Hello everyone! I've been lurking in the background, but one particularly amazing post got me to sign-up for an account just so that I could post a complimentary comment on it. Since I've gotten over the inertia of actually signing up for an account however, I thought I'd wade into the mix a bit both in terms of comments and in terms of writing a fan post every now and then.
I think ever since the lockout, the performance of our beloved blue and white has made this a more relevant issue than it has been certainly at any other point during my lifetime. I actually had a couple of friends of mine jump ship to the habs as fans in the past couple of years and in fact within my group of friends, all of whom grew up in Toronto, I'm pretty much the only Leafs fan. Therefore, I've had to defend my fandom on more than one occasion and that has led me to the following train of thought regarding why I'm a Leafs fan. Some of you, whether you are fans of the Leafs or of other teams, will hopefully recognize yourself at least a little bit in here. For everyone, I hope there's a bit of enjoyment and maybe even catharsis to take from this story.
Like many people living in the City of Toronto, I come from an immigrant background. Although I was born in Brazil, my parents are both from Hyderabad, India and the vast majority of my extended family still lives there. My dad was always a huge hockey fan though and my sisters and I inherited that from him. I was 7 years old in 1993, but I very clearly remember the Leafs magical run that year as well as their run in 1994. As I continued to watch, the Leafs proceeded to make it to the final four in 4 of the first 9 years that I was a hockey fan. A lot of people would argue that this was no real accomplishment, but I personally would disagree:
Results by team ranking, 1993-2002
Detroit Red Wings (3 Stanley Cups, 1 Finals Appearance, 1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
New Jersey Devils (2 Stanley Cups, 1 Finals Appearance, 1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
Colorado Avalanche (2 Stanley Cups, 4 Semi-Finals Appearances)
Dallas Stars (1 Stanley Cup, 1 Finals Appearance, 1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
New York Rangers (1 Stanley Cup, 1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
Montreal Canadiens (1 Stanley Cup)
Philadelphia Flyers (1 Finals Appearance, 2 Semi-Finals Appearances)
Buffalo Sabres (1 Finals Appearance, 1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
Florida Panthers (1 Finals Appearance)
Los Angeles Kings (1 Finals Appearance)
Vancouver Canucks (1 Finals Appearance)
Washington Capitals (1 Finals Appearance)
Carolina Hurricanes (1 Finals Appearance)
Toronto Maple Leafs (4 Semi-Finals Appearances)
Pittsburgh Penguins (2 Semi-Finals Appearances)
New York Islanders (1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
Chicago Blackhawks (1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
St. Louis Blues (1 Semi-Finals Appearance)
This puts the Leafs in the top half of the league going strictly with a latter-round tie-breaking system. Out of the teams that never won a Stanley Cup during that stretch, they were 8th. You often hear commentators espousing cliche's about the best player to never have won a championship, but in the case of teams this is very much true. We as fans derive entertainment from our team in way more ways than just winning a Stanley Cup. Ask the fan bases of the Panthers, Kings, Capitals, Canucks and Whalers/Hurricanes what they thought about those singular finals appearances without another sniff during that period of time and chances are pretty good that they have a lot of good things to say about those teams even though they ultimately missed out on winning the big one.
Were the Leafs an elite franchise during the formative years of my hockey life? No, definitely not. Were they a successful franchise worth watching? Absolutely! A lot of the better memories of my childhood come from interacting with the Leafs franchise, both through watching the games on television and getting to meet some of my childhood idols from time-to-time.
A good example of this was during my high school years. I was volunteering at Sick Kids to do my community service requirement and I actually saw Mats Sundin walking in and out of various rooms one weekend. I was far too nervous to actually go up and say anything to him (also because he was there to entertain the kids and I didn't feel it would be appropriate stepping in on their time), but it was a flooring experience to say the least. Interestingly enough I actually saw Bob McKenzie with his kids at a Scarborough McDonald's on the way home, but that's neither here nor there.
For me, another personal element of Leafs fandom comes from the fact that I've had to defend my love of hockey against my relatives for as long as I can remember. My dad of course is just as big a hockey fan as I am and my mother and sisters have grudgingly come to accept it as a part of our personalities. The rest of my extended family however, especially the ones living in Canada, gave me nothing but grief during my childhood about wasting time watching and playing hockey. Of course, this comes from people that spend all of their free time watching 3-4 hour movies with terrible acting and poor production values, so while it was never really a point of huge contention, it was nevertheless a little something extra that made me appreciate both watching and playing hockey just a little bit more.
This brings us to the present day and already I can hear some of my friends accusing me of over-romanticizing the accomplishments of this franchise and quoting the tired-old cup drought since 1967 phrase. Yes, the Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Yes, they haven't been back to the conference finals since 2002 (despite icing some pretty competitive teams between then and the lockout). And yes, the Leafs have not been back to the playoffs since the lockout (although counting the lockout year as part of that streak is just dumb; it also means that the Red Wings don't have a 20-year streak going).
Yes, all of this is true. And y'know what? I really don't care. I mean nobody will be happier than me when the Leafs eventually climb the mountain, but as far as I'm concerned this is a team that was really good and has become really bad because they are in between eras in the trough part of the development cycle. I've enjoyed watching the Leafs for essentially all of the part of my life that I have memories from, so a few bad years are not going to make me any less of a fan. As people much smarter than I on this very site have said, you haven't really proven yourself to be a true fan until you've suffered with your team. All of that suffering will be worth it in the end. Ask Rangers fans about pure joy following suffering. Ask Blackhawks fans. Ask Red Sox fans.
Am I over-romanticizing? Perhaps I am, but this is not meant to be an analytical post in the slightest. It is meant to be a story of a fan from childhood and why I continue to remain a Leafs fan. Personally, I feel that we as a fanbase are held to standards that are a complete double-standard from the rest of the league. Only Leafs fans are allowed to get called out on 1967 every time they say something even remotely positive about their team. Maybe I'm wrong and this is just because the chorus of Leafs haters out there is a lot louder than it was for the Rangers or the Blackhawks, but it does seem as though we're treated differently for our fandom than other teams in North American sports with long championship droughts.
In any case, I don't want to sound like I'm whining, so I'll just stop it there. To me, being a fan of the Leafs is a lot more than just being a fan of the team put out on the ice. I like the community involvement of the organization, more recently I also like their commitment through Brian Burke to equality. It is far less about the fact that the Leafs haven't made the playoffs since the lockout and far more about the fact that I've grown up with this team from start to finish. And regardless of how you might feel about the Toronto Maple Leafs as an NHL franchise, I would think that any long-standing fan of a sports team that is remotely being fair would recognize that in themselves as well.
So that's just a little bit about myself. Hopefully I'll be sticking around this community for quite a while and this should serve as a little bit of an intro as to who I am and why I've finally decided to start dedicating some of my time to hopefully making some contributions to this site. I can say with certainty though that I'll continue to be a Leafs fan as long as I'm around. They will eventually get there and win a cup.
And on that day, life will be glorious.