So I’m flipping through the pages of the Toronto Star this morning, and I come across a short essay by Richie Assaly, who, like so many in the Republic of Tranna, feels like he’s living a country song.
Except his dog didn’t die and mama wasn’t run over by a damned ol’ train the day she got out of prison.
No, the long face and world of hurt is the product of another Toronto Maple Leafs’ pratfall, an annual spring ritual observed from one flank of the tundra to the other and points north.
You’d think the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna would be used to it by now, but this latest Leafs loss—to the dreaded Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their Stanley Cup skirmish on Monday night—seems to have brought with it a different and deeper level of grieving.
“A monumental collapse. A tragedy on ice. Rock bottom,” went the Assaly lament. “There’s a distinct chance that the last day of May in 2021 will find its way into the history books as one of the lowest points in Toronto sports history.”
Personally, I think Humpty Harold Ballard asking his coach, Roger Neilson, to wear a paper bag on his head behind the bench ranks lowest on the lame-o-meter, but I guess Assaly uses a different measuring stick.
At any rate, it’s official. The Maple Leafs have become a country song. Three chords and the truth about kicking a tin can up the road for 54 years.
Assaly didn’t stop there, though.
It isn’t just the Leafs’ latest face plant that’s got up his nose. It’s us. You know, those of us who live in The Colonies.
“As a dark cloud of misery descended upon Leaf Nation, hockey fans outside of the GTA were taking part in a joyous display of pettiness—a schadenfreude soirée,” he wrote.
Oh my. Pettiness? Naw. Going “na, na, na, na, na” would be petty.
But we don’t do petty. Oh, sure, some of us snicker behind our hands, the way kids bust a gut when the schoolyard bully falls in a mud puddle, while others cackle in glee with gusts up to rude laughter.
The thing is, that’s part of our DNA.
Assaly doesn’t understand that most of us who work and play in The Colonies need the Leafs to cough up a giant hairball every year for comic relief, otherwise we’d have nothing to do but watch curling ice melt or, in my case on the Wet Coast, watch the rain fall.
Would he deny us our giddiness?
Besides, when you drill to the nub of the matter, it’s not so much the Leafs that we poke fun at. The issue is the ram-it-down-our-throats, 24/7 hype from TSN/Sportsnet, who believe the National Hockey League in Canada consists of the Leafs and six red-headed, freckle-faced step-children they acknowledge only when Auston Matthews isn’t grooming his cheesy upper lip whiskers.
After the Leafs stubbed their toes on Monday night, one of the talking heads on TSN, Glenn Schiiler, informed the nation that, with Matthews and Mitch Marner taking their leave, all the “best players” had been removed from the Stanley Cup tournament, as if the rosters of les Canadiens, the Winnipeg Jets and the six U.S. outfits still chasing the shinny grail are stocked with a bunch of beer-leaguers who still need mom and dad to tie their skate laces.
The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, is supposed to be a national newspaper, but its sports columnist, Cathal Kelly, has written three essays on the Leafs losing in the past week and zero on the Montreal Canadiens, who play on while the Leafs play golf.
It’s one thing for the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun to place their focus on the Leafs and declare them “Kings of the North” before the puck is dropped on the annual spring runoff, but the sports columnist at our national sheet? Wrong.
Richie Assaly and others in The ROT need to know this is why we get giddy when the Leafs soil the sheets every spring.
It’s not that we hate the Leafs. Heck, many among us in The Colonies root, root, root for them and attend games adorned in blue-and-white Leafs livery, with the names Matthews and Marner stitched on the back.
But it’s like Brussels sprouts for most of us. Our parents repeatedly told us “they’re good for you,” except we didn’t want to hear it anymore. We just wanted those little green things to disappear.
Same thing with the Leafs.
They’re gone now, so once the talking heads and our national sports columnist have gone through a suitable mourning period and remove the black armbands, we won’t be fed Brussels sprouts anymore. At least not until autumn, when we’ll be reminded once again that Matthews and Marner are the best thing since Canadian bacon, even as they forever fail to bring home the bacon.
In the meantime, the brown paper bag is once again the official gear of Maple Leafs fans/media, who are singing that same old hurtin’ song, only with a fresh twist.