Phil Kessel started the summer by bringing the Stanley Cup to Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. He ended it with a biting tweet on being left off the USA team, which lost all of their games at the World Cup of Hockey. Coach Tortorella – and some players – took offense. They said that Kessel shouldn’t express an opinion, no matter how relevant, because it had an edge. They have a problem with Kessel simply because he’s his own person, because he says what he thinks. Which says a lot more about them.
As is readily apparent to anyone reading this blog, I am an avid fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a kid, I kept a scrapbook of every Leaf game. I remember exactly where I was when Wendel Clark was traded for Mats Sundin – looking down at a sad-looking plant on a small wooden table in a tiny Roman hotel. My mood shifts from win to loss and win. I look forward to absolutely every game and get anxious for the season to start over the summer months. However one thing I never miss in July – in fact abhor – is the way so many of the Leaf followers use the Leafs to vent and criticize. It’s one thing to have to listen to moronic sports reporters dribble and spew – after all they get paid to write stupid things – but entirely another to hear supposed supporters spout their vitriol.
As much as these people claim to be fans of their teams, the truth is they’re not. Their anger has nothing to do with support, but instead reflects their pathetic isolation and bitter self-reflection on lives ill-led. Nothing more.As frustrated as I might get with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I always support them, yes, through the six-game losing streaks, the disappointing seasons and the 47-year Stanley Cup drought. While I can be critical, the Leafs are my team. It’s not a complicated thing. Go Leafs Go. (And to you fickle fans, I say “Go away.”)
The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a stellar record over the last number of years. They qualified for the playoffs for only the first time in eight years this past season and have not been to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1967. (Yes, the picture is in black and white.) That said, they are a young and intense team on the rise. They have a proven offensive leader in Phil Kessel – just signed to an eight-year contract – and a solid supporting group of forwards, including Lupul, van Riemsdyk and Kadri, as well as surprising – and youthful – depth at defense and goal. They should be a playoff team for some years to come. The funny thing is that few, if any, of the pundits see any of this. NBC declared that GM Dave Nonis (has) likely weakened the franchise that was on the cusp of a deep playoff run last year. CBS stated that the only way the Leafs are back in the postseason is if Reimer and Bernier can provide better than average play. And TSN offered this lukewarm analysis: They’re not a lock for the playoffs. They’re still a bubble team. My prediction is quite different. They will go to the playoffs. They will win in the playoffs. They just might get into the finals and win. We’ll see who’s right.
I must admit to feeling pain and distress in regards to my Toronto Maple Leafs. They didn’t just lose; they had a collapse. Ahead by two goals with 90 seconds left, the Leafs surrendered twice and another in overtime…all of this after I had received congratulatory texts with minutes to go – why was I receiving congratulatory texts? – after the Leafs were on the verge of their own great comeback. I watched the customary end-of-game handshakes with bitterness and resentment. I had to counter the vitriol from hyper-active friends, impaired supporters of the Canucks, Canadiens and Bruins. I had nightmares. I couldn’t sleep.A dreadful malaise descended. I couldn’t write anything. The only idea I had was a lengthy story on the ennui of a Leafs fan. I was lost in those final minutes, reviewing each mistake, thinking how it might have – should have – been. I knew I had to focus on the things that mattered, the real problems of the world. And yet it persisted. After being out of the playoffs for nine years – not winning the cup since 1967 – the Leafs should have won. It was as simple as that. It hung like a cloud, threatening and oppressive. The sports headlines milked the angst. The players were interviewed as they cleaned out their lockers. The reporters poked and prodded: “How does it feel to fail?” The players stared back and gave their answers. They acknowledged the pain, the despair. They said that they had learned and wanted to make it right. I watched a few highlights after that. And Canadian superstar-astronaut Chris Hadfield. Then I reflected on an answer from James van Reimsdyk: “We were picked to finish 14th (at the) start of the season. We made the playoffs and pushed a really good team right to the brink. Obviously it’s a step in the right direction.” “But now we got to come back and do it all again next year.”
I was good with that. I thought about writing a treatment for a documentary on the upcoming season, from every point of view, minute to minute, cinema verite of the magnificent climb back. Yes, that was something. I even had a title Go Leafs. That really could work.