My British Columbian-bred colleagues didn’t skip a beat. I was greeted Thursday morning with a snarky “Plan the parade!” at the coat rack, then a sarcastic, yet statistically accurate, “He’s on pace for 328 goals, eh?” at my desk. A third admitted he was blown away by Auston Matthews’ NHL record-setting four-goal debut but quickly acknowledged it wasn’t enough for a win, a conclusion many non-Leafers pointed out.
The standings show Wednesday’s season opener as just another OT loss but, unlike the countless before it, it was one I was excited about.
Morning chats at the Keurig machine were rarely spent discussing highlights and certainly not four-goal games. Unless we were talking about Phil Kessel, the only positives worth sharing centered around side plots like Mike Brown’s moustache and Tim Brent’s shot blocking. Anything else would get us as steamed as our morning cups.
We became irritated, confused, angered, and then ultimately, defeated after years of abuse. It brought out the worst in us. Some threw our jerseys on the ice. Some kept our jerseys but tossed delicious breakfast foods, and others took it too far. The actions were harsh but the frustration was understood.
We were faithful when things went from unfortunate to comically dreadful. Robert Reichel’s penalty shot slapper left us speechless, seconded maybe by Luke Richardson’s breakaway drop-pass-to-no-one. The painful Vesa Toskala-era was cemented with a 200-foot goal. We had our beloved Doug Gilmour back for less than five minutes before he suffered a career-ending knee injury. I still remember an insensitive phone call from a hysterical ex-Leafs fan moments after game 7.
We were there when management traded guys that we loved and should’ve kept. Jason Smith captained Philadelphia and Edmonton and took the Oilers to the Cup in 2006. Andrew Raycroft has a Calder Trophy but Tuukka Rask has a Vezina. Lord knows I love Kessel but Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton would’ve been better for the rebuild. We swapped Steen for Stempniak, McCabe for Van Ryn, even Fredrik Modin for Cory Cross. The list is too long.
Drafting wasn’t any easier to endure. A quick pick swap with Anaheim landed us Tyler Biggs and the Ducks John Gibson and Rickard Rakell. That same day, Boston took Hamilton and Chicago nabbed Brandon Saad with picks that were once ours. In fact, Roman Josi, Roberto Luongo, Lars Eller, and Scott Niedermayer all could’ve been Leafs. Instead, got to watch Jiri Tlusty.
We were there for all the rip-out-our-heart spring meltdowns. The Leafs had a nine-point lead on ninth-placed Detroit in mid-March 2014, and we saw Toronto lose 12 of their final 14 games (incredibly, Brian Burke’s “18-wheeler going right off a cliff” explanation refers to a different collapse). We watched Wade “You Can’t Light this Doobie” Dubielewicz poke check us into an early off-season. And we all learned the hard way that a 3-goal lead with 11 minutes left doesn’t secure anything.
The Leafs lost Wednesday night but I’m holding my head high. Messiah Auston’s night was our most recent glimpse into the Shanaplan and it seems to be working. Loyal fans deserve to be proud again: I do, you do, your great, great grandpa does. Leafs Nation has been through decades of hell and finally the endless rebuild is bearing fruit.
No, Matt from programming, I’m not planning a parade, but I am planning my Saturday evening around the Leafs game for the first time in a long time.