by RGM81 aka Richard McAdam

The festivities began at around 10:36pm on Thursday, April 7th. We had just returned home from the pub, and I tried to push my luck and ask if I could get one of my birthday presents early. Tasha was very happy to oblige, but first I had to give Orion (my cat) a kiss. Apparently I wasn’t going to see him all weekend – my first thought was, “Where are you sending him?” Then she pulled out the tickets to Toronto. Right away I knew we were going to be going to the Canadiens-Leafs game on Saturday. What I didn’t know was that the plan she had been plotting since late January was about to executed.

We arrived in Toronto right around 9AM. Even on just 3 hours of sleep the adrenalin was pumping and we were both really excited to hit the town. I haven’t been to Toronto since 2004 when I went to a Metallica concert, but this was really the first time since late 2003 that I really had any opportunity to see the city and all its incredible attractions. As it was Tasha’s first time in Toronto I really wanted to make sure that she had a great time too. Even though it was my birthday, knowing that she’d already done this much for me to make it a special day really made me want her to have just as great a time as me.

Which made the first stop a very easy choice. Once we dropped off our stuff at the hotel we headed to the CN Tower, the largest free-standing structure in the world. I’d been there before but the incredible stature of the tower and the amazing views of the city are enough to take a person’s breath away even if you’ve seen it a dozen times. We headed to the observation tower and looked down over everything from the harbour and Lake Ontario, to the SkyDome (it will always be the SkyDome to me), to the ACC. Spectacular, even on a cloudy day. Then it was up to the glass floor. It was just as cool as I remembered it. There’s that moment when you’re just about to step on it that your brain wants to stay back because of impending peril of falling almost 1,800 feet. You really do have to shelve it and just GO FOR IT! Tasha was a bit nervous at first but within a couple minutes I had her jumping on it! It’s just such a cool thing to be able to lay down on the glass and stare all the way down to the ground so far below. The Sky Pod was also awesome. To go yet ANOTHER 100m above the ground just made the perspective that much more amazing. Not a bad opening act.

From there it was time for a quick bite to eat. We headed into a food court and went to this Mexican place for quesadillas. It was a little too hectic and we didn’t get the most ideal lunch, but hey it hit the spot and re-fuelled us enough to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s really a place where a person could spend hours enjoying the great history of the greatest sport on Earth. Some of the jerseys in the Hall of Famers wing were just amazing. The 1959-60 Maurice Richard jersey was tattered and torn, and a Joe Mullen Penguins jersey was something that as a hockey card collector I envisioned chopping to bits–it was COVERED in puck marks, scratches, and other battle damage. Of course, for myself as a Habs fan it’s pretty tough to top the replica dressing room they have. I sat at the benches with the game-used Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden pads as Tasha snapped pics. Fun moment. The place has a lot of room for interaction, and I really liked doing the “Classic Calls” most especially the famous goal scored by Guy Lafleur after Don Cherry forgot how to count to five. From there it was on to the trophy room. So much history. We looked at the original Stanley Cup, marvelled at the Hart Trophy and envisioned Carey Price’s name being inscribed on it soon, and stared in awe of the mighty Vezina Trophy. Of course, the centrepiece of the room is Lord Stanley’s Cup. We got our picture taken together with it for the second time–the first was back in 2009 when Sidney Crosby brought it back after the Penguins won the Cup. Fun fact: when we saw it then, the Penguins had yet to have their names inscribed on it, so it was neat to finally see that!

After we were finally done at the HHOF, we headed back to our hotel to catch a quick power nap and figure out what to do for dinner. I thought it would be sorta neat to check out Gretzky’s, as I’d never been there before, and it would be a neat way to continue the hockey theme for the weekend. Within two minutes of suggesting it, a commercial for Gretzky’s came on, at which point Tasha declared that the matter was settled and we HAD to go there. Little did I realize….

So 7pm rolls around and we get a pic of me standing at the 99′s and then go inside. Since it’s a “seat yourself” type of establishment I go and seek out a table and sit down. I noticed that Tasha wasn’t with me, though, but rather she was talking to the hostess at the desk. She motioned for me to come back with her and that since it was my birthday she asked if we could have a spot that was a little more quiet. Such a romantic. So they lead us into a room with an empty table for twelve people. At this point I’m thinking that this is all a little awkward; there’s just two of us. And then….

In walks James Wisniewski. Then Travis Moen. I am just sorta staring in disbelief…what’s going on here?!? And right behind them is none other than Carey Price. Jaw. Meet. Floor. Handshakes for all, and then I see the mastermind behind it all, my good friend Wess. I really would have liked to see the look on my face for all of this. It was absolutely surreal. In addition to the guys, there were also two fellow great Habs fans that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with online a few times, Bill Jacques and Kevin van Steendelaar. Bill created the Carey Price Facebook Group and Kevin runs the awesome Habs On The Prize website. The guy that designs Carey’s masks, David Arrigo, was also there – really cool guy. And with that, the greatest birthday dinner was ON!

There were a lot of jokes and laughs. The guys all have incredible senses of humour, and Carey told us that it’s like this every time they go out. Wiz and Moen had a great back-and-forth regarding a fight they had when Wiz was still in Chicago and Moen was with Anaheim – if you like, you can see the fight here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHqVssOZeyE – Wiz showed it to everybody at the table on his phone and I think in the interests of diplomacy we all agreed that it was a really good fight. LOL Carey and I also talked about the playoffs series he had against Kelowna when he was with Tri-City in 2003 – I went to one of those games! Shout out also to Sturgeon Hall, as Carey’s a fan of the steak sandwich. Some other great yarns were told, which will stay with those of us in attendance. I was still somewhat in shock at all of this – was it really happening? Was I really spending my 30th birthday dinner with three members of the Montreal Canadiens? Yes, yes I was indeed! Wess gave Tasha a lot of props for her persistence in making sure that my birthday was truly memorable….yeah she definitely did that! Just a great experience, and it was all capped off by having everybody serenade Travis and I (his b-day was April 6th) with a rendition of Happy Birthday. I’ve got to get something put together for Wess, who has his birthday on the 14th.

After the singing and the cool little puck cakes were eaten, it was about time to wrap up the affair. Fortunately for me, Tasha smuggled along my Carey Price jersey along and I was able to get it signed, and of course a picture was taken.

The Birthday Boy and The Goalie

I also got shots with Wess, Moen, and the fellas, but somehow we managed to miss Wiz. Darn. Wess mentioned to Tasha that they’d be in touch about Saturday night, confirming that oh yeah there’s going to be a hockey game to go see! David Arrigo stuck around for a bit and we all chatted with him – it was really interesting to learn about the politics of mask-making in the NHL, and I’ve now got a little project to see if I can find some cool cards of goalies that sport the masks he designs. In addition to Carey’s I also LOVE what he’s done with Jason LaBarbera’s many Metallica-themed helmets. After he left, Bill, Kevin, Tasha, and I milled around and chatted for a while before parting ways. What an incredible evening! I will absolutely remember my 30th birthday for the rest of my life!!!!

On Saturday we went out shopping and checked out some more of the many sights of downtown Toronto. It was around 6pm that I heard from Kevin again, so we met up for a quick drink before the game and chatted some more. Really cool guy so if you haven’t yet checked out his site: http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/ – fantastic and a great resource for info and insight into the Canadiens! After saying our goodbyes we headed back to the ACC to pick up our tickets from the Will Call (thanks Wess and Carey!) and took our seats. We were in a rather mixed area between Habs and Leafs fans, which was actually pretty common throughout the arena. We had a great view of the Habs scoring two quick goals in the first, and during the second period we got to see Carey make some pretty sweet stops. Things got a little heated at one point between myself and a Leafs fan in front of me, who at one point tried to say that “the game isn’t played in French” when contesting a penalty call against the Leafs; I informed him that I was from KELOWNA, BC, and he shut up pretty quickly after that! In the third period it was a treat to see Plekanec break in and seal it with a SHG to make it 4-1…from there it was inevitable: soon the Leafs fans were filtering out and that just left the many boisterous Habs fans to start the Ole! Ole! Ole! chant. I just about sang myself hoarse. We got the video of Carey and Subban doing the famous triple low five too! After the final horn sounded we spilled back into the arena and again the Ole! chant broke out, which continued all the way into the streets. Some alcohol-emboldened Leafs fans tried to rain on the parade, but suffice to say they had about as much chance of success as their team does. Nuff said!

So let’s recap the last 48 hours: surprise announcement of trip to Toronto, CN Tower, HHOF, dinner at Gretzky’s with the guys, primo seats at the game, and an absolute TON of fun with my amazing wife that made it all possible. If I’d known that turning 30 was going to be such a crazy awesome affair, maybe I would not have been dreading it so much in the weeks leading up to the big day. LOL

But this was not yet the end. Even though she told me there were “no more surprises” early on Sunday, I had a hard time buying that theory. Too many spectacular reveals had me thinking that somehow this wasn’t all over yet. The day itself was pretty blah, as it was raining pretty hard in Toronto. We pretty much holed up in our awesome hotel room – a spectacular breakfast buffet at the Intercontinental, let me tell you – in the super-comfortable bed and watched the HDTV. Even though Chicago blew it against Detroit, they still backed into the playoffs. Finally it was time to get on the plane and leave behind the spectacular memories of this awesome weekend.

The final surprise… After we got back Tasha told me to go into the closet as there was still one more present. I opened the door and saw a MASSIVE framed photo wrapped in bubble wrapper. Instantly I knew what it was. There was just no way it could be any but. I pulled it out of the closet, unwrapped it, turned it around, and there it was….CENTENNIAL! This is Wess’ greatest creation, and a truly spectacular thing to behold. A beautiful piece of art by Dennis Rufiange showcases 100 authentic signatures of 100 great members of the Montreal Canadiens. One final kicker? Of the limited edition run of 2009, this was # 30. Apparently this should have gone to Chris Nilan, but for whatever reason it did not. This was one final landmark for my 30th birthday. I seriously just stared at it for an hour, looking at all the signatures….Beliveau, Roy, Lafleur, Henri, Yvon Lambert, The Rocket (a cut signature, of course), Josh Gorges, Claude Lemieux, Chris Chelios, Vinny Damphousse, TRAVIS MOEN, Mike Cammalleri, Elmer Lach, Butch Bouchard, and yes, of course, Carey Price. Such an incredible masterpiece, it truly deserves the name: the Mona Lisa of Sports Memorabilia. No more surprises, she said. Yeah, except for a massive one!

So that’s the story of my 30th birthday. It was definitely the greatest birthday I’ve ever had. I now have the unenviable task of trying to even come close to reaching that bar in return. It was said a couple of times at dinner: I truly do have the wife of the year…nay, millennium. None of this would have been possible without my amazing and truly incredible wife, Tasha. Words cannot express how much I love you.

Of course I have to send out some big thanks here. Wess, dude, this was EPIC on your part – I am eternally grateful for you helping put all of this together for me. You are a true friend! I am beyond thrilled that Carey, James, and Travis took the time out of their Friday evening in Toronto to spend two hours with me on my birthday. For all the negative things you sometimes hear about hockey players, these three guys made my year just by being there. Total class! It’s very cool that Bill, Kevin, and David came out to this and helped make the evening that much cooler. You guys are awesome!

And again, to Tasha: you are simply the greatest person ever. I am now in the conceptual stages of Operation Payback Time. I love you!

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