May 3, 2013

Maple Leafs in the spring

I’ve been waiting nine years to write this column. I didn’t know it would be nine years. How could I?

Who would have imagined that the National Hockey League lockout in the 2004-05 season would have been the beginning of a near-decade-long wander in the wilderness for my tribe, my nation, my Maple Leafs.

Missing the playoffs is a tragedy known to most NHL hockey fans — the exception being the Detroit Red Wings, who hold the pro sports record of 22 straight post-season appearances.

Why, even the mighty Montreal Canadiens have failed to make it to the dance several times in the past decade, even finishing dead last the previous season (I needed to rub that in.)

But the Leafs, good Lord, the most lucrative franchise in the league, the team with the most crazed fans (he wrote, struggling out of his blue and white straight-jacket), how could such denial, such penitence, such prolonged suffering be possible?

A few years ago, a friend, thinking it a gentle tease and not knowing how it actually hurt, gave me a copy of a book titled “Why The Leafs Suck,” by veteran sports writer Al Strachan. It chronicles the woeful tale of frustration since 1967, the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup, which, naturally, is the current league record for a championship drought. (The New York Rangers were the last to have that distinction, ending a 54-year Cup-less stretch in 1994.)

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start to dream of sipping from Lord Stanley’s mug; playoffs are won one game at a time. As of this writing, the series versus the Bruins has not yet begun, and your scribe lives in the blissful ignorance of not knowing yet how badly — or well — the Leafs’ first playoff game in nine years went.

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