2016 Saw the Return of Toronto as a Sports Town

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Getty Images

Getty Images

In 2016, Toronto showed the world why it is a sports town. For the record, I never thought for a moment that Toronto lost its place in the sports world. But over the last number of years it became dull, predictable, and snobbish. Nothing could have lit a fire under a Toronto sports fan. Then came the recent playoff runs of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Toronto FC. The Blue Jays went 22 years without a post-season berth before making back-to-back playoff appearances the last two years. People would point out that Blue Jays games rarely sold out or that there are those still burned by the player’s strike in 1994. These folks must have bad knees because they like to use crutches. The fact there are at least 20,000 coming to every game means those who are there are not only Blue Jays fans but also true baseball fans.

A year before Josh Donaldson’s dash home, Jose Bautista brought fans to their feet:

If you watched the NBA playoffs, you would have witnessed Jurassic Park, an area outside the Air Canada Centre where Raptors fans gather and watch their team play whether the team was at home or on the road. Thousands of people braved the elements to watch their team play. LeBron James noticed it moments after he and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Raptors in the NBA Eastern Conference Final. So did actor and comedian Jamie Foxx when he made an appearance on ESPN after the game. People do pay attention.

Then you have fans of Toronto FC who are in a league of their own. 20 years ago, no one would even think about watching an outdoor sporting event by the lake in the middle of December. But there it was, BMO Field, filled to capacity for the MLS Cup Final. A number of spectators probably wore the same attire at that game as they did to one on a hot, sticky summer day. The loud noise may have caused residents living in Liberty Village across the railway tracks to lose some sleep that night. Passionate? Dedicated? Vocal? Did Donald Trump become President of the United States?

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

Part of the resurgence is due to rapper Drake. Yes, we’ve had other Toronto-born celebrities showing off their hometown pride (i.e. Mike Myers, Will Arnett) but no one has made an impact quite like Mr. Graham. He is also the reason Hogtown is now known as The Six.

The CFL’s Argonauts missed the boat (no pun intended) when they failed to make the playoffs in the year where BMO Field hosted the 104th Grey Cup. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 seasons. But the foundation is now in place after the Brendan Shanahan regime took over in 2014. It will only be a matter of time before they join the likes of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and TFC.

Toronto is often ridiculed (and sometimes rightfully so) for being a fairweather sports town. They sit on their hands, offer a polite applause, wondering why can’t they let us win? Not anymore. Things have changed. There are new people living in the city have they have brought their own approach to watching sports. Some we are not used to seeing: large gatherings outside stadiums to watch games on big screen TVs, wearing the team colours with pride, and screaming so loud it would blow out ear drums. This is not your father’s Toronto sports fans. I can only imagine what 2017 will be for Toronto sports fans.

Also see:

People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do
Habs Fans Becoming Snobs
Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning

 

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Scott’s Removal a Bush League Move by the NHL

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A Bush League Move by the NHL

Say what you want about John Scott. I certainly took issue of him trying to pick on Phil Kessel during a pre-season game in 2013. But the latest move to prevent the now Montreal Canadien to appear in this year’s all-star game has to go as one of the lowest points in NHL history. Yes, even lower than his election to this year’s game in Nashville.

Scott was recently named by fans as the Captain of the Pacific Division all-stars. But he is not what you normally consider an all-star. Scott rarely scores goals or makes plays, he doesn’t block shots or takes away scoring opportunities. He is what we in the hockey world like to call an enforcer. These guys are more known for dropping their gloves and duking it out with their opponents. While some feel these types of players do nothing to promote hockey, their character and demeanour attracts the average Joe, namely you and I. You know, the ones that actually pay money to watch them play. It can be said that Scott doesn’t deserve to be in the All-Star, present company included. But this is what you get when you leave the rosters up to those with no vested interest.

Scott being named as a captain of an all-star team is a punch to the gut — deservedly in my opinion — to those who say the NHL does nothing for its fans. They are the ones who called on the league to remove Scott. They don’t care how it is done so as long as the ends justify the means. So much for integrity. The next time you hear them say they speak for the true hockey fan, just keep in mind that they are sharpening their knives as they say it.

The NHL has tried every avenue to remove Scott from the All-Star game, sending him to the minors, and now Arizona trading him to the Habs. This to me is a bush league move by a professional sports organization. The NHL has no guts to accept the results. If Scott’s election to the all-star game is a problem then by all means do something to fix it so that it never happens again. But to not accept and acknowledge the fan’s decision is no different than pissing on someone’s grave. It is appalling and outrageous. So much for the customer being always right. That’s a thought I never gave any credence but it will be a test for those who stand by it.

Also see:

Outsiders Strike Again
People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do
Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning

UPDATE (January 19, 2016):

Sportsnet is reporting that John Scott will indeed be in the All-Star Game.

UPDATE (January 31, 2016):

John Scott and his Pacific Division team wins the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. Scott scores two goals and is named MVP.

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

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

People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do

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Raptors Fans

It was interesting to learn that this year’s World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals drew a record number of television viewers. Not bad considering 20 years ago there were people who said they would not watch another baseball game after the 1994 strike. I suppose even after a year of some exciting baseball they still won’t come back. And that’s fine with me. In fact, I hope they stay away. Let’s leave the seats open for real fans of baseball (and hockey, and football, and basketball). It is not just labour strife, some people simply don’t like the nature of some sports.

To me, the definition of a fan is they must like one’s work whether it would be in sport, music, art, literature, etc. Something attracts people to their work and in return they get some enjoyment of it. If there comes a time where that enjoyment is no longer there, they move on. It’s as simple as that. They don’t take a terrorist approach and hold their money hostage unless their demands are met. During the NHL lockout, I question those who say they won’t watch when the league resumes. Why not boycott all leagues affiliated with the NHL, that includes major junior hockey and the American Hockey League? These leagues rely on the NHL, and vice-versa, for the development of players and the overall health of hockey. It would do them a disservice to go to these games but they still go. Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe these people.

Sports leagues feel there needs to be changes in the game in order to keep their fan base or generate a bigger one.  What they are actually doing is trying too much to attract the lowest common denominator. That to me has ruin the game and the enjoyment of watching sports. To use hockey as an example, there have been those who say the NHL is too violent or is not that there is not enough offense. Over the last number of years, we’ve seen the implementation of video review, the removal of the red line, and hefty punishments for open ice hits just to gain a few new fans. Now, Commissioner Gary Bettman would never tell them to go find another sport to watch, that’s our job as fans. But there are some in the league office who feel they need to bend over backwards in order to get them to like their product. I don’t have to tell you that I would never watch professional or international soccer but you won’t hear me demanding changes be made in order for me to don a red Toronto FC scarf.

Sure, these people have lots of money but they are not genuine fans of the game, not even close. I would doubt they would even know one player on the team they are supposedly cheering for. We have also allowed doctors, lawyers, and the media to run sports. The game is being changed just to appease these people who wouldn’t pay a dime to buy a ticket. Their demands may have made sports less violent but all it really did was water it down to point where it is becoming more interesting to watch paint dry. And to think they have university degrees and diplomas. Not only has sport been devalued by their actions, so has post-secondary education.

So, who’s really a fan of sports? Certainly not those who wear lab coats and 3-piece suits. It is those who come wearing team jerseys, painting their faces, grow beards, scream at the top of their lungs, celebrate after a goal, and hang their heads after the team loses. Do more to satisfy them and tell the rest to not to let the door hit their ass on the way out.

Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning

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Leaf Jersey on the Ice
I find that there are too many quitters in Leaf Nation. It’s not just those who sit in the platinum seats at the Air Canada Centre, the problem goes beyond that. Sure, Habs and Sens fans have patented the art of whining and complaining, but I don’t think any of them committed the ultimate act of treason: throwing a team jersey on the ice. True fans of any sports team stick with them through thick and thin, they don’t jump on and off bandwagons. Lacking patience is one thing, being entirely stupid is another. These people have to go and the sooner, the better.

First thing we need to do is get rid of the arrogance. Some people in Canada think they know hockey better than anyone simply because they have a Canadian passport. So my East Indian friend who became a Canadian citizen but doesn’t follow hockey knows just as much about the sport as me? That to me shows how lazy many in Leafs Nation really are. I’m not expecting everyone to be good at playing hockey, otherwise we would all be playing the sport wouldn’t we? But there is a certain level of knowledge that is required in order to be considered a hockey fan or a hockey expert. I think at least half of our fan base, if not more, is totally incompetent. They get their hockey knowledge from the media. They must think Steve Simmons, Damien Cox, and Bruce Arthur invented the game. Better keep the Kool-Aid away.

I have heard that if another NHL team comes to the Toronto area that it would cause Maple Leaf fans to “cross the aisle” and cheer for the other team. But actually, it would really be an addition by subtraction. Their abandonment would prove they are rogues, not true Leaf fans. By getting rid of the dead weight it would finally breathe new life into this fan base. There is also a faction that wants the Leafs to “tank” in order to get a high draft pick. Seriously? I suppose if it doesn’t involve drugs, it’s not considered cheating. These are the same people who don’t want to watch a bunch of “losers” on the ice every night. Besides, the Edmonton Oilers have Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov, all first-overall picks the last 4 years. And how is that team doing?

Then there’s everyone’s favourite hockey subject: fighting. I belong to a Maple Leaf fan group on Facebook. My posts about questioning the team’s toughness have garnered some negative responses. People just don’t want to face the fact that having an entire roster full of goal scorers isn’t going to cut it in the NHL.

So a housecleaning in Leafs Nation is definitely in order. It may be the only way to unify our disgruntled fan base. I’m ready start pushing people off the ledge. Who wants to go first?

Leafs Nation Manifesto

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Leafs Nation Manifesto-page-001

We proudly wear the jersey.

We like our hockey the way it is meant to be played.

Tough.

Physical.

Aggressive.

We love big goals and bigger saves.

Slick moves and hard hits.

Wingers who fly and grinders that deliver.

Goaltending is God.

Don Cherry is the Godfather.

Fight!

If you are from Toronto, you either love or hate the Leafs.

There is no such thing as a Red Wings fan (or fan of any other NHL team) from Toronto.

Like the boys on the ice, we don’t let anyone push us around.

Don’t let them tell you who you are.

Crash!

Carry the flag.

Stand together with our brothers and sisters.

Protect the house.

Infiltrate enemy territory.

Celebrate success.

Battle through adversity.

Stay until the final buzzer.

Never give up!

Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?

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Habs Leafs
There are really only two kinds of hockey fans in Toronto, those who love the Maple Leafs and those who don’t. So if someone says they are from the Big Smoke and is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I’d take their pledge with a grain of salt.

Those who know me or follow my blog know where my allegiance is. I can also understand one’s dislike for the Buds. But let’s be honest, unless you were born in Montreal, or have once lived or worked there, there is no such thing as a Habs fan from Toronto. They are simply lying if they claim they root for the Canadiens and have not spent one minute in Montreal. They just hate the Leafs. It’s not just the Habs, this applies to all 29 other NHL teams. I know a few people from the GTA who say they are fans of Red Wings, Bruins, and Senators. They, too, should come clean.

Even if one does fit the said criteria, people hate the Leafs more than they do the team they claim to cheer for. This is why Toronto is the centre of the hockey world and there’s been talk in the past about bringing another NHL team to the Toronto area. People in Montreal, Vancouver, and Detroit only wish they can attract the same kind of attention. Just look at the number of Leafs fans in other cities when the Buds come to their barn. That to me is real compared to the fake Habs fans (et al) living in Toronto.

To further prove my point, Steve Simmons’ puff piece in the Toronto Sun gleefully highlights the Leafs’ dismal first day of free agency. Only a complete tool would be happy at the fact that there are NHL players turning down the opportunity to play for the Leafs. That being said, I thought Josh Gorges did us a huge favour by rejecting a trade to the Buds and went to Buffalo instead. Can anyone think of the last player that the Leafs got from Montreal that made an impact with the team? Neither can I. It’s more like the other way around — former Leafs players made Habs teams better. It’s not a coincidence that players who spent time in the Montreal system flounder elsewhere.

I can go into the number of reasons why people hate the Leafs. But I’ve discovered that they fall in the same group that don’t like fighting or tough, physical hockey. That flies in the face of those who want the Leafs to adopt a system that emphasizes more on skill and less on the rough stuff. True Leaf fans want to see their team play with a mean streak (you got that, Dion?).

So the next time you see someone in Toronto proudly wearing a Canadiens jersey, they better be fluent in French. Otherwise, they are as genuine as a Rolex bought from a briefcase at a street corner. Au revoir, mon ami! A la rentrée!

Only Losers Look for Someone to Blame

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No Finger Pointing

Seems those in Leafs Nation are more focused on who they want to lay blame to. And who can blame them? Lost 8 in a row going into tomorrow’s game versus Calgary (hi ya doin’ Brian?). My reasons for the losses have been documented. They are not hitting, moving the puck, or taking care of their own end. With the exception of St. Louis, every team the Leafs lost to during the slide was beatable. It is embarrassing to see them lose to soft teams. But I seem to be the only one that wants to see them win rather than hoping they lose in order to continue to find a player to blame. What I keep hearing from those people are excuses.

First we blamed James Reimer, then Dion Phaneuf, later it was David Clarkson, Phil Kessel, and Randy Carlyse. Before the losing is over we’ll end up blaming Carlton the Bear. As we dwell on another season missing the playoffs, we seemed to be accustomed on blaming someone whether is a player, coach, or manager. We always preach our kids that hockey is a team game yet we like to point the finger at certain individuals. Calling them hypocrites is being polite.

What’s more, and here’s what really gets me, the very people who are calling for fighting to be out of hockey, don’t like hitting, and like fancy passes, are the same ones who are criticizing Phaneuf’s play of late. Don’t get me wrong, Phaneuf has been playing soft but for these people to call him soft is like the Toronto Star calling Olivia Chow a left-wing pinko.

There are too many fair-weather fans in Leafs Nation and that has got to change. It’s easy to bail a sinking ship or jump on to a winning bandwagon. It takes someone with strong will to stay with them through thick and thin. I seem to be the only one who fits that bill.

Habs Fans Becoming Snobs

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Habs Fans

Last week, someone pointed out that the Montreal Canadiens have two gold medal Olympic hockey players on their roster and the Toronto Maple Leafs have none. That person seemed to forget that the Habs had a total of seven Olympians on their team — including two on a talented Russian squad that was favoured to win a medal — compared to three on the Leafs. They also forget that one of their two players on the gold medal-winning Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team spent most of the tournament in the press box. I like to hear them brag about that.

Are Habs fans becoming snobs? Do they feel because their team has the most Stanley Cup championships of any NHL club that they feel entitled to gloat about their success? I equate this to children of rich parents. None of them did any hard work to achieve the lifestyle they enjoy. They simply ran on the coattails of their moms and dads. I can think of two people in the news that fit this description and the only difference between those two and Habs fans is the latter doesn’t have a sex tape.

I can respect fans in Chicago, LA, and Boston. Their teams were recent Stanley Cup Champions. The Canadiens have not won the Stanley Cup since 1993 when someone named Patrick Roy practically carried the team on his back that season. It is one thing for previous generations to talk about the Canadiens because they were around when the team did win Stanley Cups. Habs fans today simply like to brag about past success. And they laugh at Leafs fans for supposedly doing the same. There is only so much weight that a crutch can hold. It’s going to crack at some point.