What If The Toronto Maple Leafs Won?
I wasn’t yet old enough to drive the first time the Toronto Blue Jays won a World Series. I was the second time they won it. My friends and I used my newly acquired licenses and my father’s pickup truck to celebrate in style. It was a chance to cheer for something together. Not just me and my friends, but the entire city.
The Toronto Maple Leafs won a lot of games around that time too. They made it to two Conference Finals in a row, but never the Stanley Cup Final. As a young fan, I thought winning in Toronto was the norm — that Toronto would always be relevant in the sporting world. For more than two decades that wasn’t the case, but over the past few years, Toronto has been slowly creeping back into sports relevance. The latest success being the Toronto Raptors winning the 2019 NBA Championship.
When and If Toronto Wins
The Raptors brought the first major sports championship to Toronto in 26 years, and only the third since the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. After Game 6, the city released years of frustration, loudly and proudly. The Raptors have seen days of woe over the years which contributed to the desperate hunger for a championship in this city, but nothing like Maple Leafs fans hold claim to.
Toronto celebrated this weekend as any world-class city would. The Raptors have their own, unique fan base that blends with the fan bases of many other Toronto clubs. It was enough to fill the streets of Toronto with overnight celebrations, but that jubilation would pale in comparison to what this city would experience if the Maple Leafs win a Stanley Cup.
Three Championships Since the Last Stanley Cup
I watched the 1992 Blue Jays win in my living room with my parents. I went to many ball games with my father. Baseball was ever present in our house. It was a good year. In 1993, I watched the final game from a friend’s house. Thinking back I would have rather watched them win in 1993 with my parents as well, but teenagers have their own priorities.
I watched the Raptors win their first championship at home with my three-year-old son who was as excited as I was that late night. He wasn’t excited for the Raptors, he was excited to see me cheering. He fed off my excitement as I flutily explained some of the finer points of the game to him. I thought about going somewhere public to watch the game with hordes of other fans. It was just easier to watch the game in the comfort of my own home, even if I would only be watching it with a child that’s far more interested in Paw Patrol than any sporting event. It’s not like it was the Maple Leafs in a championship game.
In no way do I mean to lessen the Raptors victory. This victory is one of the greatest moments in Toronto sports history. Yet for many sports fans in Toronto, the Maple Leafs are their first love. For many others, the Raptors hold that claim. The Raptors may also have a better stranglehold on the younger generation in Toronto. You would have to be in your fifties to have memories of the Blue Jays first game. Many more remember the Raptors first season.
There are young Maple Leafs fans of course. It’s just harder to win over a fan base when the team you expect them to cheer for is horrendous both on and off the ice. I, at least, remember competitive years and one missed high stick call away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Montreal Canadiens. Yet just like the Raptors suddenly had millions of extra fans come out of the woodwork over the past few weeks, the Maple Leafs would suddenly have millions of extra fans should they make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
As a sports fan, I watch pretty much any Toronto sports team. On top of the three major sports championships Toronto has seen in my lifetime, there have been a host of other championships brought to the city. The Toronto Argos, the Toronto Rock, Toronto FC and the Toronto Marlies have all won over the years. I would trade all of them, the two World Series victories, and yes even an NBA Championship for a Stanley Cup parade in Toronto. I don’t think I would have to travel far to find the next sports fan willing to make the same trade.
Toronto Is A Hockey Town First
Toronto is a hockey town first. Despite the multitude of difficult years, the inability for the majority of fans to get tickets to games and despite the torrid distaste from much of the hockey world, Toronto fans are loyal and hungry. The streets would pack again if the Maple Leafs won a championship. It would be similar to last Thursday night in Toronto. There would just be more of it. Much more.
Kawhi Leonard made one of the most dramatic shots in NBA history against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 to move the Raptors to the Conference Final against the Milwaukee Bucks. That shot has its place in Toronto sports lore along with Joe Carter’s magical home run. Leonard’s image is all over Toronto now — painted on the sides of buildings. Imagine John Tavares scoring an overtime goal in Game 7 to put the Maple Leafs into the Conference Final. Or Mitch Marner making one of his dandy passes for an easy tap in to give the Maple Leafs the lead in a series-clinching game. Doug Gilmour has one of those types of goals. Curtis Joseph remembers it. Everyone over the age of 30 in Toronto remembers it too.
The Maple Leafs have a great hockey team. They have a great management group that’s doing all the right things. They have a great fan base supporting them and great players to cheer for. The only thing they’re missing is being great, but that will come. Every year they get a little closer. If the St. Louis Blues proved anything this year it’s what we already knew all along. The NHL is not a super team league. Everyone has a chance to win. If they have the right mix of players and enough will to be great.
Toronto is proving itself to be a winner. The NBA is a super team league and the Raptors won anyway despite not being one of the heavy favourites. Maybe next year will be the year we can finally say the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup. They’re rolling downhill now. They’ll have their chances, probably a lot of them. When it happens, this city will go crazy. The Raptors have shown a whole new generation what it’s like to win. That desire to win doesn’t get satisfied, it just intensifies. The Maple Leafs turn is coming.
When That Day Comes
I fully enjoyed watching the Raptors win with just my youngest son beside me. I wouldn’t trade that memory for the world, but if the Maple Leafs get to the same place there will be no bedtimes for anyone. It will be too monumental for that. I expect to be in the same place I was in 1992, my parents’ house, with my father who made me the sports fan I am today. Three generations of Maple Leafs fans hoping for something that for some cities only happens once in a generation. What a great Father’s Day that would be.
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