Toronto tall tales of Zach Edey: On the ice, the diamond … and ‘What’s a Purdue?’


Saturday, March, 2024

by Patrick Reevell

Hockey-central

Head north out of downtown on Bayview Avenue and past the shops and bars in Leaside, plus four Tim Hortons. Cross a bridge and climb a hill and there’s Crescent School, a private all-boys institution opened in 1913. It’s closed for winter break, but a courtyard plaque points to reception. A groundskeeping vehicle is parked in front and a delivery guy walks out. Somewhere inside lies another story about how the impossibility of Zach Edey came to be. Another tall tale.

So it’s worth a knock on the door.

After an introduction to Sal the maintenance guy and an explanation for the visit, it’s a stroll down some stairs and into the Lower School. Pencil sketches and old team pictures hang in the hallway. Straight ahead? A basketball gym. Where an anomaly came into view.

Edey is, of course, currently the 7-foot-4, 300-pound All-American anchor for second-ranked Purdue. But he’s also the kid who dreamed of being a hockey defenseman. The preteen who stumbled into a stellar youth baseball career. The high school sophomore who learned basketball shooting form by balancing a water bottle on a clipboard. The quiet Toronto boy who left home for an academy in Florida, who ranked 436th in his recruiting class and who now likely will repeat as national player of the year. The star who should not be.

Here, in a space with green bleachers and the words RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY and HONESTY ringing the floor, is where the last part started.

Edey’s local club team was practicing at Crescent School, right before a tryout for the high-profile Northern Kings AAU program. Vidal Massiah, the Kings’ director, had been tipped off by his sister about a giant roaming area courts, and Massiah came to see for himself. After Edey’s two ensuing workouts with the Kings, his mother asked for a verdict. Massiah was blunt.

He’s an NBA player. Get ready for this movie.

“His story is a Canadian story,” Massiah says, driving away from the school on a sunny but wind-whipped winter morning. “It only happens here.”

Chesswood Arena sits in an industrial park in North York, abutting train tracks and sharing a parking lot with a garage door company and luggage wholesalers, among others. It was built in the 1950s. Still looks like it, too, and gloriously so. Weather and time have stripped away most of the color on a tower sign next to the entrance. The building marquee itself features three rows of hand-set letters.

WELCO ME TOCHESSWOODARENA, the top row reads.

This is the home of the top-level, triple-A Toronto Red Wings youth hockey program – “A tradition since 1955,” according to a banner – but it contains four NHL-sized rinks with ads for Dr. Flea’s Flea Market and Little Pearls pediatric dentistry. Golden Glide Hockey operates from a modest space tucked next to a synthetic ice surface on the second floor. Sometime in 2010, word arrived about a massive 8-year-old kid playing house league hockey in Leaside. He was raw, but no one could get around him. Al Rourke, a former NHL defenseman coaching the Toronto Penguins team via Golden Glide, said to bring the kid out for a look.

In walked Zach Edey, a shade under 6 feet at the time. “I said right away, ‘You’re on the team,’” Rourke says, sitting at a desk with a wall of Post-it notes to his left. “I also told his parents, ‘You should put a basketball in his hands.’”

Not a directive young Toronto boys follow easily. Coach, he loves hockey, is all Rourke heard from Julia and Glen Edey. He shrugged. The kid was polite. Always on time. And while he probably wasn’t quick enough for triple-A competition, Zach Edey was plenty good at double-A, if only because a very long arm held a very long stick and could stop a rush with one poke.

So he was a hockey player. Who scared everyone.

Patrick Reevell

Patrick Reevell serves as the principal political analyst at RicanMagazine, specializing in American politics. He delves into elections, public sentiment, demographic shifts, and polling trends. With a keen eye for detail, Reevell provides insightful commentary on the dynamics shaping the political landscape.