fundraising for various causes. We feel very fortunate to have been very successful doing that with great support from wonderful people in the corporate world, fans and hockey that have made our work so much easier.
It’s allowed us to host numerous hockey events, talks and hundreds of visitors from every walk of life not only in hockey, but musicians, billionaires, a famous astronaut, politicians etc. People send emails daily asking a question, telling a story, offering me a piece of memorabilia etc. We are at the stage in life (I’m 64-years-old and retired) that we are soon to be on our own so next step is a condo, which we purchased a few years ago. Most of our collection has moved to the Museum of History in Ottawa.
We discussed our next move and I’ve spent a lifetime acquiring these wonderful artifacts of Maple Leafs history now spend my time speaking about it and researching what the pieces all mean.
The next step is to find out why people are so passionate about a team that hasn’t won in 50-years and why the love spreads across our country. No better way than to step out into Leafs Nation and experience it for myself.
The plan is to document my findings and share them with Leafs Nation.
I’ve never thought of myself as a collector, but rather a preserver of history and sharing the findings. That’s what this project is all about.
Next year I would like to speak about my adventures and share my experiences across the country.
We talked about doing this for the 100th season but I was still working and couldn’t plan properly. Last winter Deb and I were walking in Florida and I brought it up again, we went back to condo and started planning, but had to wait until June for schedule to be released. The day it was we started and Deb has done a fantastic job organizing everything along with Dave and Miranda Thomas (Blinking Eights) who work the social media, media etc.
PH: Besides seeing the games themselves, what do you hope to accomplish on this trip?
ULF: The games are secondary. This trip is about the experience of seeing the look on a kids face attending his first game; the proud father standing beside him; the guys driving hours just to see the team play; the local guy who cheers for the Leafs; The blue and white sweaters walking the halls of each away rink; people telling stories of family tradition watching the Leafs such as the grandparents or parents listening to games on the radio as a family; the passing down of cheering for the team among generations and so on. I want to be surprised speaking to fans about the love of the team or a favorite moment. There is a story but we just don’t know what it is yet.
The four guys who drove from Winnipeg to Columbus to see the team play in the middle of January and the team most years wasn’t competitive. I met groups in Minnesota that not only drove from Winnipeg, but some (hundreds they tell me) did the 6.5 hour drive from Thunder Bay and have done it for years, not just this year because the team is good.
That’s my objective, to hear and see things like that and then write and hopefully speak about them.
PH: Have any big names in hockey spoken to you about this trip? If so, what have they said?
ULF: Lots of hockey people like Brendan Shanahan, Brian Burke, Jimmy Devellano, Rick Tocchet, Peter Deboer, and Bruce Boudreau are just a few who’ve wished me well and think what I’m doing is great.
All the media guys who I see regularly at airports and games have included me in dinners etc. Hockey people are the best.
My plan is to meet fans, ex-players, coaches, GM’s, celebs (I need contact to meet Mike Myers for 5-minutes at a game if you know anyone, haha!) and hear their experiences regarding the Leafs.
PH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
ULF: The experience so far is well above expectations and I’m really excited about the second half because the story seems to gaining good traction throughout the league.
What excites me is this will become less about me and more of a “sports story;” a fan following his/her team that in this case happens to be the Toronto Maple Leafs. This journey can apply to any fan of any team or sport.
I met Rob Simpson who attended 31 hockey games in 31 days. He loves what I’m doing.
I met a group called the 123 club, which there are 15 members who attended the home arena, park, stadium of all 123 professional teams (NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL) in North America. They love what I’m doing.
Photo: Toronto Star