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Battle to the finish

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Matt Akler

Many a tear will be shed by Leaf fans following Toronto's loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series but it can't be considered a tragedy. Not this year.

Keep in mind that many tears were also shed on the first day of the Leafs season. You may have cried that day too. It was September 11 and the Leafs met at Air Canada Centre to conduct their physicals before flying to St. John's for training camp.

The team started to gather around 8 am, shortly thereafter news was filtering out from New York. Slowly, as the terrible reality of those unimaginable events became evident, all those congregated were numbed by the tragedy, some more than others.

One of the newest Leafs at the time, Alexander Mogilny, had his wife and family living in New Jersey, just across the river in full view of the destroyed Manhattan skyline. Bryan McCabe, Travis Green and Jeff Farkas all had family living in the New York area.

Alex Mogilny was one of many Leafs with family in the New York area on Sept. 11.
Graig Abel Photography
It was a day the world cried, but a day that also saw people rally around and support each other to create a more aware, yet cautious world.

The Leafs fulfilled their promise to the people of Newfoundland as best they could, heading out east for the annual Blue and White scrimmage and the preseason opener against the Canadiens.

That ominous start to the season catapulted the Leafs into one of the franchise's most unusual campaigns marked with triumph and yet more tragedy.

Near the halfway point, Toronto was sitting in first place in the conference, resulting in an All-Star Game coaching assignment for Pat Quinn. For that one contest he was pitted against Mats Sundin and Tomas Kaberle who represented the victorious World team.

Also around the midway part of the schedule Leafs assistant coach Keith Acton took an unexplained leave of absence from the club. Later, the affable Acton disclosed that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer which, thankfully, was caught in the initial stages allowing him to make a return.

In February, the NHL took a two-week hiatus from action for the Olympics in Salt Lake City, a tournament where the Leafs were well represented. The Canadian squad, coached by Quinn, and with Curtis Joseph in a red and white sweater instead of the familiar blue and white, triumphantly brought home a gold medal for the first time in 50 years.

But all was not well in February when a blood clot was discovered in the leg of Dmitry Yushkevich, Toronto's most trusted defenceman. Good fortune and even better medical support was on the Leafs side again, the ailment was detected early enough to avoid what could have been a more life-threatening situation.

Tragedy struck a week after the Olympics when the club was intent on celebrating its glorious history. March 2 was selected as the date to recognize the 75th anniversary season of the Leafs and honour the 25 greatest players in team history. During the pre-game ceremony, just as he was about to step on to the ice, Art Jackson, representing his uncle Busher Jackson, collapsed in front of 20,000 fans and died that evening.

Despite a rash of injuries the Leafs persevered and recorded only the second 100-point season in team history. However, sick bay got larger in the playoffs, and Toronto was not able to overcome the determined Senators.

So shed a tear if you like because the Leafs are done much earlier than hoped. That's OK, that means you care.

But don't say it's a tragedy. We saw enough of that this year.
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