I don't recall the exact moment goose bumps began to sprout on my arms, and I can't say for certain when I first reached for a Kleenex to dab at my moist eyes.
What I can tell you is this: What went down at Mattamy Athletic Centre on the first day of this new year tugged hard, but not heavy, on my heartstrings, and I'm not sure any sporting event since Canada vs. the Soviet Union in 1972 has held me in such an emotional grip.
This was a red-letter day on so many levels. For girls/women. For female sports. For the LGBT(etc.) community, shunned by the National Hockey League in the past 12 months but wholly embraced on Monday afternoon, as the dream of a one-size-fits-all Professional Women's Hockey League gave way to reality.
That reality was Toronto vs. New York in the inaugural skirmish in PWHL history, an 'if you can see it, you can be it' moment for so many toque-topped kids among the 2,537 witnesses who'd gathered for the first of what will be 12 sold-out games this winter at Mattamy AC, inside the shell of fabled Maple Leaf Gardens.
It was a landscape-shifting occasion and, seemingly at every turn, it included an LGBT(etc.) presence.
There was a mention of LGBT rights on the public address system, and Billie Jean King, a gay woman and member of the PWHL board, was there to drop one of two pucks for the ceremonial faceoff, the other handled by Jayna Hefford, also a gay woman and senior VP of hockey operations for the new league. Joining them were the team captains, Blayre Turnbull of Toronto and New York's Micah Zandee-Hart, another gay woman. The two women opted for a hug, rather than a handshake.
Billie Jean also had a sit-down natter with Andi Petrillo of CBC, during which she mentioned her wife, Ilana Kloss, another of the PWHL's driving forces, and said the players were "so excited. They keep pinching themselves."
Perhaps the most influential woman in the history of female sports, King entered the Toronto boudoir to shout out the names of the starting six, at the same time suggesting the women absorb the moment.
"This is a day to cherish for the rest of your lives," said the tennis legend and equal rights champion, wearing a wrist watch with a Pride rainbow band. "I cannot tell you how meaningful it’s going to be as you get older."
There can only be one first game, and this was it, two teams-to-be-named-later sending the PWHL off on its maiden voyage. For now, they're just Toronto and New York, but nicknames and logos are in the hopper for all six franchises (Ottawa, Montreal, Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul are the others).
The final tally, 4-0 for the visiting New Yorkers, was important yet not important.
"Today, it was about soaking it all in," said Cheryl Pounder, a former Canadian national team player and now a TSN natterbug.
These dovetailing moments had been almost five years in the making, beginning spring 2019 when the Canadian Women's Hockey League was razed to the ground and, scant days later, the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association rose from those ashes.
Rather than throw in with the Premier Hockey Federation (nee National Women's Hockey League), the finest female players on the planet became a band of barnstormers (Dream Gap Tour), flitting to-and-fro across the tundra and engaging in glorified scrimmages largely ignored by the rabble and mainstream media.
The PHF and PWHPA shared a common interest—one sustainable, professional super league that would allow the women to quit their day jobs—but they didn't share methodology.
The PHF was an actual league, whereas the Dream Gappers had a beer league vibe and a simple-minded and flawed strategy—trash talk the PHF out of existence; failing that, wait for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to file papers and adopt the Hockey Orphan Annies.
Both sides were prepared to soldier on in conflict this winter, but Mark and Kimbra Walter, at the urging of King and Kloss, opened their vast vault (personal net worth $5.9 billion) in June and purchased the PHF, adding to an ownership portfolio that includes the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chelsea FC, Los Angeles Sparks and a wildlife reserve in Florida.
Detente and one super league had arrived in Ponytail Puck, and what ensued was a six-month sprint, headed by Stan Kasten, taking the Walter group to go-time and all that gay-friendly energy at Mattamy AC in downtown Toronto on Monday.
It's noteworthy that two of the game's goal-scorers—Alex Carpenter and Jill Saulnier—are gay, and perhaps the most poignant moment was delivered in the broadcast booth, when the all-female crew squeezed in a mention of gay spouses/retired Olympians Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan and newborn news (also a pic) of baby Sophie, a sister for George and Olivia.
As a member of the LGBT(etc.) collective, I took nourishment in all the gay-positive attention, especially given Bettman's buffoonish and idiotic bans on Pride jerseys and Pride tape, which permitted bigotry to take root, if not flourish, in the NHL.
It was a beautiful occasion, this PWHL birth. An emotional occasion. An occasion special enough to make you want to believe that hockey truly is for everyone.