My Leafs Family

In my first contribution to Leafs Hub, I talked about how the 1993 team impacted and influenced me as a Leafs fan.  In my second contribution, I talked about road tripping with my friends and how that helped shape me further.  Although I have touched on my family in both pieces, I have not given you, the fine readers of Leafs Hub, enough perspective on being raised a Leafs fan.  I hope I can adequately share that experience with you all.  In order to do this, I must reflect…

In my very first game, at the age of 5, I scored my very first goal on my very first shift. My teammate was crossing the blue-line with the puck and bumped into the opposing defenseman. This resulted in them both falling and leaving me all alone on a breakaway. Swiftly, I put the puck in the corner, blocker-side.   It was the only goal I scored all season.  I remember it vividly. The part I remember clearest though is looking up into the stands afterwards and seeing my dad. He had a huge smile on his face and his left fist was punching the air with a look of pride and sheer joy.

I’m guessing that most of you are in the same boat as me; you love hockey and the Leafs. When you look back on the days when you were young and played minor hockey, you remember great moments of triumph and moments of bitter disappointment. If you give yourself enough time, you’ll probably remember the emotions that each game evoked. You may remember some stats too, but I would be willing to bet that those are merely secondary memories. Second only to the memories of how each game made you feel when you reflect on your glory days. Just as we do as Leaf fans, we remember the great moments, the spectacular goals, the bone-crushing hits, the miraculous saves, and even the legendary fights. We don’t forget agonizing losses either. This piece isn’t about anything I accomplished in hockey; frankly, there is really nothing to discuss there.  What it is about is the greatest influence on why I love the game and in turn, love the Leafs. For most of us, I think our passion was passed on to us from a parent, another relative, a coach, or maybe even a teammate.

For me, my passion stemmed from a man who couldn’t skate and never played the game himself… my dad.

I have a story that is relatable for many Torontonians. My dad immigrated to our great country and fell in love with hockey almost immediately. Why wouldn’t he? He moved to Toronto the summer after they won their last Stanley Cup. Dave Keon, George Armstrong, The Big M, Johnny Bower and the rest were parading throughout Toronto. How could he not want to be a part of that? My dad played soccer growing up, but he was a really tough guy. The fact that hockey players were tough guys too, piqued his interest.  My dad also grew up poor, very poor. He was a minority in a white ghetto in one of the poorest and roughest neighbourhoods in Scotland. His father left when he was young, so my dad and his eight siblings had only their mom and each other to lean on. His stories of his life and hardships always remind me that my life is a complete and total cake walk compared to what he had to go through to get to the happy place he is in now.

Fortunately, my dad found work as a plumber because a man from his neighborhood in Scotland gave him a chance in Toronto. The two of them would then work together for almost forty years. Although work was sometimes hard to come by, my dad always found a way to overcome obstacles. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but I knew every cent my father made went to me, my older brother and my younger sister. Thankfully, he found a way to make sure we all got to play sports. My brother and I were fine enough players for the level of hockey we played; while, my sister was excellent and earned a full NCAA scholarship. Oh and I should mention that one of the added perks of my dad’s employment was that the man he worked for had Leafs season tickets!  This meant that my brother and I got to enjoy at least one game every year around our birthdays.

I remember going to my first Leafs game when I was six years old. On that evening, I had to go to Beavers after school and for those who don’t know, Beavers was like junior cub scouts. Normally, I would wear running shoes and track pants, but on that day I had sported fancy black shoes and dress pants. I would have thrown a fit to wear such clothes, but I understood, I had to look good. After all, I was going to see the Leafs. Some of the great players on the team at the time were: Darryl Sittler, John Anderson, a young Rick Vaive, and of course BJ! My dad’s favourite player was Borje Salming. Anyways, we drove down to Maple Leaf Gardens and parked on Jarvis. Then we walked up and over to the historic arena. The Gardens was loud and I was a tiny person in a sea of giants. I held my dad’s hand tight. I remember thinking that if I let go, I’d get lost in the crowd and would never be found.  I don’t remember who the Leafs played, what the score was, or whether or not we won or lost. What I do remember is how excited I was, and how happy my dad was to take me. Once a year, every year, for probably close to twenty years, my dad would take me to a Leafs game for my birthday. It was always the best gift I received.

At some point in time, my siblings and I realized how much he gave so that we could play hockey and dream of playing with the blue and white one day. It was more than just exercise or an activity, it was why sacrifices were made.

Now whenever I come across tickets, the first call I make is to my dad. It’s the least I can do for all those birthdays. Two years ago, my dad was visiting my sister who now lives in Long Island for Christmas. My brother, sister and I bought him an authentic, signed Borje Salming jersey and with the help of my mom, we snuck it down to my sister’s house. They told him they were going to have a night in the city to grab some dinner and catch the Leafs vs. Rangers game in a bar. Instead, they had four tickets to the game and a signed Salming jersey to wear…


This was the look on his face when he got the sweater on the train to NYC:1

 


 

I love the photo so much that it’s the picture that comes up on my phone when he calls.

And him at the game…2

 


 

For as far back as I can remember, the Leafs have always been a part of my life and almost a part of my family. My extended family is all Scottish, but I often think we are kind of like a big Italian family. We all hang out together, we’re all very close, we like to eat and drink together, and we look out for each other. Leafs games have always been just another excuse to get together. In fact, my uncles, cousins and my immediate family used to organize trips to Montreal to go watch the Leafs. Believe it or not, I think we did it nine years in a row! Here is one where we flew and met Ron and Don in the airport.3

 


We watched Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour over the course of those trips.

*Side note: I highly recommend the Montreal road trip. It’s a journey every Leafs fan needs to make!

I took my oldest boy to his first Leafs game when he was five. It was a Monday and we made a day of it. I pulled him out of school early and we went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. We ate McDonalds and played games in the hallway outside of gate 1 in the ACC. The Leafs played the Sabres and we lost 3-2 in OT. I actually had to look that up because I had forgotten. The result wasn’t important. Bringing my boy to his first game was such a thrill. He ate an entire bag of popcorn and a packet of M&Ms. When the game ended, the first thing he said was “Dad can we come back here someday?” I knew I had done good.

Here is a pic of him and his popcorn:4

 


 

Phil Kessel was the player he most wanted to see, and with good reason, he was the most talented player the Leafs have had since Mats Sundin.

I know most people outside of Leafs Nation wouldn’t understand. Given how bad the last season, heck the last 10 years, have been. I get why they don’t get it. I also can see why some might be jumping ship on the blue and white.  However, I’m still proud to be a Leafs fan.  Because for me, being a Leafs fan means so much more than wins, losses and certainly more than fucking corsi or fenwick. Hell, supporting the Leafs as a team means more to me than supporting whichever individual players don the blue and white. The crest on the front of the jersey is something that brings me, my family and my dad close together. We share the moments of great celebration, the agony of defeat and we love to indulge in Leafs talk. The Leafs are simply a part of who we are.

I have three boys in total. All hockey players and all Leafs fans. Although I would always let them choose (as long as it isn’t Montreal or Ottawa), I’m happy my boys are Leafs fans. However, I could hardly blame them if they wanted to cheer for another non-Habs/non-Sens team ☺.


 

Here, they are cheering for a goal against Boston in the playoffs:5


 

I realize the dark times we are in the middle of right now in Leafs Nation. My ten year old has seen the playoffs just once in his life and that series ended with the worst ten minute collapse in franchise history. I remember he was planning a hockey party for him and his cousins for Round 2, only to end up face down in the carpet crying about how much he hates the Bruins. “I hate them worse than Montreal,” he said through a face full of tears. He hasn’t had much to cheer about. He has had very few moments of joyous celebration, and watched very few players worth remembering.

Hope springs eternal or so they say. Maybe Rielly, Nylander and Dylan Strome or whomever they draft will be the guys he writes about in ten years. Maybe. But what is guaranteed is that we will come together with our cousins, uncles and family members, put on our jerseys and cheer like true fans do for our team.

Because that is exactly what families do.6

 


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