Sunday, January 15, 2012

What a Ride: Preparing Ourselves for the Rollercoaster Ahead

Life as a sports fan is akin to that of the season's pass holder at Canada’s Wonderland; everyday is filled with one roller coaster after another. Ups and down, wondrous and exciting climbs, followed sharply by steep and heart wrenching declines. Sports fans do not know peacetime or relaxation – we know only diametric opposites. We know triumph and we know defeat. Celebration and mourning.

The polarizing world of fandom is perhaps no more evident than for those of us living in the shadow of the CN Tower – we fans of the beloved, and yet so often tortured, Toronto Maple Leafs.

In a world with endless Twitter feeds, online newspapers, print publications, blogs, Facebook pages, mobile updates, and 24-hour sports stations it's no surprise that Leaf content is so readily available to all of us. The seemingly endless supply of team news is both a blessing and a curse. As a card carrying member of Leaf Nation I rarely take a moment to sit back, and as the old cliché goes, ‘smell the roses’.

Every day is wrought with a new battle, a new catastrophe, and a new cause for which fans must rally together in arms (though not the riotous arms of Habs or Canucks fans). A shutout loss to the New York Rangers fuels discussions around the teams need for top tier offensive help. A drubbing from the Boston Bruins renews the hue and cry for more steady and consistent goaltending from our masked men. An anonymous poll from a bored Sports Illustrated journalist forces all of us to reconsider the true meaning of the word ‘overrated’.

Personally, I'm not bothered by the process. As lifelong Leaf fan, and supporter of all things blue and white I take great pride in following every story, and debating every line-up change, every trade, and every signing.

The point, if I have one, strung together through my brief Jerry Maguire-ian moment of self reflection is this – we need to enjoy the ride. We, as a collective of fans need to take a moment and truly enjoy what has been a satisfying first 44 games of the 2011-12 season.

Our team is relevant again, with a record of 22-17-5, for 49 points and 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Our team that has spent the better half of the new millennium toiling in the doldrums of the NHLs proverbial basement finally has a pulse. Our past is still dampened by disappointments, but for the first time in a long time there is hope for the future. With a strong management team in place and the development of a youthful and exciting core of players there is cause to celebrate.

There is no one guiltier than myself for getting distracted by the talk show pundits, daily rumours, and the general media bonanza that comes with a market like Toronto. I’ve sat alone at the computer reading countless articles dissecting every aspect of the Seguin/Kessel trade, researched every player on cap geek to understand how we’re managing team salary, argued vehemently over cold adult beverages that Joffrey Lupul is a legitimate 1st line player. Both Kessel and Lupul are enjoying what are undoubtedly career years compiling 48 and 47 points respectively.

However today, and maybe only for today, I’m not going to dwell on the countless news stories or team reports. Today I’m going to relax and bask in the calming glow of relevancy. For the first time since before the lockout my team matters again. The playoffs -- a tournament long since forgotten for most Leaf fans -- is again within reach. Memories of Gilmour’s magnificent wraparound, and Roberts’ playoff heroics of years long since past will be replaced with new ones.

For a moment, at least, we’ve climbed to the roller coaster's precipice. As we ready our stomachs for the inevitable peaks and valleys that lay ahead, I'd urge all of us to take a moment, catch our breaths, and enjoy the ride.

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