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A Frustrating Night At The Office...

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
The booing of Justin Pogge will go down as one of those mythical things, noticed by few at the time, remembered by many forevermore.


Tuesday, when the Leafs’ rookie goalie stopped a routine clear-in to record his fourth save in his first eight shots, a couple of hundred wise guys at Pogge’s end of the rink hung the Bronx cheer on him.

Big, hairy deal.

From the beginning of time, when goaltenders, whose mistakes are as visible as a fly on an angel food cake, err, someone exercises their constitutional right to boo.

The same people no doubt cheered Pogge when he tucked away his nervousness. Fact is, two of the three opening goals in the 4-1 defeat were imminently stoppable. The Leafs probably weren’t going to come back. The game was essentially over in the first period. Were the fans supposed to be happy about that?

It turned out to be a learning experience. Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he was proud of how Pogge reacted and everyone had a nice story angle, wise coach, eager earnest kid, bad, nasty patrons.

It’s as if Pogge’s status as the team’s one homegrown hope in net was somehow the fans’ fault or a by-product of some voodoo on the part of the media.

“I don’t know if the fans are expecting the way it’s written up that he’s the saviour of the franchise.” said Wilson. “We’re just trying to develop a goalie. Everybody has got to be patient and let him grow at his own pace.”

It all reminds me of the wife who turns to her husband as he sits, vacant-eyed in front of the television and asks him: “why don’t you tell me you love me?”

“I’m here, aren’t I,” answers the husband.

Nineteen thousand people and change paid some mighty fine coin to see the Maple Leafs lose again on Tuesday, this time by a 4-1 count. The team is 27th in the league and the elementary breakdowns, like Pavel Kubina’s omission to seal off a player and prevent a tap-in, have been the exception, not the rule.

Their much-beloved captain is playing in Vancouver. The goaltending has been poor, the defence porous. Much of the roster they saw Tuesday will, with any luck, will be parlayed into prospects who themselves will take years to mature.

Does anyone wonder why people are getting a little irritated?

Meanwhile, bad economic news buffets most households. Many of the people in the stands on Tuesday night considered their evening out a Godsend, a relief from the realities of their lives.

Maple Leaf fans are there, aren’t they? At year’s end, it will be five full years since they saw a playoff game and it may be another season until they get one.

Unbelievably patient, unendingly forgiving, loyal past any reasonable expectation, the fans make the franchise, not the other way around.

If a few want to boo when a goalie can’t make a routine save, who are we who go to the game on their dime in fine suits that they paid for, to say anything about it?

And if this blog sounds a little personal, or a little more personal, it’s because it is.

I am one of many who have a job because of the rabid, illogical love of Maple Leaf fans who on a hopeless night, at least boo futility.

And I’m damned grateful.

You pay your money, as long as you are respectful to those around you, say, or shout whatever you want. You’re there because you care.


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