I recently moved to Toronto (Burlington) from Vancouver. As I prepared for the move I thought about my hockey allegiance. I’m a Canuck fan. Always have been. But Canuck games start late in Toronto (usually 10:00 pm) and so I knew it would be hard to follow the Canucks as intently in TO as I did in Vancouver. So which Eastern team was I going to become a fan of as a local alternative? It wasn’t going to be the Leafs, that’s for sure. No self-respecting Canucks fan could. That’d be like a Catholic going to the synagogue on Saturday for service.
So I decided I’d follow the Sabres. They’re a good organization close to my new home, have a solid team, great uniforms, and ownership committed to winning. I thought it would be a good fit. But there was one problem I didn’t foresee, there is no Buffalo Sabres coverage in Southern Ontario. Not on the radio, not on the TV, sure there was the internet, but I can follow any team on the internet. I don’t have internet radio in my car. I don’t have internet video on my TV. So I was stuck listening to Leafs radio, watching Leafs TV, reading the Leafs paper following Leafs analysis, on the road, at home, it would be Leafs talk. Then something started to happen. No, I didn’t start to become a Leafs fan, that’s just not ever going to happen, but I was drawn to the daily happenings of the Leafs. I became fascinated with Leafs nation, with the manic-depressive behaviour of Leafs fans.
The Leafs got off to a great start. Fans were cautiously optimistic, a term they used every time someone talked about where they were in the standings. But also, every time they lost, there was talk of the wheels falling off, another term that was used too loosely. Everything was dependant on the night before. A win and the team was a contender, a loss and the team was a joke. Then in late October they managed to win enough games to get to first in the NHL. Cautious optimism was lost. They were first! In the league! The Leafs! That’s right! Leafs radio was going crazy. They brought Leafs alumni onto the radio for interviews to talk about the last time the Leafs were in first place, you know, the good old days. Backup goalie Ben Scrivens just had a great game, and he was their 3rd string goalie. Everyone talked about the team’s loaded depth. How Ron Wilson deserved to get a contract extension. Why hadn’t he been offered an extension? Then that Saturday night the Leafs got blown out by Boston (again). Then they lost to Florida. The goaltending was terrible. The defence was suspect. There was talk of benching newly signed young star Luke Schenn. They needed better depth in goal. They needed to trade a defencemen to balance the depth. The needed more veteran leadership. Ron Wilson needed to be fired. Why wasn’t Ron Wilson fired? The wheels were officially falling off. This was two games after being first overall in the league. I must admit it is very similar in Vancouver, the passion, the analytical dissection, the nervous appreciation of success. It is the fortune of having a committed fan base that cares what happens every night.
Last year I went to a Canucks game in Anaheim and the post game show had no post game discussion at all. It had an hour-long interview with a player’s wife discussing a charity she was involved with and how her kids loved playing ice hockey. They never once discussed the game. They obviously haven’t figured out how to market the game properly down there. They haven’t figured out the power of constant coverage. So as a Canucks fan, I will continue to follow the Leafs, not as a fan but as a person who finds the soap opera reactive fan base fascinating and dispassionately appreciates their exteme highs and lows.