Today I will admit something about "misplaced support" from 1971.
In April of that year, deep in the National Hockey League playoffs, I, for some bizarre and inexplicable reason, was hopeful for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team in eternal question was playing against the New York Rangers, a good, solid club, and one coached by the great Emile Francis.
The date was April 15th, it was game 6 of the quarter final round between these two members of the "original six". The Rangers led the best-of-seven series by three games to two.
Overtime: This match, tied at 1-1, was resolved with venomous brutality when a Rangers player (Jean Ratelle? Walt Tkaczuk?) scooted down the ice over the Leafs blue-line, through a hapless Leafs defenceman (Jim McKenny?), and snapped off a quick shot. Goaltender Jacques Plante shot out his right leg, he stretched out his toes, but failed to stop or deflect the smoking disc-shaped piece of vulcanized rubber from fulfilling its Nomad-like programming. The next event was more acoustic in nature; the sound of what happens after a speeding 6-ounce hockey puck motions past a Leafs goalie at such a critical time in the NHL season. "Clank!!!"
I did my job quite well: I was a pro. I (got a wee bit upset).
My dad laughed, no doubt amused by a hockey-loving kid who had yet to snap out of a silly phase. I can still picture him, to my right, getting a kick out of my "upset". Translation: "Kid, it's just a bleedin' game. It means absolutely nothing in and among the grand schemes of life." (My dad was right, of course; except when his beloved Habs lost.)
For decades I've asked myself the question: "Why?" Not the question of why a Leafs goalie would fail to stop or deflect an ice hockey puck, which even an answer of "42" could not explain away, but why I would waste allegiances on a total, complete, absolute, non-achiever. This memorable match had played out mere weeks after my 10th birthday, and after the Leafs team began to brush up on all the interesting local golf courses and beer halls, I would, in guided prescience and with great leaps of maturation, shoot my affections to the Montreal Canadiens. This would pay off -- sorry for the spoiler, young ones -- and my reaction this time around would be one of: Joy.
Toronto-based sports journalist Peter Gross reported on the wireless this morning that the Toronto Maple Leafs are just one loss away from being "mathematically eliminated" from making the playoffs this year.
This cynic must admit: That loosey-goosey sports organization has been improving since 1971. By way of avoiding playoff games on a regular yearly basis they spare many a 10-year-old from having certain hopes and, more importantly, breakdowns. And from having anything of relevant interest to write about 45 years later.
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