Leafs head outdoors

JOE WARMINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

With his skates slung over his shoulder and an-ear-to-ear grin, he looked like a kid who was skipping school.

Sometimes in life you just have to do that. "I don't want to go back to city council," teased Mayor David Miller at the outdoor rink at High Park yesterday.

I'll bet he didn't. Less high-sticking here. And less bodychecking.

Truth is, there was not one person at the unveiling of the newly renovated outdoor rink park yesterday who did not agree.

It was one of those time-stands-still kind of moments. This was as close to perfect as you are ever going to get at a time when it seems so many have a pout on and a pet peeve on the tip of their tongue.

Not on this day. No talk of budgets, the economy, murder, Tasers, taxes, dog-attacking coyotes and, yes, a ridiculous new $300 provincial home emissions charge.

We'll slam on about all of that at a later time.

Every once in a while you have to park the negativity and taste the snow.

There's nothing better than a vacation in the middle of the city and at no cost at all.

You can do that during any of the four seasons in High Park. But this newly transformed outdoor rink, paid for in a joint agreement between the Maple Leafs, the city and The Home Depot people, makes a winter day the ideal time to break out those blades and enjoy the elements.

There were hundreds of schoolkids on hand -- and plenty of families. There was smiling, clapping and cheering. And that was from the players. "I mean look at them," said the mayor, accompanied on the ice by Councillor Bill Saundercook.

"The Maple Leafs all have smiles on their faces. They love outdoor hockey as much as we do."

One of those smiles belonged to Curtis Joseph -- a Maple Leaf legend who made his NHL debut in 1989. Two decades and 450 NHL wins in the net later and Cujo was on the ice in Maple Leaf blue and white at High Park enjoying every minute of it.

"I love it," he said. "It's just great to see the Maple Leafs out here."

He was like the mayor. He did not want to leave: "My philosophy is you play until they rip the sweater off you," joked Joseph.

Fellow goalie Vesa Toskala, who grew up in Finland, said it reminded him of his childhood. "I started playing on an outdoor rink," he said.

And Matt Stajan teased that this ice, prepared so well by the city's great parks' staff, is NHL ready. "It's certainly better than it was at Madison Square Gardens on Sunday."

"It's better than a lot of the ice in the NHL," coach Ron Wilson told the crowd.

Stajan was enjoying himself -- saying he often played on an outdoor rink in Etobicoke not too far away -- so this brought back a lot of memories of growing up in the GTA where so many kids grow up dreaming about playing in the NHL.

Of course playing outdoor shinny has nothing to do with becoming a pro hockey player. It's just fun. A terrific way to get some exercise and play the great game.

This Legacy outdoor rink program is a terrific idea. The Maple Leafs, The Home Depot and the city have now upgraded eight outdoor rinks in Toronto in the past three years at a cost of $400,000 and there will be many more to come.

It's money well spent because it's the kind of street- level community project that every family can access. "With the partners we are proud to do it," said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Richard Peddie.

For the record, this was not Mayor Miller's first skate on this pad -- or his last. He lives nearby and plays shinny at High Park regularly with his son and his pals. "I am all about the corners and I do backcheck," he said with a smile.

Turns out our mayor can skate pretty well -- and not just inside the council chambers.


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