Toronto Star Wednesday, May 19, 1999
Toronto Star

Leafs Fan

Jian Ghomesi

This Leaf team is the real deal

``Canada Sucks!''

``Go home Toronto boy . . . see you in Game 7!''

Those were just a couple of the tasty taunts I faced from cocky Penguins faithful as I walked the corridors of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena after the first period of Game 6 on Monday night - wearing my Maple Leafs shirt, of course.

No major harm done, it was all in the jocular spirit of the playoffs - although I could have done without the mild beer bath I received while cheering Garry Valk's first goal a little later.

But the Pens fans were pumped, and it was somewhat excusable behaviour from a desperate and bankrupt hockey town that exhibits far less of the detestable attitude and pretension of some other American cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta or, er, Vancouver.

Besides, the Leafs had been less than spectacular in the first frame of this game (actually, they sucked). The Civic Arena was overflowing with the bold confidence of a hometown 2-0 lead.

For a split second, I began to worry that the series was in jeopardy.

For a split second, I debated the merits of impulsively driving down to Pittsburgh on one of my few days off before my band starts a major U.S. tour.

For a split second, I actually started calculating the costs of my pricey seats in meagre Canadian loonies.

Relax . . . it was only a split second.

The truth is, I'm a believer.

I mean, I'm really a believer.

Being a Leaf fan for the last 20 years has not always been an easy exercise. I've often approached my devotion to the Maple Leafs the way most humans might approach a new relationship after they've been dumped too many times - with caution and low expectations for fear of being hurt again.

Sure, I'll cheer on my fave team throughout the season, but then I'll expect to be a mere hockey fan watching other teams play in the Stanley Cup finals.

No longer. I'm really a believer. This team is the real thing.

May the Leafs be the opiate of the Toronto masses!

The fact is, my certainty is about so much more than the Leafs winning this latest series. And, at the risk of riling some misguided diehards, it's about so much more than how far our team may go in this year's playoffs. This is a team with an exciting future - that's the key.

We have a strong coaching staff and the best and most consistent goaltender since the Cup was last in Toronto. We have a brilliant young defence core led by Bryan Berard, Tomas Kaberle, Daniil Markov and Dimitri Yushkevich. And anyone who wasn't inspired by the passion of playoff rookies like Lonny Bohonos and Kevyn Adams (to name just two of Toronto's talented youthful prospects) doesn't have a pulse.

Even when the Leafs were dramatically advancing in the playoffs in '93 and '94, there was a sense of savouring our exuberance for fear that we would not have the chance again. We knew that the team we loved was getting older . . . we had to capitalize on our opportunities before it was too late. But, this is different.

I returned to my seat at the beginning of the second period on Monday and smiled at the Penguins devotees around me. I was confident that the Leafs had the heart to turn this game around.

A Pittsburgh fan of my band introduced himself and began earnestly apologizing for it being a ``sad night'' in town for me. I thanked him for his concern. I knew it wouldn't be a sad night. I know that this team can keep getting better.

I'm really a believer.

Jian Ghomeshi is a singer/songwriter with the group Moxy Fruvous.

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