The Leafs Bring Out the Worst in People

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Fans Wearing Paper Bags

No professional sports team turns passionate fans into kooks like the Toronto Maple Leafs. Usually when teams lose, fans are disappointed and the media wonders what went wrong. But there is always tomorrow and you live to fight another day. That doesn’t seem to happen in Toronto where people hang on every game as if their life depended on it. No better example than last week when three so-called fans were charged for throwing jerseys on the ice. Their act is hardly considered criminal but I’d be hard-pressed to call them Leafs fans from now on. Sure there are fans in Montreal and Vancouver that riot in the streets when their team loses. But it’s kind of ironic that the most peaceful of protests creates the most stupidity.

Anyone who followed the Leafs during the Harold Ballard era knows this is not the first time the team is mired in a lengthy stretch of futility. The difference is that they didn’t have Twitter back then or forums like this one to whine and complain. Couple that with the amount of television coverage the Leafs are getting, there is more opportunity for people to do stupid stuff in public. And that is what all this “outrage” is really about. When I started out in journalism I was taught not to report on people who commit suicide. In television, we were told not to show those who run out into the field or on the ice during the game. Doing so encourages attention for those who crave it. I believe the same goes with anyone who likes to throw jerseys, crutches, or waffles (or any kind of food) on to the ice during a game. This not like a throwing a hat on to the ice to celebrate a hat trick. No one is doing it to seek their 15 minutes of fame.

There will be those who welcome this kind of response to the team’s erratic play. Let’s get a couple of things straight. First of all, as I mentioned a number of times before on this blog, this is a Leafs team that is easily pushed around and does not want to get in other player’s faces. Second, this is the type of team those in the media and rogue fans want to see: no goons or enforcers, just ones who make highlight-reel plays. That to them wins hockey games just like the Detroit Red Wings. And they claim to be “mad as hell” at the Leafs for their recent play? Please.

Look at the Canadiens. If you see how they hit, battle, and fight, you see why they are at or near the top of the Atlantic Division much to the chagrin of a majority of Habs fans that prefer skill over toughness. Marc Bergevin has been able to assemble the kind of team Brian Burke promised to put together in Toronto and the Leafs are nowhere near it. But you don’t hear Habs fans complaining about their team do you? Perhaps not publicly. Even Montrealers who are cut from the same cloth as fellow Quebecer Brian Mulroney are considered pacifists.

But back to Maple Leafs fans in Toronto. It is sad to see that there are those who want to make these nut cases into some kind of hero. They need serious mental help and not a parade in their honour. The ones who come to the Air Canada Centre wearing paper bags over their heads might as well have balaclavas covering their faces, just like the thugs at political protests claiming they are doing it for peace and justice. The one common denominator of the two: there is no aim towards a solution, only a means of getting attention and creating chaos. The Leafs’ soon-to-be 48-year Stanley Cup drought is the least of their worries. I bet you they don’t even know what a Stanley Cup is. Torontoians seem to been quite comfortable in the victim role and that has got to stop.

Also see:

Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning
Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?
Habs Fans Becoming Snobs

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Who are You Calling an Outlaw?

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GMHL Logo
I cover a local Junior A hockey team. They are a member of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with that league, it is a rather obscure one. There are 4 teams located in the Toronto area but they rarely get any attention in the media. Leagues like the GMHL have been dubbed “outlaw” leagues, ones that do not play under the rules sanctioned by the Ontario Hockey Association or Hockey Canada. Players and coaches who participate in “outlaw” leagues do not receive support or benefits from the OHA or Hockey Canada and are often barred from taking part in their events. I don’t know if this extends to media types like me but if I end up getting turned away at the door at a Hockey Canada event, you’ll probably know why.

I bring this up after the Collingwood Ice of the World United Hockey League folded due to a lack of support from fans and the hockey community despite a 15 and 4 record. It got run out of town basically because of its association with the WUHL. Intimidation is often seen on the ice, not off of it. This was driven by politics and not the free market. I object the use of the word “outlaw” to describe these leagues. Rival is a more accurate description. Is the CFL an outlaw league to the NFL? If you believe in what Hockey Canada says about the GMHL or the WUHL, it sure is and no one in the football circles should be playing, coaching, or officiating in the CFL or face the wrath of those in charge of the NFL and its supporters.

One of Hockey Canada’s objections to the GMHL is that it allows players from the US and Europe to play in Canada. It may not appeal to those like Don Cherry who would prefer only Canadian boys playing hockey on Junior teams in Canada. But if you are one who believes European and American players are just as good if not better than our local boys then these leagues are for you. More than a quarter of the players in the GMHL are imports. However, the team I cover in Rama (a First Nations reserve located just east of Orillia) has none. Around three-quarters of the Aces roster are from Orillia, Barrie, and surrounding areas. It is a true Canadian Junior A team in every sense of the word. It gets good support from the community and it doesn’t take anything away from the local OHA Junior C team in town. In fact, the two teams have been able to co-exist quite well. I can’t speak for other teams in the GMHL but I know Aces’ President Patrick Geary has run a first-class organization.

While it is good to see rival leagues exist, it is not without their flaws. One objection I have with the GMHL is that new teams are entering the league under questionable ownership. One team in particular was owned by a Russian businessman and was made up entirely of Russian and Eastern European players. I don’t know if a small town in Ontario would want to support a team that didn’t have a local player on it. It has since folded. Another criticism is the officiating. This is not a GMHL-only problem but once you see how their on-ice officials perform it will make you appreciate the work of referees and linesmen in the OHL, AHL, and NHL. On top of that, the refs and linesmen in the GMHL appear out of shape. Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford could lace up the skates and officiate in this league.

I’m sure people remember the time when the World Hockey Association came into existence and it quickly folded after several years as they tried to compete with the NHL. It would not surprise me one bit to hear that those who want an alternative to the NHL also want these outlaw leagues eliminated. The GMHL may not be the best hockey league in Canada. Having seen dozens of their games, I can tell you the quality of the product is no better than Junior B. But I believe competition brings out the best in people and it is leagues like the GMHL that will force those in charge of Hockey Canada to improve their game or see their customers go elsewhere. So who’s really the “outlaw” in this debate? I can’t really tell at this point.

Also see:

People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do
If it’s Panned, It Must be a Good Move
Canada has the Best Athletes. Period.

 

Firing Exposes Incompetence… Among Fans and Media

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Randy Carlyle

OK, incompetent might be strong. But what the reaction to Randy Carlyle’s firing shows is that, despite holding a Canadian passport, people in Toronto don’t know hockey, period. There will be those who hate the Leafs that will laugh at us for this latest move. They may know about as much hockey as the ones who called for his firing. But let’s forget about them for a moment.

For those who want the Leafs to be a more skilled team rather than a tough, physical one, you are seeing that team on the ice right now. So either suck it up or, better yet, defend your squad. I can’t at this moment. I can tell you that the Leafs are not doing a good job shutting down the other team’s top lines. But supposedly no one cares about that, putting pucks in the net is all that matters. The Leafs are also getting pushed around too much to be effective. Again, no one wants to give a damn about team toughness. When our captain gets into a confrontation and turns the other cheek, apparently, we should stand up and applaud. Is this the kind of people paying to watch our team play? I guess so. They may not like the results but they don’t have the balls to admit that following the Detroit model is not going to cut it.

Since the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan is no longer holding the majority of power in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, many of these so-called Leafs fans and experts have been hard-pressed to find a bad guy in this latest fiasco. I can point out who really is to blame, just go look into a mirror. Couple Carlyle’s firing with calls to trade Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf only tells me that people don’t want a solution, they want a scapegoat. I have to laugh but it is also pisses me off when I keep hearing from those who say we have people who don’t know hockey in charge of an NHL team. That’s kind of like Justin Bieber saying Mick Jagger doesn’t know about rock and roll.

Here’s another thing. On the day of the firing, former Leaf coach Ron Wilson came out to criticize Leafs management and, in particular, Kessel on the team’s recent play. Let’s get one thing straight, Wilson is the architect of the recent downfall of the Leafs. He made Kessel the guy he is today. Even though Wilson is no longer with the team, his legacy still exists today. So he has the nerve to come out and talk about why the Buds hasn’t been able to succeed.

People who want a quick fix to this mess better move to another city and root for their team. Turning the Leafs’ fortunes around is not going to happen overnight and President Brendan Shanahan knows that. My advise to Shanahan and the Leafs is to go with your guts and let the critics run their own losing team.

Also see:

Winners Blaze Their Own Trail
Leafs Nation Needs a House Cleaning
Leafs Nation Manifesto

Tournament Win Destroys Myths

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2015 Team Canada

So you think Canada still has lost an edge in hockey? Sounds like an easy question to answer. But I can bet you no one in Canada has ever doubted their ability to produce great hockey players. No one. Here’s what I managed to take from this year’s tournament.

All this talk about Canada needing a team with more skill in order to win has been obliterated. If anything, the gold medal game must have been a disappointment to the so-called pro-skill movement. Need proof? You obviously were not watching the gold medal game against Russia. Sure this was a talented Canadian team, perhaps more than in previous years, but both Canada and Russia played with an edge the entire game. The intensity was thick from the get-go as Max Domi and Anthony Duclair were pushing off their Russian opponents on the game’s opening face off. Does skill fight for ice? Does it knock players off their skate? Make great defensive plays? Or big saves? Skill does get you goals but I’ve said it time and time again there is more to the game of hockey than putting pucks in the net.

Another thing to take out of the World Junior Hockey Championship is the way Torontoians embraced the tournament. For years, it has gotten a rap, both bad and deserving, of being more of a Maple Leaf town than a hockey town. The Toronto area was, at one time, home to 3 OHL teams — St. Michael’s (Toronto), Mississauga, and Brampton. Now it’s down to one (Mississauga via St. Michael’s) because hardly anyone attended games despite calls for hockey fans to have choices other than the Leafs. I remember during the 2011 Memorial Cup in Mississauga, there were some empty seats at some tournament games, even ones involving the home team. But during the World Junior tournament, thousands of people attended the games at the Air Canada Centre. What’s even more amazing is that none involved the Canadian team. It soon became quite clear to the hockey world where the capital is now located.

Only a fringe group and the media are shocked at the success of the 2015 Canadian Junior team. Canada should be proud today and not afraid of letting the hockey world know about it. Canada has not lost an edge. In fact, they have now raised the bar.

Also see:

Lessons From the World Juniors
Canada has the Best Athletes. Period.
Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?

Getting Dirty About Talking Sports

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Typewriter 2One of the “to do” things in 2014 was to start a blog. Mission accomplished. One of the things I have learned was that everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to sports. I also found out that people will not always agree with your views. I completely understand that. But if you are going to say something, expect something fired back your way in return. Some won’t like this comparison but trash talking is like fighting in hockey, you want to pick on someone, you better drop the gloves.

There was one time this year when a “Leaf fan” compared Phaneuf to a pylon. I replied by saying: at least he has a good-looking wife. Boy, did that get people’s knickers in a knot. Apparently, I implied that the guy’s wife or girlfriend was ugly which was not true. I didn’t insult his wife or his girlfriend but that didn’t matter to them. These people have skin as thin as ice on a lake on an early Spring day.

I don’t know if this kind of arrogance is regional. Ontarians are not shy when it comes to giving a virtual finger to those in Alberta. Yet they don’t have the guts to go over to the Wildrose province and perform the act in front of an actual Alberta resident. Or they take offence to any charge being hurled their way. It is perhaps no surprise that Ontarians, mostly those in Toronto, re-elected the corrupt Liberals in 2014. It is obvious who really runs the city and it’s not the citizens as some claim they represent. No wonder it is a mess.

Yeah, I sometimes say some things that many will find offensive. But I would argue it shows more about them than it is about me. I say things no one wants to mention or they don’t to be made public for fear of repercussions. I don’t expect everyone to immediately get what I say. But they will eventually, one way or another.

A former colleague of mine once said “suck it up, princess” to those who complain too much. That shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. But there are those who will react to that negatively and will go to great lengths to outlaw that kind of criticism. I have eaten a lot of words but I have also served crow to those I have proven wrong. Being able to take these hits is why I have been able to stick around as long as I have. But having said that, I don’t hold grudges. That’s another characteristic “progressive” people tend to have. I say my piece and move on. They, however, make it a part of their bucket list.

I have enjoyed giving my thoughts and analysis on sports in 2014. I hope you did too. You can expect more of it from me in 2015. And I’m looking forward to your reactions. Happy New Year!

Also see:

Sports Media is Becoming Boring
Everyone’s a Critic