Friday, October 2, 2009

Clash of the Titans?...I wish.

Tonight (Thursday) is a special night.

Hundreds and thousands...and millions of people are gathering. Hosts are preparing their homes, in anticipation of the arrival of friends and family. The local bars are double staffed. In 30 cities, across North America, a very tangible energy is being felt.

It is the start of the National Hockey League season and, as always, it is accompanied by a spirit of celebration and brimming with unbridled hope. In fact, here in Canada - despite what the official calendar says - it is widely considered the first day of the New Year.

Tonight, only eight teams will be taking to the ice, but all hockey fans, regardless of allegiance, will be paying close attention. For even though their team isn't playing, the quest for hockey supremacy has officially begun!

Tonight, four teams will raise their sticks in victory. Tomorrow their fans will spend the day chanting the name of "Lord Stanley" and bragging about their upcoming perfect season.

Tonight, four teams will quietly leave the ice after their first loss. The fans of those teams will spend tomorrow venting on Sports radio stations, calling for the heads of their "all-of-a-sudden" dumb coaches.

The raw emotion of the dedicated fan, although it is often devoid of logic and contains a warped perspective, is one of the things that makes sport so great.
Being a Toronto boy, as well as a sports fan, it should be no surprise that I grew up cheering for the Maple Leafs. My first favourite player was Darryl Sittler...then Rick Vaive, Vincent Damphousse and Bill Berg. Most people usually say, "Bill who?". That's okay. When he first came to the Leafs in 1992, our coach at the time said, "Bill Berg? I wouldn't know who Bill Berg was if I ran him over with my car in a parking lot!" But I liked him.

Growing up, I remember spending many Saturday nights, sitting in front of the TV with my dad and sister, watching Hockey Night in Canada. Together, we'd all cheer on "The Blue and White", unless...the opposition was "Le Rouge, Blanc et Bleu". Then it was a divided home. You see, my dad was a "mis-guided" Canadiens fan. We never held it against him, but we certainly made sure to point it out, whenever the score was in our favour.

Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going head to head with those very Montreal Canadiens.
With it's storied rivalry, it has been referred to as the "marquee" game. It is a perfect way to kick off the NHL season...or was. It may be a game packed with history but, unfortunately, at the present has little else. It's sad really.

These are two of the most recognized and decorated organizations in NHL history and both were, at one time, men among the boys. But today, the Superman "S" has been long stripped off both teams jerseys and replaced with the Riddler's "?". And the rivalry, although existent, is but a shell of what it used to be. Intense rivalry is birthed in competitive equality and sustained by match-ups of significance. Neither has been a reality for these two teams during my lifetime - at least not since I was six. And that's too bad. I wish I had been able to enjoy a time when these two franchises were at their "dynasty" best.

The closest I ever got to witnessing such a match up was in the early nineties. In 1993, the Leafs were one game away from facing the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. That would have been absolutely awesome! A dream match-up, to be sure. But, the Leafs were eliminated by "The Great One", and Montreal went on to defeat the Kings and win the Cup.
But that was 16 years ago. Since then, both teams have had close encounters with success, but nothing truly great or lasting. And, it really doesn't matter what either team accomplished during their glory years, because 16 years is a long time. That is a whole generation. It is certainly long enough to wipe away any bragging rights from among those who are fans in the present. I mean, my oldest child (almost 16 yrs old) has never known a really great Toronto OR Montreal hockey team...and I think that's too bad.

As a member of Leaf Nation, I hope my Maple Leafs are soon restored to their past glory. At the same time, I hope the Canadiens experience the same restoration.

In all sport, individual or team greatness is always enhanced when accompanied by a great rivalry...and personally, I don't want just any rival. I want to watch the great and storied history, that I've only heard about, played out before my very eyes.
Here's to the Leafs AND Canadiens getting back to where they belong. On Top. Together.
Have a good one,
P.S. If you're a hockey fan and you enjoy great statistical analysis, check out my cousin's website. His team previews this year have been fantastic! He's a Montreal fan...but he does good work, anyways.

1 comment:

  1. I vaguely remember the heydey years. I was almost seven years old when the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup. Wow! I'm old! I remember the excitement, but my real hockey fan days was when Boston was the rage. I remember those grade 6 days of trading hockey cards for the likes of Bobby Orr, Tony Esposito and Gump Worsely (Ok - he was the overweight goalie of the Minnesota North Stars [who?], but for some reason I liked him. Liked your post too, Tim. Thanks.


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