Famous for capturing the true essence of warmth, family, and the spirit of Christmas, Norman Rockwell inspired so many, with his wonderful artwork. Throughout the month of November, culminating in a very authentic Holiday Season experience, on Sunday, December 7th; the on-ice activities of the Toronto Marlboros improved exponentially, and with one very special off-ice activity, the team, younger brothers and sisters, and parents, all grew to become much closer as a family. It was almost like “Rockwell in reverse,” where life was imitating art!”
In the dressing room, after practice on December 2nd, Coach Gialedakis gave out very specific instructions to his team, and everyone listened… even more than usual! To the returning players that had experienced this before, they knew just how special this would be. Somehow, the positive expectations of a wonderful event to come, was seemingly transmuted through the ethers, to the players that would experience the Drysdale Tree Farm for the very first time!
To his young charges the Coach simply said: “This weekend at the Drysdale Tree Farm, it’s all about family, friendship, creating deeper bonds, and celebrating Christmas! It’s going to be cold, so dress warmly! We will have hot chocolate for you, tons of food, and great desserts! Several families will be bringing in all kinds of goodies for you! You’re going to love it!”
“You will have lots of great opportunities to have fun, play in the maze, cut down Christmas Trees, EAT, go for horse drawn sleigh rides, ride the train, sing Christmas Carols; and if you’ve been good all year… maybe even have a visit with Santa Claus! How many people think they have been good enough all year to deserve a visit with Santa Claus?” Everyone in the dressing room put up their hands, even the team managers, Eddie Lee and Warren Hill!
When the very crisp, cold, sunny day arrived, each family made the long drive north, under blue skies, on Hwy 400, to go West on Hwy 89; ending up in the town of Alliston, eventually reaching their route destination: “Drysdale Tree Farm!” Upon arrival in the jammed parking lot, there seemed to be a good deal of organization in what appeared at first to be a rather chaotic Christmas scene, right out of the movies! As a matter of fact, there have been several major movies filmed at the Drysdale Tree Farm; the setting is just that beautiful!
With this being Coach Gialedakis’ 20th year taking his family and teams up to Drysdale, the very kind and caring staff knew exactly what was expected and they delivered in the most exemplary ways! They had prepared a private “Christmas Shack,” which was the perfect size for the players and parents. Long, cafeteria-style tables were covered from end to end and edge to edge, with as much food as could possibly fit! All of the food and the drinks for this very special event, were contributed by the team parents and everybody went overboard! Their generosity took this Marlboros team buffet, way over the top, in terms of quality and quantity!
Once everyone had established their presence at the Christmas Shack, off went the boys to play in the maze for a good solid hour. As cold as it was, the weather did not stop the boys from making grand leaps through the air, sometimes 6-10 feet in the air, from one bail of hay to another, while others ran through the maze and hid, from those who were “IT,” during a very invigorating game of “tag!”
As soon as the “call to eat” went out, the boys quickly rushed back to the Christmas shack to dig in! They were cold and hungry and the combination of great food and hot chocolate warmed their insides, filled their bellies, and made for a very content group of hockey players, younger brothers and sisters, and their parents!
After a rather spectacular feast, Coach Louie lead his contingent to the most sacred place on the 400 acre Drysdale tract of beautiful land: “Santa’s House!” As the heat from their warm breath met the cold air, the windows of Santa’s Shack continually fogged up, as the boys peered inside, while others held places in line, so that the boys could see the “Big Man in Red,” listening very carefully to the Christmas lists of each boy and girl that sat on his lap!
The anticipation was palpable! They couldn’t wait to have a “sit-down” with the “Big Man in Red, from the North Pole!” But “wait” is exactly what they had to do! Although it seemed like an eternity, and having waited 364 days to visit with Santa Claus, the one hour standing outside of Santa’s House, in the cold, seemed like “forever!”
Finally, the door slowly opened and one of Santa’s Elves invited the boys in for their big pow-wow with the Chief Executive Officer of “all that is Christmas,” and nobody was disappointed! Frankly, some were surprised that Coach Louie was allowed through the door! Some could not understand how it was that he “got past Santa’s Elf,” who acted as somewhat of a “gate-keeper,” keeping out those who were on Santa’s “NAUGHTY LIST;” but somehow, admission was granted to the Coach, all of the players and their siblings, and then… out came the requests!
“Santa, I want this! Santa, I want that!" It was so much fun to watch and listen to! Everybody felt great! After all, Santa took the time to listen, encourage, advise, and quietly acknowledge, that those who were deserving would be receiving exactly what it was that they deserved!
At the end of the day, players, brothers, sisters, and their parents, all left the Drysdale Tree Farm, with their freshly cut Christmas trees adorning their rooftops, and imbuing their vehicles with the most fragrant pine scents, happy, stuffed from all the good food, and just a little bit closer, as a team, and most importantly, as friends sharing in the true spirit of Christmas!