A Toronto Maple Leafs Fan in Ottawa!
It ain't easy bleeding Toronto Maple Leafs Blue in the land of the Senators! Even though there are possibly as many fans of the Leafs and the Canadiens as there are of the local team, those who are avidly opposed to fans of any other team but the Sens are in abundant supply!
When I first moved to Ottawa in 1992, the Senators had just started playing their first season as an expansion team of the NHL. At that time, many people were quite happy and decided to become fans immediately, but the first few years that the Leafs were in the playoffs in those days, I can only remember Leafs and Habs fans in the greater Ottawa area. It wasn't until the local team started moving up the ranks and getting into the playoffs, that one would notice Senators fans even existed, here!
20 Years Later
I have been living in Ottawa for most of the last 20 years, now (with short stints in Omaha, NE and Seattle, WA), but in all of that time, I have not converted to being a fan of the Sens. A lot of people don't understand this, but it is really quite simple: I am, always have been, and always will be a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs!
I grew up in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), so I was exposed to the Leafs from an early age. Most of my friends and classmates liked the Leafs, and so I became hooked. I learned about what hockey was, how it was played, and why it was fun to watch! Players like Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler, "Tiger" Williams, Borje Salming, and Ian Turnbull were exciting and fun to watch, and contributed to a successful team during those early "Ballard Years". Even though they went downhill through the 80s to near obscurity, they came back in the 90s with more entertaining players like Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clarke, Felix Potvin and Curtis "Cujo" Joseph.
These were the years that the Senators were just forming, and I had always been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, even through my years living in North Bay, ON (where you cheer for the Leafs or the Habs, and fight with whoever cheered for the opposite team!).
As the Sens started to gain momentum, they started to gain fans, and many jumped ship to join the new team, while most new fans were simply new hockey fans because they had an active team in the NHL. Every time I would meet one of these fans, they would be sure to tell me that "Leafs suck!" or some other equally colorful colloquial phrase (I even got heckled by someone from my daughter's school last week!), and then tell me how good the Senators were.
I cannot deny the fact that the Senators have had a strong team for a while. I know, Leaf Nation, you are probably staring at the screen right now, your mouths agape, but I have always maintained that I am a hockey fan first, a Leafs fan second, and I will then cheer for any Canadian team that is playing any team other than the Leafs (yes, even the Sens, at times!). So, while the Senators and Leafs have had an active rivalry for the last decade and a bit, the rivalry between fans has been equally fun!
Been to Any Games, Lately?
I had the privilege of going to a Leafs vs. Sens game a few years ago with my then brother-in-law and his cousin - both of whom are avid Senators fans! They will take any opportunity to belittle my love of the Leafs, and to tell me how much they don't like them. I have a pretty tough skin and take it in stride; nothing anyone has ever said has really offended me.
The game that I went to wasn't during one of the great years - it really wasn't even all that good of a year for the Leafs - but the game was a sensational match! When we first got there, there were Senators fans all around us. This greatly pleased my Sens-wearing compadres who were laughing at me being the sole Leafs fan in the section. However, it turned out that a lot of them were in the wrong seats, and were soon replaced by Toronto Maple Leafs fans instead!
The game was beautifully played by both teams, and countering chants of "GO LEAFS GO" and "GO SENS GO" made for a raucous and noisy Scotiabank Place. The score went back and forth, both teams taking the lead a few times until it ended in a 6-5 win for the Leafs! It was a great game, and I loved being around so many other Leafs fans, watching them beat the local team.
It has been said, that of all of the teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs have more fans showing up to games at rival arenas than any other team. We may not always equal the numbers, but compared to any other team meeting on any local team's ice, the Leafs will have more fans in those cities than any other team. That is quite something to say!
So, being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Ottawa is not always easy, as you get heckled at every turn. When they play badly, they are jeered. When they play well they are jeered. It doesn't matter what they do, they will always be jeered by this city's fans! In spite of this, I always have been and always will be a fan of the Maple Leafs.
Have you been to any Leafs games lately? Let me know the score and the arena. I would love to hear more about their battles with other teams!