A part of my undying loyalty to the Leafs isn’t just directly connected to what happens on the ice. A lot of being a card carrying member of Leafs nation comes from what we do off the ice, and how we connect with other members of our exclusive club. Today’s Leafs fan, can join in any number of twitter chats. In the Twittersphere, there are a number of great bloggers and Leafs centric sites where we can share our opinions and talk Leafs any time of the day at any time of the year. It’s awesome! And if you want a more intimate experience with a true human touch one needs only to look at this…
But back in the day, we had to be a little more creative, work a little harder to bring Leafs nation together. On May 16, 2002, goals by Alex Mogilny and the much maligned Jonas Hoglund helped the Leafs beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in Raleigh to take a 1-0 series lead in the conference finals. It is at the end of this game that this story begins, but first, let me set the scene.
I was 27, married less than year, and employed as a corporate independent contractor. I was in between contracts , so I had time on my hands and some money in my pocket. I was old enough to make money, yet I was young and irresponsible enough to enjoy some of it. As fancy as that might sound, the reality was that my friends and I were regular Joes. This meant buying scalper tickets for a Leafs playoff game at the ACC would be out of our budget for one night of fun.
Almost immediately after Game One had ended, my friend (The one who grew up in Cheers) and I had a Eureka moment. You see, the Leafs were playing the Hurricanes, who are based in Carolina. Not Detroit or Montreal or even Ottawa. They were playing a team in about as non-traditional a hockey market as you could get. Surely, there would be tickets available there and at a reasonable cost. Thank you Internet! About 20 minutes after Game One had ended, my friend and I had two tickets to Game Five in Raleigh. And about an hour later, another friend and his cousin were on-board. After about a day or so, two of my cousins and some of their friends were in as well. Things were rounding into form.
At this point, I think I should introduce you guys to my friend as he was in 2002, and still is for the most part.
His name is Doug. We became good friends when I was around 14 or 15 after I was invited to a party at his house for the first time. Doug was and still is a neighbourhood celebrity. That started back when we were teenagers as he and his older brother, Steve, opened up “Cheers” in their basement. Come to think of it, that’s not entirely fair, their celebrity status started before that in primary school. Doug and Steve were street hockey legends in their neighbourhood and even better on the ice. They were also awesome baseball players. If you didn’t actually know them, you knew who they were, even when they were 10 years old. Doug is the type of guy that has a half dozen “best” friends; everybody loves him. He has been in more wedding parties than the rest of my friends combined. He was always the glue that held our group of friends together. We would all call Doug to find out what everyone was up to because he would always know. To sum it up, if you were hoping to have some fun on any given night, you’d give him a call and your night will ultimately be a lot better. One last thing about Doug, he can’t go anywhere without running into someone he knows. When he was taking a romantic stroll on the beach during his honeymoon, Doug heard his name shouted. He looked around, but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from.
He still couldn’t find the source, but his new bride did. Emerging from the waves, soaking wet, was a beautiful girl from high school who, as I recall, would have filled out a bikini admirably. She gave Doug a big wet hug…his new bride was not too pleased as you can imagine, but that’s Doug and that’s his life.
But enough about Doug, back to the story at hand. Doug’s brand new Jeep was to be ready on Saturday. But that was not going to do. The game was Saturday, and Raleigh is a 14 hour drive away. Doug visited the dealership that week and explained our situation; we are going to Raleigh, North Carolina, Leafs vs Canes Conference finals, the Jeep had to be ready sooner. Doug can be very persuasive and the guy at dealership understood the importance of getting the Jeep ready for the road by Thursday. Why Thursday? I mean, if the game was Saturday, wouldn’t Friday suffice? Of course not. We were to leave Thursday after game 4. The logic being if we got there on Friday, we could be well rested which would allow us to get to the parking lot earlier on Saturday and tailgate. Doug is like a good times genius.
So, off we went. When we got to border in Niagara, the U.S. customs guy asked, “purpose of your visit?”
“We’re driving to Carolina to watch the Leafs beat the canes”
Customs officer: “You guys are crazy…. On your way”
There was another purpose to our early departure. My sister was on a Hockey Scholarship with the Niagara Purple eagles on the U.S. side. Located literally minutes from the border, we had to stop in and pick up some ‘supplies’ for the long trip. The type of supplies commonly found on college campuses. The kind that one would not like to have on their person when stopping at the border. The kind ‘Bon Scott was Leaf fan’ likes to use to take the edge off after another disappointing Leafs game. We had plenty of Canadian beer.
We were not angles, furthermore, no good road trip worth writing about, is completed without breaking a law or two.
We headed down the road and somewhere in Pennsylvania we stopped into a Red Roof Inn or something of the sort and slept for the night. We called up our buddies to meet us there and they could follow us down the rest of the way.
I should also point out how our Leafs were doing at this point in the series. In short, not good. We were down 3-1. The canes had played clutch and grab hockey to perfection and did not engage us when we tried to get physical with them. Sundin was still playing with a badly injured wrist and we had to rely solely on grit and determination to get us this far. Without Sundin being anywhere near 100%, we were sorely lacking in the skill department. It was “Dead Puck” hockey. The games were very low scoring and frankly, if not for the fact they were playoff games would have been considered quite boring. Doug and I were convinced our support could get the Leafs back on track.
We had decided to take the I-79 South through Pittsburgh. As we drove south, the weather got better and we had the top down and tunes on. We listened to a lot of Rock music on the way down, including this album from Seven Mary Three
Seven Mary Three – Cumbersome
**Press Play For A Trip Down Memory Lane**
Seven Mary Three was a bit of a Cheers favourite. One of our friends and regulars was a dread-locked Pilipino who didn’t grow up playing hockey, but was as die-hard as the rest of us about the Leafs. While we learned to skate, he learned to play the guitar. He would come with new music all the time and turn us on to songs, albums and bands we would never have gave much of a listen to otherwise. 7M3 was one of those bands. At the time of the road trip, this album was seven years old, but a Cheers classic all the same. The soundtrack of this trip consisted mostly of songs from The Tragically Hip. At one point, we were stopped in traffic and the boys in the car behind us rolled down there windows and turned off their radio, so they could listen to the Jeep blare Fifty Mission Cap. As much as we love the Hip up here, you weren’t going to find a radio station on I-79 that would play them.
As we continued down the road, Doug turned to me and said:
“I think that’s my cousin driving that 18 Wheeler. He’s a long haul truck driver.”
Knowing full well, there is an excellent chance he’s right I say…
“No way Doug, not this time. We are God knows where, passing through some hick town in Pennsylvania, there’s no way you’re going to run into someone you know. Not this time!”
Doug sped ahead and looks over to see that it was NOT his cousin.
“Told you so. You can’t be recognized everywhere you go.”
However, not ten minutes later a car comes screaming by us with a Leafs flag on it and some dude is hanging out the back window screaming and waving his arms. “Coach Doug, Coach Doug” I can’t take that guy anywhere.
Not too much happened between then and game day. We got into Raleigh, grabbed a bite and had a few beers at a local watering hole. We needed to hit the sack early, tomorrow was going to be a big day.
When we got up the next day, we were a little worried we’d be late. We left the motel, bought a couple more cases of beer and went to the rink. It was 11:30. We were the second car in the parking lot. Fortunately for us, the other car had Leafs fans in it too.
When you’ve got a beautiful day in a warm southern city with lots of time to kill, you start thinking of fun things to do pretty quickly. The beers were going down very easily, the music was playing and cars were starting to trickle into the “Leafs fans” parking lot. Maybe it was out of boredom, maybe a little out of necessity as we did not know what to do with our growing pile of empties, but another Eureka moment of genius came to us.
None of us are that artistically inclined, but we started on a small project. We were going to build a Maple Leaf of our empties; right there on the home turf of our adversaries.
And so it began…
In the picture, you can see the outline of the Maple Leaf with me in the middle of my two cousins. I have no doubt that Doug was diligently emptying more beer cans to continue the project. At this point in time, more cars were coming in, but it was still early.
As proud as we were of the Leaf outline, we felt it needed more of a presence, so we started to fill it in. The top was down on the Jeep and The Hip was on steady repeat at his point. Blasting the Canadian Rock icons from the Jeep sent a message to all Leafs fans. ‘Come on over, say hi, stay for a beer and oh, hey help us out with our Leaf project.’ And help they did by placing their empties in the Leaf and posing to take pictures with it. One fine fan donated his homemade Stanley Cup as a centrepiece to ‘the Leaf.” It quickly became the centralized place for Leafs fans to gather and join the party and rally. I was so busy meticulously placing beer cans that I almost didn’t realize how big the party around us had become. We started impromptu “Go Leafs Go” chants and the singing of ‘O Canada.’ At one point an Elvis impersonator came by and chants of “Elvis Loves the Leafs” rang out. There were hundreds, if not thousands joining in. Something special was going on. “The Leaf” had grown to take up two parking spaces and the lot was starting to get full. That’s when the long arm of the law reached out, well parking lot security at least, and told us we had to clear out the Leaf because they needed to sell the space. Doug, would not have it, being the negotiator he was, asked if we could just pay for the spots. The mob of Leafs fans backing him up cheered and willed the security to agree. Which of course they did. Canadian Leafs fans, being who they are, all dove into their pockets to contribute to the cost. The top piece of the Stanley Cup got passed around as we paid for the spots. Everyone roared when we got the ‘paid for’ tabs and stuck them onto the Stanley Cup now centered in the Leaf.
Now we had another problem. The cost of the space was like ten bucks, but there was over $ 100 contributed. What should we do? How can we spend this money in the funest of ways? Hmmmm…
I know, let’s have a best boobs contest! (Not one of our prouder moments, but funny all the same)
Surprisingly enough, we had more than a few female competitors. As they each took turns showing us their boobs, the crowd roared in approval with the girl receiving the loudest cheers winning the prize.
That’s me feeling no pain, putting the final touches on the “the Leaf.” Yes, that’s right, I also made a plaque.
Before the game started this is how it looked
**Notice the parking stubs on the cup**
The picture was taken from the top of Doug’s Jeep. That’s him on the right, my younger cousin on the left with me in the middle. Blue cans to the outside and bottles for the stem.
As 7:00 neared, we were all in high spirits and a small army of Leafs fans left the parking lot and made their way into the arena. If you’ve never went to a Leafs game on the road, you are missing out. In fact, you might not be a full card carrying member of the Nation until you do. Especially, a playoff game. It’s an experience that will undoubtedly stir your soul. I have been fortunate to make my way to a few road games. Montreal a bunch of times, New York, and Ottawa a few times, even for a playoff game. Never has a building been louder in cheering for the Leafs on the road than it was to start Game 5 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals in Carolina. To hear ‘O Canada’ sung that loud on the road brought shivers to all of us wearing the blue and white. It was like the Hip was singing the anthem themselves. A quote in the next morning’s Star article from a Leafs season ticket holder said, “It was the loudest crowd he ever heard.” It was amazing to be a part of it.
As the game started, much like most of the series, the game was filled with clutching, grabbing, obstruction and generally, not that much excitement. The title of this piece is ‘Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll and the Leafs.’ I’ve told you about our “Supplies” and I’ve mentioned 7M3 and The Hip. One part is missing.
As we sit down and start watching the game, I realize that my view is somewhat obstructed. Not by an overly tall person, but by a girl’s head. A girl who could only be described as ‘HOT.’ She wasn’t; however, in an actual seat. She was sitting on some guy’s lap which made it difficult for me to see. We are Leafs fans, obviously, she was a canes fan, a Carolina Southern Belle. As the game went on, she would periodically turn around and try and make fun of the Leafs. I would fire back with a comment and on it went. Midway through the 2nd period, Doug started getting angry and at one point he turned to me and said:
“Dave WTF are you doing? Stop talking to this chick and watch the game.”
He was right. I looked over at some old guys in Leafs sweaters giving me a thumbs up and when I turned around Doug had his tongue down the girl’s throat!
Man, that guy works fast!
As intermission came and went, I returned to my seat only to see that seat beside me was empty and the girl from the guys lap in front of us was gone too. The guy was still there though haha.
I had learned later that Doug had found some back stairway the depths of the arena. I wasn’t mad or bothered at all because while Doug was scoring off the ice, Darcy Tucker had scored on it.
Here are some highlights from the game for Doug and those of you who were also having sex during the game
I don’t know what ever happened to Doug’s 3rd period girlfriend or the poor sucker who had her sit in his lap for two periods, but they’re just really funny characters in a hilariously fun weekend. Part of this write up is me telling a funny chapter in the book of Dave and Doug’s excellent adventures. The rest of this story, well the main part I hope you take away, is the reminder of who we were and who we still are as members of this club, as members of Leaf Nation. In a season like 2014-2015, it’s easy to forget how we rally behind the crest when the call is made. I’d like to think that those few thousand Leafs fans who were there, remember the game, “the Leaf,” and The Tragically Hip blaring just as I do. I hope they still look back and feel a small bit of pride and have a good laugh.
Honestly, I’m not sure how much “the Leaf” or the loudness of the cheering had to do with the victory, but I think it had a tiny bit to do with it. There was a quote from Nathan Dempsey in one of the daily papers the next day in which I recall him specifically mention the goosebumps he felt standing and listening to ‘O Canada’ before Game Five. I also like to think that in going on that trip and in building “the Leaf,” Doug, my cousins, and I had created a very tiny part of Leafs’ history.
Leafs Nation is more than just what happens on the ice. It’s the way in which we follow, congregate and become part of the team itself. No other team travels as we do. No other team cheers as loud as we do in away rinks. No other team takes over a parking lot tailgate party and makes it all about their team.
A couple of years after the road trip, I went into a small Leafs themed bar in cottage country Ontario. In the bar, there was a picture of a shirtless guy wearing some kind of animal hat. He had on moose antlers or a bear hat or something of the sort. And I swear to God, in the background of the photo, there was Doug’s Jeep and a giant maple leaf made out of beer cans! For that dude, it would seem as though the experience meant as much to him as it did us.
GO LEAFS GO forever.