If it wasn’t for my love of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I would not be writing this article, since neither am I studying journalism at U of T, nor am I pursuing a career in sports media. I was raised to be a Leafs fan. Growing up, Leafs hockey was always on TV. And whether it has been in the form of watching the playoffs or playing the NHL video games, I’ve breathed Leafs hockey my entire life, even when they’ve given me so many reasons not to.
It all started in 2007. I got the chance to go to my first game ever! The Leafs won 4–2 against a young Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins! It was one of the two times that I got to watch Mats Sundin in person, someone who — along with Joe Thornton — got me to fall in love with hockey.
Little did my five-year-old self know, that would be the last time I would see the Leafs win in person until 2013. I have been lucky enough to go to one game a year growing up and experience some incredible moments, but none have been bigger and greater than the 2014 Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Despite the fact that I’m a huge Leafs fan, I grew up in one of the darkest times in the franchise’s history. The Leafs didn’t make the playoffs in my time of watching hockey until 2013. And even in 2013, they blew a 4–1 lead in game seven to the Boston Bruins.
That was the beginning of one of the worst three-year periods in franchise’s history. Management gave the team more credit than it deserved and scapegoated James Reimer after the Boston series. Then, during Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf’s years, the Leafs became a laughing stock. There was always some sort of controversy between the players and the media. Disappointed and enraged, fans started throwing jerseys and waffles on the ice and wearing paper bags over their heads. It was embarrassing.
In 2016 — much in line with their reputation as the laughing stock of the NHL — the Leafs finished in last place. However, this boosted their draft rankings. As a reward, we have gotten to watch Auston Matthews in blue and white on a nightly basis. Subsequently, the 2016–2017 season was the first time in my life that it was a good time to be a Leafs fan. There was a youth movement, and we saw a glimpse of what was coming when Matthews scored four goals in his NHL debut against the then-first place Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. Although the Leafs lost the game, Leafs Nation had the optimism that Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, and William Nylander would one day end the Leafs Stanley Cup drought.
There were a lot of highs after that magical 2016–2017 season. Matthews and Marner had blossomed into superstars. John Tavares got to live his childhood dream and signed with the Leafs, and veterans like Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Joe Thornton took hometown discounts to try and win a championship in Toronto.
Unfortunately, though, every year was the same result — a first-round exit. It didn’t matter whether the Leafs faced their ‘boogeyman,’ the Boston Bruins, or had a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens, the seasons always ended in disappointment. And yet, every October, I’d sit on my couch and — just like Michael Scott — I was ready to get hurt again.
There’s, however, a different kind of passion in the air with the Leafs in 2022. Despite their performance this season or the seasons to come next, I will always be a Leafs fan.