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Go Hockey Team

When the Toronto Maple Leafs shattered like a carbon fibre hockey stick in Game Seven against the Philadelphia Flyers, I went into a brief but intense period of mourning for my team.

Hog town, the hockey capital of the world, was denied the taste of victory once again, bringing our sad tally to 36 years without a Stanley Cup. Sadder still, after so many years, there aren’t that many people out there who can even remember what it tasted like.

And before any Canuck bandwagoneers try to claim their supremacy as a hockey town, may I remind them that this is Vancouver’s best year for attendance in team history, with only four games not selling out. Where were all these rabid face-painting, car-flag planting, Ed Jovanovski shirt-buying fans five years ago when the dollar took a nosedive and Canadian teams started to lose money? Where were they last year, which was another money-losing year for the franchise?

According to Canucks General Manager Brian Burke, a bitter, humourless man who always seems on the verge of biting the nose off the nearest sports reporter at press conferences, the team needed two post-season games this season to break even this year. To get the franchise totally back in black, hey-hey, hey-hey, it will take about 10 years of this kind of fan support.

Meanwhile, Toronto has been sold out every single night since 1963. Everyone I know in the city has a jersey or two lying around, and although history always proves otherwise, every year the fans believe that this could at last be THE YEAR.

We endured the Harold Ballard years, and his refusal to allow any Russian bloc talent to play for the Buds. We endured Wayne Gretzky’s high-stick on Dave Gilmour in the Bud’s 1993 run for Lord Stanley’s Cup. We have endured senseless trades and unfortunate injuries in the playoffs. We have endured the hate of every team and city in the NHL, and have risked our teeth cheering on the Leafs in Vancouver, Montreal and other venues where the fans can get ugly.

And we’ll do our best to endure the latest insult – the sale of team ownership to tip the balance in favour of the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan. I kid you not. A bunch of investment bankers, representing a bunch of teachers, now has majority ownership of one of the original six hockey teams.

I have no confidence in this set-up, because every good team needs a billionaire owner who’s ready to take a few losses here and there and will break the bank if that’s what it takes to make a run for the Cup. Somehow I don’t see the Pension Plan, wealthy as it is, making that kind of investment.

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