So here we are, thirty minutes from Game Seven in the hockey playoff between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens … and I don’t care. How can this be?
I grew up in Toronto. I convinced my parents to let me listen to the first period of Leafs’ games while having my obligatory Saturday night bath. Back then only the second and third periods were televised. I attended four Stanley Cup parades (celebrating the league champions) and watched the players raise the Cup on the steps of Toronto’s City Hall. 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967. I was there.
A few years ago, I was excited by the dynamic play of a 19-year-old Leafs player – Mitch Marner – and dreamt of a fifth parade. I followed the rises and falls of the Leafs’ season. Once more, they didn’t win a playoff series. The last was in 2004. Tonight may change things.
And I don’t care. Why has hockey faded from my life? Is it the reality of Covid, where hockey games are played in mammoth arenas with no fans? Is it because my sporting passion has travelled to tennis? I don’t know.
Right now, “O Canada” is being sung by Martina Ortiz-Luis. She has a lovely voice. For the first time in a year, there are fans in Scotiabank Arena. Alas, just 600 of them.
Now the game has started. The blue-and-white are rushing up the ice, pressing the red-and-white. I’m trying to decide if the crowd noise is real or recorded. Can a few hundred people make that much noise?
I’m watching. The skating up and down the ice is pretty continuous – very few referee whistles to stop the play. But no thrill is rising in me. The players skate really fast … but I’m not enthralled. Now here’s William Nylander dancing through the offensive zone, evading opponent after opponent. That’s nice.
How strange this is. Where did my love of the Leafs go? Is it a bad thing? Would I be a disappointment to all true Canadians? Should I “gird my lions” and start cheering?
No. On this potentially historic night in Toronto hockey history, I’m switching the TV to tennis. Without a touch of embarrassment or deficiency. I hope to see Roger Federer being his classic self. I hope you understand.