LEAFS TIME MACHINE: Behind the TTC College mural cover-up and catching up with Colaiacovo

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You can never take the spirit of the Maple Leafs out of 60 Carlton Street, but they’re gone for now from nearby College TTC station.

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Many from the Gardens era have wondered what has become of the blue-and-white wall mural that has been on the southbound platform since 1985. Familiar to game-night commuters for 15 years, it has been covered up for many months.

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That the Montreal Canadiens remain intact on the other side of the tracks, a companion piece of artist Charles Pachter’s ‘Hockey Knights In Canada.’ is adding to the disenchantment of strap-hangers.

Stuart Green of TTC media relations advises fans to keep calm and carry on, as the Leafs panels were taken out for construction of a new elevator.

“The mural was removed carefully and is in storage until it will be re-installed, currently slated for late 2025,” Green said in an e-mail to the Sun.

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Sorry Stu, but as we’ve all endured a few transit projects in town that lingered well beyond completion dates, perhaps 2027, maybe as part of a 60th Stanley Cup anniversary, might be a more realistic date for those Leafs to come back in view.

Whenever it’s done, Green says the plan is to have the images of the nine Leafs at or near their original location.

It’s a good time to re-visit the creation of the piece and Order of Canada member Pachter’s public pugnacity dealing with former Leafs owner Harold Ballard.

From the moment Pachter’s design was approved by then-TTC chairman Julian Porter to jazz up the station, Ballard was balking.

Pachter had sorted through newspapers and photos from the Leafs media guide, choosing official team photog Graig Abel’s action shots of Rick Vaive, Stew Gavin, Greg Terrion and Mike Palmateer among others, to create the flow of a game on both platforms.

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Though not a Leafs fan, nor big hockey enthusiast, Pachter did understand the two solitudes rivalry and how the juxtaposition of the full colour of each clubs would pop.

But Ballard saw bleu, blanc et rouge and went ballistic in the media.

“He said ‘how dare I use bloody French players’,” Pachter said with a laugh when interviewed for our 2017 book, Toronto and the Maple Leafs, a City and its Team.

Ballard also threatened legal action for copyright infringement of the Leafs logo. Naturally, Pachter had full co-operation from the Habs to use both their crest and their stars such as Guy Lafleur, but had to tweak Toronto’s details, such as making the Leafs logo a generic blue.

“We also had to adjust little things such as narrow the stripes on the socks in case they took us to court. Which they never did,” Pachter said.

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“All Ballard ended up doing was promoting the work and giving me plenty of free publicity. I was grateful.”

Before signing off on the project, Mayor June Rowlands did ask Pachter to make sure all the Leafs players were depicted wearing helmets as her teenage children were playing hockey at the time.

Upon unveiling, Pachter also faced opposition from art critics, with the Toronto Star comparing his work to “a kiddie cartoon strip blown up to massive proportions.”

But Leafs players certainly liked it, Gavin telling us he always pointed out his likeness to his family whenever travelling through the station.

“I think it still has a strong narrative,” Pachter said. “And there’s a neutrality to it. It was never something that’s in your face. I’m glad it’s still there.

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“My mother had the best line when she first saw it: ‘Well, they’ve put you in the basement, but at least it’s permanent.’”

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ONCE A LEAF

Featuring one of the more than 1,100 skaters, coaches and general managers who have played or worked in Toronto since 1917.

D Carlo Colaiacovo

Born: January 27, 1983 in Toronto.

Years with the Leafs: 2002-09

Games played: 111 (12-21-33 pts.), 57 PIMS

Sweater numbers: 8, 45

THEN

Colaiacovo badly wanted to make his hometown team proud, but often battled injuries as much as the opposition.

His first major mishap underlined his star-crossed Leafs career, going for a big hit on Ottawa’s Vaclav Varada, missing his target and getting a serious concussion.

Knee surgery, a shoulder mishap and other issues nagged the first-round pick from 2001.

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“I obviously wish I could’ve limited the number of injuries,” Colaiacovo said this week while watching Leafs practice. “But I also credit myself for adopting a certain way to play, with my heart on my sleeve.

“That came with some recklessness and, unfortunately, I paid the price. The game has evolved so much. I look back and wonder what I could’ve done differently, if certain information (on conditioning, equipment and rehab) was available, based on what we know today.”

The first of four defencemen Toronto chose to lead off the ‘01 draft — along with Karel Pilar, Brendan Bell and Jay Harrison — Colaiacovo had 17 points in 48 games of his best Leafs year and always produced on the farm to stay in the club’s plans.

“My experiences in Toronto made me who I am and allowed me to move on to different places (St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia, Buffalo) where I could learn to get better at certain things and  probably limit other ones. You live, you learn in going about life.

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“I consider myself very blessed to play out a full career, 14 years long in the NHL and (two more in Germany with Mannheim).

“My fear as the door was starting to close was what I was going to do next? I always had an open mind to anything that would keep me in hockey and was very lucky I had friends in the media industry.”

NOW

Colaiacovo recalled his first shift on TSN 1050’s morning show being quite different than his NHL debut.

“Playing hockey, I felt comfortable, I knew what to do. In radio, because it was a live mic, sometimes I was nervous about how I was saying things and using certain words. I was so used to being in a locker room, the thing I always feared most in the beginning was cursing on air.”

As a ‘good quote’ frequently sought for comment by the many hockey writers in town, Colaiacovo took an interest in that side of the business. He paid rapt attention in training camp when the Leafs used to invite media to explain how their job works to prospects.

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“It’s a good lesson for players today as well, that there’s role for everybody in hockey and you should treat people with respect. For me, because of those relationships I built, it helped me transition to this position.

“Never thought I’d be the media type myself, but I loved sports and loved talking about it. The TSN job almost seemed like a match made in heaven, to cover a team I used to play for and stay connected with the city I live in.”

Colaiacovo started on a morning show with energetic veteran Michael Landsberg.

“He was one my biggest influences, a guy I heard a lot about but didn’t know personally. He was one of the best human beings, too, and working with him was just a lot of fun.

“(TSN’s) Jeff O’Neill, another former player, being the personality he is, is also someone I see myself wanting to bring to radio, where you’re trying to be both knowledgeable and entertaining. In the course of a long season, sometimes that’s needed.”

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As O’Neill morphed into his ‘O-Dog’ persona, Colaiacovo was nicknamed ‘Coco’ and is currently partnering with the retired Landsberg’s successor, Aaron Korolnek, on the First Up show.

“I’ve prided myself of being a voice in a market that people really care about, trying to be the voice of reason, not get too high or too low.

“This is a great town to be in because there are a lot of passionate people.”

Many of the excitable are among the 50,000 followers Colaiacovo has on his X (formerly known as Twitter) account. Years of playoff failure have tested their patience and it doesn’t take much at Scotiabank Arena to push their buttons.

“People get emotional, they’re fans and I understand that,” Colaiacovo said. “But for me, the best thing is I’m making a living talking hockey for a team that people absolutely live and die for.

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“I work my hardest every day to be informative, entertaining and at the same time, try to be respectful about what I’m saying and who I say it about.”

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FAVOURITE LEAFS MEMORY

A pre-teen Colaiacovo experienced the Leafs’ ’93 playoff run on the other side of the glass, but his playing years coincided with nearly a decade of post-season famine.

“One of my biggest regrets is I wish I could’ve experienced playoff hockey in Toronto. Even today, I still feel the energy and the passion that comes with it.

“In my career, I won an OHL championship (with the Erie Otters) and in the NHL had some big games and some big moments. But what I cherish most were the greats I had a chance to play with, such as here with Mats Sundin, Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker.

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“In St. Louis, I also got to play with Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes, who is one of my best friends. There was Vincent Lecavalier in Philly and Detroit with (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk.

“I look back six years away from playing and couldn’t be happier than where I am today.”

THE WEEK IN LEAFS HISTORY

It was 22 years ago Saturday, the Leafs first trotted out their retro St. Patricks sweaters at the ACC in what’s become a March tradition … It’s also the date of Russian-born Sweeney Schriner’s last hat trick in a 1946 game against Chicago, just before he retired. Syl Apps also scored three in the same 9-4 win over Chicago … Sunday will mark 57 years since Terry Sawchuk recorded his 100th NHL shutout in a Leafs uniform.

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