My raging internal conflict: A thought piece about the Toronto Maple Leafs

Since birth, it feels like, I’ve had a noticeable disdain for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Growing up, I remember yelling at the TV chirping Leafs players from a very young age, and being just so bitter when I’d get yet another Tie Domi hockey card in the Upper Deck packs that my brothers and I would go down and buy at Johnny’s Wax Pax after getting our weekly allowance.

Despite how deep my hatred of the Leafs was, I can’t seem to pinpoint where exactly it came from. I don’t think it was from my parents, whom I don’t think have a hating bone in their bodies, nor was it from any rivalries — I didn’t really have a relationship with anyone that was based in Ontario when I was a kid.

Nor was it that they were better than my hockey team, no, far from it. From 2006–2016, they made the playoffs just once. During that same time period, my Canucks made it seven times.

And, the only time we faced each other in the playoffs in my lifetime, in ’94 before the Canucks went on to lose to the Rangers (also to lose in a Stanley Cup Finals Game 7, and, incidentally, my earliest vivid childhood memory), we beat out the Leafs in the conference finals — so it was never a jealousy thing.

In talking to other non-Ontario-bred (and non-Quebec-bred, because of the obviousness of the Habs/Leafs rivalry) Canadians, I’ve learned I definitely wasn’t alone: there just seems to be something about growing up anywhere else in Canada that inflicts this automatic distaste for the Leafs.

My hatred for the Leafs was so deeply ingrained that, even during my time in Toronto, nothing could bring me to root for them. Not even box seats at a Leafs game (#workperks) or rails (thanks, Becca!) got me to come around. Yes, I would attend games in these fantastic seats and would roar loudly when Columbus, or even the now-defunct Thrashers, scored — yes, I would cheer for pretty much anyone but Toronto.

I didn’t just like to see them fail; I relished in it. I secretly enjoyed walking by the ACC after games when the Leafs got clobbered and people-watching as the sad attendees who’d paid $200+ for their tickets slouched their way out over to Union Station. In 2013, when they brutally lost in game seven to the Bruins after blowing a 4–1 third period lead, I was thrilled, despite the fact that I called Toronto home at the time and was watching the game with a group of Leafs fans at a bustling St. Lawrence Market bar.

But since leaving Canada and moving to the US, things have felt different. Something has changed. Slowly but surely, in my 1.5 years here so far, I’ve found myself starting to stick up for the Leafs in conversations. In the race to the playoffs, this year, I found myself hoping they would come out with a higher seed.

And, in this fantastic, unexpectedly close series against the Capitals, I have found myself actively cheering for this team that I hated for so long. I still intuitively feel a pit in my stomach even just thinking about their logo and their jerseys, and the idea of sitting at the ACC and rooting for them to score just doesn’t feel right, but there’s just something ‘the-little-engine-that-could’-like about this team right now that has me on the edge of my seat hoping they’ll succeed.

Yes, maybe it’s that my Canucks are just so absolutely horrible right now that I’ve got nothing else to live for hockey-wise. Or maybe it’s the fact that a Leafs win in this series would just be such a beautiful underdog tale given the regular-season dominance of the Capitals. Maybe it’s that I live in America and the Canadian in me just so desperately wants success for my country’s teams that I’m willing to accept that success being under the purview of the Leafs. Or maybe it’s Auston Matthews and just how gorgeously he glides down the ice.

Whatever factors are playing into my newfound admiration, and however temporary it may be — on the brink of tonight’s game, I will sign off with just three words I have yet to say out loud in succession: “Go, Leafs, Go”.