By TOM WILLIAMs
The biggest difference between Canada’s Thanksgiving and the holiday Americans celebrate every fourth Thursday in November? Perhaps it’s that you rarely hear anyone south of the 49th Parallel say, “Please pass the maple syrup.”
Last fall, Phantoms defenseman Daniel Renouf spent his first Thanksgiving away from his home of Pickering, Ontario (about 40 minutes east of Toronto).
The second-year Phantom was a Thanksgiving Day guest at the home of Boardman’s Don and Clarann Beck.
“Back home, we put maple syrup on everything,” Renouf said. “Here, there’s traditional gravy. So I definitely missed our maple syrup.”
No maple syrup on the Thanksgiving table?
“No and I was very upset,” joked Renouf, who added that he asked for some. “They didn’t have any.”
Youngstown Phantoms goaltender Patrick Spano grew up in Montreal and is spending his fourth hockey season away from home. He hasn’t properly celebrated Thanksgiving — Canadian or American — in three years. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October.
Before joining the Phantoms last summer, Spano played for New England prep school teams the past three seasons.
“Classes would end the week before Thanksgiving,” Spano said of a fall break he received. “The last three years, I haven’t actually been in the States on the American Thanksgiving nor have I been in Canada for the Canadian Thanksgiving.”
Spano, whose host family is the Becks, is looking forward to Thursday’s celebration.
“I’ve been missing Thanksgiving for the last three years,” Spano said.
His diet wasn’t exactly turkey-free as his school’s (Westminster Prep) dining hall served a traditional turkey dinner before the students went home for break.
“I’d go home — we had a week-and-a-half off — and all my friends were in school,” Spano said, explaining that Thanksgiving in the Great White North was pretty much like any other day. “I don’t know if you could watch the parades, but you could watch the [American] football games.
“We don’t usually get as much time off as students here do. But we celebrate the same way — turkey.”
Renouf said his family usually gathers at his grandmother’s house.
“She would always make a big feast for us — she’s one hell of a cook,” Renouf said. “We’d get the whole family together for one big party.”
Spano and Renouf are interested in experiencing Black Friday shopping.
“I saw on TV last year when they would show huge lines of people and fights,” Spano said. “It looks pretty crazy so I’ll probably go out [shopping] Friday and see the madness first-hand, see what goes on in the malls.”
Renouf remembers the Phantoms had a game on Black Friday last year and he chose not to shop.
“I didn’t know what Black Friday was,” said Renouf who said the biggest shopping day of the year reminds him of another Canadian tradition.
“We have Boxing Day — it’s pretty similar, with all the sales,” Renouf said. “The day after Christmas, the stores open early.”
This time, he’s prepared.
“My family is coming [here] and plan to take advantage of those sales,” Renouf said.
It’s an unusual week for the Phantoms. Tonight, they’ll be in Indianapolis for a game against the Indiana Ice. After the game, they’ll board their bus for a long ride home. Friday and Saturday, the Phantoms will play Team USA at the Covelli Centre. Each game starts at 7:15 p.m.
Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen hasn’t decided if the team will practice on Thursday.
Spano said stretching is the key to getting comfortable for a long ride.
“I’m trying to adjust by [stretching} before getting on and using ice while I’m on the bus,” he said. “It’s definitely good to stretch before you get on because the ride is like six or seven hours and you’re in one position. I usually fall asleep once we turn the lights out. I’m usually out pretty quick.”
Renouf says the team’s mood is affected by their play.
“After a loss, you can never get comfortable,” the defenseman said. “But if we do have a good win, everybody is in a good mood, so with lights out, I won’t have a problem falling asleep.”
Spano said he’s willing to give the NFL tripleheader a look. Renouf is not.
“I am a huge Toronro Argonauts fan — we have season tickets,” Renouf said, I didn’t watch any football [last Thanksgiving] because I’m committed to the Argonauts.
“You Americans love your football down here and definitely Thanksgiving [here] is a time for football.”
And maybe maple syrup.