One of the enjoyable aspects of hosting this VLM site over the past few years is that I’ve gotten to know a number of thoughtful Leaf followers quite well. We all tend to see the Leaf picture a little differently but one thing that does indeed unite us is a longstanding rooting interest in the blue and white. Though the team has not had championship success in close to fifty years, the Leafs still have a very strong following throughout much of the world, even where hockey is not generally a popular sport.
That said, one of the more intense discussions one can have when you’re a Leaf fan is this: how do you feel about the Montreal Canadiens? For some, Montreal is just another team. Others uniformly hate the Habs. Some respect them as a traditional Leaf rival and an organization with a great hockey tradition.
In my own case, I’ve long acknowledged a passionate dislike for the blue, blanc et rouge when I was younger. My excuse is I was born into a Hab family, and rebelled at the idea at a very early age. I was the family turncoat, stubbornly adopting the Maple Leafs as “my” team”. I subsequently carried my intense dislike for Montreal and its players for years. While I can now look back on those great late ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s Montreal players like Doug Harvey, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Laperriere, J.C. Tremblay, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson with respect and admiration, that wasn’t my emotion back then. My anti-Montreal sentiment only really subsided when the Habs became just another NHL team, which they kind of evolved into throughout the ‘80s—though they did win the Cup in ’86 and came awfully close in 1989.
They did win it again in 1993 (the year the Leafs should have been playing them in the finals) but have not been back to the finals since.
Now, Leaf fans find themselves in an (for some, at least) uncomfortable situation. Whatever their feelings for the Canadiens, Montreal is the only Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some Maple Leaf fans like to cheer for a Canadian team if the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, or are eliminated early on.
And that’s the question I have for you today: as a Leaf follower (or maybe if you’re the fan of another Canadian team), do you just naturally migrate to rooting for the Habs, because you kind of like them, too and/or because they are carrying the Canadian flag in the NHL playoffs?
Or are you a Leaf supporter who would never, ever become even a temporary Montreal supporter?
From my perspective, as I said earlier, I no longer have much of a feeling about the Canadiens one way or the other. I won’t be troubled if they were to somehow advance and win a championship, though I don’t anticipate that happening. (There are other teams besides Montreal at this point in my hockey rooting life that I would prefer not win; not many that I would like to see win!)
As for the pro “Canadian” team argument, that has never moved me much. I’ve never been a fan who starts pulling for another Canadian-based team once the Leafs were out of the playoffs, though I totally understand why many people do. Generally speaking over the years, once the Leafs were done, while I would follow the various series I was mostly cheering against certain teams. But I didn’t especially care. Right now, I don’t have much of a rooting interest, though the first round of the playoffs is always tremendous hockey.
The question is: are you now cheering for the Habs as they get ready to face the Bruins? Or is that a divide you simply cannot cross?