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The biggest losers in hockey

Dave Bidini vows to embrace the sadness that comes with cheering for the Leafs

The morning after the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to win the 2010 Stanley Cup—their first in 49 years—I shuffled downstairs in my pyjamas. It was a warm morning, early June, and the NHL hockey season was over. I pressed my fists to my eyes, yawned, and yelled upstairs for the children to get out of bed. Actually, that’s a lie. My wife, Janet, did the yelling while I stood there in the living room looking under pillows for the remote. Finding it, I kachunked the tv and a station bzzzed on. These words were written across the screen:

LEAFS BIGGEST LOSERS IN HOCKEY

I sighed. This is also a lie. I don’t really sigh. Nor did I harrumph. I’m not the harrumphing type, either. Instead, I stood there in continuing bewilderment as I weighed—I’m a weigher, it turns out—the self-flaggelation of the bluebloods, which may sound like the title of some obscure Hibernian text, but is not. With the Hawks having slayed their albatross of losing—and with the Boston Bruins doing the same a year later—the Leafs were left to assume the mantle of BIGGEST LOSERS IN HOCKEY, the last pre-expansion team to be left outside. Instead of seeing the Blackhawks’ and Bruins’ victories as portends of hope, the bluebloods spent most of last summer flailing themselves with the chains of misery. Such is the sad nature that defines their fandom. Okay, my fandom. For I am also a blueblood. My name is Dave. And I have a problem.

This year will be different. It’s the verse/chorus of every Leaf fan—every blueblood—but this year—not next year; not the year after that; and not in 2025, when the NHL will resemble Battle of the Blades meets Nanny 911 meets Project Runway meets Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; or at least that’s my hope—but this year I vow to embrace the losing; to dig it up and smoke it; or, should I be invited to appear on some therapy-minded midday network talk show, to own it. But I am not on network TV. So instead, I will lie in the skins of all of this losing. I will keep myself warm.

A writer once told me to throw out the first paragraph of every draft. He said that first paragraphs were for the writer, not the reader, and so, two games into the season, I am forced—as all bluebloods should be forced—to throw out the first week of the season. Because things are going impossibly well, in as much as anything about the Leafs can ever go well. What’s well is two straight wins, four points, and a hat-trick vs Ottawa for the sad American— Phil Kessel—who, as the writers say, could stickhandle a condom through a confessional. This modest winning streak was such that the bluebloods were given opportunity to pause contented while viewing the rebirth of the Jets on Sunday afternoon: a fine jellyroll after Saturday night’s steak and eggs win, if sprinkled with a little bit too much Kreviazuk for my tastes. Nonetheless, the Jets are back, and okay, who do we play next? We play the Army. Leafs vs the Army. This will not go well.

Thankfully, gratefully, it was not a game—at least not one that counted. Instead, the Leafs were gifted with a seven day lay-off between matches—the bluebloods will source a complaint from of this in the taxing dog days of March—during which Brian Burke moved the team to Trenton, Ontario, home of Al Purdy, although I doubt the players spent much time reading “The Caribou Horses.” Instead, they scrimmaged for locals between bouts of basic training, evidenced by a photograph of two Maple Leafs in their barracks dressed in khaki, holding enormous rifles and laughing to themselves. After decades of self-inflicted pain, the gun barrels were pointed away from the body in a surprise reverse of form. Apparently, someone had shown them how to do that. Someone had also explained that turning the gun the other way would, in fact, result in greater success and conquest of the enemy. In this sense, Trenton was a triumph. Maybe we don’t have to throw out the beginning after all.