The Toronto Maple Leafs have blasted out of the blocks like world-beaters -- currently sporting a sparkling 6-1 record whilst sitting alluringly atop the National Hockey League's Atlantic Division -- and Leaf fans are naturally feeling all the appropriate emotions of supporters of a squad that's really on a roll. That is anxiousness, apprehension, fear, dread and paranoia.
Actually, there are two types of people in Leaf Nation: those who plot Stanley Cup parades whenever the Blue and White tear off on a one-game-winning streak, and those who are certain that any success upon which the team may stumble is merely a mirage, soon to disappear in a puff of foul smoke.
It's the latter group that has been bringing tears of laughter to my eyes during this current stretch of good fortune. Their team has started the current campaign with a fab flourish, and to these guys it nonetheless remains all doom and gloom. Whereas the fans once flocked to the Air Canada Centre (and Maple Leaf Gardens before it) with brown bags over their heads, the level of anxiousness fans are now experiencing -- what with the team actually winning and all -- is such that one imagines them flocking to the arena wearing... diapers. Just in case. You know: just in case the team (gasp) wins again. Horror of horrors.
Ah, only in Toronto would the fans look at a stellar start as a cause for concern, something over which to fret -- chew fingernails down to the quick and strip hangnails to the second knuckle. Negativity, it seems, is a natural byproduct of being repeatedly burned, and insecurity emanates from innumerable years of unfathomable ineptitude.
Fear not, Leafs fans, I'm not about to regurgitate -- as is so often regurgitated by know-it-alls in bars and blowhards in the media -- the team's ignominious, post-1967 history. Suffice to say, for years my father called the Leafs, appropriately enough: "The Greatest Comedy On Television." Of course, there's a fine line between comedy and tragedy that my father, who was so not a Leaf fan, was unwilling to acknowledge.
Tragedy, comedy, who cares? Certainly not Leafs followers who have bigger fish to fry. Like, say, the goaltending controversy that has the underpants of all Toronto Sports Talk Radio callers twisted in knots. The controversy? The team has two young goalies (Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer) who are both playing very, very well. Keeping the team in games, standing on their heads and making highlight-reel saves. And obviously that's a very, very bad thing...
I turn on the aforementioned Sports Talk Radio in Toronto. I hear the squawking. The offense sucks. The defense sucks. The special teams suck. The coach and his staff surely suck. Management, yep, they suck. And the guy driving the Zamboni, yeah, that dude sucks, too.
Listen: The team ain't perfect. No team is... Alas, to quote Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul: "It's not like we can be too upset with 6-1. It goes both ways. You don't want to come in and say we're playing perfect hockey because we know we're not, but 6-1 is 6-1..."
The Leafs are at home tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes and then on Saturday they get a true test of where they're at in the BPPO (Big Picture Pecking Order) when they travel to Chicago to face-off against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks. Heaven help them -- or, at least, heaven help the fan base -- should they win. Parades will surely be plotted and diapers donned.
Regardless, Toronto hockey fans, you already have cause for celebration: your suddenly laudable Leafs are no longer the league's laughs.