It was 4-1
The Leafs had blown the lead. They had blown it in that same way that makes everyone grown and which has become a running joke for fans of NHL teams everywhere. “It was 4-1!”
The final tying goal by Detroit in the NHL Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day elicited a chorus of loud groans. Heading in to overtime, the atmosphere of the crowd was electric. Everyone was on the edge of their seats, anticipating a wild ending to this game.
Auston Matthews - what other Leaf could it be this season - ripped a shot past Jared Coreau, and the game was won. The crowd erupted in cheers. It was the story book ending everyone wanted.
But this crowd wasn’t at BMO Field. This crowd was watching the game at the Regent Theatre in Mount Pleasant Village. It was a crowd of a few dozen friends and family of the founders of Babsocks, invited to watch the New Year’s Day spectacle together on the theatre's big screen.
So how did this all come together? How did Babsocks go from a quirky idea spontaneously made up after a hockey game into a real business, with sales both online, and, now at a retail store? A store since visited by Mike Babcock himself?
It goes back to an intense passion for the Maple Leafs by the founders of Babsocks, Tommy McCole and Jake Mednick, and their desire to unite Maple Leafs fans as the team pivots from perennial loser, to playoff contender.
Regent Theatre retail store
Opening a retail store is not exactly a normal move for a business launched online these days, even one that finds sudden success. A store carries a lot of new costs and effort. You have to be seriously committed to the enterprise to go down this road. It is no longer just a hobby.
The store, located at 553 Mt. Pleasant Road is an outgrowth of the website, and was created because Tommy and Jake wanted more interaction with their customers, and to better connect with Maple Leafs fans.
The store is tucked into a small space on the side of the Regent Theatre building. Its large front window is adorned with mannequin legs modelling Babsocks. Above the window is the edge of the theatre marquee structure, which has been adorned with their signature Babcock Face. It’s quite a striking site on the street.
“Obviously it’s more personal for the customer, but it’s also more personal for us.” said Jake.
He made it clear that interacting with their customers has been a positive experience. “We see these names pop up of people who buy our socks, and we love the fact that people are wearing their socks on game day and they’re cheering for the Leafs. But to actually shake peoples’ hand and talk about the Leafs, and figure out why people think this is really fun — it makes the world of difference.”
There was one customer in particular Tommy and Jake were proud to meet in person at the store.
The man himself, Mike Babcock.
Babs scouting locations for his next team building retreat. 553 Mt. Pleasant Rd. pic.twitter.com/lvoecXhffS— Babsocks (@Babsocks) December 23, 2016
Jake explained that Babcock was a bit confused and invited them to attend a game, and then talk to them after. It was December 15, vs. the Coyotes, a game the Leafs lost in a shootout.
Tommy felt it was a little nerve wracking, at first. “He brought us down to the coaches’ room after the game. We were pretty nervous because the Leafs had lost that game.”
“He’s not going to be in any mood to meet a couple of guys who took his head and put it on a sock after having lost against the Coyotes.” Jake added.
However Babcock broke the ice quickly, though in a surreal way for Jake, “The first thing he does is reach out with his hand and says ‘Hi, I’m Mike Babcock.’ and that was a bit bizarre to me because clearly I know you’re Mike Babcock. You might not know I’m Jake Mednick, but I know you’re Mike Babcock!”
It was a good meeting, and a necessary one. “We needed to meet Babcock just to iron out a few details of what on Earth we are doing here; just so he knew we weren’t going to run away with his image. He’s been great with everything.”
Located across the street from a cat cafe, in a small space that had been vacant for years, it at first seems like an odd spot to locate the store, but it wasn’t a coincidence they rented out this space.
The invited guests attending the New Year’s Day event left with a good impression and saw the potential of the location of the store.
While obviously fraught with red tape related to obtaining rights, the potential of arranging for actual public showings of Leafs games for fans at the theatre is a tantalizingly fun possibility for Tommy. “This theatre is so special to us. It’s the second oldest theatre in Toronto, and we have a dream of packing the place and showing meaningful games, playoff games.”
Tommy is optimistic about what they can do. “The most important thing for us, and the reason why we started it, was to rejuvenate the people in Toronto, and [get them] falling back in love with the team.”
He points out a heavy toll has been taken on Leafs fandom because of the terrible results the team experienced for so long. “There’s been kind of like a lost decade of hockey in Toronto; kids growing up wearing Johnny Tavares on the back of their jersey, or Sidney Crosby. It’s changing now. You go to the shinny games and you see kids wearing Marner, Matthews, and it’s inspiring. I feel like everybody’s falling back in love with the game, and that’s what we’re trying to help facilitate.”
There is now a huge variety of colours, styles, and sizes of Babsocks available, but one has to wonder what is coming in the future. The possibilities seem endless, but Tommy and Jake were coy about what exactly was on the horizon.
Jake would only explain what was their priority “The number one thing is that it’s always going to be fun for Leafs fans.”
I vote for Goatsocks.
Babsocks is at 553 Mt. Pleasant Road.
Their website is at babsocks.ca.
You can follow them on Twitter @babsocks