I’d like to think what one small element of growth and maturity on a personal level (it better come soon—I’m almost 60) is reflected in the way I cheer for and against sports teams.
That is, while I may “hate”, in a sports sense, a certain player or team, I can also now (more than was I was younger) respect and/or at least admire how they perform and conduct themselves.
As a Leaf fan over the years, there are quite a number of guys who I can look back on and say that they fit that mold: guys I hated because they played for the “other team”, but were players I would have taken on the Leafs—in a second.
Off the top of my head, there are a few that spring to mind: In the 1960s, I hated (that’s not too strong a word) John Ferguson of the Canadiens. He was a tough winger, a feared fighter and I didn’t like some of his tactics. He loved to get in Johnny Bower’s (above and to the left; above is a great photo from the '64 playoffs, the picture at left is one of those wonderful old Harold Barkley photos) "kitchen" and disrupt the area around the Maple Leaf goal crease. He carried his stick high a little too often for my liking. Mostly I didn't like the fact that the Leafs didn't have someone who could take him on, though Kent Douglas would certainly
give it a shot when he had the chance. (Eddie Shack did, too, but not successfully. Ferguson was too good a fighter.)
But Ferguson also was one of the unsung heroes with the Habs, a well-regarded team leader who stood up for his teammates, patrolled his wing and scored some big goals. He had a short career, less than a decade in the NHL, but was a hockey warrior and a "winner". He played for 5 Cup winners in 8 seasons. He could have played for my team anytime.
Beyond Ferguson, I could not stand Johnny McKenzie in his hey-day with the Bruins. (Derek Sanderson either, but he had a relatively brief career with the Boston and I won’t put him on my official “list”. I will say Sanderson combined great balance, skill, tenacity—and a real dirty streak…)
McKenzie, though, was an ordinary performer through various NHL stops in the old 6-team NHL—Detroit, Chicago and New York. But when he came to the Bruins and they also brought in Orr and Esposito, etc., McKenzie found his confidence—and his stride. He was a very fast skater. He didn’t mind getting hammered into the boards (a convenient attribute when you played half your games at the cramped, old Boston Garden). He was tough as nails and bounced back up pretty much every time he went down. He was an easy-to-despise opponent for sure but he would have been great in blue and white through the late ‘60s and early 1970s.
I was no fan of his teammate, Wayne Cashman, either. I recall that, in a Sunday afternoon game in the very early '70s at Boston Garden against the Minnesota North Stars, a donnybrook was about to break out. Cashman swung his stick over his head in a wheelhouse motion. I think he was going after Dennis Hextall of the Stars. (If I remember correctly, the stick hit Hextall on the shoulder. There wasn't even a suspension. Can you imagine if that happened nowadays?) I didn't like him, in part because he was part of a very arrogant Bruin team. But boy, he was a fine player. He worked the corners for Espo for many years, a gritty, tough guy who could make plays and score, and was a part of Team Canada '72. A real leader.
I loathed everyone who played for Montreal, but none more so than Ken Dryden, shown in a classic posed photo at right, sans mask. (I know, I know, how can you hate a goalie??) There was just an arrogance about him that I simply could not stand. That said, he was a pretty good goaltender, eh? I’m sure we could have found a place for him in Toronto (he was a Toronto boy, after all…). However I would have been just as happy if we had been able to keep Bernie Parent, once we got him in a trade with the Flyers in 1971.
Speaking of the Flyers, I’m not sure I ever hated an individual player more than I loathed Bobby Clarke. I mean, I could not abide that entire roster of thugs. (Well, in fairness, they also had some awfully gifted guys like Barber, Leach and MacLeish). But Clarke (below) was the guy who stirred that passion, including mine. He was a dirty little so and so but boy, could he play. Great playmaker. He could hold on to the puck forever. Such a determined forechecker. I’m not sure anyone ever worked harder on the ice.
As much as I liked Sittler in Toronto, I guess we could argue: would the Leafs have done better with Clarke instead? Would the Flyers have won as many—or more—Cups with Sittler in Clarke’s stead?
If nothing else, a fun debate.
If nothing else, a fun debate.
I wasn’t a Denis Potvin guy, either, but I did not have the same emnity for him as I did for some others. I guess the The Leafs struggled so much in the ‘80s (when the Islanders were winning all those Cups) I don't think I wasted my energy too much on hating the opposition. I'm sure there were many other guys I didn’t like over the years (Tikannen in Edmonton was awfully annoying but so effective when the Oilers were really good later in the '80s…) but it was hard to get too cranked up.
I found Patrick Roy annoyingly good throughout his outstanding career, but he likely would have made the Leafs better, too, I’m sure.
The point of all this being: we all have players we just can’t stand, fair or not, for all kinds of reasons. But given the chance, we would dearly love to have them on our team—Dino Cicarelli, Dale Hunter, Tomas Holmstrom, whoever.
I mostly wanted to get your thoughts—who are guys who fit this category for you, past and/or present?