It all sparked for me when the country came together during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics to cheer on Team Canada en route to the Gold Medal finish. One of the most amazing two weeks to not just watch, but be a part of. Because that’s what made it so special, all of Canada was a part of this script-like story. Red gloves on every corner, people constantly checking Olympic news during work/school, and business people crowding around a TV in the PATH system, deeply invested in a USA/SUI match.
When those two weeks were over it was back to regular hockey, NHL hockey. Hockey that I haven’t paid much attention to since the 2004 lockout, where I religiously rooted for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 2000s and enjoyed watching players such as Mogilny, Roberts, Tucker, Belfour, and Sundin take the ice on game nights. But after the Winter Games, I decided to try to get myself back into being a hockey fan, and it wasn’t easy. The Maple Leafs team that I once knew as Mogilny, Roberts, Sundin et al., now looked foreign, even from a couple of years ago when they were fringing around the 8th spot with Sundin/Antropov/Ponikarovsky as their first line. Now scattered with minor league players who for the most part will not even know where they’ll end up next season, I thought to myself, “is this what I’m supposed to cheer for?”.
Then the NHL playoffs arrived. Determined to cheer on my second and third favourite NHL team (Sens, Habs, respectively), I begin watching first round matches with excitement. Despite an exciting triple overtime (heart attack central) victory in game five, the Sens fell short in game six, giving up a 3-0 lead to the Penguins. I was genuinely upset. The Habs on the other hand, took Alex Ovechkin and the Caps to a game seven, where they knocked off the Russian superstar (much to Gary Bettman’s dismay I’m sure).
Photo source: "bobfina72" on Flickr.
As the games went on between the Habs and the Penguins in the second round, I started to realize what I’ve been missing for the past five years. That type of atmosphere where playoff matches meant cancel everything else you’re doing that night, where every goal mattered, where every opposition rush brought stress, and where every shot brought excitement. The type of hockey where every minute played could not be missed no matter what.
Although rooting for the Habs throughout their playoff run was exciting, it wasn’t the same. Instead however, it brought back memories of what it felt like to cheer for the team I grew up watching. What it felt like to develop hatred for opposing teams (Sens, Islanders, Flyers), and most importantly, what it felt like to love hockey again. It is after all, Canada’s game.
And now that the Habs’ playoff run have come to an end, playing nineteen more games than they “should have”, I’ll be attending a Toronto Maple Leafs church somewhere during the summer, and ask the Hockey Gods for forgiveness for cheering on the Habs (and the Sens for that matter).
While I’m there, I’ll ask for a playoff team next year as well, because it’s been far too long since I’ve attached that Maple Leafs flag to my car window and genuinely screamed “Go Leafs Go”, with about a million other Maple Leaf hockey fans.