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After 46 years without a Cup, yes, the Leafs still matter…

One of the things that has run through my mind during my mini-sabbatical from writing daily about the Leafs is this: despite the sometimes pervasive negativity about the team (which we are almost all part of, to some degree) as well as the bluster and the sometimes hard-to-fully-decipher micro-analysis of the team that goes on, the Toronto Maple Leafs still matter.  At the end of the day, for each our own reasons,  to many, many people, the Maple Leafs are a big part of their lives.

Oh, cheering for the team is not as important as our loved ones, our health, or those things in life that touch us on an ethical or spiritual level, but as part of our day-to-day struggle to endure the up's and down's that life throws at us, caring about a team - any team, but maybe especially one with the tradition of the blue and white - provides a diversion, gives us something to cheer for, something to follow and get amped up about.

To provide some context for my thoughts, let me take a step back.  A week ago I penned a short piece where I discussed in broad terms some of my concerns about where the public discourse seems to be headed at times when it comes to “talking Leafs”.  Not that there aren’t many fine mainstream media folks covering the Leaf “beat” out there, and just as many (if not more) exceptionally gifted bloggers.  It’s just that, on occasion, the high-octane yelling within the fan base and blogospehere seems to drown out the more thoughtful voices in the community.  (That is not to say that the the quieter, sometimes more thoughtful voices are more “right” than louder voices, just a bit less shrill, you might say…)

As part of my commentary that day, I acknowledged that I’d like some time away from the self-imposed (and it is self-imposed, no one is making me write...) grind, if you don’t mind my calling it that, of writing pretty much daily—year-round—about the Leafs in this tiny corner of the blog world.  And I still will continue to take that time to reflect, as I determine if VLM should continue on its snail’s pace path in a sometimes-frenzied marketplace of opinions.

When a number of regular visitors to VLM took the time to encourage me to continue with my efforts here, all the while respecting my decision regarding time away, I was quite touched.  But more than anything, what it evoked, at least in me, is that after all these years, after all the pent-up frustration, and yes, after all the years of “losing” (including the crushing loss to the Bruins in Game 7 just a few short weeks ago), people still really and truly love to talk about the Maple Leafs—and many like to do it the way I try to do it here at VLM.

So while I don’t really have a new post today (lest I draw myself into doing the very thing I am trying to pull myself away from!) I’d like to share a couple of columns I wrote on this subject of why the Leafs still matter.  (And for good measure, I'm including one of my favourite old-time Leaf photos that I still have, of mid-1950s Leaf netminder Eddie Chadwick, the last Maple Leaf goaltender to play every single game in the regular-season...):
The above pieces are hardly the final word on why people care so passionately about the Leafs, but because there is so much more to say on this subject, by all means feel free to comment here on why the Leafs still matter to you after all these years—even without (for many) a Cup to reflect back upon for all the emotion and passion that goes into being a Leaf fan.

Again, thanks to those of you who sent such kind notes here, by e-mail and on Twitter over the last week.  Warm wishes returned your way.


  1. The 'me' of my formative years is a part of the 'me' of today and there is continuity from then 'til now that intersects with my Leafs fascination, trials and tribulations. The Leafs have been there through my highs and lows (even creating some of them for me)... almost a 'touchstone' with a world beyond my own 'borders'.

    My early experiences were centered around family and times with my Dad, who regaled us with stories of his hockey playing experiences and Leafs fandom... wherein I learned it was part of my heritage. A Toronto-area boy grew up to be my Dad. He had seen the 'glory' and passed on his hope to me as we transitioned through expansion from the 60's into the early 70's when it was beginning to look like 'we were back on track'.

    Then came the WHA and the Ballard intractability. Losing key players during a difficult time in my own youth. The team seemed as 'beat up' as I was experiencing at school. I could identify with a team that had a history of high hopes, yet was bewildered by an experience that was far below the possibilities envisioned.

    Yet, season followed season and potential hopes grew and faded in both arenas. We walked through these times together, even if my heroes didn't know me. We pressed on through trials and failings... together.

    Just before the big Gilmour trade, I was 'almost' ready to 'move on' knowing deep down that I couldn't, but finding a way to 'put the past behind me' and move into a new future, Cliff Fletcher brought new hope with a blockbuster trade...

    Never thought of 'giving up on my team' again!

    It's much like a life overcoming obstacles and dreaming of a better future that IS possible... it's always a possibility with the very team and life that have travelled together thus far.

    1. One of the reasons I like to do a post like this once in a while, InTimeFor62, is that it provides an opportunity to hear from people who share precisely the kind of wonderful memories that this subject evokes: it usually revolves around our Dad/family, moments when we could have "lost our way" as Leaf supporters and why we remain fans, despite the losing, all these years later.

      You've expressed it beautifully- the '60s were good times until the end, there were occasions in the '70s where Jim Gregory had us on track, but Ballard's influence (though not that alone, I recognize) seemed to conspire against ultimate success.

      The often dismal '80s, then Fletcher turned things around, and we've had some nice runs since...Thank you, InTimeFor62...

    2. It's funny how easy it is to quickly characterize the 'failings of an era' on the shoulders of one man, but brevity dictates some generalizations! Harold Ballard's public persona evoked memories of many members of the family my Dad effectively 'left behind' when he moved away from the area. There seemed to be 'control issues' that were quite offensive and I sensed that I saw the same in Harold.

      Interestingly, I also saw the positives in many family interactions and actually had such a one with Harold Ballard in Vancouver in '80 or '81. Having 'thought outside the box' in obtaining Salming and Hammarstrom, I thought he just might make a foray into Nova Scotia to have a look at 2 players struggling for opportunity and acceptance in the sport.

      My best friend (in high school) and his brother had the skills for the NHL, in my estimation, so I sought out Mr. Ballard after a Leafs-Canucks game and encouraged him to check out Leonard and Perry Kane. It took a generation longer for the family to be represented in the NHL, by way of the nephew/son Evander (hence, my support for the young man who, I trust, will grow through his present issues and be a fine player and representative of a family that blazed the trail for him!).

      Harold patiently listened to my presentation and encouragements with interest and courtesy, so my only personal experience was a good one with the oft-jovial chap...

    3. I just now saw this follow-up post from you, InTimeFor62. I'm sorry I somehow missed it earlier. What a great story (telling Ballard about those young players). You must have the makings of a hockey scout in you, as the Kane family obviously has long had an NHL-quality skill set.

      While those of us old enough to remember him as an owner saw the frustrating aspects of his public persona, he was a hockey guy as a youngster growing up, very involved in different areas of the Leaf junior teams, if I'm not mistaken. So the guy knew something about hockey players...thanks, InTimeFor62.

  2. My dad took me to my first Leaf game at Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid 50's. I remember that the Leafs played and beat the Rangers. Wally Hergesheimer of the Rangers broke his leg and crawled to the bench as play continued on. As a young boy I was deeply impressed by the whole scenario. I distinctly remember the gentleman in the corner Blues yelling "C'mon Teeder" during a lull in the action. This was the first game of many but I still can recapture that original thrill when attending a Leaf game.

    The late 50's and the 60's have been well chronicled. Those were heady times for all Leaf fans. My recollections of the 70's were of lost opportunities and of some great Leaf players, particularly Darryl Sittler (he of the 10 point game), Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull (he of the 79 point season and the 5 goal night which I believe is still a record for a defenseman).

    I moved to the Atlanta area in 1981, just after the Flames left, and found local hockey coverage to be non-existent. National TV coverage was spotty and terrible (remember the glowing puck on Fox). I wasn't able to follow hockey and the Leafs closely in the 80's.

    Things became much better in the 90's for two major reasons: ESPN coverage with their Sunday/Wednesday/Friday Night Hockey and the advent of the internet. I was able to follow the Leafs much more closely through the Pat Burns and Pat Quinn years.

    I retired in 2006 and have had the time to be able to travel north during the hockey season, taking in all Leaf-Sabre games in Buffalo and at least one game in the Air Canada Centre each season. I can now also stream each Leaf game over the internet.

    I can now only hope that they will win another cup in my lifetime but I will be a fan win or lose.

    1. That "C'mon Teeder" chant is famous in Leaf lore, as you well know, Pete Cam. Awfully neat that you were able to be a part of that. I envy that you were able to attend games at the Gardens in those wonderful days for hockey. (Long before I was able to attend a Leaf game myself, I well remember Bill Hewitt on television talking about pucks flying into the "end blues" at the Gardens.)

      You're so right about those '70s teams that Jim Gregory built. Some fine players- we were maybe two or three players away, perhaps?

      The glowing puck is a not-so-good memory!

      Thanks for chiming in today, Pete Cam.

  3. MIchael,

    A long time ago, my father managed to get us two tickets to see the Leafs play at Maple Leaf Gardens. I must have been seven or eight at the time. I was thrilled to go and see my favourite team play. I was even happier that the man I admire most was going to spend his time and attention on me. This happens two or three times a season, with a recent surgery slowing him down a bit, this season was not in the cards. Even though my dad is not a fan of the team, and these are the only hockey games he watches, it remains one of my favourite things to do. Go to a game, at the ACC now, sit with my dad and talk about the game. The seats are always great. He is harder on the team than I am. I am a fan at heart, he is more or less a learned observer, he gave up on the team long ago. So even though I am critical of them and wish they were more than they have become, I do still like them.

    Like some of your other readers, my dad spent a lot of time at the Gardens as a boy. My grandfather was a season ticket holder when my dad was a young teenager. He would have liked to go with his dad more often, apparently taking your son to the game was uncommon. Through the Ballard years, my dad lost faith and actually was a fan of the Canadiens for a while. I try really hard to dislike him for this, but the pragmatist in me understands. The Canadiens were great, while Ballard was trading our good players away, and chasing people with his cane. In hindsight, I am surprised how many fans the Leafs still have, after all the team has put us through.

    I have so many memories of these times with my dad. The hockey is clearly secondary, to me at least. Since the time of my very first game, many things have changed. Not the least of which have been the players and coaches. Friends have come and gone, people move on through life I guess. No matter what, the Leafs do still matter, at least to me. There are many reasons for the team having a place in my life, people who share the same passion for the team are right near the top of the list.

    It would make me so happy for the Leafs to take as prominent a role in the standings in the future, as they do in the national media. The team garners as much attention for the negativity, GM's and coaches etc., as they used to for the ability to achieve greatness. As a fan, I would really like to see that change.

  4. Thanks for sharing that, Jim. The importance of the father-son connection for you is obvious. That your Dad has lost his affection for the organization says something and like you, I can (while I don't know the specific reasons in his case) fully understand how and why that has happened.

    You're so right- the team receives no end of publicity and coverage, yet most seasons it has been for reasons other than actual success. It is indeed remarkable that so many people still care.

  5. The Leafs still matter to me.

    Boston's success is making people re-evaluate this Leafs team: Maybe the Leafs were pretty good?

    The way Boston is manhandling Chicago, well I have no problem with Colton Orr's new contract. Boston didn't do that against the Leafs. They wouldn't take Chara off the ice for five minutes for a fighting penalty with Orr or McLaren and thus the Bruins were quite polite against the Leafs.

    I am normally quite optimistic, but I think Leaf fans will have to temper their expectations for the coming year.

    Eakins move to the Oilers might hurt the development of our prospects. I was really hoping Eakins would get one more year with Biggs, Broll and some of our other young guys.

    Komorov will be a loss, but what can you expect him to do? I hear he will make 2.5 million plus in the KHL, (all tax free, which is about 3 times his take home from the Leafs.)

    Bozak, (though not perfect) was a useful guy. I think we are going to lose him.

    Grabovski will have to bounce back to his 60 point level and Kadri will need at least a 50 point season.

    1. Those are all good points, DP. Eakins appeared to be a tremendous influence on our young players, and it's hard to imagine they will find someone who fills that bill quite the way he did, at least right away. I agree Komarov is a loss. He provided the kind of 'hard-to-play against' element the Leafs haven't really had, a nasty player who finished a lot of checks.

      Bozak will be a loss. He does little things that often go under the radar. He may be (we'll see) one of those players that you don't appreciate until he is gone.

      Depending on whether Nonis can attract/acquire some other players. Grasbbo and Kadri will indeed be key (again) next season. Thanks DP.