Let’s face it, some days are more important than others. Your birthday. Christmas. Easter. New Year’s. Thanksgiving. The last day of school. The first day of school. The weekend. Meatball sandwich Monday’s. Friday. The list can go on forever. For me and the loyal fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, today is the day we have marked on our calendar. It is the day we look forward to every year. It is the day we can finally erase from our memory something called “Game 7” and a “Collapse”. Today, as the US Government shuts down, the National Hockey League regular season starts up and when we tune in to CBC at 7PM tonight, you better believe that we don’t have anything else on our minds, but three simple words. Three words that unite us all. Three words that we live and die by. Three words that we say loud and proud because nothing else matters. Those three words are, of course, “GO LEAFS GO”.
On May 12th, the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. We were so close. We had them right where we wanted them. We were ahead by 3 goals with 10 minutes left. We couldn’t lose. Not a chance. But, we did. We lost. We felt like a truck ran us over. We were empty. We all needed a hug, but there was no one around to give any.
I remember that day – or at least most of it – like it was yesterday. The score was 4-1 and the smile on my face was wider than the 52-inch television screen I was staring at. Then, without notice, it all fell apart. I felt sick. Like someone had sneezed in a bowl of pudding and told me to eat it. As soon as the game ended, I sat on my couch in disbelief. I could not remember the last 10 minutes of the third period, or overtime. I had instant amnesia. I genuinely could not recall anything I just saw. I couldn’t remember how the goals were scored. I still can’t remember. I don’t want to remember. The feeling of being so close to something, only for it to be given to someone else, hurt.
My heart stopped beating and fell on the floor, joining my jaw which had already fallen.
All the haters came out of their boarded up closets to make fun of the Leafs and their fans. And rightfully so. I would have done the same thing if I weren’t a Leafs fan. But man, the haters are annoying. Especially Montreal fans. They have the same trash talking comments every time. First, they say the Leafs suck. Then, they tell me how many Stanley Cups they have won. Then, they recite their team colours. I don’t care how many Stanley Cups your team has won. Nor do I care about your bleu, blanc, et rouge. Yay, you know your team colours. Here, have a sticker.
Well, today is a new day – a new season. I stare at the standings and everyone is equal. Once again, there is hope. There is optimism. And more than anything, there is talent. A lot of it.
I am tired of the phrase “goaltending controversy”. I am allergic to it. I get hives every time an “analyst” wants to bore me with the same, old, storyline. As a fan, I just want to watch the game. I don’t care who our goalie is, as long as they stop the puck. Just stop the puck! I don’t care what your name is, or who your wife is, just stop the puck and I’ll sleep easy at night. The media want to start a controversy. As fans, the only thing we can do is ignore it. Don’t listen to it. Don’t talk about. Don’t even think about it. Tunnel vision. I’m pretty sure the Leafs are giving out blinders to fans who attend the home opener.
In terms of skaters, we have depth. We have players to get excited about. Kessel, Lupul, Kadri, JVR, Clarkson, Bolland, Bozak, Gardiner, Phaneuf. As fans, it’s our job to criticize players when they make mistakes. But, it’s also our duty to support our team, no matter what. Let the haters hate our team.
It took a long time to get to this point and Leafs fans know what we had to go through to get here. The Matt Stajan years as the number one centre of this team. The years where we convinced ourselves that Jason Blake was the star winger we coveted. The years where we were waiting for Luke Schenn to blossom, but never did. The years where Andrew Raycroft played between the pipes because we traded away a goalie we thought was too small. The years where Justin Pogge was the future! The saviour! The disappointment…
As a fan of this team, I’ve been through a lot. But, I’m still here, as are millions of other fans who are members of Leafs Nation. Nobody likes us and everyone laughs at us when we fail. We don’t care. We love our team. Yes, this team is “ours” – make no mistake about it. MLSE might own the team, but we are the pulse.
Fans are married to this team; the attraction is everlasting.
I have been cheering for the Leafs ever since my bedtime was the horn at the end of the first period. I fell asleep listening to the radio, with names like Berezin and Sundin being the final words I hear for the day. I would wake up asking my parents for the final score, before watching the final two periods on VHS.
The memories I have of this team will never leave me.
I remember sitting in the living room of my house, watching the Leafs dismantle a Chicago Blackhawks team by a score of 10-3. A few days later, Chicago traded their goalie, Jeff Hackett, to the Habs, for Jocelyn Thibault. The year was 1998. (Don’t believe me? I dare you to Google it).
I remember watching triple overtime playoff games and jumping up and down at 1:30AM.
I remember the beating the Leafs would give the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs.
I remember when Bryan Berard took a puck to the eye and there was blood everywhere.
I remember my first, and only, visit to Maple Leaf Gardens and breathing in the history.
I remember Curtis Joseph tackling a referee in Ottawa.
I remember Steve Thomas and his clutch goals.
I remember the voice of Bob Cole on commentary, who still gives me goosebumps.
I remember Tie Domi fighting a fan in the penalty box in Philadelphia.
I remember Tomas Kaberle not shooting the puck.
I remember Mats Sundin in the Chunky Soup commercials.
I remember a third line of Darcy Tucker, Travis Green, and Shayne Corson, causing absolute mayhem on the ice.
I remember the last game at Maple Leaf Gardens and the first game at the Air Canada Centre.
I remember one of my baseball practices ending early so everyone could rush home to watch a Leafs playoff game – the one where Pat Quinn surprisingly returned to the bench when everyone thought he would still be in the hospital.
I remember Aki Berg, Jonas Hoglund, and Mikael Renberg.
I remember Lonny Bohonos because how can you ever forget a guy named, Lonny?
All of these memories, and many more, have made me a Leafs fan.
Tonight, when I sit down to watch the first game of the season, nothing else matters. I will forget about May 12th. I will forget about all the hate. I will forget about a goaltending controversy. I will forget the date of our last Stanley Cup victory. I will forget all of it.
I will watch the game. I will cheer when they score. I will be disappointed if they allow a goal. I will complain when a referee calls a penalty against us. I will watch the entire game with unwavering support for my team. I will have a smile on my face. I will be a kid again.
But most of all, I will hate the Montreal Canadiens because I am a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
Go Leafs Go!