This blog was started on a whim. Not long ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs—the team I live and die for and that never, ever fails to reward me for my loyalty, even when they don’t win the Stanley Cup—were mired in a hard-luck, seven-game losing streak. While surfing the Web at work (something I do regularly, hence, my full name won’t be revealed on this site), I came across a story by Canadian Press reporter Neil Stevens. Instead of rehashing the type of negativity that some so-called “reporters” and “broadcast journalists” like to heap on the scrappy Leafs on the rare occasions that the team is down, Stevens was balanced and thought-provoking.
“The Leafs are due for a win, and they believe they’ll boomerang once they get it,” he wrote. His words were prophetic: the Leafs did indeed “batter the Bolts” a night later.
Stevens’ words touched my inner soul. I decided I would pour it out in the way that feels quite natural to me: all over the Leafs.
While the strange circumstances—a long Leafs losing streak and positive press about the team—combined to send me on my way, I feel like I’ve been preparing for the role of Leafs commentator and chronicler for my entire life.
I was born in 1967 (“The Year of Our Leafs”) in Mississauga, Ontario. My dad named my Johnny because, he said, I looked like a miniature Johnny Bower when I came out. Mom explained later that Dad was moved by my slicked-back hair and some puck-shaped facial bruising left behind from the birthing trauma. (“He looks like he took one square on the melon!” Dad told the nurses proudly.)
I followed the Leafs from the time I could follow the puck on TV. My heroes were named Clark and Keon. Ullman and McDonald. Sittler and McKenny. Salming and Turnbull. I lived Leafs hockey; I lived through them.
When mom would let our pet Dachshund Ballard out, I used to stand in the doorway and pretend I was Mike Palmateer between the pipes. Ballard would come running like a wrist shot from the high slot, and I’d stop him. I’d toss him back out into the “crease” and he’d come charging again, determined to get between me and the “post.” Sometimes I did this until he gave up and peed on the kitchen floor. I’d sop it up with a smile on my face, thinking all the while that the work was a small price to pay for a “shutout.”
I played some real hockey, too, and wore out my fair share of sticks and skates. But nothing ever thrilled me like watching my Leafs live or on the television. I guess you could say I am really just a Leafs fan.
What thrills the Leafs brought me in my formative years. There was the 1977-78 team that rallied from 2-0 down to beat the Islanders in the quarters, then almost beat Montreal in several games en route to getting swept by the eventual Cup champs. And who in Leafs Nation can forget the 1986-87 squad that smoked the Blues in the first round and bolted to a 3-1 series lead on Detroit in the semis before succumbing in seven to a determined Wings squad that nearly posted a .500 record in the regular season. And of course, there was the legendary 1992-93 team that surely would have hoisted the Cup if only it had found a way to win either Game 6 or Game 7 of the Western finals against Gretzky and the Kings.
Some other teams have won a bit more during my lifetime, but I can’t imagine any other fan base having as much pride, passion, and satisfaction as the Leafs fans. Besides, history is impossible to erase: the Leafs may have hit some tough sledding of late as far as championships go, but what other organisation can say it needs just 11 more Stanley Cups to overtake Montreal?
I hope you enjoy this little slice of Leafs Cyber-Nation. It will be my pleasure producing it for you, and perhaps getting some help along the way from a fellow Leaf diehard or two.