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The annals of professional hockey are filled with quirky stories. There’s the one about the players who kicked the Stanley Cup into the Rideau Canal. Or the team owner who forced his athletes to tap dance in a hotel lobby as part of a training regimen. Or the accountant who, for one game, was an enforcer for the Toronto Maple Leafs — and didn’t even know it.
That last one concerns me. My name is Mark Jones and I’m the 29-year-old accountant in question. This is the story of my brief moment in the NHL spotlight.
I should probably start at the beginning.
I saw an article in the newspaper. It said that anyone who contributed more than $1,000 to the United Way was eligible for a draw. If your name was one of 12 chosen, you got to play with the Leafs or their opponents in a friendly half-hour match before an NHL game. After donating the requisite amount, I was one of the lucky ones picked to participate.
The game was intended to be played with what the organizers called “mock seriousness.” There would be no bodychecking or slap shots. But each side would try to win and I was warned that the coach would pretend to chew me out if I screwed up. There might even be a few make-believe fights. But it was all in fun.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: playing in a charity hockey game isn’t exactly the story of the century. But here’s the thing. I never did play in the charity game. I played in a real NHL game.
Here’s what happened. And I should point out that most of these details didn’t come to my attention until later.
After the game.
In the hospital.
A few weeks prior to the charity game, the Leafs decided they needed to call up an enforcer — that is, a tough guy, a goon, a fighter — from their farm team, the Toronto Marlies. An enforcer is expected to protect the stars and take on rival enforcers.
Well, it turned out both of the Marlies’ brawlers were injured. So the Leafs, desperate, went a rung lower on their farm-team ladder and plucked a bruiser from the Macon IceCats of the Southern Hockey Conference.
His name was Mark Jones.
The secretary for the Leafs’ general manager was asked to call Jones and summon him to Toronto for that Saturday night’s game. Well, because of the United Way contest, she had my name and number on file. And you guessed it: she called me by mistake. On my part, I figured the date for the charity game must have been moved up, so I said yes, of course I’ll be there.
Now, there are a few other things you need to know about this perfect storm of misunderstandings.
Number one, no one in the Leafs organization knew what the IceCats’ Mark Jones looked like. Why would they? He was a third-rate plugger from the bush leagues. So when I showed up on that Saturday night, no one knew I was the wrong Mark Jones — a number cruncher, not a body cruncher.
Two, I can pass for an athlete, in appearance if not in skill. I’m 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, and I work out three or four times a week. I didn’t look too out of place when I entered the Leafs’ dressing room.
Three, I hadn’t been following the Leafs that closely in recent years. I knew the names of only a few of their best players. So as I looked around the dressing room, I assumed that some of the guys there were contest-winners just like myself.