Jimmy Holmstrom describes himself as "vertically challenged," a predicament he says left him with little hope of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs one day.
But as a diehard fan of the blue and white, that fact still didn't stop Holmstrom from finding his way onto the team. He's the Maple Leafs' organist, a position he's proudly held for nearly three decades.
"I love it. I hope I can do it forever," he said. "It's my lifeline, keeps me young and healthy."
Holmstrom sits above the crowd with a perfect view of the entire arena. He shares his booth with the manager of game operations, the DJ and Mike Ross, the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most days he wears a suit and a Maple Leafs tie.
Before this set-up he played for the team at Maple Leaf Gardens, a position he eagerly accepted after auditioning for the role in 1987. The real pipe organ had long been phased out of the arena – a sacrifice made to make room for more seats – but the keyboard held just as much magic for Holmstrom.
"It seemed they were going through organists like some of us go through shirts and ties, and I got a call … played part of a period and they had to drag me off kicking and screaming because I did not want to stop," he said.
Holmstrom did manage to stay for the rest of the game, but he desperately wanted that job.
"I left, I cried," he said.
When the call came requesting he play during the team's 1988 pre-season, Holmstrom jumped at the chance. He's been jumping ever since, as one game led into a season and into a career. Literally, jumping is part of his job.
That overwhelmingly loud horn you hear when the Leafs score a goal? That's Holmstrom.
"When we score, I jump on that sucker and pound on it."
The button sits on top of a speaker to the left of his keyboard, just close enough to make him a little bit nervous.
"Even when they get close to scoring I'm on the goal horn. Sometimes I'm too anxious," he said. "It is so loud … I don't breathe on it before the game, and I keep my hand away from it during the game too. Just in case."
His main responsibility, though, is playing music that gets the home crowd "rollicking and rocking" and ready to cheer for their team.
"I don't even know how to explain how exciting it gets when 18, 19,000 people act as one unit and all go, 'Go Leafs Go,'" he said. "When that happens, it makes the hair on your arms stand up … I don't even want to play, I just want to listen. I just want to get caught up in it."
Holmstrom says the Leafs are his drug of choice.
"I don't need alcohol, I don't need anything. I just need the Maple Leafs to win."
It's safe to assume Holmstrom can be dubbed one of the team's biggest fans, but if you need more proof, consider that in his nearly 30-year tenure with the team, Holmstrom hasn't missed one day on the job.
"I've been very lucky. My health's been good and my car's been good, I guess. I drive down from where I teach up in north Brampton and I get to the games after four highways and a lot of stress, and I speed a lot. But don't tell the police," he said.
"Knock on wood that continues until we get the Stanley Cup."
A tall order it seems because even with his spectacular attendance record he still hasn't seen his team hoist the Cup.
Still, that doesn't mean he hasn't enjoyed some great hockey.
"I get to see all the teams, but what I really get to see is all the best Leafs," he said. "I got to play for them. Starting with Mark Osborne and Börje Salming, I'm working my way all the way up through, my goodness, 'Dougie' Gilmour years, Wendel Clark years. I'm just sorry I didn't play for Darryl Sittler because he and the Chief, George Armstrong, are two of my favourite guys in the Maple Leaf organization."
As those players faded and others replaced them, as coaches moved on and as management filtered in and out of the building, Holmstrom has somehow remained a constant for this team.
"Organ is still a big part of hockey and I hope it maintains the integrity of that," he said. "The actual big sound of an organ at a baseball stadium or a hockey arena, that's hard to shake because really it does send goose bumps down your back."
The play-off run between the Leafs and the Washington Capitals has Holmstrom amping up the volume, hoping to play his part and keep fans roaring at home games.
"When they're pumped, the players get pumped and the players feed off that energy too, so let's hope that between all of us, that it makes it all happen," he said.
"I have the best job in the world … I've been very fortunate and I appreciate it. Go Leafs Go."