How Owen Sound helped form Maple Leafs goalie coach Curtis Sanford

Even all these years later, Curtis Sanford nonetheless has the seats memorized: Part B, Row C, Seats 2 and three, proper behind the opposing goalie.

It was proper there in these seats, in Owen Sound, Ontario’s J.D. McArthur Enviornment, that he and his dad used to catch each one of many native Owen Sound Platers’ video games as a child. The household had season tickets for the OHL membership for the reason that first yr it arrived on the town, in 1989.

And it was that historical past with the Platers that made the 1996-97 season all of the extra particular for Sanford’s household, that exact season marking the one which first allowed him to go well with up for his hometown group.

“I pinched myself each time I used to be in a position to throw on the jersey,” Sanford says now, trying again on that first yr tending the web for the Platers. “I used to be enjoying in entrance of people that, you realize, I used to be followers with, watching the group play, simply so many quick years earlier than. It was an amazing expertise each time I acquired to skate on the ice at that rink.”

Now the goaltending coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sanford’s returned to his residence province after a protracted, winding profession on the ice. One which took him from that Platers jersey all the way in which to the NHL, with stops within the AHL and ECHL alongside the way in which, and an emotional last act for a membership attempting to navigate its method by means of tragedy.

It began in Owen Sound, although, on one of many many out of doors rinks dotted all through the neighborhood.Outdoors of faculties, on prime of baseball fields — wherever a rink might spring up in Owen Sound, it sprung, and the locals had been there quickly after with pucks and sticks.

Together with Sanford and his dad.

“My first reminiscence was all the time going to these out of doors rinks on the baseball fields and him instructing me easy methods to skate on the out of doors ice,” he says. “That was in all probability my first reminiscence of truly stepping into hockey. But it surely was a fast relationship that I discovered with hockey — I fell in love with it actually rapidly. Clearly, the primary recollections I might keep in mind was of Hockey Night time in Canada. You already know, 8 p.m. begin occasions, and also you’re both watching the Toronto Maple Leafs or, numerous the time, it was Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.

“It was straightforward to fall in love with the sport again then, for certain.”

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Sanford didn’t begin out as a goalie. Throughout his earliest days on the ice, he performed out, attempting to find targets alongside his buddies in home league video games, honing his expertise at learn-to-skate packages placed on by native hockey legend Pink Leckie.

It was a call made by his dad and mom when he was 9 years outdated, to assist out the native Junior B group, the Owen Sound Greys, that modified all the things.

“My dad and mom determined that they might assist the group, turn out to be a billet household. And lo and behold, we acquired a goalie,” he says. “The primary time I went and watched him play, I used to be simply in awe. I needed to be similar to him, and I simply determined to throw on the pads. Getting the pads on for the primary time and really having a substantial amount of success the primary day out, I instantly fell in love, and I by no means switched out of them once more from that day ahead.”

The success in these pads continued, finally incomes Sanford the 104th choice within the ’96 OHL Precedence Draft, the group making the decide none apart from his hometown Platers.

“You already know, I feel each sport was an thrilling time for me,” he says. “Simply having the ability to go well with up for the hometown group that I watched rising up. My dad and mom at each sport, my sisters at each sport, numerous my members of the family at each sport. I met my spouse whereas I used to be enjoying there, so she was at each sport. Simply numerous household and associates having the ability to come watch and help me all through that whole journey was nice.”

Practically three many years on, after that journey took him by means of the intense lights of the NHL on a number of events, these years again in Owen Sound stay amongst Sanford’s most cherished.

“A whole lot of the recollections I’ve are simply recollections of the good teammates that I had. I feel that’s one factor that the gamers do take as a right, is simply how rapidly the junior years go by and evaporate,” he says. “And also you simply hope you do one thing effectively sufficient you can have the respect of your teammates as they transfer on.

“And, you realize, hopefully they share the identical recollections of your self that you simply do of them.”


After heading out on the highway following these unforgettable junior years — first to Missouri to go well with up for the UHL’s River Otters, then on to the ECHL to play for the Peoria Rivermen, after which on to a pair of seasons swapping jerseys between the Rivermen and the AHL’s Worcester IceCats — Sanford finally wound up in St. Louis.

Someway, whilst his NHL profession started, the Owen Sound connection remained sturdy, Sanford taking over residence on that 2002-03 Blues roster behind fellow netminder Brent Johnson — the identical pal he’d performed behind throughout their Platers days.

4 video games into that marketing campaign, Sanford’s time got here, the younger goaltender granted the possibility to take the web within the large leagues for the very first time.

“It’s a flood of feelings, you realize?” he says of that first shot at NHL glory. “I feel again on all of the sacrifices that my dad and mom needed to make, that my sisters needed to make, the sacrifices that my spouse needed to make to permit me to observe my desires. You’re desirous about that, however you even have a job to do.

“You’re nervous since you wish to do effectively, you’re excited since you’re enjoying within the NHL, and also you’re simply attempting to handle all these feelings all on the similar time — whereas making ready to play a sport.”

He acquired seven extra stints within the cage for St. Louis that season, the membership shedding simply as soon as with Sanford within the internet. After just a few years honing his sport within the minors, he returned to the massive membership and led the Blues goaltending corps with 34 appearances over the course of the yr.

Nonetheless, nothing in comparison with that first one.

“You simply pinch your self. I keep in mind getting again to my resort room that night time, and I’m similar to, ‘I can’t imagine I simply performed a Nationwide Hockey League sport and received,’ you realize? As a result of it’s all the time such a protracted journey.”

The most important pinch-yourself second was nonetheless to come back for Sanford. After the run in St. Louis, after just a few extra stints within the AHL, in 2007 Sanford acquired the decision to return north to go well with up for the Vancouver Canucks.

“Taking part in in a Canadian market is one thing in and of itself,” he says. “The strain’s excessive, the stakes are excessive. Each sport is a Hockey Night time in Canada sport. It doesn’t matter if it’s Tuesday — there’s none of these video games the place it’s similar to, ‘Ah, nobody’s actually being attentive to our sport tonight.’ Like, everybody’s all the time paying consideration if you happen to’re enjoying in a Canadian market.

“You already know the town’s all the time going to be buzzing, the rink is all the time going to be packed. It’s such an thrilling second. It brings again recollections of tuning into Hockey Night time in Canada, and the way large these Saturday nights had been – and now you’re collaborating in them virtually on a weekly foundation. … It was enjoyable to be part of.”

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It was a two-season masterclass in professionalism, Sanford says, led by a who’s who of Canucks greats — Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo, Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund. Another season within the NHL adopted, his journey coming full circle, ending carrying the jersey of the membership he confronted in his first sport, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

As he mulled what his subsequent step would possibly seem like when his time in Ohio finally got here to a detailed, a day in late 2011 altered Sanford’s path.

On Sept. 7 of that yr, KHL membership Lokomotiv Yaroslavl endured a heart-wrenching tragedy, a aircraft crash on the banks of the Volga river that took the lives of 44 folks, together with 26 Lokomotiv gamers and three members of the group’s employees.

Sanford remembers seeing information of the crash as he ready for a exercise in Columbus.

“I activate the TV within the morning earlier than heading out for my exercise, and I’m studying this. … I knew some gamers and a few those who had been on that aircraft, and also you simply, you simply can’t wrap your head round it,” he says.

Eight months later, as Lokomotiv was looking for a method ahead, Sanford was supplied an opportunity to hitch the group.

“I acquired the cellphone name from Lokomotiv with a possibility to assist sort of begin that therapeutic course of for that neighborhood and that group. It wasn’t a call that I took frivolously,” he says. “I knew that there was going to be numerous duty that got here with that, however I needed to do it. And I didn’t have a second considered it. Once I acquired that decision and I used to be requested to signal, it was simply, ‘Completely, let’s do that. I wish to be part of this.’

“Attending to the town and getting to satisfy those who had relationships with these effective those who perished in that tragedy, and simply having the ability to attempt to provide you with a option to start a therapeutic course of for them, you realize, to provide them one thing to cheer about once more, to provide them one thing to be ok with once more — that’s the way in which our group approached that whole season. And that’s the way in which I approached my whole time enjoying for the Lokomotiv group.”

In 2015, after three years with the membership, Sanford lastly hung up the pads, leaving the sport having suited up for 10 groups as a professional, in 5 leagues, and three international locations. Fairly a journey for the child from Owen Sound who simply needed to be like his billet brother.

Wanting again on all of it now, what stands out most, Sanford says, is the influence these years in his hometown had on the lengthy journey that adopted.

“I feel what you be taught is simply how a lot the neighborhood has to do with the mentioning of people. I feel everyone in the neighborhood performed an element in my success,” he says. “I all the time name Owen Sound my residence. I am going again there within the low season it doesn’t matter what. My children — my three sons — and my spouse, we’re nonetheless very a lot concerned with that neighborhood in varied methods, attempting to provide again no matter method we will … simply attempting to cross down my data, my journey, to people who are following the identical path. Simply them realizing that it’s potential.

“It’s potential to succeed in your targets, and the neighborhood may help you do this.”