For we Leafs fans, the same 'ole story. So why do we hang in?

7 months ago

Here we go again. Another spring and another quick exit from the playoffs for the Leafs. Technically they aren’t dead yet, but they are dead in the water. In this case on the frozen water. And this is getting old for this aging Leafs fan. 

And like many Leafs fans young and old I’m left with the what ifs. So what if at least one of those five hit goalposts in game 2 had gone in, what if Bobrobsky didn’t steal one, what if the Leafs core-four had rose to the occasion? But so what that they outplayed the Panthers in the first two games. They were outplayed by the Lightening in games they won in that series so maybe it was just the hockey gods averaging things out.  

Look at that photograph from our old family album. That’s how long I have been a Leafs fan. That’s a black and white photo from 1965. That’s my brother Fulton beside me, smiling because he never had an interest in sports so was able to avoid all these years of end-of-season heartbreaks.  

But no, I had to take a different road. I chose to embrace hockey and spend my life as a Leafs fan. When I made that choice they were great. Maybe I should have asked for a crystal ball instead of a Leafs sweater that Christmas. Because nobody told that innocent child in that photo that all these years later he’d still be wondering what a Stanley Cup parade in Toronto would look like.  

So why do I continue to be a Leafs fan? That’s a good question, isn’t it? I don’t have a valid answer so I look at it philosophically and wonder why I bother, after all these disappointments. Would I be better off if I just didn’t give a shit? Am I just sadistic by nature? The answer both of these questions is no.  

All Leafs fans knew, especially after being unceremoniously dispatched from Round 1, yet again last year, that the following regular season meant absolutely nothing; that the only thing that mattered was getting that Round 1 monkey off our back.  We knew it wouldn’t be easy. We’d have to beat Tampa Bay.  

So as I sat uneasy in my easy chair, pulled up in front of the TV for a better view, my heart pumping faster than it should, watching the ups and downs of game 6, knowing there is no way in hell we can let this go to a game 7, and then it goes to sudden death overtime. Oh me nerves! And then Tavares comes around the net, fires, and it goes in. It’s over. The curse has been exorcised. The monkey is banished. Good riddance. I clap and jump and yell. It was a feeling of relief and elation, and it was why I am a fan. Feeling the cumulative weight from being so disappointed so many times because I was emotionally invested in this team for so many years finally lifted by that one shot was pure joy. 

As we now know, it was to be short lived, neutered by last night’s loss. Frankly, the first two losses to the Panthers didn’t bother me that much. Disappointing of course, but I knew the Leafs had outplayed them in those games, and assumed it was just a matter of time and they would turn it around.  After all, this team was different, the ultra-talented stars benefitting from more maturity and learning from experience, and with the additions at the trade deadline, they were the best Leafs team in decades. Or so we were led to believe.  

I don’t know what happened last night. I do know the leaders didn’t lead and that’s why we didn’t win. I can’t repeat here what I said when that overtime goal went in. Suffice to say it was a sinking feeling, or to use the cliché, a stake through the heart.  

The earlier overtime goal, the one that gave the Leafs the Lightening series, gave me a moment I will keep forever. Last night’s, not so much, and for the life of me, I’d prefer if the balance was better, with at least a few more highs to match the litany of lows. But, and here I’ll be philosophical again, if I could take a pill that erased all memory of my history as a Leafs fan, would I take it? No, I wouldn’t. Because I wouldn’t have felt that joy I felt as a kid when the Leafs racked up those Stanley Cups in the 60s (yes, I know, it was a long time ago), or that great feeling from that Round 1 win a couple of weeks back. Those non-Leaf fans who felt we overdid it with the celebration of that accomplishment simply don’t get it. They haven’t walked in our shoes.  

But, here we are, and where from here? I’ll leave it to the experts to speculate on what the Leafs should do going forward. I fully expect there will be changes, perhaps drastic ones. And I can’t disagree they are needed. I will be following it with what will probably be unhealthy interest. And next year I’ll be rooting for them yet again. Of course I will. I will be going into the new season with the same attitude as this year, that once again it won’t matter. Only next spring will.   

As for the rest of this year – I only have two words – Go Oilers.  

Thanks for reading. Writing this was theraputic, maybe. If you’re a Leafs fan, maybe it will be some consolation for you too. As they say, misery loves company. Share if you must.

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