For the first time in nine long and lonely National Hockey League seasons, those of us who are still never say die Toronto Maple Leaf hockey fans were finally able to cheer for our team in the playoffs. Believe it or not, I have been a loyal Leaf fan for more years than I care to admit, beginning way, way back to when I can remember snuggling up beside the radio on cold Saturday nights and listening to Foster Hewitt welcoming everyone to good old Hockey Night In Canada on the CBC Radio Network.
Then when black and white television arrived and most everyone put up one of those ugly antennas on their homes, we all grabbed the munchies at the same time and watched the roaring action of the Original Six National Hockey League teams: Boston, New York, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, and of course Toronto.
As a cub sports reporter with the Ponoka Herald in the late 1960s, I was really thrilled when legendary Chicago Blackhawks/Toronto Maple Leaf super star Max Bentley became the coach of our Ponoka junior A Stampeders hockey team. We chatted for hours about his illustrious career in the NHL, where the small but flashy 5-9 158 pound centre scored 245 goals, won two scoring titles, two Stanley Cups, the Hart Trophy, and was fondly known as the “Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle” for his amazing speed and moves.
What a wonderful night it was in Ponoka in the early 1970’s, when Max Bentley reunited the flashy Chicago Blackhawks “Pony Line” of Bill Mosiencko and brothers Max and Doug Bentley, as well as bringing in other ex-NHL stars for a jam-packed fund-raising exhibition game against some of our former great Ponoka Stampeders senior men’s team members of the glorious past.
I guess it was all those great memories and stories that convinced yours truly to hang in there as a fanatic Toronto Maple Leaf fan for so many years and I will likely always faithfully cheer for the blue and white. I was however quite often teased when they began to lose their long-standing championship form soon after winning their last Stanley Cup under direction of Punch Imlach in 1967 but I was always the first one out on the ball diamond in the spring and really enjoyed the rest of those die-hard hockey fans who jumped from team to team as the playoffs wore on.
So this shortened National Hockey League season was a new experience, as the Leafs got a new coach and general manager, went after some younger and bigger players, and somehow managed to grab fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
For 13 stressful but very exciting days I went into a complete playoff mode, taking on a game night ritual of rushing supper, then grabbed desert and secluded myself in my tiny office/television room because my wife prefers the hot drama shows to hockey. Before game 1 I had gathered together my age-old and dusty Leaf memorabilia for good luck, which included a tiny replica of the 1967 Stanley Cup, a beat up old Maple Leaf puck, a gaudy blue and white jacket (which doesn’t fit anymore), my precious book of those long-ago TML glory days and my big and cherished flashing Toronto Maple Leaf emblem, which hasn’t been turned on for a long, long time.
Before the series started I was really pleased to say there are still quite a few Leaf fans that were now coming slowly out of the woodwork, some of whom even dared to place that classic banner in the window of their vehicles. After the anthems I settled into a total uninterrupted end-to-end, save-by-save stance, occasionally uttering a cheer, a cuss, or a groan for a goal, depending on which team scored, after which my wife hollered to see if I was OK! Bathroom breaks and snacks were only allowed at the intermission and this carried on for seven nights in what turned out to be a great, hard-hitting, fast, and thrilling series between two big and feisty Original Six hockey teams.
As most everyone knows, our Leafs blew a three-goal lead in the third period of the final game, then went down to those big bad Bruins in overtime, which really hurt for a few days, but sure gives us hope for next season — as always. Meanwhile, after my blood pressure went down, I am now cheering for the Ottawa Senators, the only Canadian team left in the playoffs.
I really hope that your team is still doing well, and that you all have a great balmy summer week, all of you!