Our series "5 Reasons I Love Hockey" features puckheads from all walks of life revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. It will run every weekday through August. Enjoy.
If you haven't visited Down Goes Brown, do yourself a favor and head over there. He's a true blue Toronto Maple Leafs fan who still holds a grudge against Kerry Fraser for his missed call in the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals on Wayne Gretzky. He was also the man behind the "Brian Burke" Twitter.
A blogger who will make you laugh no matter how much you hate the Leafs, here's Down Goes Brown and the five reasons he loves hockey.
1. I love hockey because of Maple Leaf Gardens.
DGB: As a kid, I would only get to the Gardens once or twice a year, usually when my dad would get his hands on the company tickets. We'd take the subway downtown, walk along with the massive crowd on Carlton St., and take the ridiculously long escalator ride up to our seats. As a kid I already had hockey in my blood, but breathing in the sights and sounds of Maple Leaf Gardens drilled it straight into my DNA.
I still miss Maple Leaf Gardens. I miss everything about it. I miss the cheesy scoreboard graphics and the nachos and the way the users would cheer every goal. I miss Jimmy Holmstrom's "Jump/Smoke on the Water" medley on the organ and Paul Morris' nasally monotone and Banana Joe wearing a helmet in the timekeeper's booth.
The ACC has better legroom and fresh sushi and great cellphone reception, but it has no soul. I'm glad I'm old enough to have watched the Leafs in a real arena.
2. I love hockey because Wendel Clark punched Marty McSorley in the face.
DGB: Wendel Clark's fight with Marty McSorley in the 1993 conference finals was named the Greatest Event Of The 2nd Millennium by Time Magazine. I'm almost positive I read that somewhere. I'm like 70% sure. The invention of the printing press came in second.
Now not everyone agrees on the issue of fighting. Many complain about "staged" fights and the risk of injury and no-talent enforcers who take up roster spots at the expense of more deserving players. These people are wrong, but we have to be nice to them because they all work in the media.
But no matter how you feel about fighting in general, you have to appreciate Clark vs. McSorley. If you don't stand up and cheer at the sight of a broken down captain charging in to take on a goon twice his size who just KO'd the franchise player, then there's something clinically wrong with you. It was an incredible moment.
And it was a moment that could only happen in the NHL. In the NBA there would have been ten guys playing "hold me back" and no punches landed. In MLB, we'd get to see fat guys in slippers waddling in from the bullpen.
In the NHL, Clark and McSorley dropped the gloves and settled it. God bless hockey.
3. I love hockey because Kerry Fraser choked on his whistle.
DGB: Being a hockey fan is all about the highs and lows. And only one week after the high of Clark vs. McSorley, Leaf fans got to experience the other side of the coin.Every Leaf fan vividly remembers watching game six of the 1993 conference final, and that includes small children who weren't born yet. The Leafs were down, but came back to tie the game on Wendel Clark's hat trick. Considering the stakes, Clark played arguably the greatest game any Leaf has ever played. He put the team on his injured back and dragged them towards an epic Cup final against the Habs.
And then Kerry Fraser took it all away because, faced with the toughest call of his career, he didn't have the guts to do his job.
And, in a twisted sense, that's a good thing. After all, fans of other teams always have to worry about the worst case scenario. Even when times are good, any normal fan has a nagging doubt that it could all go wrong. And then what? What would it be like to see it all fall apart?
Not Leaf fans. We know what rock bottom feels like. We've been there. Nothing you can throw at us could be as bad as Fraser's epic choke job. Nothing could hurt worse. And that's sort of liberating because after Fraser, we know we've seen the absolute worst the hockey gods are capable of.
4. I love hockey because the 1999 Leafs came out of nowhere to go to the conference finals.
DGB: The 1999 Leafs were expected to miss the playoffs for a third straight year and perhaps challenge for last place overall. Instead they lead the league in scoring by a mile and went to the final four.
In the 2002 playoffs, the Leafs roster was so broken down by injuries that half the squad was made up of AHLers and Alyn McCauley(notes) was the first-line center. On paper, they shouldn't have been able to win a game. But they won two rounds (before all the injured players came back, and they lost).In January 1992 the Leafs were a brutal team going nowhere. And then Cliff Fletcher worked out a trade with the Flames that changed everything.
And here's the beauty: the Leafs aren't special. In the NHL, this stuff happens all the time.
Every year the experts unveil their predictions for the coming season. Every year they cut-and-paste last year's standings, move a few teams up or down one spot, and call it in-depth analysis. And every year they're completely, staggeringly wrong.
Remember this time last year, when the Habs were Cup favorites, the Bruins were doormats, the Blackhawks were slowly rebuilding and the Blues were going to finish last in the West? Nobody knows anything.
The NHL isn't the NBA, where you know the home favorite is going to win even if the referees have to start taking jumpshots themselves. In the NHL, you never know. No matter how bad your team is -- and Leaf fans know a little bit about bad teams -- you still just never know.
"You never know" may not be much. But for some of us, it's all we have.
5. I love hockey because I know what the word "truculence" means.
DGB: Yes, I had to look it up in the dictionary. But now I know. And next season, the rest of the league is going to find out too.
- Wendel Clark
- Maple Leaf Gardens