Take, for instance, last Sunday’s game vs Ottawa. It turned into an L for the Leafs, but the disappointment slid down the shoulders of fans like beading October rain. The previous night, Toronto had risen to best the Crosby-less Pens, a substantial win in the face of an injured starting goalie and a second line that has yet to find its zone. Were Reimer at full-strength, it would have meant games split between the suddenly able netminding duo, and a better chance in back-to-back contests. Besides, losing to Ottawa felt more like an early-season mulligan, and even if this amounts to misplaced confidence, that any kind of misplaced confidence exists among blueblooders is a not insignificant achievement.
I followed the win over the Pens at the Ace—I don’t like the building; I figure that giving it a nickname might help—from the dressing room at McCormick Arena on Brock street, site of the Morningstars’ 6-6 tie versus a team from nearby Parkdale. It was the kind of moment that has rarely happened in our team’s 15-year history. iPhones and other digital apparatus were drawn as we followed the game with seven minutes left in the third period, Leafs leading 3-2. “Aw, shit, the Pens just tied it,” said Cheech, before, moments later, he reprised his score: “Kessel scores: 4-3!” “How much time is left?” we asked. “I dunno. Hold on. Three minutes.” “Think they can hold on?” “Sure they can.” “Go Monster!” “Go defence!” It wasn’t exactly like gathering around the wireless, but it was close. We cracked beers and waited for Cheech’s window to refresh. “4-3 Final!” he announced. “Hurrah!” “F—ing Leafs!” “F—ing right!”
Optimism is like melting candy to a blueblood: a strange, suspicious German or Dutch candy brought over by some strange, suspicious aunt at the bottom of a gift bag topped with religiouts tokens. But even after its first winnowing layer, the taste of 2011/2012 has sustained, and we can now get to chewing a little deeper, hoping no stone or pit or repulsive goo is hidden at its centre, although we’re prepared for that, too.
Media everywhere bannered Monday’s stories with “Are the Leafs for Real?”, to which bluebloods raised their shirts revealing bruises and scars and stitches that could only have been caused by something real. A better question might have been, “Are the Leafs Unreal?” The answer would have been, “God, please, yes, we hope so.”
After the Pens’ game, I strode up to a friend’s bar on Dundas street—walking astride a Bruins fan and a Habs fan, moving between them, to keep the peace—and while neither were forthcoming in their praise, they had to admit that the Leafs’ early season momentum was surprising, and that they were happy, at least in this moment, that their teammate was happy (the Habs had also beaten Boston this night). I used this opportunity to do something I haven’t done in years, espousing with gaudy enthusiasm about the virtues of Brian Burke’s trade for Jake Gardiner; the team’s persistence in shaping the Monster as a game-secure backup; and the value of someone like Mike Brown as a serviceable—nay, effective—fourth liner.
At the end of my soliloquy, there was silence, mostly because my friends had tuned out as soon as I’d started speaking, seeming as if they’d heard it all before. But they hadn’t, not like this. Because the candy tastes sweet, and it’s only now that it feels alright to speak.