Every year when the NHL schedule is released, one thought creeps into every Toronto Maple Leafs fan’s head: “is this the year?” The Leafs have not made the playoffs since the 2004 NHL lockout, but, like clockwork, their loyal fanbase optimistically answer their own question incorrectly.
NHL.com released the 2012-13 schedule yesterday and, like always, was immediately scoured by Maple Leafs fans for potential victories. But this year is different. Not only will the Leafs be battling NHL teams on the ice, they will also be battling the spotlight.
Many times fans look to the end of the season to see where their teams need to hit their stride in order to make gains in the standings, but the Leafs face an entirely different challenge early in the season.
On January 1st 2013, the Leafs are scheduled to play in the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan against the Detroit Red Wings. Leading up to the Winter Classic every year, HBO airs 24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic, a detailed show about the life behind the scenes of the two NHL clubs competing. HBO is granted an inside look into the dressing rooms, practice facilities and homes of the players, coaches and front office personnel.
The Maple Leafs are a young team and historically have not thrived under the pressure of a demanding fanbase. The international spotlight can presumably only exacerbate this problem.
HBO will be following the Leafs and Red Wings for the month of December where the Leafs will play half of their 12 games on the road. This includes a three-game west coast road trip where they will visit the 2011-12 Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, as well as the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. They will also have to play in five divisional games which include hosting the Boston Bruins on December 8th.
The teams the Maple Leafs face in December were a combined 102 games above .500 last year, with only three games coming against teams that finished below that mark. Two of those three games come against division rival Montreal Canadiens, and one as a part of a west coast trip against the Oilers.
Needless to say, this is not an easy task even without the added complication of having millions of people watch your every move.
The Maple Leafs need to be able to secure themselves these valuable points in December. Regardless of what moves the Leafs make in the offseason, it is clear their first priority needs to be surviving December and the added pressure of being on 24/7 if they want to make the playoffs.
Follow me on twitter: @applebyinc
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!