The Hockey Hall of Fame is located on the concourse level of Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto, Ontario. It features the world's largest collection of ice hockey memorabilia, including sweaters, skates, sticks, equipment, trophies and pictures from the earliest days of the game. That list, however, barely scratches the surface.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is more than just a sports museum. It is a vibrant, innovative and interactive celebration of the history of ice hockey. Walking through the almost 5,300 square meter complex, you will see an incredible collection of artifacts and exhibits that include more than 1 million archival photographs.
Mecca for Puck Fans
The Hall covers all facets and all levels of the sport, including international, world championship, Olympic and National Hockey League play. The historic collection is ever-changing and updated. You can even touch the puck that Sidney Crosby slammed into the net in overtime to help Canada beat the United States in the gold medal match at this year's Vancouver Olympics.
About 350,000 visitors from all over the world come to visit Hockey's Hall of Fame each year. The Director of Corporate and Media Relations for the Hall, Kelly Masse, points up that the NHL's championship trophy is on just about everyone's "must-see" list.
"'Where is the Stanley Cup?' That is the number-one question," Masse explains. " And now it is also people who are hearing about the Olympic medals display we have and the 2010 Olympic display and the puck you can touch - the gold-medal winning puck. That is right up there now, as well."
Stanley Cup Shines
Like the Hall itself, the Stanley Cup has changed over the years. In the early days the winning trophy was a single bowl and had a different name. Originally, the championship teams were engraved on it, but not the names of individual players. Kelly Masse explains.
"I love the history of the Stanley Cup. I think it is the most beautiful sports trophy in the world. And one of the most revered, I think. And when you go up to the Great Hall, you will see all of the NHL trophies up there including the Stanley Cup. If you go into the bank vault and you will see the original bowl that Lord Stanley donated back in 1893 - it was called the Challenge Cup.
And if you look real close, you will see that they just used to put the teams on the bowl. But if you look close enough into the grooves and onto the lip of the Cup, you will see that players started to scratch and engrave their names into it. So I think that even back then they knew that they wanted their name on this Cup."
While the Hockey Hall of Fame has been in operation since 1961, Kelly Masse says it moved to its current location in the 1990's.
"It has been here at our current place at Yonge and Front Streets since 1993. Before that it was at the CNE fairgrounds, beginning I think from 1961 on," Masse says. "For your listeners who used to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame at the fairgrounds, they would see quite a different place at Yonge and Front streets. It is 56,000 square feet (5,300 square meters) of the world's greatest collection of hockey artifacts."
Some of the most popular attractions are the interactive exhibits. They include state-of-the art games where visitors can get in the net and try to stop simulated shots from NHL legends like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, or test their shooting skills against video goalies.
Alexandre Cousineau is a 16-year-old from Montreal, who was visiting Toronto to see the Hall. Surprisingly, the Canadian teen said he came to check out an exhibit on his favorite team - this year's Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
"I have always been a [Chicago] Blackhawks fan," Cousineau says. "I was crazy when they won the [Stanley] Cup this year. And there is a movie about the Blackhawks at the Hall of Fame and I really enjoyed it. That remembered me [brought back] some memories. It is really a great place and I think I will probably come again."
Ever-Evolving Hockey History
The Hall continues to expand each year, begging the question: How do they get all of the artifacts? Kelly Masse says the Hall is a registered charity and the players donate their memorabilia.
"We do not pay for anything so it is all donations, and all about wanting to keep the history of hockey relevant and up to date," Masse says. "We have some amazing guys in our resource center, curators that go to major events, Olympics, World Championships, Stanley Cup - any milestone game. And they actually go into the dressing room and say, 'Can we get this for the Hockey Hall of Fame so fans from all over the world can see it?' And most of the hockey players - women and men - are hockey fans and they have been here. So they know what it is about."
Canada is the home of ice hockey and Masse says keeping the Hall of Fame up to date is an important mission.
"We are preserving the history of hockey. That is what we are doing here. And 50 years from now, when someone wants to see that gold medal puck that was won in 2010, we have that. Or 50 years from now when they want to see the first Stanley Cup puck from 1893, we have that. That is important, I think, that we preserve the game," Masse says.
If you are in Toronto and you love hockey, do not miss the Hockey Hall of Fame. But plan for overtime - a visitor could spend most of the day there and still not come close to seeing everything.