Randy Carlyle – Jets Post Game.

Randy Carlyle – Jets Post Game.

Randy Carlyle

Randy Carlyle tries to explain his team’s horrible effort in a 4-2 loss in the biggest game of the season, outshot 41-24.

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Well, here we go again.  Another year, and one more year the Maple Leafs have failed to heed Elton John’s lyrical suggestion from the 70’s “Don’t go breaking my heart”. 

Once again, from a season that looked like it had promise, they have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Once again, they take it down to the wire and come up short.

Once again, I have to hunker down to the inevitable jokes and cartoons and ridicule and questions of why in heck do I persist in being a Leafs fan?

Why indeed? Because if nothing else I do persist along with the rest of Leafs Nation. As for why, I confess that I have had cause to ask myself that question a million times over the years.

I have been a Leafs fan since they won the cup 3 years in a row in the mid-sixties. Hockey was a big deal in our house growing up, with both my parents huge fans, and both hated the Leafs with a passion. But as a kid I watched them win those cups, and after school I would skate on the pond and in my imagination I would be Frank Mahovlich or Tim Horton or Bobby Baun and I would replay those Stanley Cup games with me passing to Keon for the winning goal, or vice-versa. To me, those guys were giants. I was hooked.

Switch allegiance now? I don’t think so. If nothing else, being a Leafs fan teaches resilience. I went through the Ballard years without giving up on them, and if what that bastard did to the team wasn’t enough to drive me away nothing else ever will.  But mind you they don’t make it easy. They never make it easy.

Over the years since their last cup, and admittedly it have been quite a few years, there have been a lot of ups and downs, but mostly downs.

So many “what ifs”.  The non-call when Gretzky high sticked Doug Gilmour in the face in overtime in 1993 in a game that would have sent the Leafs to the Stanley Cup final, except that Gretzky didn’t get penalized and went on to score the winner for the Los Angeles Kings. It doesn’t help that Kerry Fraser, probably the best ref ever later said it was the worst mistake he ever made.

It is admittedly rather pathetic that we Leaf fans still nurse that grudge two decades later, but it’s because we haven’t come that close since.

Then there was last year’s epic seventh game meltdown against the Boston Bruins in a series in which most thought we had no chance. Once again, close but no cigar. At least we gave them a scare.

So here we are once again in this disappointing but oh so familiar position of being on the outside looking in.

I must admit I am growing a bit tied of rebuilding years, and every season having to endure a lengthy slump, great timing on the slump this year wasn’t it, and being reduced to playing the spoiler.

Damn right it is disheartening, but for me what is worst of all is watching this team on nights where they play with such confidence and skill that they seem unbeatable. And for a moment I dare to think – “There, finally we have arrived”, only to watch the team fail to show up for a full 60 minutes the next night. It’s as if in their sadistic way they offer this taste of what could be, which inevitably turns out to be not so much a taste, as a tease.

And the tease isn’t just game-to-game, it’s year to year. Like last year it looked like they were finally building a team with swagger and to use Brian Burke’s term, truculence, a team that other teams hated to have to play. They were on the right road, but then turned course to where their identity is, well, I don’t know what it is.

But we persist as fans. I persist as a fan. I take solace where I can, like in knowing that at least we never give up, that we have heart, and at least we aren’t the Habs and noted for cheap shots and whining. At least we have more pride than that.  At least it is something.

And we believe in next year being a whole new start. And then, it will be different. You’ll see.

Never mind that Alexander Pope was an 18th century English poet, I’m quite sure he had Leafs fans in mind when he wrote “hope springs eternal”.For us, it really does. It has to.