Hockey Worth Watching


The 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs, Stanley Cup champions.

BY JOSEPH GURR


A correction is in order when I ask Polly Klein if she can recall when she first became a fan of Toronto’s hockey team. “Actually, and I hate to be this person...but it’s not Maple Leaves, it’s actually just Leafs, with an ‘f,’” she tells me. At this point, it occurs to me that I have never actually read the team’s full name written out, only heard it spoken, which I admit. Polly, with a laugh, assures me that it is okay; she really only gets mad when her father, an avid Rangers fan, makes the same mistake. “He knows better,” she says. “He’s just bitter.” A sophomore at GW studying English, Polly is a lifelong baseball fan and frequent guest on my weekly sports radio show. She traces the origin of her interest in hockey to a few months ago. “When the baseball season ends every year, it just feels like I'm missing something, you know?” So, this year, she decided to seek out another sport into which she could invest herself in the same way; the timing of the hockey season worked out perfectly, and appealed to her more than basketball. But why does Polly Klein, a New York City native with no connection to Toronto, feel such a connection to the Maple Leafs? “I guess it’d make more sense if I were a Rangers fan,” she says, “but I watched them play, and frankly, they’re garbage. I’m not trying to be a part of that. So I started shopping around for teams, and none of them really clicked, until I saw the Leafs—they really just resonated with me.” Part of this has to do with how they behave on the ice. Hockey is an indisputably violent sport - if we mapped sports on a spectrum, it would fall somewhere between lacrosse and American football. No player could make it to the NHL and entirely avoid participating in this violence, but its instigation, on a strategic or personal level, was entirely unappealing to Polly. “You watch a team like the [Las Vegas] Golden Knights, right, or even the [Washington] Capitals, they’ll get into fights when they don’t need to,” she explains. “The Leafs felt different, less petty somehow.” In terms of strategy, this doesn’t always work to their advantage, as Polly readily admits. The team’s stars are young, small, and fast, and the offense has no trouble racking up points, but their brand of subtlety is not quite advantageous. As Polly puts it, they have trouble with the “intimidation factor” that other teams wield so decisively. Toronto last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. Since then, they haven’t been able to punch their ticket to the Cup, a 51-year championship drought (not including the ‘04-05 lockout and the current COVID-19-postponed season) that is the longest in the NHL. I asked Polly if she thinks they can be champions any time soon. “Champions? That’s an interesting way to put it!” she replies. “Maybe. If they wanted it bad enough, I think they could do it. But I think they have different priorities right now.” The Leafs, in Polly’s view, do not have the same cynical goals as other teams, and this is the very thing that makes them her team. “They play the kind of hockey I want to watch,” she says. “That’s all I care about.”

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