Hockey season is well underway, and Toronto is buzzing.
For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, Toronto hockey fans are genuinely excited to see the Leafs in action.
A stark contrast when compared to last year, which proved to be a season void of any real achievement and filled with bitter disappointments that just left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.
That bad taste appears to be all but washed away with the unveiling of the new-and-improved Leafs organization. Throw in a season-opening win over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and a couple of pretty spectacular victories over such teams as the Rangers and Devils, and it’s pretty clear that the future of the team is brighter than it has been in years.
This is hockey town at its finest. Fans are once again filing into the Air Canada Centre on Saturday nights with the unquestionable buzz of excitement and anticipation that can be felt through the TV screen.
A welcome change from last season, when a typical night at the ACC held about as much buzz as a dying cell phone. Fans are finally cheering again, and the media is in frenzy.
Win or lose, this year will unquestionably be an exciting year in the land of blue and white. The players are young, fast, and eager—and the fans are even more eager to see what they can do.
This season, Leafs fans will undoubtedly stick it out until the bitter end, even if they don’t make the playoffs. In fact, most fans have accepted the fact that the team will most likely not make the postseason this year, and the Toronto media is even banking on it.
So why the sudden change of heart from last year, a time when lifelong Leafs fans were selling their season tickets on eBay and cancelling their centre-ice packages? The answer comes down to one simple word—change.
A change in management. Gone are the days of John Ferguson Jr., with his inexperience and misguided negotiations of silly no-trade clauses and ridiculously-overpriced contracts for substandard players. Also gone are the days of Paul Maurice and his mediocre coaching skills.
A change in team spirit. Gone are the days of a locker room overflowing with bitter, unmotivated veteran players with an overdeveloped sense of self-importance.
As the old adage says—out with the old, and in with the new.
Cliff Fletcher has unquestionably made good on his promise of rebuilding from the ground up, with the acquisition of such exciting new players as Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski, and Luke Schenn, all of whom have played impressively so far.
The hiring of Ron Wilson has proven to be a good move as well. His “succeed or you don’t play” attitude, which has been seen through the benching of such veteran Leafs as Jason Blake and Carlo Coliaicovo, has proven to be strategic for weeding out the true talent on the team, and adding incentive for the players to play hard on every shift.
Top it all off with the desperately needed team spirit that veteran goalie Curtis Joseph and native Torontonian Jamal Mayers bring to the locker room, and you’ve got yourself a drastically different team than that of last season—something that both the fans and the mercilessly-scathing Toronto media seem to appreciate.
In this time of uncertainty and apprehension for the rebuilding Leafs, the season ahead is sure to be an exciting one, with or without securing a playoff spot.
The fans will at least be dutifully watching and praying for the Leafs to win, instead of waiting for them to lose.