It's been a lousy season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They're been eliminated from the playoffs, and if not for the Buffalo Sabres tanking would be in the basement of the Atlantic Division. Players have fought at practice. Fans have thrown jerseys onto the ice in protest.
But there was a real big bright spot in Toronto over the weekend.
When 11-year-old Garrett Gamble was only 10 months old, he was diagnosed with Mucopolysaccharidosis IVA. Also called Morquio Syndrome, the rare inherited disease "is caused by an absence or malfunctioning of enzymes required to break down molecules that help build bone, cartilage, tendons, corneas, skin, and connective tissue," according to the Maple Leafs. The disease has confined Garrett to a wheelchair, but it hasn't kept him from falling in love with hockey and becoming a die-hard Leafs fan.
He has always wanted to meet players and drop the puck before a game, and on Saturday the team made all that happen — and more.
The Leafs signed Garrett to a one-day contract (worth the max under the cap, win an unlimited Coca-Cola signing bonus). He chose to wear the number 42 because his favorite player is Toronto center Tyler Bozak. The back of his jersey read G-Man, Garrett's nickname, and was hung in his own stall in the Leafs locker room. The team gave him a player page on its website, he hung out with the guys, spent time around the day's action, and then dropped the first puck (with some help from Leafs legend Wendel Clark). He even signed autographs after he made his way into the stands!
And then things got really interesting.
Bozak scored his first career hat trick and assisted on the overtime game winner in the Leafs' 4-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators. Normally, Bozak would be the hands-down first star of the game. But not with G-Man in the house. Garrett was named the number one star, and to celebrate Bozak took him for a spin around the rink.
“He’s an unbelievable kid,” Leafs forward Nazem Kadri said after the game. “This means the world to him and it means the world to us to be able to pull through for him.”
Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre was sports at its absolute best. Well done, Maple Leafs — and great work, G-Man!
Photos: David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Toronto Maple Leafs