Sometimes I bristle when I hear Toronto described as a Maple Leafs town posing as a hockey town.
The implication is that Leaf fans are somehow provincial, more interested in their precinct than our national game. Myopic. Leafcentric. Narrow. Stop me anytime.
But I get why Leaf fans drop their interest once the club is out.
It’s like watching someone else date your wife… for five springs in a row.
Let me tell you where I am coming from.
In pro sports, there are three different constituencies.
There is the club itself, players, coaches, trainers. The club extends past the roster to the employees of the parent company. As an MLSE guy, I am surrounded by people who work very hard to sell tickets and conduct events and render unimaginably good service to ticket holders.
Constituency number two is made up of the fans. The fans fund the show, of course, but you can’t make them number one because without the team they wouldn’t know each other. They are like a bunch of unassigned souls floating around heaven before they are cast into the same group, or so my Mom would tell you.
Constituency number three is the media, the traditional conduit between fan and club. I am a combination of group number one and group number three which means I will speak out when the club plays abominably and embarks on moves that seem ill-conceived, but stop short of demanding the manager be escorted to the unemployment line lest I find myself standing beside him.
The one thing I am not is a fan.
I am grateful for fans. Fans make my job possible. Fans fill up chats, sometimes by the thousands. Everybody has a role in the big top. I am not a fan the way a dog is not a cat.
But there is one thing that unites fan, a whole lot of media, players and everything in between.
It’s no fun if your team is not in the post-season.
That’s why players don’t watch the playoffs.
“Maybe a game,” said Phil Kessel
That’s one more game than most.
Media garner spiffy accommodations and still more restaurant moves, but they are detached from what they are covering. They don’t know the players, don’t know the town. All they know is the hotel. None of their relations want to talk about the hockey they are covering and the grind of playoff travel means whoever scores the first goal in the first game of the final is the team you are pulling for.
But it is worse on the fans. They have to endure the jokes.
“What do you call 20 millionaires gathered around a television watching the playoffs?”
I think you know.
In spring and summer, I walk in the moccasins of the fans.
I can’t watch the playoffs. Not Sidney Crosby. Not Joe Thornton. Not Patrick Kane or any of those more than worthy Buffalo Sabres.
If I wander past a television I might stop and gape for a moment. That’s far from high praise; I stop for Eight Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter. I stopped for Manimal.
But then I keep going. The couch does not entice me.
I can’t even muster enough juice to think venomous thoughts about the Montreal Canadiens.
It has been a lousy nine days since the Leafs’ season ended and I, we, are reduced to waiting for the June 25th entry draft which could be diminished somewhat by the fact the Leafs do not at present hold a first or second draft choice.
After that comes the July 1 free agent sweepstakes.
Just two and half months to go.
How about those Jays?