As a lifelong hockey fan, visiting the Hall of Fame in Toronto is always a highlight. I was especially looking forward to this visit because in the years since my last trip, several of the players I’d idolized as a child had been inducted. I was excited to see their plaques and get up close and personal with the best trophy in professional sports – the Stanley Cup.
The Hall of Fame is located in downtown Toronto in an area full of restaurants and hotels. There are numerous parking garages around, though like any big city, navigating the one-way streets can be challenging. The area is very walkable – it was well below freezing the day we visited, and we still hiked the few short blocks from our hotel.
Actually getting into the Hall of Fame can be a little tricky for first-timers. It’s located inside of a mall in downtown Toronto, which has always struck me as a little odd. Once you enter the mall, you take an escalator downstairs to the lower level, and the entrance will be hard to miss.
As luck would have it, we happened to visit just two days after an enormous statue of Gordie Howe – arguably the most famous of my beloved Red Wings – was unveiled at the entrance. He had passed away the previous year, and this was a nice tribute.
Inside the Hall of Fame
Once you’re inside, you’re surrounded by displays stretching out in all directions. If I have one complaint about the Hall of Fame, it’s that there is no flow to the exhibits. We started looking at memorabilia in one area and then found ourselves backtracking all over the place trying to cover the entire area.
Most of the center section of the Hall of Fame was taken up by memorabilia dedicated to notable players throughout the years. Some of them were fully inducted members, but a lot of them were not. There was also quite a bit of space dedicated to current players, which I didn’t really care for. In my mind, the HoF should focus on the players who’ve been inducted. We did come across a pretty moving video tribute to Steve Yzerman, my favorite player of all time, in that section, which was nice.
There was also a fun display highlighting different jerseys throughout the years. There was one featuring the Batman logo, as well as the classically bad yellow/orange/brown Vancouver Canucks jerseys from a couple decades ago.
The Hall of Fame had also recreated the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room, complete with replica gear from the era that the players played in.
In one corner, we came across a bunch of interactive games. Judging by the lines for them, they were clearly geared towards kids, but that didn’t stop my dad and me from taking a turn. A lot more adults joined the lines after us, so I think everyone was just waiting for someone else to make the first move. I took a turn shooting pucks at a digitally projected goalie. Sadly, I didn’t score any goals so I guess an NHL contract isn’t in my future. There was also an option to play the role of the goalie and try to stop pucks that were launched from a screen.
If playing the game isn’t your thing, there’s also an option to try your hand in the broadcast booth. I took a shot at reading off some highlights and let’s just say that I don’t see a future in front of the camera for myself.
The Holy Grail
The Stanley Cup is by far the coolest major American sports trophy. It’s presented directly to the players instead of the team owner, they take turns drinking champagne out of it in the locker room, the names of each champion are engraved on its side, and each player gets to spend a day with the Cup doing whatever he wants whether it’s a charity event or eating ice cream sundaes out of it. Seeing it in person is by far the highlight of any visit to the Hall.
The Cup, along with the other NHL trophies, is housed in what used to be a bank lobby on the second floor of the museum. The sign pointing toward the entrance to area with the display calls it the “Cathedral of Hockey,” and it’s not wrong. The surroundings are gorgeous, and well-befitting such a storied prize. My favorite team – the Red Wings – had won the Cup four times in the last 20 years, so getting to see my favorite players’ names up close was very cool for me. It was fun to reminisce about the great teams of the past and see the names of players I’d forgotten about over the years.
There is an official photographer stationed in front of the Cup to take group photos, but you can also use your own cameras and phones to snap pictures. If you’re driving in the area, getting an official photo may be well-worth your money – when we were there, the photos cost $10 for a print and included a digital download and a $10 gift card for a Canadian gas chain. We knew we’d have to stop for gas on the way home, so the way we saw it, as long as we stopped at that chain, we’d basically be getting a free family picture with the Cup.
You’re also able to wander among theother hardware housed in the area. Trophies like the Conn Smythe – awarded to the playoff MVP each year – and the Norris Trophy for best defenseman can be viewed in glass cases throughout the lobby area.
One of the coolest parts is inside the old bank vault. Here you can see the old bands of champions’ names that have been removed. As years went by, the Cup got taller and taller as winners’ names were inscribed. Eventually, the older names had to be removed. Every few years, as the bottom band is completed, the oldest is removed and stored in the HoF.
There are currently 392 players, builders, and on-ice officials honored in the Hall of Fame. Each has a plaque dedicated to his or her accomplishments and a brief bio. It’s a sign that I’m getting old that most of my childhood hockey heroes are now enshrined here. In the decade+ since I last visited, more than half a dozen of my favorite Wings have been inducted.
The way the plaques are displayed makes the ones in the top row a little hard to see – especially for us shorter folks – but it’s cool to stroll through the rows of legendary names. This is definitely the part of the museum that’s best suited toward the hockey geeks out there.
In recent years, a couple female hockey players have been inducted as well, so it’s nice to see the women’s game getting some recognition.
The final section of the museum showcases jerseys from international hockey teams. There were tons of jerseys from Olympic and World Cup competitions, as well as some from professional teams in Europe. My favorite was a jersey from the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Even non-hockey fans from the US should be familiar with that story.
There’s the classic exit-through-the-gift-shop at the end, of course. I found the prices to be pretty reasonable compared to NHL merchandise that is available in regular stores. I took home a Red Wings Lego zamboni kit that I’m quite pleased with.
Have you ever visited a sports Hall of Fame? Which one is the best?