news world

Maple Leafs vibe check: How fans from Peter Mansbridge to Dart Guy are coping

One of the most recognizable voices in Canadian television history was on the other end of the phone, talking about the Maple Leafs.

“Because of the job I was in for 50 years, I worked most evenings, and so I never got to go to a game,” said Peter Mansbridge. “But I kind of watched it out of the corner of my eye inside the studio during the news. Most people thought I hated hockey because it bounced ‘The National’ around so much — and there was a degree of that — but I was still an ardent fan.”

The Leafs were, and remain, his team.

“I won’t give up on them, as long as they don’t give up on us,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what’s happening this year. I think they’re playing incredible hockey.”

Mansbridge, the long-time host of the CBC’s flagship television newscast, said he will be at Scotiabank Arena when the Leafs face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of their first-round NHL playoff series on Saturday night. He is a season-ticket holder.

“I’m old enough to know what the good times were like,” he said. “It hasn’t been a lifetime of no Cups, and no great playoff performances. I’m not buried in this, ‘Oh, my god, they haven’t done it for (18) years, they can’t get by the first round.”

Toronto has not won a playoff series since 2004 and, even more than that, the franchise has displayed a tenacious capacity for tormenting its fans. The Leafs missed the playoffs in 10 of 11 seasons from 2006-16; they lost a game to a Zamboni driver; they have been showered in waffles and were awash in a controversy known as “SaluteGate”; they blew a 4-1 lead in a Game 7 that has become cruel shorthand.

Mansbridge said he believes in the team. He has faith but admitted “I’ll be a bit nervous.”

“I think they’re two really good teams,” he said. “I just hope the better team wins in the end — the team that plays the best in the final game. I have a degree of confidence they’ll be there.”

Before the biggest game of the season, The Athletic reached out for a vibe check with 10 Leafs fans:

Steve (Dangle) Glynn, YouTube and podcast host

It was early on Friday morning and Steve Glynn sounded awful. His voice was low and coarse, raspy from the previous night. He lost it before hosting a YouTube stream for Sportsnet on Thursday night, only to get it back, then lose it again as the Leafs lost Game 6 in overtime to the Lightning.

“I am genuinely unbothered,” he said. “I said they were going to win in seven, from the beginning of this series. It almost feels destined. It had to be this way.

“And it will be sweet when it comes.”

Julia Tocheri, host, “Leafs Lunch

In April 2004, the Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. Tocheri was 6 years old that spring, playing minor hockey in Thunder Bay, Ont.: “I remember I was a winger, and I thought that meant you had to stay along the boards, and not be in the middle of the ice.”

Today, she is co-host of “Leafs Lunch,” a weekday talk show on TSN 1050, and the team has not won a playoff series since she was patrolling the wing in Northern Ontario. She can see optimism for Game 7 and hopes she can return to work next week with more to discuss than another Leafs playoff collapse.

“People are sick of hearing that narrative,” she said. “It sounds like the Leafs are also sick of hearing that narrative. My life would look really boring on Monday if the Leafs were no longer in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“It would look really boring. I don’t even want to go there.”

Waubgeshig Rice, author, “Moon of the Crusted Snow

At 43, with two young children, Waubgeshig Rice views his fandom along generational lines. Cheering for the Leafs has become part of his identity, and there is no changing that, at this point.

“To get galaxy-brain philosophical about it: It offers me an interesting perspective on life, especially in recent years,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m able to take stock of what really matters in my life, and I’m able to make more plans during the late spring without having to worry about playoff schedules.”

Rice, who is on the jury for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, is hopeful the Leafs will win Game 7, but amid the disappointment of a loss, they would also help keep the world in perspective.

“I have my health, and my kids are happy and so on,” he said. “It gives me a better outlook on life in some ways. And I guess I should be thankful to the Leafs for that.”

Raina Douris, host of NPR’s “World Cafe”

“You know when you watch a dog dreaming, and its legs are jerking around?” asked veteran Canadian radio host Raina Douris. “When I watch a Leafs game, and it’s close, my limbs are doing that. I can’t look directly at the screen during overtime.”

Douris, the niece of retired NHL forward Peter Douris, grew up in the Toronto suburb of Stouffville, but now lives in Philadelphia, where she works as host of “World Café,” on NPR. The Leafs have been one way for her to feel tethered to home.

“I didn’t realize how comforting watching the Leafs lose could be,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like it’s become a connection to home, in a weird way.”

Douris said she will be watching Game 7 at home.

“I know when they win, it’s going to be even sweeter, because they’ve lost so much,” she said. “I feel like a gambler or something, where it’s like: The more I lose, the more I believe the win is going to be better than ever.”

Dr. Brian Goldman, emergency physician

Toronto had not won a playoff series in 18 years. It frittered away a 3-1 series lead to Montreal last year, a year after losing a qualifying series to Columbus. Dr. Brian Goldman, the physician and author who is also host of “White Coat, Black Art” on CBC Radio, laughed as the list was read off to him.

“It’s almost like you’ve assembled a bed of nails,” he said, “and you’ve invited me to go jump on it.”

No matter what the Leafs do on the ice, he said he could never change his rooting interest.

“Once you’ve bonded to them, you can’t change teams any more than you can change your parents or your siblings or your children,” he said. “Once we’re bonded, we’re bonded. I can tell you I might have an intellectual rooting interest in another team, but I assure you Calgary will not become my team when the Leafs are eliminated.”

Marissa Roberto, host, Digital SportsCentre

Before the Leafs stepped onto the ice for Game 6 in Tampa, Marissa Roberto posted an Instagram video featuring her on a skateboard, smiling and sailing along under the sunshine wearing her Leafs jersey. A bit later in the evening, another video was posted under the title: “Eff.”

“Isn’t that the way it goes?” said Roberto. “This is a tale as old as time.”

Roberto, who hosts Digital SportsCentre, said she sometimes feels like she can change the vibe around the team in a small, cosmic way. She has been baking different dishes based on the cultural heritage of various players: “I was making John Tavares different Portuguese treats.”

She is planning to make biscotti for Game 7 for Jason Spezza and Mark Giordano.

“I need to somehow channel my nervous energy while the game is going on,” she said. “For the intermissions, I can’t deal, so I am trying to bake something instead. Just trying to take my feelings and channel them in a different way, instead of sitting here like a nervous wreck.”

@mrob29

Just trying to get the vibes right 🥲🤙 #leafsforever @mrob29

♬ original sound – RAPHOPCLIPS

Carlo Colaiacovo, retired NHL defenceman

When the Leafs beat the Senators in 2004, Carlo Colaiacovo was in the building, perched high amid the rafters with the rest of Toronto’s Black Aces: “I had the perfect angle for both of the Joe Nieuwendyk goals that were scored, almost with the exact same shot.”

He had a different, but no less illuminating, view for Toronto’s overtime loss in Game 6 in Tampa. The retired NHL defenceman, who is now co-host of First Up, at TSN 1050, was with 10 die-hard fans in a friend’s backyard.

As the Leafs fell behind 2-0 in the second period, Colaiacovo heard voices in the b

ackyard cursing the captain, John Tavares. He heard the tune change within minutes, after Tavares scored: “I love you, John Tavares! What a signing! Oh my god, I love this team.”

“Ultimately, it ends the way that it did, and tables are thrown, things are kicked,” said Colaiacovo. “I almost saw a TV get smashed.”

Gord Stellick, former Leafs general manager

Gord Stellick, a former Leafs GM but also a broadcaster with on-air roles at both Sportsnet 590 The FAN and Sirius XM NHL Network Radio, tries to strike a balance.

“I really like this team,” he said. “I like this team a lot.”

Stellick also understands the team’s recent history, and how it looms heading into Game 7.

“It’s just a city on edge, even if you’re just a peripheral sports fan,” he said. “Because everyone’s aware of the history. We can’t have the same ending to this play again.”

He interrupted a follow-up question: “We can’t — there’s not enough cardiologists in Toronto to handle this.”

Dart Guy, noted superfan

In April 2017, when the Leafs were in Washington for Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Capitals, a “Hockey Night in Canada” camera caught a face in the crowd. It was a man who had dyed his fulsome beard blue, with a blue leaf painted on his face and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

On social media — and then on all media — Dart Guy was born.

Jason Maskalow is not planning to paint his face for Game 7. Instead, he will gather around a bonfire at Camp Klahanie, about three hours north of Toronto, and watch the game with about a dozen friends.

“I don’t stop believing in this team, no matter how much heartache I’ve gone through,” said Maskalow. “I believe we are going to win Game 7. It has to be our time sooner or later, so why not now?”

As often as he has tried, Maskalow has not been able to quit smoking: “So there will be some darts around the bonfire.”

(Photo of Jason “Dart Guy” Maskalow from the 2017 playoffs: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button