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Are you a one-team (Leafs) NHL fan, or do you quietly have a rooting interest in a “second” favourite team?

I’ll keep this short today. 

There are sometimes debates in the hockey world (and specifically in Leafland) about fan loyalty and what it means to be a "real" fan.  For example, the claim is made at times that someone’s not a “real” Leaf fan if they also cheer for someone else—even as kind of a “back-up” favourite.

Hey, when I was young in the late 1950s and early ‘60s and even into my young adult years in the 1970s and ‘80s, I admit that the notion of  “liking” another team—even a little bit—other than the Leafs would have struck me as not so much disloyal as, well, just something I wasn’t capable of.  While I may have grudgingly admired (and did) a number of players like Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull from opposing teams, I largely loathed teams that did not wear the blue and white Leaf crest.  When I fell in love with Keon, Bower, Duff, Ellis, Mike Walton, Brian Spencer, Jim Harrison, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and those other gritty and talented Leafs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, I couldn’t even imagine cheering for another team.

The only exception was when Montreal in the playoffs.  Then, I cheered for whoever was playing against them.  Next on my hit list was Boston (when they were the "Big Bad Bruins") and Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies.  Anyone other than those teams I could accept as Cup champions, if it couldn’t be the Maple Leafs.

For me, it was pretty cut and dried.

Over time, I have always been a Leaf guy, but my loathing for certain organizations (Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia) has eased quite a bit, for a variety of reasons.  I won’t get into all that now.

I can’t say I have a second favourite NHL team, but again, I am probably less hate-filled (in the sports sense, I mean) than I was years ago toward other NHL organizations.  However, I do hear people debate whether you can cheer for the Leafs and somebody else, or whether it’s “OK”, for example, to cheer for someone after the Leafs are knocked out of the playoffs—or fail to get into the playoffs.

In those circumstances some people cheer for another Canadian team.  Others may cheer for a particular player that they like from another (non-Leaf) team.

We’re all different and I certainly would not question anyone’s loyalty as a Leaf fan.  We all arrived here for different reasons.  Someone who attends 20 games a year may be a great fan, just as someone else who doesn’t get down to the ACC but follows the team in their own way, wherever they live in the world, can be a true-blue Leaf fan.  For me, blind loyalty is not the issue, either.  I think fans can criticize management—before and after the fact.  It’s a fan’s prerogative.  Similarly, if you choose to see things with rose-coloured glasses, that’s fine, too.  Again, we’re all in a different place in life—and in our sporting passion.

Let’s get away from the divisive CBA talk that I myself have spent far too much time on in the last month or more.  So, I would love to hear from readers on this subject:  is there a team you actually kind of like, other than the Leafs?  Maybe you are usually reluctant to admit it, for fear of being labeled “not loyal” or not a “true” fan.  Maybe there is a player you just love to watch, or that you secretly root for, who isn’t named Kessel, Phaneuf, Bozak, etc.?

Let’s get away from the depressing CBA talk and enjoy a fun conversation…


  1. I am a dyed in the wool Leaf fan and have been so since the early 50's but I do have a soft spot for the Buffalo Sabres.

    I lived in Buffalo during the 70's and watched the Sabres grow from an idea to a viable part of the city's sports scene.

    I make the trek north three times a season to watch the leafs play the Sabres. My sons live in the Buffalo area and it has been a pleasure to take in the games with them and enjoy a little in-family rivalry as they are both avid Sabres fans.

    I also try to get to Air Canada at least once. Last year my youngest son and I took in te Leafs-Sabres Toronto game in December.

    I have also attended some Sabres play-off games (the only opportunity that I've had to attend a playoff game with a rooting interest over the past few years).

  2. You must have been a follower of Gilbert Perreault at the time, Pete Cam - he's still one of the most exciting players I've ever seen.

    Great that you can still take in a game or two every year with your sons. Good stuff.

  3. Strictly a Leafs fan. I wasn't a big hockey fan while a youngster, too busy playing and having fun. I would watch the odd game on TV and some of the playoffs but then came the Gilmour years and I was hooked on the Leafs.

    Lucky enough to have seen them play live twice. Once in Vancouver which ended in a 2-2 tie after Domi of all people scored in the last minute to tie it up. That was pretty cool although probably not for the guy below me. We sat in the first row of the balcony of GM place, the best seats in the house in my opinion and when we jumped up to celebrate a whole row of beers went tumbling over. Must have been like a beer shower below us.

    The second time was 2 years ago when they beat Edmonton 5-2 on a crazy Saturday night in Edmonton. There is nothing better than being in an opposing barn where the away team has more fans than the home team. The "Go Leafs Go" chants started about 15 minutes before warm-up and just got louder and louder as the night went on. Awesome. After the game was cool when Leafs fans in jerseays were hi-fiving each other and cheering and screaming all the way out of the building while the Oiler fans just walked out with thier heads down muttering about stupid Ontario transplants and how they were brainwashed by the CBC. Priceless.

    Can't wait till I get to see them next but might be awhile. Hopefully, I get to take my 2 kids one of these years.

  4. There are two things I can think of that allowed me to show interest in any teams other than the Leafs. The first was Lanny McDonald's departure from the Leafs... I couldn't imagine not liking him just because Ballard was an idiot!

    The second was a result of living in BC and suffering through the mandatory miserable Canuck (and Montreal) broadcasts on CBC vs. watching no hockey at all. There were so many Leaf games pre-empted for the dismal Canucks that I had a hard time caring about them at all.

    Then Lanny was traded and in '81 I was finally able to see him playing with Calgary (instead of the non-televised Rockies). At this point, I lived in Vancouver and had grown to like Stan Smyl and some others during their growing success with much appreciated Roger Neilson.

    The Canucks made an unlikely cup run in 82 and I found it hard not to get caught up in the emotion in the city.

    In a little side story, I was on my way to a movie on Granville Street Mall when I ran into Mike Bossy on an off night during the finals. I jokingly let him know that Al Arbour was my cousin (true), but we'd never actually met - then asked jokingly, "I imagine I'm the only one to ever ask for tickets to a Stanley Cup game because of such a close and meaningful relationship, so would you ask if he could set aside some lower bowl seats for me at the next game?"

    Of course, we were both laughing before I finished my query and he told me the chances were pretty slim... strangely, he never asked my name for when they would set aside my tickets! :) Of course, I watched on TV and never did meet Al...

    That was the first time I ever really enjoyed another NHL team other than the Leafs, but more importantly, I never rooted for any team against the Leafs at any time!

    I also rooted for the Flames when Lanny got his cup and for Bourque with the Avalanche. One thing I realized after missing the awesomeness of Bobby Orr in my youth (because I hated what he did to the Leafs - even trading his hockey card for some Leaf players' cards!) was that I could enjoy players on other teams to some extent without violating my loyalty to the Leafs.

    So, that's where I stand on the subject!

  5. Great memories, Willbur. (Fans probably don't mind a beer shower as much if their team wins...which wasn't the case that night.)

    There's something about the Leafs that still sees them draw huge support in the western Canadian cities. Even though Vancouver, Calgary and the Oilers (as you cited) have hugely passionate following (and yes, Winnipeg, too)s, the Leaf fans are still loud and proud in those markets every time the Leafs are in town.

    Here's hoping you can indeed enjoy special moments with your kids at some games soon, Willbur! Thanks for posting.

  6. I understand completely get aspect of your comment, InTimeFor62. (Love the Bossy story, by the way...I also have a Bossy story I will share some day...)

    The Lanny trade was a low point in Leaf history, for sure. I was pleased for him when he helped the Flames win that Cup in his last season in '89.

    Interesting that you mention Smyl. I always liked him as a player. Great junior career and just a heady, rugged, team-oriented NHL'er. A true-blue Canuck.

    And by the way, you had to be a true-blue Leaf fan if you traded away your Orr cards! Money down the drain if you had them today, eh??!!

    Good stuff, as always Thanks InTimeFor62.

  7. Actually, it was probably more Imlach than Ballard who played a role in Lanny's departure (since he couldn't trade Darryl, who had the no-trade clause - probably would have hated it more if Sittler had been sent away, but that was the beginning of the end for him, too.)

  8. I thought only Sens fans had back-up teams?

    In all seriousness, I can understand having an affinity for a team other then the one you cheer for do to having lived in the city, or having better coverage of their games etc where you live. Happens to me with German soccer, I cheer for Freiburg (having lived in the area), but it's very rare they're on TV. I'll actually do the unthinkable and occasionally cheer for Bayern when they play Champions League matches etc.

    But openly having a 2nd team to cheer for as a back-up after your first team fails makes my stomach turn. I'm probably a lot like you were, for me hockey season ends when the Leafs season ends. I spend the rest of the year cheering against teams rather then for other ones.

  9. Given the Leafs' struggles from '67 on, I have indeed spent a good part of my time "cheering against" as you said, Alex. Glad you understand. (And hey, Bayern Munich's almost always a top's fun to have a rooting interest.)

    Thanks for visiting, Alex.

  10. InTimeFor62's post closely resembles my own experience in Vancouver. My family moved there in 1981, and we only stayed there a year. Nonetheless, it just so happened to be the year the Canucks took their Cinderella run to the finals. Richard Brodeur's game-stealing play is embedded in my memory, among the best of my early hockey watching memories. So with the Leafs in free-fall and a complete non-factor in the playoffs (not the mention the fact that Tiger Williams was skating for the Canucks by this time), it was easy for me to get excited about the Canucks that year.

    Of course, back home in Ontario the following year, I was back to rooting for my hapless Leafs, but Vancouver will always be my second option as a team to root for. I will qualify that by stating that this is nothing more than a passing interest. I could never feel nearly the passion for them as for the Leafs (if they ever make it to the finals again).
    I have also had reason to root for other teams in a small way. Of course who couldn't appreciate the high-flying Oilers in the 80s with their awesome offensive firepower? Being from a small town, I have enjoyed watching local heroes play too, and if their team was still around in the playoffs, I'd always like to see them go as far as they could.

    Then there is the distinct Canadian factor. I am certainly among those that believe that Gary Bettman came in with an agenda to move as much NHL hockey out of smaller Canadian markets and south into the States in search of a television mega-contract. It was heartbreaking to see Winnipeg and Quebec City lose their franchises, and nearly Edmonton too. It was at the point that I saw local businessmen in Edmonton pool their resources together to purchase the team to keep it there that I truly became a fan of Canadian franchises. Don't get me wrong, every time the Leafs play the Senators, I want nothing more than a slaughter in the Leafs favour. In the end, though, I like to see as many Canadian based teams thrive both on and off the ice.

  11. Ah, those were fun hockey days, Pete - "King Richard" Brodeur in goal, ex-Leaf tough-guy Tiger on the prowl. Harry Neale suspended and Roger Neilson behind the bench...

    And yes, the skilled Oilers. Amazing firepower.

    You've perfectly described the fan experience, Pete. There are a whole host of reasons why we develop a rooting interest. Thanks.

  12. I cheer for the Flames in the west, but nobody even approaches the Leafs.

  13. I hear you, Armistice. I'm guessing you're not alone! Thanks for chiming in...

  14. My second-favourite team is whoever is playing against the Montreal Canadiens.

  15. Michael,

    I have never really had a back up team so to speak. When I was young I watched a lot of New York Islander playoff games and really liked the way that guys like Bossy and Trottier played. I wouldn't have ever called myself a fan, but I must confess that I enjoyed watching them play. I guess that you have to admire the winning, if nothing else.

    Today, I would say that I cheer for individual players that I admire. For whatever skill that they epitomize in my mind. I cheer for them and hope that they have success. Recently this hasn't been a playoff problem for me, as the Leafs seem to have forgotten that the playoffs do exist. It sure would be nice to cheer for Crosby scoring a hat trick every game against Toronto, while we beat the Penguins 6-3 in game four and sweep them out of the playoffs.

    I think that we all have teams that we hate almost as much as we love the Leafs. The Canadiens most of all, primarily for the exclusivity they enjoyed in Quebec for player rights, while Toronto had no such opportunity in Ontario. Completely unfair in my opinion. I despise the Senators as well. The playoff victories against them were epic. I was never so happy as the day they lost in the Stanley Cup final. We as Leaf fans would have never heard the end of that. What a relief. I have never really thought much about the Sabres in this way. Funny they are the closest rival geographically. But, I don't have anywhere near the level of animosity towards them that I perhaps should. Other rivals seem to come and go for me. The Kessel trade with Boston links the teams as rivals for me, for the near future. We will see what happens if Kessel moves on or signs a new deal here. Right now Boston is kicking our butts, so to speak. Years ago the Red Wings were the team I considered our biggest rival. Before Detroit became a great team, and the Leafs didn't.

    Someday I hope to eclipse the happiness that Mario Lemieux gave me as a fan, by watching the Leafs lift the Stanley Cup. No one will ever convince me that Super Mario wasn't the greatest player to ever put on a pair of skates.

  16. Trust me, ingy56, that was my (hockey) life for decades! (I've posted stories here about how my Dad was a huge Montreal fan in the '50s and how I learned to love the Leafs and hate the Habs...under "How I became a Leaf Fan" on the side bar) Thanks ingy56...brings back wonderful "anti-" memories...

  17. Like Pete Cam, I was also a Leafs fan living in the Buffalo area. Perreault was definitely one of the most talented players ever. The late 70s/early 80s Sabres teams under Bowman were impressive...too bad they couldn't have grabbed a Cup or two. The Islanders just had a couple more weapons and maybe the best money goalie ever in Billy Smith. My friend's dad was a bartender at a local country club, so he would often get free tickets. We'd go to 15-20 games a year in the old Aud in Buffalo.

    Aside from the Sabres it was hard to not like the 80s Oilers. So talented and fun to watch.

    I started following Lemieux via the Hockey News when he played for Laval in the QMJHL. How could a guy be that good? I was lucky enough to get to see him play as a rookie in Pittsburgh. By dad took me there while he was on a business trip. We saw his last game of the seaason in '85 when he got his 100th point. I always liked Mario and thought he was the best ever. With fewer injuries he would have beat some of Gretzky's records. His return in '93 after cancer treatment is the stuff of legends. Here's a quote from Frank Deford: "Notwithstanding Gretzky's abiding majesty, posterity will never forget that no athlete—not even the sainted Lou Gehrig—has ever before Lemieux been struck down by a deadly disease at the very moment when he was the best of his sport at the best he ever would be. And since: Lemieux has achieved miraculously in remission, struggling, on the side, with a back injury so grievous that it has benched him after he merely laced up a skate. That is the stuff that answers people these days when they wonder where all our sports heroes have gone."

  18. I was born in Windsor, Ontario before moving to the Toronto area at a young age. That said, I was often back and forth between Windsor and Markham as a child to visit family. I remember my father taking me to a Detroit Tigers game at old Tiger stadium when Cecil Fielder played for them. My cousins from southwestern Ontario were mostly Detroit fans when it came to baseball and football. So in the mid-late 90s when the Leafs were in between the Pat Burns and Pat Quinn era, Steve Yzerman was busying doing this, He is one of my all time favourite players and he truly inspired me growing up as a hockey fan. You may not like the Red Wings because of their historic rivalry with the Leafs, but its hard not to respect them. After so many years of being heart broken by the Leafs falling short, I leaned on something reliable and inspirational in the Detroit Redwings. Class act organization.

  19. Lemieux was a remarkable talent, no question, JB. He was special.

    Perreault was different. He had that explosive speed (not that Mario was slow!), and I just thought that was something uinique about the way Perreault carried the puck. Centering the French Connection line was a perfect match for him.

    I agree that those Islander teams were tough, and it sure helped having Billy Smith in net...Thanks JB.

  20. Cartsy- I can't argue with you about the Wings since Jim Devalanno became GM in the early '80s and Mike Illitch has owned the team. They have been a class organization, and Yzerman was a huge part of that. (I was born and raised in a small town outside of Windsor, across from Detroit...people were generally a Montreal, Toronto or Red Wing fan in the early '60s when I was a kid...)

    Old Tiger Stadium was great, by the way. Thanks Cartsy

  21. Michael - there are some great highlight videos of Perreault on You Tube. You are right...Perreault was built like a tank. Very strong legs...low center of gravity. He was impossible to move off the puck. He always looked a little shorter than his listed 6'1". He could take it end to end like Orr. Played the point on power plays too. If Martin and Gare had been able to put up some better numbers in the 80 semi final against the Isles...who knows. Btw, I lost interest in the Sabres when they went to those black/red/white uni's with the goat head. Was very happy they brought back the blue & gold. :)

  22. I was a blue and gold Sabres guy, too, JB. Never liked that "new" uni, either.

    And Perreault (thanks for the link) - younger hockey fans who have never seen him play, have a look. No one other than Orr could go end to end like Perreault....what a stickhandler.

  23. During the season, I care only for the Leafs. But once they're out, I allow myself to cheer for various other teams, with no real emotional investment. My current playoff favorites are the St Louis Blues - my wife has deep family roots there, I love the way they went about putting their team together, I've always regretted the dealing of Steen and Colaiacovo, I wish we had someone like David Backes - and they've got one of my favorite logos. (Yes, that's a factor, in the same way I prefer the older Leaf logo to the modern, more angular ones).
    But no team has my heart like the Leafs.

  24. Thanks for that, Gerund O'. We both remember when the Blues joined the NHL in 1967. Because of where I lived, my Dad and I used to be able watch Red Wing games on a local UHF TV station from Detroit. I would often watch them play at the old stadium in St. Louis. The games usually started at 9pm my time and the building was usually hopping.

    It was a particular treat when I would watch the Leaf game on HNIC, and if the Leafs had won, I could kick back and then watch the last period or a bit more of the St. Louis-Detroit game. It made for some fun Saturday nights.

    Al Arbour, Glenn Hall, Red Berenson, the Plager boys- that was a good expansion team.

    I'm with you on logos, too, Gerund!

  25. I've been a pretty loyal leafs fan while moving around canada and the US. A few years ago, I got a great job offer in Columbus and took it. I felt very grateful to the city, and shortly after I started following the Blue Jackets from afar in their first playoff appearance.

    A year later, I moved here to work full time. I've maintained the NHL online package and watch 3/4 of the leafs games online every season. But you could probably guess that CBJ tickets were easy to come by, so I stopped by nationwide arena about 10-20 times a season to check out the live product. The Blue Jackets have been atrocious, but I couldn't help identifying with the players and the passionate fans out here.

    The Jackets probably haven't been as frustrating as the Leafs for me personally, but the fans out here continue to show up and root for the team regardless of embarrassing on-ice play, off-ice moves and a phallic mascot that shot white T-shirts at children. I've been here long enough that I can't help but feel pulled into the fray to stand up for this beleaguered franchise in a city that is constantly the butt of NHL jokes.

    Last year, I had the pleasure (and horror) of going to see the leafs play mid-week at nationwide arena. I wore my Leafs sweater and watched as most other Leaf fans stumbled around drunkenly, pissing on the floor in the washrooms and loudly complaining about how much america sucks. There are times when being a leaf fan is downright embarrassing, and that ranked up there with some other ugly nights out back in Canada.

    I will probably continue to wear my Leafs sweater in my home office while swearing loudly at my computer every time Joe Bowen groans... if and when the NHL starts up again. And as long as the Jackets aren't playing Toronto, I'll keep rooting for the team formerly known as Rick Nash.

    There are things as a Leaf fan that you have to sometimes apologize for. Making a complete ass out of yourself in public is OK at times, but probably deserves a long talk with yourself in a bathroom mirror and some handwritten apologies. Throwing beer on another fan whose team has just lost requires some monetary compensation, or at least a few rounds on your tab. Lighting another guy's non-leaf sweater on fire while he's wearing it deserves jail time.

    I won't apologize for having a second rooting interest. The CBJ don't often meet the Leafs, and they will probably never meet in the Stanley Cup. I see this as a low-risk move and I really don't care what other Leaf fans think of it. As a group, we have bigger issues to address than conflicted loyalties.

  26. Great post, GD. I'm glad to hear someone speak on behalf of the Columbus franchise - and fans. I'm among those who wonder why the NHL is even there, though I know there is a loyal, if modest, hockey fan base.

    Thanks for providing a different - and thoughtful - perspective.

  27. For me it's pretty much just the Leafs, but I'll admit to a soft spot for the Habs too. After all, you can quit your job, divorce your wife, but you can never quit on your team!

  28. Difficult to argue with your logic, Mike- thanks for posting on this one!

  29. I have a soft spot for Winnipeg - how can you not after watching the team rot in Atlanta for all these years? Some of the best fans in hockey to boot.

    Chicago and Pittsburgh are a joy to watch as a fan of the game as well. Such tremendous skill.

  30. I sense a lot of people are still thrilled the NHL is back in Winnipeg, and deservedly so, Scott. No question those are wonderful and knowledgeable fans.

    After a dry period, the Hawks are indeed back and very entertaining and yes, the Pens are a treat to watch for any hockey fan as well.

    Thanks for visiting, Scott.

  31. It is great reading a blog with well informed and passionate fans. I have been a Leaf fan since the early 70's growing up as a kid in Oshawa. Unfortunately a move to the southern United States in the days before the greatest show on ice made it that far south cut most of the hockey out of my life. No mention in the papers. No internet in the 80s. No Leafs. No hockey.
    Eventually I moved to a small town 1/2 way between Philly and Pittsburg and hockey became part of my life again. The TV coverage was limited to primarily seeing the Flyers. In my case it was Flyers or nobody so I followed the Flyers. After years of following the Flyers organization and getting to know many of their players (and player backstories), I have grown fond of the Flyers.
    But when the Leafs came to town... all bets were off. It isn't even close. I would root for a cellar dwelling Leaf team against a league leading Flyers team any day and twice on Sunday.
    So the bottom line for me is, you can cheer for the city you are in or have some sort of history with but True Leaf Fans cast off all allegiances when the Blue and White come to town.

    (side question: Anybody know what happened to Dave Keon? I know he had a falling out with the organization. He was such a great player and hard nose hockey player. We have had our fair share of guys like him...Clark, Dougie, even Dion.)

  32. Thanks for checking in, Phil. It makes a world of difference when you get to know the individuals personally, for sure. That you like the Flyers under those circumstances makes sense.

    I know for me, I've worked with a number of young players and quite a few NHL coaches professionally over the past twenty years, and I always pull for them, regardless of where they play or work as a coach. It's natural when you have a relationship with someone and are fond of them that you root for them to do well.

    But you well describe the heart of a Leaf fan: loyalty to the blue and white seems to trump all!

    Thanks Phil. Good to hear from you. Drop by any time.