On Monday after school I headed downtown with all the other Toronto Maple Leaf fans. Older guys my age in their huge Leaf jerseys, the ladies a bit more fancy, all cheering on the subway and waving their Leaf banners + flags. Younger folk decked out in the Leaf blue and white colours wearing or not wearing whatever their fancy. It seems body paint now suffices too, with or without a shirt and so on. Lots of died hair. Me too! In special celebration mine was white .... Ooops! Wait. It's always like that ... no matter.
Everybody was headed for the big third NHL Stanley Cup eastern quarter final series game with Boston at the Air Canada Centre! If you had tickets you joined the mad crush of the crowd entering the gates, headed for your seat. Scalpers stand around selling them for $500 dollars or more. Pssst! Pssst! Wanna buy a ticket?!? It's all very dubious. Or one stood outside and watched the game on the big screen. It's still quite the party and very, very cheap, read "free".
Toronto is in full fling hockey fever during playoff season, the closest we have gotten in a good many years. It will be quite a celebration if the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967. Then there was that whole string of other cups dating back throughout the 1950's and 60's, when winning was a tradition here in Toronto Canada.
One wag joked about what do we do if the leafs win. "If" ? Everyone turns around, giving him a dirty look, until he sensibly adds that Toronto seems like an unlikely place to riot, overturn and set fire to cars, then fight with police celebrating a Stanley Cup win, unlike let's say Vancouver or for that matter Montreal. We all stood perplexed. Hmmm! What do we do?!? It's been such a very long time ago ....
Back then, the Maple Leafs played at Maple Leaf Gardens, of course. I was quite young. My dad taught at Our Lady of the Airways elementary school in Malton, a good hour drive to downtown Toronto through the countryside in his proud blue family sized 1957 Chevy. In the evenings, after dinner, as playoff season rolled around, he would head out along with his teacher buddies and myself in tow, down to the "Gardens" for the big game.
Teachers didn't get paid during the 1950's. We'd usually sit in the nose bleed seats, which were packed. It didn't really matter if I couldn't see much, the game was clearly the thing. The cheering, the singing, the camaraderie. Well, dad's gone now, and the Maple Leafs haven't won the Stanley Cup in a longer time than I'd bet most of todays fans even remember. Still in my mind I'm sitting there with my little Leaf flag, popcorn and drink. Maybe a hot dog with mustard that I get all over myself jumping up and down cheering wildly with the crowd. What fun!
Our world was a lot smaller and more innocent back then. The biggest excitement was the Avro Arrow aircraft being built in Malton. It's huge delta winged shape flies real low over our rooftop, the excruciating loud engine roar + whistle of air over its wingtips rattling our windows and shaking the doors. It was a test flight everybody knew about, and was waiting for, with great enthusiasm, even the children. The Arrow would swoop dangerously low, by today's standards, over the workers post war suburban bungalow homes in a salute of sorts upon it's approach back to the A.V.Roe plant runway at Malton Airport. Everyone races outside to look up above our heads and cheer! It was a totally different world. You certainly don't see that anymore!
In winter folks flood their backyards into home made rinks where we skate and play hockey past dark, cheering our playmates, parents + neighbours on. Just like we would faithfully watch the Leafs game on our new furniture sized black and white television set with the snowy picture on the small screen if not from somewhere way up in the nosebleed seats at Maple Leaf Gardens. It wasn't the same then. There weren't any $500 tickets, multi million dollar player contracts, huge screen t.v.s or live computer streams, but maybe it was bigger in another way. Community and winning were our Canadian way of life, even if it was just mostly for the sheer do it yourself + much simpler fun of it all.
Well, the Avro Arrow has been long scrapped as a senseless tax saving measure. Droves of technicians and engineers, like many of our hockey players, have long fled to find their lost opportunity in the United States. However the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be once doing well again. Maybe, we all hope, it's a good sign. They will win this year, or of not then the next. It certainly feels like the Leafs will be finally bringing the Stanley Cup back home to us again sometime soon.
There is an enthusiasm in the air that I haven't felt for a long, long time here in our city. Maybe Toronto Maple Leaf fans will be rewarded after all for our loyalty during the long, long wait. Our world has irrevocably changed and grown immensely, but there is still nothing like Hockey Night in Canada. Maybe we will finally find out what its actually like to win the Stanley Cup here in Toronto again! It will be a simple lifetime memory that some other little children will never forget. In a new way we will have come round full circle. For me, as I'm sure for many of you it's a very happy thought after our year of seemingly insurmountable challenges!