All The Yonge Dudes

And Lawn Chairs…

Opening week was a mixed bag for the PuckBuddys correspondents. Your humble editors just returned from a watch party at their local watering hole, Nellie’s. Mike “Game Over” Green came up huge with an OTGWG during a 5v3 PP, downing the filthy Carolina Canes and their resident irritants, Eric “We breed like rabbits” Staal and Jeff  Calder Skinner Bieber. Our Russian overlords colleagues at RMNB turned around a quick recap and we direct you to there for some amazing and remarkably cheeky-for-straight-guys writing.

Optimus and Sexymus

Also doing the victory dance tonight is our man in Toronto, Andrew. Still soaring after the Leafs 2-0 win over the Habs on Thursday night, he filed this earlier today. His piece seems to be emblematic of his city’s enthusiasm for the team this season. Hope springs eternal and if our twitter timeline is to be believed, Leafs fans are already setting up lawn chairs on Yonge Street anticipating their Stanley Cup parade.

We pinged Andrew after the Leafs’ 6-5 win over the Sens this evening, and got back a garbled message in response. It had something to do with posting bail for him, a cavity search and police brutality (the latter two he didn’t seem to mind).  We asked him for an update on tonight’s action but we think his mobile phone has since been confiscated. Andrew’s attorney managed to smuggle out some post-game notes that were scribbled on a prison bed sheet, so that will have to suffice. Good luck Andrew, and may justice, a sympathetic jury and a lenient judge prevail. Just be thankful that it isn’t Brendan Shanahan judging you. -Craig

“Toronto is alive again. Yes, this might be a tad hyperbolic. But only a tad. Hockey season is back in the Big Smoke and back with a vengeance. The way the crowds looked at the tailgate party before the puck drop you’d think we just won the cup. Yes, there were painted faces and jerseys galore. And it was all anyone could talk about. And I mean that literally.

We had a provincial election on opening night and there was a 49.2% voter turnout: the lowest ever (roughly 4 million out of 8 voted). Sure, the media blames voter apathy and lacklustre candidates, but I know better. I will guarantee the turnout was so low because hockey was on. Sure, I have no hard facts to back this up, but back during our last federal election the French leaders debate was postponed a day for a Canadiens playoff game. An entire province was more interested in hockey than democracy, it can’t be that much of a stretch to assume ours would do the same.”

“Toronto simply waits through Blue Jays baseball and Raptors basketball and Toronto FC soccer and Argonaut (and Bills?) football. As much as Toronto tries to put on a front that it is a diverse sporting city, Toronto has been and always will be primarily a hockey town. Hence why puck drop >>> democracy in these parts. But yes, I did indeed vote (and my guys won).

I live about 30 minutes northeast of the city in a town of around 85,000 people. The only word on people’s lips, at work or on the street, was hockey. And yes, I was one of those people who adorns himself in jerseyness when situations like this arise. I wore my jersey, an old school Darcy Tucker affair; I used to have such a crush on him. I think it was the facial hair, and his “F off or I’ll cut you!” attitude. But I digress.

I drove to my polling place and literally every single person was talking about the game. The best way I can describe the palpability of this hockey feeling in Toronto is like this: you know how you’re used to the sounds of your house or car? The second something changes, your ears perk up and you can’t help but hear it. This is what Thursday night was like around here. The buzz, the ever constant knowledge that pretty much every person you see will be doing some variation of the same thing come 7pm. It was a good feeling.

That feeling, however, was tenuous. While people were joyous for the return of our beloved, Leafs fans were worried about the season. By design, we’re skeptical as all hell at the outset of the season. The last few seasons have not gone quite as expected.

I’ve kind of developed that numbing feeling that prepares you for the worst. Like high school: You leave a test sure you failed it so that, if you ever did, you at least had the satisfaction you were right about something. And then you’d do a safety rant about how the teacher was a stupid bitch and was deliberately out to get you. Or was that just me?

But at the end of last season, we got a small breath of life here. For those who haven’t been following the Leafs….we’ll call them struggles over the last few years, we go through goaltenders like most teams go through cups. Unless you’re Sidney Crosby (anyone who watched 24/7 knows what I mean). In the last few years we’ve had around 5 different starters. We’re one of those teams that rides their goalie hard. Curtis Joseph is a prime example (at least to me).

With Giguere out, Gustavsson out, the Leafs had to call up one James Reimer in late December 2010. He performed at a level no one expected, allowing a typically despondent by March Toronto fanbase the chance to flirt with the even most remote chance of ending up in 8th place.

Of course, that didn’t pan out, but his play let us hope that it could happen again. We could make it through spring. Hopes were high coming off the end of the season. We made a few transactions (got Lombardi, Liles and Connolly to name a few) and the hope a rebuild was firmly taking root took over the city. Even if the ridiculous summer heat made us all a little delirious. How the hell is it fair that we get 50 C/122 F in summer AND -40 C/-40 F? Sweet hell, it’s just not right. Give me 20 all year round. Again, digression.

Then preseason happened. A 4-4 record. The fear, oh god the FEAR was back. Reimer the saviour and off-season acquisitions? Pfft, we’ll just turn over the puck and forget there are three periods in a hockey game again. My father even made an amusing quip: “You sure they’re playing with the right end of the stick?” Every Leafs fan became a bus driver again. We even got a little pissed off. As someone who personally owns about 0.000003% of the Leafs (Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan wooooooooooooo!), I didn’t want to see my investments tank either.

So after the dismal preseason, expectations were again tempered. For those who watched the opening game between the Habs and the Leafs, the one thing I hope you all noticed was that you could have heard a pin drop during the first period. There was no fan involvement.

It was an Air Canada Centre filled with Grand Inquisitors, waiting to lay final, condemning judgement on another Leafs lineup. Hell, I even heard a few boos and possibly an “Off with their head!.” You know when the new Hockey Night in Canada graphics get more praise that something is wrong. Although, you have to admit, they look pretty damn sharp (my phone’s camera…not so sharp).

The first period came, went and the only thing fired up was Don Cherry, lamenting the loss of headshots in the game. Because Scott Stevens is a great example of what good hitting can be, right? But that’s a topic for a different post.

Stecks: Still looks great in RED

The seats emptied during intermission and as anyone can tell you who has been to the ACC, the concessions and bathroom lines are awful. So it was only a smattering of people who got to see Matthew “First Time in a Year” Lombardi score the Leafs first goal of the season. I couldn’t have imagined a better player to score it: out due to injury for so long, not even sure he’d be in the lineup for opening night and nets the GWG. It set the tempo for the Leafs, who were virtually unrecognizable from the first period. I don’t know who kicked their ass in the locker room, but it was glorious. And words I never thought I’d write, but David Steckel [Ed. note: Hi Stecks!] is awesome. Won 75% of his faceoffs and really made a big difference. Same with Matt Frattin. Rookie, but hits with the best of them. Maybe it was a sense of having something to prove but my lord he gave it.

But I must focus on my main guy, Optimus Reim (yes, that’s what we call him). 32 save shutout. No Leafs goalie since Ed Belfour had an opening night shutout. He was up, down, he moved it all around. He may have been a little sloppy at times (it can’t all be rainbows and sunshine…yet), but he bricked everything the Canadiens had to shoot at him. Sure, his other two goalies (posts and crossbar) had some hand in that work, but he tore it up. He made sure that this morning, again post-election, he was the topic on everyone’s mind.

Yes, Leafs fans will be and already have been accused of planning the parade based on one game. And, to be fair, some have. For a fan base so desperate for any whiff of potential, we latch onto a win like this with tick-ish persistence. Probably why so many players have said Toronto hockey media are crushing. And why we go through so many people. But whatever, it’s how we do.

It’s a great start to the season. Only a start. There is still plenty of work to go, plenty of teams to beat. To steal a hashtag from the Vancouver loyals from last night, this is just 1 of 82. But if we can keep it up, lose our lovely penchant for turning over the puck and not ride Reimer like the town bicycle, I have hopes. Reserved hopes, but hopes.

And one final diatribe: Who the hell in their sweet mind thought putting numbers on the front of the helmet was a good idea? Might as well bring back the blue light trail on the puck. And pin each players’ mitts to his jersey, can’t have them getting lost. If the big name numbers on their back or on their arms can’t help you figure it out who’s who… But I digress.

Postscript:  Ok, so maybe a brief addendum after Saturday’s Leafs/Sens game. Great first two periods, but some ugly habits came out in the third. Mainly forgetting they have a third to play.

Phil Kessel

Yes, they were up 4-0, but they got complacent. As the Sens showed the other night in Detroit, they’ll keep fighting until the final buzzer…well, buzzes. Thankfully Kessel shone with a fiery passion of a thousand suns tonight (I like my similes, folks).

Hat trick, great footwork, great playmaking and helped run down the clock at the end. Absolutely fantastic. In the upcoming week off, maybe Reimer can work on his rebounds (and by work on his rebounds I mean WORK ON YOUR DAMN REBOUNDS BUT I STILL LOVE YOU) and maybe the defence can remember to defend 3 periods of the game.

That potential calamity aside, two things I never grow tired of:

1. Booing the crap out of Daniel Alfredsson. By christ I hate that tool. I still haven’t forgiven him for what he did to Tucker all those years ago. And Toronto hasn’t either. Booing him every time he touched the puck (which tonight was unfortunately often) filled me with girlish glee. 

2. My deep-seated hatred for Chris Neil is still very, very strong. But I may get into that during my first (of three) posts from Sens games (Oct. 22 against Columbus, Dec. 10 against Vancouver and March 10 against Buffalo).

And to end, yet another reason to hate Mike Milbury, if you didn’t have enough already….That asshat has the worst stylist ever. Who is it? Black and Decker? It’s probably himself. Did you see that disgusting excuse for a tie he wore tonight? If you didn’t, the best descriptor I can give it is this:

After he makes bail, we hope you follow Andrew on twitter @manbearpiglpu

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