The following is a fictional story based on realistic circumstances and loosely based on real events and experiences.
Monday morning, June 27, 2016.
You’re getting ready to go into the final week of your job as a grade school teacher for this year. You’re tired, because the night before you had to play men’s league Sunday nights starting at 10:30 at Willowdale Arena, in the north of the city. It’s a forty minute drive on a good day from where you live in the west end, but it’s the cheapest ice time you can find. Plus, it’s close to your work, so you know the area well enough.
There’s about twenty other leagues in the vicinity you could play in, but the guys here are pretty nice, for the most part. And plus, there’s that one guy who played a year of junior hockey – and his buddy who’s willing to play goalie for free, while every other team you know of is paying their goalies at least $20 a game for men’s league hockey. It’s not about winning, but it sure has been nice to not lose the championship game three years in a row – and those three gold medals don’t look bad either.
You pick up the newspaper from outside of your door and there’s a picture of the Leafs’ first round draft pick on the front page.
The draft was three days ago, but you figure it’s still pretty important news and deserving of being on the front page.
You flip into the sports pages and there’s the draft pick again, with two different stories about him on the front page. On the bottom fold of the page, there’s a 400 word story about the Euro soccer tournament and two pictures.
You go to page three and you find out the Blue Jays lost the afternoon before in Chicago.
You were planning on having a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon watching baseball, but missed the game because your daughter had to go to skating practice. She’s just six years old, but she’s already almost as fast as you – and she’s a goalie.
Maybe if I didn’t block that shot three years ago, I’d be faster, you mumble to yourself.
That’s pretty good. Maybe he CAN live up to that “saviour” tag I saw a few days back.
The story reminds you that it’s been three years since the Leafs have made the playoffs, and it’s been thirteen years since they’ve won a playoff series. The story also reminds you of the general manager, the head coach’s and the team president’s history winning Stanley Cups and that they’d like to win another in Toronto, but this draft pick is just one step of the process.
It’s a Monday in June after their season ended in April and starts in October, and there’s still more coverage about them than anyone else.
It’s been just over a month since the Toronto Raptors finished their best ever season, and their draft occurred only a night before the Leafs. There’s a short blurb from head coach Dwane Casey about their offseason plans on the fourth page of the sports section, and nothing about their draft.
You put the paper away and after getting your kids ready and dropping them off at school, you pass four arenas on the drive to work. You wonder what the registration fees are for their adult hockey leagues.
Not even five minutes into you getting into work, and twenty minutes before class starts, ten-year-old Jacob comes up to you. He’s the top student in your class, but he’s got a sad look on his face.
“Oh that’s okay- where are you going?”
Whitby? That’s forty minutes east of here, on good day. Why aren’t your parents putting you in the 3-on-3 league in Scarborough – or the one in downtown Toronto – or Forest Hill or the Beaches or…? Whatever, you do you, Jacob.
“Good luck, kid. Let me know how it goes.”
Lunchtime finally comes and you’re thankful you’ve got the day off from watching the schoolyard. Somehow, a bunch of your students have ended up with hockey sticks and set up a game in the courtyard. You’d hate to referee that one – no matter how hard you try, these kids can’t get a grasp that you shouldn’t be taking slap shots in a kid’s road hockey game.
“Why is everything always about Toronto?”, one commenter asks, while another argues the Leafs won’t make the playoffs for another ten seasons – at least.
There’s a comment chain arguing about the nature of Leafs fans, and how nothing will ever change in Toronto.
You debate saying to one of the commenters that comparing the current roster and management group with the old one is a bad argument, but decide it’s not worth the energy.
Jacob comes back halfway through lunchtime.
“I got this for you.”
“What’s this, Jacob?”
You thank him and go to put that hat in your bag, and you take out the newspaper again and check out the real estate section because you really want to get a good deal for your wife and two kids.
I’ll think about that later.
You call up your buddy Paul, asking if he can take your son to tonight’s hockey tryouts so you can meet up with an old friend. He says yes.
You put the Leafs hat on, and continue walking towards Canadian Tire to pick up some supplies for this weekend’s Canada Day party.
Just moments away from Canadian Tire, an older gentleman walks by, and he’s wearing the same hat you are. “Nice hat, eh?” he says.
Might as well, you think. Not everyone can afford to play.
You say yes and he agrees, but he doesn’t like the fact the Leafs lost so much last year, and blames it on Nazem Kadri’s immaturity.
Immaturity? He led the team in scoring and drew penalties and plays with passion and –
Ugh, whatever. I’ll let him win this one.
He continues and says he really likes the play of Matt Hunwick under Babcock, and he’ll be an important piece for teaching the young kids how to play.
Traffic is slow going southbound. You hear on the radio there’s a lane closure at Yonge and Wellington.
You internally debate about getting into an argument with him, but decide there’s little point and just manage a smile and get out of the cab and thank him and decide to walk the rest of the way.
“Go Leafs Go,” he says.
You get out, and walk by the Hockey Hall of Fame, located at Yonge and Wellington.
There’s something going on that’s causing the lane closure here, but you’re not really sure what. There’s a crowd of people around.
Connor McDavid’s in the middle, taking target practice and playing ball hockey with kids. There’s about 200 people around taking pictures. You realize blocking traffic for a player from another city’s team is acceptable and a regular occurrence and you have no issues with it.
You think of PK Subban’s Ice Bucket Challenge, Steven Stamkos’ road hockey events for Special Olympics Canada, or even the time Will Ferrell came through driving a Zamboni to promote one of his movies. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for Toronto, really.
You walk a little further, there’s an ad for the World Juniors with a picture of Tie Domi’s kid on it.
Or at least that’s how you’d known him for the majority of his minor hockey career, first hearing about his exploits with the Don Mills Flyers at the age of 13. You think back to the game you happened to watch where he scored six goals and you thought he was already better than his dad.
Maybe I was right.
You wonder if it’s worth the money to spend on either the World Juniors or the World Cup of Hockey, or if you should just save up and watch it at home. After all, that $200 you’d spend on tickets could probably help buy some new skates for you son.
His old ones aren’t bad, but if he’s playing up at a higher level next year, he’ll need better equipment than what he’s wearing.
You settle in at Gretzky’s, and look around for your friend. He’s talking to an older man in the corner, attracting some attention.
It’s Walter Gretzky, Wayne’s father.
The Blue Jays game is on, but no one’s really paying attention. Everyone’s glancing over at the world’s most famous hockey dad. In the middle of the inning, they cut to a McDavid press scrum. He’s doing a promotion for the World Cup of Hockey, three months before it happens.
It’s a dumb tournament, but it’ll still sell out here, you think. It always does, it’s Toronto.
After a few drinks and a handshake from Walter, you head home.
You log on to Twitter, and people are arguing that playing professional hockey in Toronto isn’t different than anything else. “You can be a legend anywhere,” they’re saying. “There’s nothing special about it and no reason why anyone would want to play there.”
As you’re lying in bed, you wonder what time you’ll have to show up for the Johnny Bower autograph signing in Scarborough on Saturday that your daughter wants to go to. You figure you’ll have to be there at least forty minutes before it starts to make sure you’ll have enough time.
The above is a fictional story based on real places, a mix of real and fake people, and is loosely based on life experiences. There are many cities in Canada and across the world where hockey is widely experienced and beloved. However, there is, and will always be, only one Toronto.