May 17, 2004
Dear Leafs Fans,
I would like to thank you for the last seven years. I knew this a little before I started here, I know it a lot better now, that it's you who give meaning to the hockey experience for all of us. You wear Leafs jerseys, you fill Air Canada Centre for games, but also for open practices, for the Skills Competition, for almost anything that brings you closer to your team. You talk about us, write to us, you remind us better than any coach or owner can, better than we can remind ourselves, that what we do matters. You make every moment of pride prouder, every moment of sadness sadder, every moment of triumph more triumphant.
I grew up in a Toronto that loved the Leafs and knew hockey. But it was a quiet Toronto, even at games. So quiet that a single fan's voice yelling "C'mon Teeder" could be heard easily from the ice surface to the greys. I played in a Maple Leaf Gardens so quiet that the players called it, "The Library." And in
|Ken Dryden was a part of the Leafs organization since 1997.|
(Harry How/Getty Images)
these last few years, first at Maple Leaf Gardens, now at Air Canada Centre, I have been able to watch games that feel like a celebration, of a team, a game, even a country, that feel that way because you've made them feel that way. It has been a privilege.
We have had some crushing moments these last seven years; we've had some great moments. We have been able to watch, almost game-in, game-out, outstanding goaltending, the acrobatic, in-trouble, somehow-out-of-trouble Curtis Joseph; the no muss, no fuss, everything-looks-easy-even-if-it-isn't Ed Belfour. We've had the chance to watch Tomas Kaberle and Danny Markov emerge out of nowhere, to watch Bryan McCabe move from a good player to someone on the verge of more, to watch Steve Thomas become young again. We've had the chance to watch Gary Roberts in the corners, Alex Mogilny with the puck, to watch Joe Nieuwendyk skate. To watch the "never say die" spirit of the Leafs, which brought the team Stanley Cups in the 1940s and 1960s far more than great players did, rekindle and return. And through all this, we've had the great good luck to watch Mats, in his deeply proud, generous, dignified way, lead the team.
As much as anything, I will remember Leafs fans on the road. The thousands of you that drive to Buffalo, in your Leafs jerseys, even though game after game, somehow we give you our worst games there. In Ottawa, where you have defied special strategies to keep you out -- no more ticket orders from the 416 and 905 area codes, no entry to a game without a donation to an Ottawa food bank. In your chants of "Go Leafs Go!," in booing the Senators' captain in his own home arena, in reminding your team that you are there, you make a difference. And especially in Montreal. Who would ever have imagined in the Forum or Bell Centre, thousands of Leafs jerseys, the chants of "Ed-die! Ed-die!" and "Go Leafs Go!", and choruses of "Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Good-bye" in the last minutes of a Leafs win? In Montreal?! Who would ever, ever have imagined?
I often say to people that in Toronto there is nobody or nothing more "given to" than the Toronto Maple Leafs. You give us not only your money, but your time, your loyalty, your passions and emotions. In a hundred different ways, to help us win, you have said to us, "We will do whatever it takes." And in return, you should expect the same from us. That is the real bargain, I think, between any team and its fans. Whatever you do, I do. It's only fair. We are doing better that way. We need you to keep reminding us that we need to do better still.
We need that reminder about the game as well. How we play it, how it is structured, how it is administered and run. The game doesn't belong to the NHL, to the NHL team owners, or to the NHL Players Association. If it belongs to anyone, it is to those who play it at every level, to those who watch it, to those everywhere in the world for whom it is part of their lives and family stories. So this summer and next fall, when Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow forget that they are acting as if the game belongs only to them, because in the heat of a negotiation everyone at times does forget, remind them. You are the critical third party in all this. Really, you are the critical first party. The deal will be done better, sooner, if you get involved.
These last seven years when our season had ended, I was very unhappy because we hadn't won. And I was more unhappy because, no matter how good and loyal the Buffalo, New Jersey, Carolina or Philadelphia fans are, they didn't deserve a victory as much as you do. My goal since I joined the Leafs has always been to have on the ice a team as good as our fans. We have never quite gotten there. Some day we will.
I love watching games. I love watching players, young and old, suddenly understand something they didn't understand, and get better. And most of all I love watching all this happen at Air Canada Centre, especially on a Saturday night, especially during the playoffs, when everything -- the players, the game, the fans, the atmosphere -- when everything together is really cooking. You are the excitement. You are the fun.
Go Leafs Go!