By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 25) — That was no Freudian slip by Mike Babcock.
When the new and incomparably moneyed coach–in–town called the Toronto Maple Leafs “Canada’s team” at his inaugural media gathering on Thursday, you could hear teeth grinding and knives sharpening from coast to coast. It was the old equivalent — figuratively — of waving the red cape in front of a bull; of walking a batter with first base open and the opposition’s slugger on deck. Babcock pulled the pin and lobbed a collective grenade at Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Not accidentally, either. One can hardly perceive what lays in store once he arrives in these comparative hamlets next season.
Keep in mind, however, that Babcock is not the least–bit unfamiliar with the country that stood across a narrow slice of water from his National Hockey League home the past ten years. He was born near Montreal and grew up in Saskatoon. He also had this coaching gig, you might recall, in February 2010 and February 2014 that granted him Prime Ministerial authority to comment on the national game in our land.
So, of course, Mike was correct. Why else would fans in the other Canadian cities be throwing conniption–fits?
The Maple Leafs are Canada’s hockey team and always have been — for more than a decade now, a remarkably inept hockey team, but our’s nonetheless. When you look at the Canadian flag, what do you see? Not the Peace Tower; not grain elevators; ten–gallon hats, moose droppings, beaver–tails or stacks of lumber. You see a maple leaf. Red rather than blue, but still a leaf. Our political fore–fathers knew precisely what they were doing in 1965 when the symbol of Canada replaced the Union Jack. At the time, the NHL was comprised of six teams, only two of which — Toronto and Montreal — were located north of the 49th. The flag politicos on Parliament Hill neither recommended nor sanctioned the ‘C’ and ‘H’ of “Club de hockey Canadien.” They put a maple leaf on the damned thing and ran it up a pole. What’s the secret here?
Have you ever been to a game in Canada in which the Maple Leafs are allegedly the “visiting” team? Have you noticed the maddening predominance of blue–and–white jerseys in most sections of the arena; that the din created when the “visitors” score a goal is equal to (and often greater than) the noise which greets a “home” tally? Or that your futile jeering can never, ever overwhelm the chants of “Go Leafs Go?”
Furthermore, do you realize how appallingly bad the Leafs were this season? Eleven wins in their last 51 games to finish 27th in the NHL standings? Answer me this, western Canadians: How could Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg go winless at the Air Canada Centre — an overtime loss by the Jets in February preventing a clean sweep of points? It matters not that Canada’s team went 0–for–4 while visiting your cities; the Leafs would have lost on Mars after mid–December.
Heck, I’m thinking that Brendan Shanahan ought to go all the way and change the Leafs colors to red and white. Our national anthem — when played at Maple Leaf road games — should be: O Tor–on–to; our home and native land; true hockey love; in all our sons command.
I mean, why fool the nation any longer?
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