Human Side of Covering Leafs Rarely Pleasant

By HOWARD BERGER

TAMPA (Mar. 15) – Looking at the strained faces during the Leafs morning skate today at Tampa Bay Times Forum got me thinking about the unpleasant aspect of this otherwise-enviable vocation. I can – and will – only speak for myself here, though I’m convinced a number of my colleagues in the media have a sympathetic nature. As such, it is hardly rewarding to be in a position where criticism is vital in all that is said and written.

With Leafs enduring one of the most spectacular, late-season implosions in their history, writers and broadcasters that regularly follow the team are coming up with new theories and ideas every day. Such is the nature of this job not to sit idly at any time – but particularly when the Leafs enormous fan-base has taken yet another whomp to the solar-plexus. The longer the Leafs go without a) making the playoffs, and b) appearing in the Stanley Cup final, the more difficult it is going to be for fans, players, management and ownership.

That doesn’t make for a particularly enjoyable routine.

COACH RANDY CARLYLE OFFERS INSTRUCTION TO HIS PLAYERS DURING MORNING SKATE TODAY AT THE TAMPA BAY TIMES FORUM. LEAFS AND LIGHTNING FACE OFF TONIGHT AT 7:30.

Brian Burke and Rob Ford are, without question, the two most-tormented public figures in Toronto right now. Neither signed up for an anonymous function; Ford, as a politician, may never feel appreciated while Burke encompasses either end of the spectrum – with almost no middle ground. At the moment, he is perceived by many as a loud-mouthed dolt. Were he to build a championship-caliber hockey team, civil honours; a bronze statue and the eternal devotion of every Leafs fan would be his. He knows that, and I’d imagine it enables him to endure the four-cornered attacks.

Burke and I passed one another in the dressing room corridor of BankAtlantic Center the other night, moments after the Leafs 5-2 loss to Florida. If “death-warmed-over” were a dictionary term, his photo would appear next to it. Brian is only three years older than me but he looks no different – at the moment – than my 78-year-old father. The strain of the Leaf collapse combined with his non-stop schedule and – undoubtedly – the pervasive, never-ending grief from losing his son, Brendan, just more than two years ago, is not a healthy combination. Though I strongly preface this comment with “God forbid”, he looks like a heart-attack waiting to happen.

My hope, clearly, is that Brian is finding time to take care of himself. He’s got a wonderful partner in wife, Jennifer, and many close friends. But, I’d be surprised if he isn’t feeling much like the only man on Earth these days.

Burke doesn’t say much to me. I’ve always felt that if he were to rank 50 reporters in the realm of significance, I’d be somehere around 45… on a good day. That said, I don’t believe we have a strained relationship. He was among the first to call when I was let go at The Fan-590 last June… and I choose to believe he didn’t make that call out of exhilaration. Neither do I gain any pleasure from his current plight, and I’m not convinced – like many others – that he’s incapable of reversing the latest slide. Nor would I be bothered by one-tenth of his salary. Still, it isn’t my nature to revel in someone else’s misfortune. Those that feel poorly about themselves do enjoy watching others fail; it’s a wide-spread and lamentable trait in our society. Others, mostly happy and content, as I am, don’t feel the same urge.

So, covering the Leafs with a critical eye is a double-edged sword – necessary to convey honesty and maintain credibility; often distasteful when noticing how it effects those involved.

As the saying goes: “It’s just part of the job.”

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Many of the strained faces I refer to were on the ice here in Tampa this morning. My photo-review, now, of another gorgeous day on the Gulf Coast and the Leafs day-of-game skate: 

WEDNESDAY-NIGHT DUSK HERE IN TAMPA (ABOVE) WAS A PRETTY SIGHT.

HOME OF THE LIGHTNING SINCE 1996, THE DOWNTOWN ARENA HERE (ABOVE AND BELOW) WAS RE-NAMED THIS SEASON WHEN THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES NEWSPAPER BECAME THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

LUKE SCHENN, ON ALL FOURS (ABOVE), GABS WITH FELLOW DEFENSEMAN JAKE GARDINER MOMENTS BEFORE TODAY’S WORKOUT BEGAN.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF THE LIGHTNING – ALSO THE FINAL NHL SEASON BEFORE THE LOCKOUT – IS LIBERALLY COMMEMORATED ABOVE ONE END OF THE ICE.

     

VISITING REPORTERS HERE SIT AT THE TABLES ATOP SEC. 314 IN THE ABOVE PHOTO.

AMONG THE FEW HOLDOVERS FROM THE 2004 STANLEY CUP TEAM – MARTIN ST. LOUIS – IS FEATURED ON A MURAL NEXT TO THE PRESS BOX, IN THE CORNER SEATS.

JAMES REIMER, TONIGHT’S STARTING GOALIE FOR LEAFS, WATCHES SKATE (ABOVE) NEXT TO ASSISTANT COACH GREG CRONIN.

LEAFS AT WORK THIS MORNING. CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER-RIGHT: PHIL KESSEL SMILES IN BACK OF TEAMMATE TYLER BOZAK; KESSEL ACCEPTS A PASS WITH CRONIN ON HIS TAIL; RANDY CARLYLE TALKS AT BENCH WITH EQUIPMDNT MANAGER BRIAN PAPINEAU; DAVID STECKEL AND CARTER ASHTON LOOK ON FROM CENTRE-ICE.

CARLYLE WATCHES SKATE FROM FAR BOARDS ABOVE-LEFT) AND THEN OFFERS SOME PERSONAL INSTRUCTION TO GARDINER, THE ROOKIE DEFENSEMAN.

POOPED AFTER A TOUGH SKATING DRILL (ABOVE), THE PLAYERS HEED CARLYLE’S SHOUT OF “WATER TIME” (BELOW).

CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER-LEFT: JOEY CRABB PARTAKES IN A “SCREENING” DRILL; REIMER REFRESHES ALONG THE BOARDS; MATT LOMBARDI, BLACK-EYED JAY ROSEHILL AND GOALTENDING CONSULTANT FRANCOIS ALLAIRE LOOK ON FROM CENTRE-ICE; CARLYLE GATHERS THE TEAM AT FAR BOARDS FOR FINAL INSTRUCTIONS.

CARLYLE (ABOVE), IN HIS ADDRESS TO THE TROOPS.

MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI SIGNS LEAF JERSEY FOR A FAN ON WAY TO DRESSING ROOM (ABOVE) AND THEN DELIGHTS ANOTHER FAN (BELOW) BY HANDING HER ONE OF HIS HOCKEY STICKS.

“SAMANTHA” HOLDS GRABOVSKI SOUVENIR (ABOVE-LEFT). AND, NO, THE TAMPA MARRIOTT-WATERSIDE WAS NOT COLLAPSING TO THE RIGHT… IT WAS SIMPLY MY CAMERA-ANGLE. 

 

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