Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Canadian Icon: Toronto Maple Leafs

Image courtesy of the Toronto Maple Leafs

A first in a series that takes a look at iconic people, places and things in Canadian History. Today we take a look at the most popular team in the most popular sport in the land....The Toronto Maple Leafs.

The National Hockey League was founded in 1917 with Toronto as a founding member. In 1927, the then St. Patricks were taken over by Conn Smythe. Smythe a hockey genius and hater of all things Irish, quickly changed the team name to the Maple Leafs. Out went the green sweaters and team mascot Lucky the Drunken Mick and in came the blue and white and glory. Smythe also had a poor grasp of grammer which is why the team wasn't named the Maple Leaves.

The NHL was a very different league before 1967. A highly competitive 6 team league where the 4 American teams were controlled by one family with close ties to the mob. 11 Stanley Cups were won in this period. Toronto's main rival for supremacy in the league was the hated Montreal Canadiens and in a 6 team league they played each other like 30 times a year. The Habs played with skill and were mostly French, 2 things that are hated in Toronto up to the present day. Each game was filled to capacity at the team owned Maple Leaf Gardens, a building built during the depression using labour at slave wages and lovely yellow brick.

Things would change in the late 60's. The NHL began to expand, a rival league was formed and the team was taken over by Smythe's idiot son Stafford and his skirt chasing buddy Harold Ballard. What didn't change was the continued success of the team at the turnstile, even with a host of mediocre players. As salaries rose the Leafs refused to get involved and players would leave in a revolving door of greatness. The names would fill the roster of any 2nd tier Hall of Fame Team. Keon, McDonald, Daoust, Leeman, Gill, Salming would all play for the blue and white then leave. The Leafs, led by Captain Darryl Sittler and his teammate Bill the Chimp would make a run in the 70's ending in the semifinals.

Heroically in the 1970's the team covered up a pedophile scandal so it wouldn't disturb the fervor of what would become Leaf Nation.

Ballard's death and the line of owners since him haven't changed the storied Maple Leaf way of doing things. Hockey fans in Toronto will line up and pay big bucks to fill the building and watch a mediocre product struggle through each successive season. As teams in hockey hotbeds like Anaheim, Tampa, Dallas & Carolina have lifted the storied cup named after a British Lord who never watched a game of hockey in his life, the Leafs refused to use their financial windfall to their advantage to unfairly succeed in the league.. This commitment continues, even though no one south of the Great Lakes gives a shit about the sport.

What does the future hold for the Buds? Only time and the Teacher's Pension Fund will be able to tell. What we can be sure of is that the lemming of Leaf Nation will continue to ensure sellouts at the Air Canada Centre.

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