Blood on the Dasher: My Gardens Moment

The General and Norte have both written about Maple Leaf Gardens recently;  meanwhile Sean is in the middle of a series consisting of a Clark¹ of posts concerning the greatness that was the Man from Kelvington.   A discussion has been raging over at PPP about the proper placement of Mats Sundin in the Maple Leaf pantheon. My own view on this last issue is that the most obvious historical parallel to Sundin is Frank Mahovlich, another great player Leaf fans were famously hesitant to fully embrace – both were (relatively speaking) large men with long strides that many people wrongly perceived as slow, uninvolved or lazy; both had plenty of drive, offensive talent and finish around the net; and both men were men of class and character, quiet leaders who were not prone to dropping the gloves.

Right now, I am not liking Mats Sundin or Frank Mahovlich very much, because they are both getting in the way of my own Maple Leaf Gardens story.  So here it is:  I played hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens – once.

Manifesto Dept.

By now – not now, as in “when you’re reading this” but now, as in “while I’m mashing the keys with my sausage fingers”, the nervous anticipation is starting to settle in among Caps fans. I remember it well from 1993 in particular, this anxious thrill that comes over a fan when “his” (or “her” – my Canada includes loser domi too) team is competing in the playoffs and there is an undeniable feeling that something very memorable is about to happen.

I have read what Sean has to say about the fan-tourism of the Adopt-a-team project over at Pension Plan Puppets, and I respect the singularity of his dedication to his chosen team – my chosen team. I can’t help but think, though, that he’s missing the boat on this one and is feeling his principles unnecessarily under attack with the invitation to join us in cheering on the Capitals. After offering a anecdote involving Kerry Fraser-related catharsis in D.C. (well, okay, it would have been Landover, Md at the time) Sean confesses to a soft spot for the Caps but says:

…I can’t do it, PPP. I can’t jump on another team’s bandwagon, even temporarily. I’ll watch. Maybe even cheer. But I won’t call the Caps my team. I’m a Leafs fan and a Leafs fan only until the day I die (which will be this summer, by the way, of self-inflicted head wounds when we don’t get Brian Burke.

In this, I think Sean implicitly confesses to a slight misunderstanding about the nature of our project. I too am a Leafs fan. I’m not rooting for a “second favourite” team as we go along in to the playoffs; what I’m doing is choosing to support a particular team now that my team has been eliminated from competition, simply to enhance my enjoyment of playoffs as a hockey fan.

Let me explain: It happens (almost) every year anyway. As I follow the playoffs and watch the Stanley Cup final, once the Leafs have been eliminated, I find myself preferring one club over the other; in this series, I want the Red Wings to lose (old Norris division rivalries die hard) so I cheer the Predators or Sharks; in the next, the Senators must lose to please my sense of sporting justice, so I hope – at least for the moment – that Malkin’s aim is true and Marc-Andre Fleury can channel the spirit of Tom Barrasso out of the rafters of the Igloo (and yes, I know none of that is going to make me any friends among the Washington faithful). This year, what I have done – in the absence of a Maple Leaf entry in the tournament – is cast my overall rooting sympathies into the corner of a team with which the Leafs have no particular grudge, and for whose fans the average Leaf supporter can feel some empathy.