By Bill Heintz
Well, you could start with the mis-use of the plural on Leafs. As every school child and anti-Toronto wag will tell you: it should be the The Leaves.
Okay, how lame.
And it doesn’t even scratch the surface of why we hate the boys in blue and white. To do that, you have to travel in the Way Back Machine. Back before there were thirty NHL Teams. Back before twenty…back before twelve teams. Way back to the six team NHL when The Leafs were often described as Canada’s Team. Which really was a snub to Les Habitants, BTW, a team with so many Stanley Cups (I mean, doesn’t Henri Richard have 11 Cup rings?) that the great Spring tradition was the simple ceremony of awarding Lord Stanley to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
But somehow, Canada’s Team (English Canada, that is) was supposed to represent the real Canadian spirit…well, at least the spirit that was decided by the Battle on The Plains of Abraham. Montreal may have been bigger in those days, but there was never any doubt in the minds of the brokers of Bay Street where the real power in Canada resided. And it wasn’t on Mount Royal. Nor even Sussex Drive. Toronto was then and still considers itself today, the center of the Canadian universe…and therefore the center of the hockey universe.
Easy to hate the center of the Empire.
So when lowly Vancouver was ushered into the league and began play in 1970, Toronto took great pleasure in kicking our expansionist arse. But strangely, we always played them pretty tough on the wet coast. Check the stats for the Pacific Colliseum when T.O. was in town. We did well, damned well.
Yeah, it was always great to beat Toronto but two images stick in my mind. The first was when Tiger Williams rode his stick down the ice after the Big Trade…that bit of circus was after he scored a goal for us in the old Maple Leaf Garden. Brought most of us out of our chairs. And then there was one of the great moments in Canuck history, against a Leaf team that felt entitled by Doug Gilmour and Felix Potvin to finally bring a Stanley Cup home to hog town.
The Canucks were ahead in the series but the Leafs were clawing their way back in. But after coming back from a three nothing deficit in the first period the Canucks headed into OT against the Leafs in what was to be the final game of the 1994 Western Conference Championship. Greg Adams backhander past a slowly splitting Felix the Cat had Jim Robson waxing poetic while the rest of us jumped around our living rooms.
Ah yes, those magical words from Robson…“The Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup finals!”
Still warms my heart to this day.
So that’s why the hatred. Because Toronto really is the center of the hockey universe. Toronto GM Lord Voldemort said as much when he took the job after claming he would not leave Anaheim. And like I said, when you are going up against the Power, the center of the empire, it is easy to hate.
But the ragtag group of red-headed step children that are limping into town for this weekend’s contest should not be underestimated. A team that hasn’t won, that could hardly wait to escape the Town Without Pity, could indeed be dangerous on Saturday afternoon (because of course we have to adjust our schedule for them) and we cannot afford to take them lightly. The brilliant performance against the Hawks notwithstanding, the Canucks are still a fragile group. We need to outwork them and check them all over the ice. And Bob Luongo has to be one of our best players. Cause if we loose…
Man, I’m going to hate those Leafs all over again.