Everybody is going to be watching Game 7 tonight in Boston. This is because it features Canada’s team.
The Leafs aren’t Canada’s team simply because they’re the only Canadian team left in the playoffs and Canada’s Stanley Cup hopes rest on their shoulders. The Leafs are Canada’s team because everyone cares about them. Everyone.
This is a debate we have every year when there’s only one Canadian team left. When the Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, Oilers fans liked to refer to themselves as Canada’s team. They were a shocking an endearing underdog who perfectly represented Canada. But Flames fans didn’t feel that way. Oilers fans also didn’t feel that way when the Flames went to the Final in a similar underdog Cinderella run a couple of years earlier.
There was also Ottawa in 2007, Vancouver in 2011, and Winnipeg in 2018 who went on extended playoff runs. None of those teams perfectly embodied the advent of being Canada’s team quite like the Leafs do. There just wasn’t the same focus of conversation around those teams like there is with the Leafs right now.
No other team can get Canadians fired up quite as the Leafs do. Either you love them or you hate them. There really isn’t much of a middle ground here. Flames fans may have felt strongly about the Oilers losing in 2006 and Oilers fans might have felt strongly about the Flames losing in 2004, but neither run had as much passion around the entire country as a Leafs run would.
As I said, everyone cares about the Leafs. Everyone.
I personally hate the idea of Canadians having to feel entitled to jumping on the bandwagon of other Canadian teams when their favourite team is knocked out of the playoffs. An Oilers fan earns no validation if the Canucks win the Stanley Cup in 2011. The only drought Oilers fans are worried about is the one they’ve had since their glory days, not the one Canada has had since Montreal won back in 1993.
So when I say Canada’s team is the Leafs, I don’t mean everyone out there is cheering for them to break this Canadian team Stanley Cup curse. On the contrary. The Leafs are Canada’s team because they’re the most disliked Canadian team. And it isn’t close.
Senators and Habs fans obviously hate the Leafs. It’s your standard geographical rival with Ottawa and your standard historical rival with Montreal. Oilers and Flames fans hate the Leafs because of the Alberta vs Ontario political divide. Jets fans have even created a beef over the Matthews vs Laine thing. Canucks fans have worked their way into this whole thing too despite the cities being an entire continent away from each other.
The reason the Leafs are Canada’s team is because they’re the one team everyone has an opinion on. They’re the team that brings everyone together. They unite Canada in hatred against the team, a desire to see the dreams squashed of this loud, cocky fanbase that fills all six other buildings in the country when the team visits, and a massive Stanley Cup drought that makes all other fanbases feel better about their own teams extended another year.
And Leafs fans love it. Leafs fans love being public enemy number one. The Toronto vs Everybody mentality that exists in both Raptors and Blue Jays fandom is ultimately manifested from a deep seeded feeling that everyone hates Toronto because of the Leafs.
If it was Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, or Montreal in this spot, some people would care, but many would be apathetic. But since it’s Toronto, everyone cares. Everyone has thoughts on the Leafs and everyone is paying attention. They’re the team that unites the whole country. That’s what makes them Canada’s team.