As Leafs fans, there is no doubt that we have endured so much pain over the years. It has been year after year of disappointment and year after year without any championship accolades to look back on. There have been glimmers of hope, but they were shut down because, hey? Why not? Leafs fans can only reminisce so much about the last championship in 1967.
But that is a long and distant memory. While the Chicago Blackhawks ended their drought in 2010, the Leafs drought continues which is now at 49 years. Yes, that is the longest in NHL history.
49 long, torturous and disappointing years and still there has been nothing to show for it.
Even when we thought, “This is our year,” it was quickly followed with utter disappointment that makes us want to get the nearest paper bag and cover our faces in shame. Especially when it came to the playoffs. Right when we think things are going our way, the Hockey Gods decide to mess with us again. And again. And again.
I’ve been a Leafs fan ever since I watched my first game when Mats Sundin donned the Blue and White for the first time in 1994/95. Since that game, I was a fan of his and the team. And I’m still a fan to this day, critiquing everything that happens on and off the ice and providing my thoughts on the Leafs. Since the day I became a Leafs fan, I really can sympathize with everyone and the pain they went through during these years.
There have a number of events that have made Leafs fans want to call it quits. I can recall and look back on quite a few events during my time as a Leafs fan.
The Magical Run that was ended thanks to the Great One.
Okay, before I begin, I was only one at the time this occurred. But thanks to Leafs TV and archival clips, I have been watching games from this magical playoff run whenever I get the chance.
From Nikolai Borschevsky’s game winner in overtime in Game Seven against the Detroit Red Wings to Doug Gilmour’s double OT winner against the St. Louis Blues, this team had it all. It was the most competitive team they had iced in years. While they had great players play before them like Rick Vaive and Darryl Sittler, this team gave everyone hope that the drought may end.
All they had to do was get past Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. This was a series to remember. Both good and bad.
There was Marty McSorley’s hit on “Killer” prompting Clark to go and give McSorley a piece of his mind in Game 1. There was the fact that the Leafs were one game away from moving on to the Stanley Cup Final. And then, there was “The Call”.
Game 6 was tied at four in overtime, when Wayne Gretzky high- sticked Gilmour in the face. Kerry Fraser didn’t penalize Gretzky and lo and behold, he went on to score the game- winning goal in overtime and record a four- point game in Game 7. Fraser still gets flack for not making a call and he knew that it should’ve been a penalty.
TSN aired a story on that call and was told by Jeff O’Neill. Like him, many fans, including myself as a one- year- old still sucking my thumb, were outright pissed off. That missed call led Leafs fans to wonder, “how could this happen?”
People say, “Oh, that happened years ago. GET OVER IT!” First of all, there are more important things to worry about than just sports. But then again, the sports fandom is huge! When your team gets eliminated, it’s really a tough pill to swallow. Especially after one call that changed the momentum of the whole entire game and even the series. This was one of the events where you don’t know what it feels like until it happens to your team.
Sundin’s Game- Tying Goal vs Gelinas’ Game Winner:
For me, the 2001/02 team was just as good as the 92/ 93 team. The Leafs were a force to be reckoned with and were probably my favourite Leafs team.
The Leafs were dominant in the regular season and they continued that trend into the post-season. Once again, they were able to reach the Conference Finals. This time, it was against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Game 6 is one of my most heart- breaking moments as a Leafs fan.
I was 10 at the time and I was glued to my television for that game. The Leafs needed to win to force a Game 7. And if my family could tell their side of the story, they would tell that I was a nervous wreck.
It was a back and forth affair where both Curtis Joseph and Arturs Irbe were magnificent in net. It wasn’t until the third period, where the nerves began to creep in. Jeff O’Neill broke the tie at the half-way mark of the period to make it 1-0 Carolina.
However, hope was restored when Mats Sundin, tied it up with 22 seconds left to force overtime. The Leafs were 22 seconds away from elimination, and if it weren’t for Sundin, I would’ve been 22 seconds away from bawling my eyes out. One would have to think, momentum is on the Leafs side.
Well, Martin Gelinas had other plans as he scored the game- winning goal to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. And yes… I cried… A lot!!
Heart-break 2. Leafs 0.
It was 4-1!!!
I know everyone is sick and tired of reliving this event. But this was one for the ages. This game made it seemed like the Leafs are cursed. Forever.
The Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since 2003/ 04 in 2012/ 13 and every fan was ecstatic to see playoff hockey after years of disappointment in the post-lockout era.
The series against the Boston Bruins was also one to remember… For the wrong reasons. The Leafs looked to be down and out after David Krejci scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 4 to give the Bruins a 3-1 advantage. But the Leafs weren’t done as they won 2-1 in both Games Five and Six to force a Game Seven.
Then came Game Seven. I attended this game with some of my friends at a bar. Needless to say, we were all excited. And we were on the edge of our seats the whole game.
The Leafs were able to take a 2-1 lead into the third period. They were 20 minutes away from advancing to the second- round. Phil Kessel scored 2:10 into the third and Kadri followed up and scored at the 5:29 mark.
Everyone in the bar, especially our table, erupted with excitement. Finally, luck seemed to be on our side. Things were going to turn out great, right? Wrong.
Nathan Horton queued the comeback to make 4-2 and Milan Lucic scored to make 4-3. Patrice Bergeron scored in the final minute to tie the game. Bergeron then scored the eventual game- winner 6:05 into overtime.
Three overtime games, three games that ended in heart- break. Once again, I bring up the question, “how could this happen?”
It seems like no matter how hard the Leafs try, no matter what line-up they ice, they seemed to be destined for failure. Even in times where we should be happy, we are always faced with disappointment and are always left in the dark while teams and fans are basking in the glory. When will the Leafs be in that position and be on top of the hockey world?
The answer? It’s sooner than you’d think.
Actually, it’s happening right now as we speak.
Enter Brendan Shanahan. Enter Mike Babcock. Enter William Nylander. Enter Mitch Marner. Enter Fredrik Andersen. Last, but not least, enter Auston Matthews.
With a new front office staff, a new coaching staff and with a new group of extremely talented players, the Leafs are now in a good spot to try and achieve hockey greatness. It’s absolutely impressive what the Leafs have done this season and, as a collective whole, looked completely different from teams in the past. Shanahan, Lamoreillo, Babcock and company, managed to make a full 180 flip of this team, a year after finishing dead last.
William Nylander’s 10 game point streak broke the Leafs record that was set by Gus Bodnar, Bob Nevin and Dan Daoust and tied Daoust’s rookie record for power- play points. Mitch Marner tied Bodnar’s record for assists by a rookie with 40. He is one assist away from being the record holder.
Auston Matthews surpassed Wendel Clark’s record for goals by a rookie. Even more impressive, over the last 22 seasons, Matthews is the first rookie to score 35 goals since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
All three rookies are now a part of Leafs history.
This is the first time, in a long time, that Leafs fans can feel some sort of optimism. Dave Keon has made peace with the organization and it has been said that the “Larry Hillman Hex” has been lifted. If you’re really superstitious, then this is great news considering that “The Curse of the Billy Goat” was lifted for the Chicago Cubs as they won their first World Series in 108 years.
This playoff run that they are currently on is inspiring hope for a bright future for Leafs Nation. Their play over the past few weeks has exceeded expectations and proves that the Maple Leafs can play with the top teams in the league. They managed to take five of a possible six points from the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets. During those games, they played like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Leafs are hungry to get into the playoffs. But they are starving to win a championship and are looking to exorcise their demons with this group. Everyone is buying in to win. If it’s any indication, the past few weeks are a great example of their determination and commitment. Those days of pain and disappointment may be behind us. This new revamped team is different compared to the 1993 team with Gilmour and Clark. They’re more skilled than the 2002/03 team. They’re more resilient than the 2012 team in which their season ended with a disastrous outcome.
The Leafs are in a good spot to make the playoffs. While they haven’t clinched yet, they’re ever so close to have that “x” beside their name, thanks to their play in the past few weeks. It will be only be their second appearance in the post- season since 2004/05 lockout.
For what it’s worth, this season was just the beginning for this Leafs squad. The best is yet to come.