Welcome to the refreshed Pension Plan Puppets! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
Fulemin: Dad’s fault.
Acha: Surely there was more to it than that. When did you see your first live Leafs game?
Fulemin: If I remember right it was 1996, I saw the last game the original Jets played in Toronto, a 3-3 tie. Also the last game Dave Andreychuk played for Toronto. He scored two goals and they traded him after. Sad face.
Acha: What was your first favorite Leafs player, and your first jersey?
Fulemin: Sergei Berezin. Exciting as hell, super talented, only wanted to score goals. I have never owned a Leafs jersey with a name on it, sadly.
Acha: Did you ever despair of the team and try to quit being a Leafs fan?
Fulemin: I despaired often and occasionally watched less, but I never seriously contemplated cheering for anyone else and I've never closely followed another sport. Leafs 4 lyfe.
Acha: What compelled you to write about the Leafs?
Fulemin: Terrible judgment, mostly. I like writing, and I wanted to make the argument the Leafs should sign Stamkos in detail, and here I am.
Acha: Is right now the best possible time to be a Leafs fan in your lifetime?
Fulemin: It's pretty good, and I have high hopes for the near future, but I think the Leafs had a genuinely viable shot at the Cup in 1993 and 1999. Until they do again, that's going to take the cake for me.
Arvind: Like Fulemin, I have a short answer to this. Born in Toronto.
Acha: So are Toronto-born people issued a small Leafs onesie upon birth? Have you ever been tempted away by any other hockey team? Like, if you had to have a second team, what would it be?
Arvind: That’s what it was like for me. I can’t remember watching hockey without being a Leafs fan. As for being tempted away, I briefly became a bit less of a hockey fan after the 2004 lockout. It probably didn’t help that the Leafs were garbage after that. But I never really followed a second team religiously. There were players on other teams that I liked and rooted for, but my allegiance there was mostly to the player, as opposed to the team they played for.
Katya: I wasn’t. Born in Toronto that is. And my mother thought the Leafs were scum once they traded away the Big M. So when he wound up on the Habs, we watched them when they were on.
The Leafs through the Harold Ballard years were a sad and pathetic joke of a team, put on the ice to earn ticket money and TV revenues, which were siphoned off and never used to make the team even a shadow of what it could be. Any fan who loved them then had a stout heart.
I have always lived about equidistant from the Leafs, the Red Wings, the Sabres, and now, the Blue Jackets (as the crow flies). I can pick who I like and still call them my local team.
I picked the Leafs to be one of my teams because they were, in the great bloodletting of 2015, the only truly bad team who suddenly had management who knew they were bad. Some others are catching on. Some others seem destined to never know themselves truly.
Seeing a team go from, “Wow, we suck!” to, “Strip it down,” to “Hey we’re losing, let’s tank,” to “Hello, Auston!” in the space of two years is amazing. Most teams do not go through this kind or revolutionary change that fast. Certainly not teams who had that kind of history of futility.
The building up is truly the hard part. Anyone can tank; some teams even do it by accident. But taking the few bits of value and building on that, making the deals that need to be made, finding a way to get through the bubble team stage: that’s really interesting to watch. And most teams don’t do it very well.
The Leafs are already ahead of schedule. So where they go next, and how fast, is going to be a fun ride.
Achariya: Once upon a time I was a fan of a Florida ECHL team named the Solar Bears. I also started writing about hockey for Raw Charge. When Raw Charge dropped me on waivers, I realized that the Solar Bears were (imagine!) the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I also realized that I could FanPost about Garret Sparks over at Pension Plan Puppets.
Fast forward a year, and Sparks became one of the goalies for the Marlies, so I began paying attention to them. Not long after, he became a goalie for the Leafs, so I started to watch the Leafs more often, and my writing expanded to cover more than just the Solar Bears. So I blame Garret Sparks; he caused me to get in on the Leafs bandwagon at the ground floor, during the season the team ended up 30th in the league.
It was interesting and fun to watch the team tear down and rebuild. It was exciting to see Mike Babcock take the reins. It was even more exciting to watch the draft and feel such a strong connection to a young Mexican-American player named Auston Matthews. The Leafs are now a team led by an international trio of young stars (Matthews, Nylander, and Zach Hyman of course) and a hard-working coach, and it’s become FUN to watch them play hockey. That’s why I’m a fan of the Leafs. (For a longer story about how I came to hockey in the first place, please see Raw Charge.)
Emily: grew up in Toronto, brother was a Leafs fan, fell in love a bit with Tomas Kaberle, made it through the Dark Years.
Acha: Emily, what frustrated you most about the Dark Years? Also how do you have time to follow so many different leagues of hockey?
Emily: So many Things. I stopped paying attention for a bit (during the Maurice/Wilson years) but probably just how hard it was to watch the games, when a bunch of very bad players (McClement) were getting prominent roles ahead of better ones. They just played really crappy hockey for a while there (Kessel et al notwithstanding). It was also frustrating watching and knowing that the front office and coaching staff had no idea what they were doing. So the indefinite crappyness was depressing and soul crushing in a way that a season of futility (2015-16) with a light at the end of the tunnel isn’t.
I really only follow two leagues closely (NHL & CWHL) so it doesn’t take up that much of my time. The C is a lot of fun, though, especially when you can get out to the games.
Arvind: To add onto what Emily said, the resignation of having facepunchers on the fourth line was a particular low point. We were continually getting shelled in shots, and after seemingly every goal against, we’d trot out Ryan Hollweg or Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren to rectify it. Didn’t work out too great.
Nafio: I found hockey pretty boring when I was growing up. Still not sure if that was because my introduction was my brothers’ houseleague hockey (tiny childrens playing hockey is cute but not if they’re only a couple of years younger than you are) or because it might have been the Dead Puck era. Some of it comes from being the child of Scottish immigrants - while we lived in the same neighbourhood as the Mahovliches and the Lindroses and went to the same church as King Clancy, my mum was a tennis fan, my dad was a Premier League fan… hockey was a thing for some of my Canadian cousins.
I sometimes listened to games as I was falling asleep because in those days both the Jays games and the Leafs games were on AM1430 and I was a Jays diehard so my bedside clock radio was constantly tuned to the one station. I dunno that Joe Bowen was conducive to sleep but I certainly found the games more interesting on the radio than on TV. Names I remember from that era are Iafrate and Olczyk.
When I hit late high school / university age older I was hometown-invested enough to pay attention during the playoffs. Then they stopped making the playoffs.
Fandom brought me back into hockey the year before the most recent lockout and despite the various people going “look how shiny and cute our team is” I’ve always been an underdog gal. And, as mentioned, they’re my hometown team. So I adopted some back-up teams for the playoffs, but stayed a Leafs fan. Specifically, I adopted James Reimer. After he dragged his team kicking and screaming into the playoffs, I asked for a Reims jersey for Christmas.
In terms of the Furies, my story about them was my first post at PPP.
So, come on, why are you fan, why are you here at the Kitten Ranch, let us in on your story. Or post cat gifs, whatever.