I vowed I would never allow myself to discuss Donald Trump in my column – or anywhere else for that matter.
Even if he does own a bunch of golf courses.
But now that he’s messing around in the sports world, like he’s been messing around in just about everything else, I can’t help myself. I’ve got to get my two cents worth off my chest.
I just wish I didn’t have to do it at this wonderful time of the year when baseball playoffs are underway, football is into its early weeks, and another hockey season opens. Especially now, when I’m so optimistic that good will come for my Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here we are with the president of the world’s most powerful country tackling NFL players and owners, fouling NBA participants and – heaven forbid – dragging our own Sidney Crosby into muddy waters.
Ouch, ouch and ouch.
I’m disgusted and nauseated that the whole bloody mess has spread to football fields, to basketball courts and, to a lesser degree – so far – to ice surfaces.
Crosby, the best hockey player on the globe the past few years, has been a marvellous ambassador throughout his career, more willing to help others than to abuse anyone. He didn’t want to cause an uproar over whether his Pittsburgh Penguins should or should not visit the White House. Sadly, because of Trump, it’s happened. It’s unfair, it’s unnecessary and it’s likely to cause backlash for too long.
I’ll leave it at that.
I just want to get on with my intended plans to admit I’m happier than I’ve been in many years with the positive vibes emanating from Air Canada Centre. The Leafs, I predict, are back.
It’s been tough.
For 50 years – five entire decades – the blue and white never got a smell of the Stanley Cup.
Happily, though, I’ve been able to look back even further than those 50 years and recall the good times – when the Leafs won four Stanley Cup championships in five years between 1947 and 1951, and captured four more in six seasons in the 1960s.
Yes, since I pulled on a Leafs jersey for the first time as an eight-year-old, that team in Toronto has collected eight cups. Only the Montreal Canadiens have done better – and they haven’t won for 24 seasons.
I can’t forget the glory of the ’60s.
Three times I was fortunate to be at the deciding games – and in the Leafs dressing room for the celebrations afterwards. That was in 1963, 1964 and 1967.
I’ve frequently been asked which of the three cups I enjoyed the most, games I got to while scouting for Toronto. All three occasions created life-long memories.
In 1963, the Leafs were defending the championship they won the previous season. They were facing the Detroit Red Wings and leading the finals when I checked into Maple Leaf Gardens for the last contest. The atmosphere was tremendous, and the crowd was optimistic that it would be the franchise’s first cup win on Toronto ice since Bill Barilko’s famous goal 12 years earlier.
The Leafs won, setting off a celebration like I had never witnessed before. The post-game partying in the dressing room convinced me I wasn’t dreaming. And that was real champagne flying through the air, soaking us all.
I was back the next April, for what was another Leafs-Wings battle. This time I was in Detroit for game six, Toronto trailing 3-2 in victories when I picked up my media credentials. The Leafs needed a win to move the action back home. That night provided heroics never to be forgotten.
The game was deadlocked in the third period when Toronto apparently lost defence star Bobby Baun. He had to be carried off on a stretcher with what was quickly diagnosed as a broken leg.
The game went to overtime.
When the clubs returned, even veteran reporters were in disbelief. Baun was out there with his mates. Not only that, he scored the winning goal on that broken leg.
It was back to the Gardens for game seven.
The drama seemed just as powerful as it had been 12 months previous. Both teams were hopeful of success. But it didn’t take the Leafs long to demonstrate that Baun’s goal two nights earlier wasn’t in vain. Playing some great hockey, the hometown heroes prevailed with a shutout.
The Leafs were back-to-back-to-back champions.
After Montreal won titles in 1965 and ’66, I got another chance to watch the Leafs win it all. It was 1967, Canada’s centennial year, and I was in Maple Leaf Gardens for game six in a classic Toronto-Montreal struggle. The Leafs took it again. Another time to celebrate, another time to party.
One thing about the three occasions – I saw a lot of very fine players wearing the blue and white. If you’re too young, those were the days of Mahovlich, Keon, Pulford, Horton and Bower, an era, for me at least, as great as the earlier one when fellows named Apps, Kennedy, Bentley, Barilko and Broda led the way.
The last 50 years?
Don’t feel sorry for folks like me who have worshipped the Leafs through that long, long drought. There have been some super players on the roster, guys named Henderson, Sittler, Gilmour, Sundin and Salming to pick a few. There was always a thread of hope.
Now, after waiting so long for “next year,” the sun may be rising again over hockey’s capital.
New names – all with promise – are emerging. Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Kapanen thrilled us as rookies. Now they’re showing signs of quick maturity, surrounded by familiar veterans like Marleau, van Riemsdyk, Kadri and Bozak.
As Leafs fans, we can look to the future – maybe even to 2017-18 – with optimism that we may once again have moments to remember.
Even if Trump butts in.