The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in the NHL playoffs. The much-maligned mega franchise, after a nine-year hiatus, will play the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. The genuine enthusiasm, anticipation and glee ripping through Leaf Nation is truly palpable.
The most widely known historical fact by Torontonians is probably that the Toronto Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967. This has not diminished the love for the team that the city showers upon the squad. Toronto is a multicultural cosmopolitan, and the team is loved without partisanship.
Leaf fever bridges all of the social gaps. It is truly beautiful to see people from all parts of the world come together to support a single cause. Newly arrived immigrants from non-hockey cultures embrace the team. Hardened and bitter life-long fans, despite decades of disappointment, never truly renounce their loyalty and creep back as fans once the playoffs commence.
Leaf Nation is bound by hope. There is one religion. One language. One race. Two colours (blue and white). The city is truly united. Toronto is at its peak when the team is in the postseason. The feeling that sweeps the city and Leaf fans across the city when the Blue and White reach the playoffs is unilaterally recognized as magical.
Listen on the TTC (subway system), the GO train, in the Eaton Centre (shopping mall), down on Bay Street, in restaurants along the Danforth and bars along Front street. Leaf fever is here. People have only one thing on their minds, and their illogical hope outweighs logic to express human optimism in its brightest glory.
Leaf fans are famous for finding reasons to be optimistic and for speculating on the source of the failure. The theme that the underdog LA Kings won last year as a bottom seed is prevalent. People will find a reason to warrant support even if the facts are not there; this is true faith.
Why were the Leafs out of the playoffs for so long? This is, next to why ”this is the year,” the second-favourite topic of conversation for Leaf Nation. According to Forbes, the Toronto franchise is the most valuable in the NHL ($1 billion) and generates revenue of $200 million dollars per year.
This leads people to believe that their unconditional support is being exploited for financial gain by people who run the team for profit with no incentive to produce winners.
People generally agree on that. The sports radio shows debate daily on the benefit of firing a coach and which players should be traded and for whom. In these past nine years, the city has acrimoniously challenged the logic in managerial and ownership decisions. The fans had turned on one another, too.
This is not a city in which people agree on a lot. Daily debates divide the city on a variety of contentious issues. Bike paths in the city. Building a casino. Toll roads. Opinion on polarizing mayor Rob Ford. Traffic solutions. All that aside, right now, the city is one. The Leafs are in.
Strangers can talk to one another. They can empathize with one another. They can share their worries and invest their faith in the same stock. This, and complaints about the cold weather, are the two forces that best link the people of this great city. The people were cheated of this for the past nine years.
In 1993, the people of the city were never closer. It seemed probable that the team was Stanley Cup-final bound. Leaf-talk was ubiquitous. There truly was magic in the air. Doug Gilmour did more for this city than almost any other individual.
People still lament about a non-call that should have sent 99 to the box, but the joy in the air was undeniable. Thankfully, after nine years, it is back. It is something everyone should experience.
There are several keystone moments that Torontonians collectively recognize and celebrate. New Year's Eve at Nathan Phillips Square. Canada Day fireworks celebration. May 24 weekend as the unofficial opening of cottage season and the closing of the "Ex" as the unofficial end of summer.
However, the fever that overtakes the city when the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the playoffs is unrivaled. The playoffs bring the people together and truly makes us a kindred spirit.
The 2012-13 team has given the city a reason to be-Leaf once again. This is a great time to live in this amazing city.
While Yonge Street is not the longest in the world as we like to claim, and whether the etymology of the word Toronto comes from a Mohawk phrase tkaronto, which means “where there are trees standing in the water,” or a Huron word meaning “meeting place,” for now, Toronto means "Go, Leafs Go!" The city can be at its greatest once again.