Volume 96, Issue 61
Friday, January 17, 2003

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What are you going to wear on Saturday night?

You gotta love those Buds

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

I first became a Maple Leafs fan back in 1993. I was a casual NHL fan at the time, throwing my allegiance, not behind teams, but specific players like Londoner Craig Simpson, whose parents sat behind my folks for years at Mustangs football games.

If you remember the '93 playoffs, Toronto met Detroit in the first round. A large majority of the loudmouths in my Grade 6 class jumped on the Wings bandwagon, pretty much only because Detroit were favoured to win it all that year. They were so obnoxious that I immediately threw my support behind the good ol' boys from the T-Dot, and, as it happened, the Leafs went on to upset Detroit in an epic seven-game series.

To this day, some of those guys from grade school still owe me money.

Since then, I've been with the Leafs through thick and thin, and this roller-coaster ride is what makes being a Leafs fan like no other experience in sports.

The team is like a soap opera, as coach Pat Quinn can't make a change on his third line without having the move dissected by the Toronto media. The team becomes like a member of the family; they'll make you laugh, they'll make you cry, they'll frustrate you so much you feel like taking a sledgehammer to the Air Canada Centre.

But, at the end of the day, the love is still there.

The on-ice product is just as wildly unpredictable. I can't count how many games where the Leafs have been badly outplayed over the past few years, only to be saved by the great goaltending of Ed Belfour and the now-departed Curtis Joseph, a timely goal by Mats Sundin or (let's be honest) a bit of chicanery from Tie Domi or Darcy Tucker.

If the Leafs were a pro wrestler, they'd be Ric Flair – often getting worked over, but usually coming through with a victory thanks to some pulled tights or feet on the ropes.

The only difference is that Flair won world titles. The most famous Maple Leafs stat is their inability to capture a Stanley Cup since 1967. Now keep in mind that, for 20 of those years, the team was owned by Harold Ballard, one of the biggest fools to ever own a pro sports franchise. No club could be expected to compete under those circumstances; a car can only go so far if the driver is blind.

However, things have changed for the Leafs. They've reached the Cup semi-finals four times in the last 10 years and, given the watered-down calibre of play in today's NHL, a consistently competitive team like Toronto is going to break through sooner or later and capture their 14th Stanley Cup – the second-highest total of any team except for... the Montreal Canadiens.

Now, I've got nothing against the Habs. Hell, I was cheering for them last year in the playoffs, so we could see a Leafs/Habs semi-final (of course, Montreal quite famously choked away that series against Carolina).

Montreal, sadly, has allowed themselves to become just another hockey team.

The Forum? Gone. The legendary string of superstars from Richard to Dryden to Roy? Saku Koivu doesn't quite measure up. The Hockey Sweater? Leafs fans are smart enough not to buy from a catalogue. The 24 Stanley Cups? Just making the playoffs is an accomplishment in Montreal these days.

When push comes to shove, everyone in Canada will proudly put on the blue and white when the Leafs eventually play for the Stanley Cup.

To quote Tom Petty, "The waiting may be the hardest part." But, when the Leafs actually win it all stand back – the nation's finances may collapse, because Toronto will be shut down for at least a week, due to the partying in the streets.

Let's just hope it happens in our lifetimes.
A Hab-it of winning with class

By Ryan Dixon
Gazette Staff

People who live in New York City say there is no city like it on earth. While New Yorkers will surely acknowledge there are other great cities in the world, they claim that if you have ever lived in New York, you just understand.

As a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I share that sentiment. If you're a fan of this team, you just understand.

There is an intangible aura that surrounds the Canadiens. It has been 10 years since the Stanley Cup last called Montreal home. It has been 20 years since the Canadiens have iced a team that was the envy of the league. Still, that aura resonates.

It's in the way Canadiens fans sing like soccer fanatics at home games. It's in the way Quebecers would consider it sacrilegious if the Canadiens ever contemplated adopting a trendy third jersey. The fans and the franchise aren't willing to compromise a century's worth of integrity.

The closing of The Forum is a prime example of the Canadiens' pure class. It was a perfectly choreographed night that, somehow, captured everything it means to be a Montreal fan.

The Canadiens, with their symbolic torch, passed the legacy from champion to champion. As the torch was passed from the legendary Maurice Richard to a freshly showered Guy Carbonneau – a member of the opposing Dallas Stars during the game, but a proud Canadien after the match – generations of fans were forever linked.

The night they shut down Maple Leaf Gardens, former Leafs great Dave Keon, among others, sat at home. It speaks volumes about the way a franchise treats their players when one of their greatest names from the past shuns them. So, the Leafs had to pass off the likes of Alan Bester as a hockey hero.

Note the distinction: Toronto has "heroes." Montreal has champions.

Today's Canadiens will be champions someday. Josť Theodore's daring play and dashing good looks make him both a coach's and a publicist's dream. Saku Koivu's inspiring return from cancer proves his worth as a leader, without even mentioning his slick skills. General Manager Andre Savard's keen eye for talent (many of Ottawa's hot young players were drafted while Savard was a scout there) should ensure there are more young guns in the fold to join Richard Zednik, Andrei Markov and Marcel Hossa soon. Team owner George Gillette Jr. has deep pockets and has already shown a willingness to dip into them.

The common knock on Habs fans, and the organization as a whole, is that they are too quick to point to the history books and ignore the fact they are now mired in mediocrity. That's probably a fair commentary, but what people don't understand is that it's not until Montreal fans forget about the Canadiens' glorious past that we're in real trouble.

You see, the key difference between Montreal and Toronto is expectations. Because of the precedent set over the course of a century, Montreal fans – to this day – consider nothing less than the Stanley Cup on Ste. Catherines Street a success. Leaf fans threw a parade after the team lost in the Campbell Conference final in '93.

There will never be a second-place parade in Montreal. Ever.

When you think about it, the same product Leafs fans are proud of (i.e. a team that makes the playoffs and inevitably bows out in the second or third round) is precisely the kind of performance Montreal fans have mourned for 20 years – of course, with the exception of two Stanley Cups in '86 and '93.

If you don't expect the most out of yourself, you will not get very far in this life. If you don't expect the most out of your hockey team, you're probably a Leafs fan.



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