The relatively short distance between Detroit and Toronto divides many Ontario hockey fans between the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs, a geographically aggravated division that helps keep a Century-long rivalry smoldering.
So rooted are some fans in their loyalties that even when a good friend plays for the opposing team, they just can’t shed their true colors.
Such was the case with former Wings goaltender Mark LaForest, who discovered during the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs against Toronto that such allegiances never die.
|Mark LaForest |
LaForest had a few tickets to one of the games at Joe Louis Arena, and, because his wife was pregnant back home, invited a few friends who were attending college in Windsor at the time.
“I show up at their dorm and both come out with blue and white faces. I’d never even thought they were Leafs’ fans,” said LaForest, who served as a backup to Glen Hanlon for much of the Toronto-Detroit series. “One of them had a white face with a blue leaf and the other guy’s got a blue face with a white leaf and they’re in my van.
“We came over the border and parked in the parking lot. And Stevie Y’s getting out of his car, Lee Norwood was getting out of his, and I walk out and they look at me with these two yo-yos painted white and blue and they go, ‘What’d you do, pick up hitchhikers on the way?’ It was pretty comical. Stevie just laughed. They had a great time. We talk about that all the time.”
After losing the first two games of the series at The Joe, the Wings had to battle Toronto in its home arena, the Maple Leaf Gardens.
“I remember walking to the rink with the late Stevie Chiasson and guys selling brooms on the street because they were up 2-0 and thought they were going to sweep us,” LaForest said. “So it was pretty intense. The fans actually were pretty crazy. It was wild.”
The Wings ended up winning the series in seven games but losing the next round, the Campbell Conference finals, to the Edmonton Oilers. The success in the 1986-87 season followed a lackluster finish the previous year, when the Wings finished with a 17-57-6 record – the worst in the league.
“I remember the year that we ended up in fifth in the division (1985-86), not making the playoffs,” LaForest said. “Brad Park was the coach and he said, ‘Well if we’re going to get beat we’re going to start making people pay. We’re going to hurt them—they’re going to know they played the Red Wings.’”
Although he spent most of his career in the minors, LaForest eventually ended up playing 27 games with Toronto during the 1989-90 season, splitting time with Allan Bester and Jeff Reese. Of his Leafs teammates, LaForest remembers Wendel Clark as one of the players he had never been happy to see with the puck while playing with Detroit.
“Any time Wendel took about a half-minute to take a wrist shot you knew it was coming hard,” LaForest laughed. “And it hurt like hell. Oh, he could shoot.”
Out of 103 total NHL games LaForest played 33 with Detroit, where he had a 6-22 record between 1985-87.