My husband and I went to the Ottawa Senators in Toronto hockey game last night. Despite growing up just outside of the city, this was my first game in Toronto. The only other time I’ve seen the Toronto Maple Leafs play was when I lived in Boston in the fall of 2003. While in Vancouver, I took in 4 hockey games; 3 Canucks games and 1 Olympic game.
I grew up as a Leafs fan. It took some doing, but in Boston, I managed to get a coworker to attend the game with me. (The Boston natives looked at me with puzzled expressions when I asked. They said “no, baseball, not hockey. That was the year before they ended their World Series drought. Bo-sox fans are devoted fans.) A coworker of mine from Venezuela married a man in Boston from Montreal. She wanted to take in a game, to understand it. Since I’d helped out with my brother’s hockey team when my dad coached, I was able to explain the game. She enjoyed it (and our $25 USD tickets) so much, that she bought a 3-pack deal for her and her husband to attend as a christmas present.
That night in Boston, the Leafs won 6-1, and we had a fabulous time. Transposed Leaf fans were scattered throughout the venue. The energy level started high, and went over the roof for each goal. I think I would have been just as excited to watch had they lost, but its tough to tell 9 years later.
When I moved to Vancouver, I felt pangs of guilt cheering for the Canucks. As friends cheered for the team, I kept trying to cheer for Toronto, but when the Leafs traded Mats Sundin (the Captain!!!) to Vancouver, I decided that was enough of a reason to cheer on the Canucks. If Toronto could be harsh enough to trade one of the fan favorite players, then I could cheer for another team. Since I claimed Vancouver as my own, it was time I claimed the city’s teams as well.
That excitement carried with me for every game I attended in Vancouver. I was happy to attend, as was everyone else in the crowd. The last game I attended was the last Canucks home game for the season, before the playoffs began. They handed out the President’s Trophy to the NHL’s #1 team in standings, and the entire arena wanted to celebrate with them. When I left Vancouver, the Canucks were 2 games away from that fateful Stanley Cup game 7. I’m so glad I missed the riots.
Tuesday night, I arrived at the game excited, yet once again feeling guilty about cheering for another team. The Air Canada Centre was packed, though the prime ticket holders didn’t dribble in until half of the first period was over. As I observed their behavior, I noticed the energy level of the arena felt somewhat lacking. ‘Oh Canada’ was really special; they unfurled a giant Canadian flag over the audience. But it wasn’t enough to get the crowd motivated. No matter how many times the organs tried to rally the crowd, nor how many times the jumbotron played “make some noise” cartoons, the crowd just didn’t join in. There were a few sections of the crowd trying to rally the team with “Go Leafs Go” but not once did the entire arena join in. Only the first goal got the crowd excited, which died down shortly after. The energy level only rose slightly with the first fight. Crowd apathy was tough to fight, especially as the Ottawa Senators scored 3 goals to win the game.
That’s where I treasure my Canucks: the fans. Not the ones starting the rioting, not the ones blaming Luongo for the losses, but the ones in the stadium, happy just to cheer. “Go Canucks Go!” rang out with enthusiasm, “LUUUUUUUUUU!” (which sounds an awful lot like “boooo!”) sounded every time the captain made a save. It rang out before the game even began. Specifically though, I think announcer John Ashbridge makes a huge difference to the fans. He’s got a great deep motivational voice that rallies the crowd, and his “Wooo!” after every Canuck’s goal always gets echoed by the fans. This kind of energy was missing from Tuesday night’s Leaf’s game.
Maybe it’s the fact that I saw the Canucks playing at their peak that has me nostalgic. Maybe its the fact that Leaf fans feel so beaten down by how poorly their team has done over the last few years. But I definitely feel something lacking. It’s been 45 years since the Leafs won the Stanley Cup, but I think our fans could learn a lot from Boston Red Sox fans. They didn’t give up after 80 years.
I guess I cheated on my Canucks by cheering for someone else. I’m not sure if its possible, but in my heart, I love both teams. The Canucks are my new love, but you never forget your first love. Should they ever face each other, in regular season or the playoffs, I’ll be completely torn. But until then, I’ll support both the team I grew up with, and the team I chose as my own.
Finally, some other observations: While I’m not an expert on hockey, if anyone in charge ever reads this, I do have observations about the Leaf players. First, they don’t seem to be able to think quickly on their feet, always shooting the puck 1-3 seconds after the opportunity passes. Second, they don’t seem to be able to actually pass to their teammates sticks; so many times members had to double back to get the puck, wasting valuable time. Finally, they need to find competitive and intuitive players, like the Sedins. Maybe it needs to trained from the ground up with new draft picks, maybe there’s a way to get them thinking more quickly on their feet now, either way, the Leafs need some changes.