The latest bit of institutional insecurity to come out of Ottawa has nothing to do with scandals or leadership conventions. No, it took place at the civic level of government, where the Ottawa city council passed a ban on Toronto Maple Leafs paraphernalia at Senators games in the Corel Centre. Anyone caught cheering for the (better) visiting team would be commanded, or maybe just gently chided, to make a contribution to the Ottawa Food Bank. The Leafs, being the classy organisation that they are (OK, when they’re not busy cancelling Easter Seals events), promptly made a donation to the Food Bank on behalf of their fans, clearing the way for a sea of blue and white to flood the Corel Centre during the final game of the regular season.
Of course the whole thing was in jest, and certainly for a good cause, but it shows the relative immaturity of the Sens fans, especially those in public office. The “problem” of rowdy Leafs fans taking over opposing rinks is league-wide. Logically, this stems from the days when there were only six teams in the NHL: if you liked hockey, you probably liked either the Leafs or the Canadiens, the only two teams really worth cheering for. Sure, there might have been a Bruins fan here and a Wings fan there, but Canada’s teams dominated.
Even in Montreal, the arena is split about fifty-fifty when the two teams play. I had the fortune of scoring rinkside tickets for a recent Habs-Leafs confrontation, which was perhaps the best game of hockey I’ve seen this year. (I will admit, grudgingly, that Montreal won 4-3--but the Leafs took the season series!) When I say “fortune,” I don’t mean that I stood outside the Bell Centre with my hand aloft like I was at a Phish show and sixth-row tickets found their way into my grasp. I mean that my buddy knows someone at Molson.
So that explains how I got there, wearing my Maple Leafs blue behind the Habs net, but what about the other blue shirts? Are they all adopted Montrealers, closet Leafs fans who come out only three times a year (and maybe, oh please God, in the playoffs)? Or did they all hitch down the 401 and pay triple, quadruple the price to the scalpers? It was an issue of much concern on Montreal sports radio the week before the big game: Habs fans, make sure you go to the game and crowd out, drown out those hated Torontonians! Scalpers, don’t sell to anyone not wearing red!
The reality is, of course, that while some of the fans got their seats through a “ticket speculator” (it doesn’t take much speculation to make money on this game), most of the tickets were purchased in September, on the Internet.
I know this, because I tried, from a high-speed connection in downtown T.O., to get some. The system was jammed, and when I finally got through, there were no more tickets, at least not in my price range. I was disappointed because I wanted to invite my dad down for a weekend of Schwartz’s and hockey, and what would be the point if the Leafs weren’t playing? My wife (she’s the smart one in the family) suggested I go down to the Bell Centre and try in person. I did, and I managed to pick up a pair--not side by side like two pieces of toast, but front to back like a couple of St. Catherine Street sex-show stars--for the October clash, which the Leafs won 1-0. The smoked meat was also good, naturally, and my dad went home happy.
So what’s wrong with Montrealers? No faith. Sure, once the team vaulted, magnificently, majestically even, from seventh, to--gasp--the playoffs, everybody wanted in. But hello! This is les Canadiens we’re talking about here! Shouldn’t they sell out every game, years in advance? In Toronto, unless your buddy knows someone who knows someone on Bay Street, you can’t get in, and that’s even true when the team stinks (see Harold Ballard and the 1980s). As the partisans of the CH are so fond of reminding us Leafs lovers, our team hasn’t won the cup since 1967. The Habs, meanwhile, thanks to Patrick Roy (and Kerry Fraser--no, I won’t let that die), won cups in 1986 and 1993, not to mention the 1970s dynasty.
Is it complacency? Apathy? Even in Montreal, winning the Stanley Cup has still got to be special, right? Maybe that’s it, though. Maybe in Montreal, fans are just waiting for the playoffs, or the finals even, to assert themselves. Anything less isn’t worth it. Is that it, really? But even with the arrogance that comes with Montreal’s high standards, they don’t stoop to banning Leafs jerseys in the Bell Centre. That would be an assault against a great tradition and, well, just plain stupid.
Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering, the Ottawa Senators haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1927.