WHAT: Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto
WHY GO: National Hockey League players are being locked out by team owners in a labor dispute that now threatens to ice the 2004-05 season, but that doesn't mean hockey fans will have to spend the winter in the penalty box.
ADMISSION: Tickets are about $10 (U.S.), about $6.75 for youths and seniors.
BACK STORY: In 1993 the hall vacated its original home in favor of a $35 million complex in downtown Toronto's BCE Place. But don't let the renovated 1886 rococo-style Bank of Montreal facade fool you: Inside are 57,000 square feet of thoroughly modern, interactive exhibits -- more than enough to counter even the acutest of withdrawal symptoms, provided you can stomach the thick corporate sponsorship.
HALL HIGHLIGHTS: Entrance to the Hall of Fame is gained via the lower concourse level, behind a wall of 1,300 historic pucks and a display case depicting the colorful evolution of goalie masks. Once inside, the show begins with the Legends Tribute, an audiovisual collage recounting the history of the sport and replaying many of its greatest and most thrilling moments. Nearby stands an exhibit honoring the Class of 2004 inductees, one of whom is Larry Murphy, a 21-year veteran defenseman and former Washington Capital.
From there it's back to the past at the Grand Old Houses of Hockey, a mixed-media tribute to the sport's storied venues that culminates in a re-creation of the Montreal Canadiens' locker room at the Forum, hockey's equivalent of Yankee Stadium. Inside the Hartland Molson Theatre, visitors are treated to "The Stanley Cup Odyssey," a video history of the championship devised by Lord Stanley himself back in 1892. Another exhibit features artifacts from tournaments over the years, concluding with a display honoring last season's surprise victors, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The MCI Great Hall (the former bank lobby) pays respects to the 332 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame -- 227 players, 91 builders (e.g., owners, organizers, promoters) and 14 referees, each of whom has his own bronze plaque. Visitors can pose with a dazzling display of hockey hardware, including the first Stanley Cup.
DO-IT-YOURSELF: Fill the void on the ice by creating your own puckish memories. At the NHL Players Association Shoot Out within the hall, visitors can try their luck scoring against a video projection of Eddie "the Eagle" Belfour, the Toronto Maple Leaf goalie. Or completely push it at the Shut Out by trying to block shots from the video likes of former superstars Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
If you'd prefer to shoot off your mouth instead, the TSN/RDS Broadcast Zone, a play-by-play booth, lets you make your own calls of famous NHL plays. At the It's Your Call Studio, videotape your comments about anything pertaining to your beloved sport. (Needless to say, the lockout has already been mentioned once or twice.)
EATS/SLEEPS: The Westin Harbour Castle (1 Harbour Sq., 416-869-1600, www.starwoodhotels.com) offers a one-night Winter Family Fun package rate of $142 for two adults and two children that includes a standard room and four passes to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The offer, based on availability, is good into March.
Right next to the hall is Bottomline (22 Front St.), a traditional sports bar with a healthy emphasis on the Canadian national pastime. True aficionados, however, will want to make the small trek (five blocks) to Wayne Gretzky's (99 Blue Jays Way), where you can admire memorabilia on the world's greatest hockey player while you wait for southern (Canadian) style barbecue. Entrees at both spots start at about $7.
For other lodging and restaurant options, contact Toronto tourism (see below).
GETTING THERE: US Airways, United and Air Canada are among the airlines offering nonstop service from the D.C area to Toronto. Round-trip fares start at about $260, with restrictions. The nearest subway stop to the Hall of Fame is Union.
INFO: Hockey Hall of Fame, 416-360-7765, www.hhof.com. Toronto Convention and Visitors Association, 800-499-2514, www.torontotourism.com.
-- Marshall S. Berdan