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Getting Pumped For A Habs & Leafs Matchup

How does one get pumped for a game against the longtime rival Maple Leafs?

The better question might be how does one not get pumped?

As I've noted before in this space, I have several Leaf nation aquaintences who haunt my favorite coffee spot. Often we talk of our respective teams, toss some good hearted jabs, and make the odd wager and proclamation.

Much of is discussed can be categorized as comparing fans and the team's histories.

The Fifth Wheel Truck Stop is just off Highway 401, an hour east of Montreal. I know just about everyone who walks in there and sits down and most of the friendships I have were made there over the course of the last 25 years. They have a big screen TV where on Saturday nights whoever gets there first chooses that nights game.

I try to get in at 7, because by eight, if the Leafs are winning their game, they have their congregation in attendance. On nights where I've gotten first dibs, I love to teaze them by switching to the Toronto game briefly during the Habs intermision, just to check the score, and then flicking back to the french RDS telecast, which makes them nuts. Tomorrow night I suspect both will be there on time.

Habs and Leafs fans have a lot more in common with each other than either side would be ready to admit.

How can it be otherwise, considering each teams long history storied history. It's not the Leafs fans faults that the involved teams common paths went in different directions after 1967.

Canada's centennial year oddly serves as a dividing point where the Leafs went south, and the Canadiens carried on winning gloriously for another decade and some.

Getting pumped for me, is a simple matter of conversation with those who have pledged allegiance to the Leafs. On occasion, I like to sit back outside the perimeter of their Leafs centered conversations, and just listen in. They know who I am, and that I am there hearing it. Sometimes all I add is laughter.

Like Canadiens fans, Leafs supporters are a proud bunch, whose overzealousness for the game often results in the overevaluation of their team.

Habs fans, myself included, could be guilty of that notion at present, depending on whether the Canadiens current crop of talent pans out in the stretch ot not. For Leafs fans, it's all about the present. Are the Leafs playoff bound and is it right for the team to string fans along this year in terms of Stanley Cup hopes?

Those were two questions I threw into the conversation this afternoon, to get the Leafs fans divided in a hurry. I had to be their referee within minutes stating that if it isn't clear, then the answer is a resounding "No, not yet!"

With some puzzled looks aimed my way, they gathered their different opinions, and pointed a question to me.

"Well, what about the Habs, you must be pretty depressed at their chances?"

"Not really. We have a future - you guys don't. You don't draft, you retool with free agency", came the answer.

That was all it took to get them seeing red, with some white and blue.

"No future, what about all the young kids the Leafs have? We're in better shape than Montreal, for sure!"

"Oh yeah! Who exactly would that future be in Toronto?"

"Let's see. Where to start? There's Colaiacovo, Newbury, Pohl, Stajan, Jay Harrison, White, Wozniewski, Ponikarovski, Antropov.....who am I forgetting?"

"Wellwood and Steen", I offer.

"Yeah, well they've been around awhile. I thought you meant rookies and second year guys!"

"Some of the ones you listed have been there longer, and they are fringe players and stagnant talents filling out a capped out roster", I fired. "How long can you consider a player a prospect?"

"They're prospects until they are developed!"

"Hell, no!", I retorted, "Some of the players you named have had a lot of upside, but they seem to have peeked. I mean, Ponikarovski and Antropov have had the opportunity to play with Sundin, yet only manage between 15 and 20 goals a year."

"But they're good players. The Leafs proved last year they have a better future than Montreal."

Right! How's That?"

"Well we finished ahead of Montreal didn't we. What does that tell you?"

"It tells me you had an extra point for an overtime loss somewhere in the 82 games, that's all!"

"Doesn't matter how we got the point. We finished ahead. Brighter future - point taken!"

"No. ARRRGGGHHH! Listen closely here, I might be mistaken ( I could be! ), but didn't Montreal spend like the entire schedule ahead of Toronto in the standings until that final loss in the last game?"

"So what?"

"Let me put it this way. The future of the team is about the future, not what happened last year. It's about what's going to be happening. Who do the Marlies have coming up? Very little! They have a collection of who's who of other teams castaways that hardly rise above any other teams prospects. It's an amalgamation rummage sale of spent AHL'ers."

"Well then, who does Montreal have that's so great coming up?"

"I'd mention a dozen and a half names, but none of them might mean much to you if you never heard of them."

"If we never heard of them, how good can they be?, boasted one fan.

"Well that's quite a proclamation of your hockey knowledge there!" - I couldn't resist!

I must input that only two of the four gathered Leafs fans were doing most of this verbal jousting with me. The other two had the common sense not to talk up until this point, casual fans as they were. One of them was in the midst of warning one fast talker to tread carefully with me, sensing I knew better where the conversation was being taken. Or so I at least thought!

"So you say that if you never heard of them, they can't be all that good, right?"

"Not necessarily. I'm just saying that if there were good, I would surely have heard of them by now", he countered, I think!

"Okay then, what do you think of Carey Price? You've heard of him?"

"Well yeah, he was the goalie for team Canada junior, like that one before him that belongs to Toronto, whatsisname?"

"Justin Pogge?"

"That's the guy!"

"Pogge was the Marlies goalie last season, when they finished in last place!", I grinned.

"Whatever, why'd you ask about Carey Price?"

"Well you know he's starting with Montreal this year, he made the team, he's backup to Huet for now."

"I thought I read somewhere that Montreal is who he belonged to."

"You read right", I said giggling. "Do you have any idea what he's done since the WJC?"

"Not really, don't follow the Habs prospects much."

"Wait. Didn't you just say they had nobody good coming up because you never heard of any?"

"Generally speaking. If nothing stands out and I don't hear about it, I guess I draw conclusions. I don't get into it as much as you do reading and stuff."

"What, you just finished saying that if you never heard of any of them, they can't be any good!"
"Again, generally speaking."

"Well isn't that the same as saying if you don't know about something, then it basically doesn't exist as far as you're concerned."

"Touche", says one of the silent Leafs fans, "You've been painted into a corner now."

"Lookit", he says, backtracking, "you said that Montreal has a better future than Toronto and I said they don't based on who's on the team now."

"But the future isn't about now, it's about the future, as I said before."

"Yeah I know you said that."

"Yes, you brought up that Toronto finished ahead of the Habs by one point and I said that the past don't matter now. The future is about the future."

"And you started talking about prospects - like they have anything to do with right now!"

"No, you don't get what I'm getting at. I'm talking about Montreal's future being brighter than Toronto's, RIGHT NOW!"

"So you think that Carey Price, makes the Habs have a brighter future than the Leafs do right now?"

"That's not what I said, but I won't disagree on it. What I was getting at, in regards to prospects, was that based on what happened with Price and the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Habs future looks damn good. You disagree with me without even letting me get to my point."

"Which is?"

"Geez, Hamilton won the Calder Cup last year. Price was MVP of the playoffs after only playing two regular seasons games there. Hamilton is loaded with some fine prospects, while the Marlies were dead last."

"Okay, but you said that last year don't matter, the future is about the future and all that."

"You're right, I did say that! But it was in regards to...."

"See you don't even know what you're talking about!"

From here on, talk got worse before it got better, but we were just rehashing old conversations and arguments by the time the jousting was over. The fastest talker had left, and the other two had meandered away towards the door. There was only me and an oldtimer named Dick left and our conversation lasted right up to our car doors.

"Wouldn't it be great if they could still meet for the Stanley Cup", Dick pondered.

"No kidding. They can't anymore because of the conferences, but I never got to live it and see it. Leafs were close in 93...."

"Don't even get me started!"

Dick jumped in his car and drove off.

I can't wait to see who's gathered around tomorrow and how that conversation will go.

For now, it took but a 35 minute conversation to pump me up and get exited for the game.