Hodge: Tough time for Toronto Maple Leaf fans

Leaf fans throwing jerseys on the ice making a statement about the team's absymal record this season.

Only in Canada, you say?

Where else but the supposed ‘centre’ of the hockey universe could it be against the law to quit being a die-hard Leaf fan?

Heck I quit as a teenager.

I never knew it was a life sentence.

During a 4-1 home loss to the lowly Carolina Hurricanes Monday night three different (indifferent?) Toronto Maple Leaf fans (former?) tossed their team jerseys onto the ice in frustration. Seemed the team’s 13 of 16 home game losses were more than the hat-trick of hockey hot heads could handle. It was also the team’s fifth consecutive defeat and 10th in the past 13 games.

The sweater tossing incidents were not connected other than by a shared displeasure at the Maple Leafs’ on-ice performance. All three fans were escorted out of Air Canada Centre by Toronto Police and later charged with a non-criminal Provincial offence of Engaging in a Prohibited Activity. In addition police say all three “trespassed at the ACC and are banned for a year from all Maple Leafs MLSE properties.”

The whole incident has been tagged ‘Jersey gate’ and is drawing mixed reactions. While most fans agree that tossing anything on the ice is a taboo in regards to a safety factor – a huge bright blue hockey jersey is hard to hide on a brightly lit ice surface. Even if most Maple Leaf players have seemed invisible lately it does not mean a rumpled sweater on the ice is.

As common as a prone, unmoving Leaf jersey may be too many fans there is no history of an injury involving one. In fact, as many players on other NHL clubs will attest no one has been hurt by a Leaf jersey in years.

It’s fully understandable to see sport facilities evict and possibly charge fans foolish enough to throw pucks, containers, coins or other potentially harmful items on to a playing surface. Those days of stupidity are largely done. A fluffy sweater hardly seems in the same category as a can of beer or puck from the 30th row.

Oddly enough team owners have no problems when happy fans toss their paid for expensive hats on the ice following a hat-trick, but God forbid you doff and toss your $200 jersey in protest.

I’m confident the three fans involved were regular ticket holders caught up in a stupid moment of sports passion. The Leafs and Air Canada Centre have likely now lost all three (and many others) as supporters because of how the incident was handled.

The Maple Leaf franchise have a long history of major failure in the public relations department with fans, media and players alike.

Some former fans mockingly suggest it should be against the law to put on a Leaf uniform – not to take one off.  Their attitude is that impersonating a real hockey player in Toronto should be prohibitive – not being a fantasy fan hoping for a winning club.

I am not that harsh, though I no longer wear my Leaf sweater in public (it hangs on the basement wall) and it’s illegal to wear a Montreal Canadians’ sweater in my house.

There was a time when I adored the Leafs. Like many other Canadian kids I grew up dreaming of being like Tim Horton or Davey Keon.

Giving up on the Leafs was not easy, even as a young lad. In fact it sort of gnaws away at my hockey guilt to this day. However, like most Leaf fans – sometimes enough is too much and sooner or later you have to say goodbye.

I was already really mad at Conn Smythe, Punch Imlach and the rest of the old miserable men that ran the club in those days for how they treated Keon. However it wasn’t until May 1967 that I tossed in my Maple Leaf patch – just a few weeks after the club won the Stanley Cup. The snapping point was when they shipped my childhood hero Eddy Shack to Boston for Murray Oliver and a whack of cash. I had amazingly spent my 11th birthday spellbindingly having a hamburger with Mr. Clear the Track one year before the trade and followed his every move from that birthday event on.

To a 12-year old Leaf fan, trading Eddy to the Bruins was like being sentenced to the dog house for life with your sister. At the time the Bruins were at the bottom of the heap so it was from the top of the pack to the bottom in one swoop. I decided, however, to remain loyal to Eddy and took my hockey heart to Boston with him.

Fortunately a kid named Orr came along that year and the Bruins had a much brighter future in no time.

The Leafs never won another Stanley Cup. Some say they have never really come close, and the current team infected with pompous players such as Phil Kessel seems to be unable to compete with any continuity.

Frustrated fans in Toronto have being showing their displeasure in many ways over the years; yet spend millions of dollars on memorabilia. Few folks other than true hockey fans buy expensive jerseys and even fewer get so upset as to then toss them away. Smart management would suggest instead bullying such diehard fans a different approach may have garnered better overall results.

Now that its headline news that taking off a Maple Leaf jersey and tossing it on the ice is illegal I am awaiting to see the response. The mind whirls.

The best scenario will be if one fan appeals the ticket. They could file a ‘not guilty’ retort based on temporary insanity due to the club’s abysmal display.

“It wasn’t my fault your honour. It drove me nuts watching them play.”

Based on the club’s recent showing, how could a judge not agree?

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