Nylander

If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan, you probably know all about the saga of William Nylander. He’s a flashy skater and scorer who’s refused to sign a new contract, wanting more money than the team is willing to give him. If he doesn’t sign or get traded by 5:00 pm Eastern Time today, he sits out the rest of the season.

Thousands of words have been written about Nylander by professional sports journalists … and now it’s my turn.

I love the Leafs like I loved them in the 60’s. “Willie, come back!” sings in my soul. For the first time in years, there’s a “my team”. Part of me thinks I should always elevate my consciousness above “us versus them” but there are times when cheering on the Leafs makes me so very happy.

I remember how much I enjoyed players who spent their entire National Hockey League career with one team. There was Henri Richard in Montreal and Steve Yzerman in Detroit. I’m hoping that Willie wants to be one of those players. There’s a sense of place, of being part of a long hockey tradition, of loving the home fans and being loved right back. Willie, would you like that?

I fear that money is more important to Nylander than being a Leaf. The potential for Toronto winning the Stanley Cup multiple times in the next decade is right before our eyes. But perhaps dollar signs shine brighter. If that’s true, it makes me sad. Yes, we need enough money to get along in life, plus to have some neat experiences. But surely the difference between $8 million and $7 million a year doesn’t guarantee larger happiness. I know that hockey players retire around age 35, and they need to plan for their future after being a professional athlete. But Willie … come back.

Think of being revered by countless Torontonians and Canadians. Think of lifelong friendships with your teammates. Think about being a part of Stanley Cup history.

Please …

TFC

I’m sitting in a downtown Boston Pizza, wearing my TFC scarf.  That’s the Toronto FC soccer team for the uninitiated.  They dominated Major League Soccer (MLS) last year but tonight they’re playing Tigres, one of the best teams in Mexico, and TFC are the underdogs.  It’s two-and-a-half hours from game time.  I’m a 45-minute walk from BMO Field … and I have a ticket!

I bought my team scarf last year and I still don’t know how to wear it “right”.  Tonight I tied it in a knot around my neck and walked down the street.  It didn’t feel good but then again who cares?  So I held my fan head high as I strolled towards the stadium.  And … the knot just came undone and my adornment now hangs down from my neck.  Perfect!

Okay, I just entered BMO Field and found my seat, about 2700 stair risers up from the gate.  I’m getting high!  And my next door neighbours are a family from Mexico.  They respectfully suggest that TFC doesn’t have much of a chance.  We’ll, we’ll see about that.  The good-natured banter has already started and I’m sure I’ll have fun sitting beside them.

The Mexican fellow next door laughs a lot and so do I.  Lovely.  I like  bugging his son, a dedicated Tigres supporter.  And son laughs along with me.

Okay, it’s really cold in this open air stadium.  The wind brings the effective temperature to well below 0 degrees Celsius.  I bundle up and then bundle up some more.  How are those Mexican players coping with our Canadian deep freeze?

Tigres dominates the first ten minutes.  It seems like they have the ball all the time.  No big scoring chances though.  Both teams pass the ball magically, like it’s on a string.  The crowd leans forward, perched on the edge of our seats.  Zoom this way, zoom that way … and then it’s halftime.  0-0.

As soon as the referee blows his whistle I’m out of my seat, praying that a urinal has my name on it.  Trouble is, hundreds of other folks seem to have the same idea, unless they have a yearning for hot dogs.  The trek down the stands reminds me of the 401 at rush hour … a slow go.  And I thought it was just women who lined up at washrooms.  At least 50 guys were waiting their turn.  So much for that stereotype.  By the time I was back in my seat, the teams were five minutes into the second half.  (Sigh)

Tigres scored a gorgeous goal early in the second frame.  The folks beside were up on their feet in a shot, highfiving each other.  Being a curious type, I asked why they were so happy.  We chuckled.

All through the night, the TTC supporters behind the goal banged their drums and chanted their chants.  So exciting!  It’s how I imagine European sporting events to be.  And we amateur TFC supporters responded with “TFC, TFC, TFC!”  Lots of noise.

Jozy Altidore blasted home the tying goal later in the second half.  We stood as one, with the wave of sound no doubt reaching Niagara Falls 130 kilometres away.  My seated companions smiled (and grimaced a bit).

On and on the game went, with each side taking turns pushing the ball forward.  There were “oohs” of joy and “awws” of despair as the deadlock persisted.  And then … in the very last minute, a pass was slightly behind Jonathan Osorio.  He twisted around and nudged the ball home with his heel.  I was up.  My arms made a sky high V.  And 20,000 voices hit a note of ecstasy.  We win!

I shook hands with father and son.  Dad was still smiling.  Such a good sport.  We fans walked off into the night to our various cars, trains and streetcars, most of us with smiles plastered on our faces.  The wind had frozen us.  Sport had warmed us from the inside.  All was well.