Toronto Maple Leafs
Despite frustrating me for three quarters, the Raptors actually won in Milwaukee yesterday to tie their first round series with the Bucks at 2 games apiece. They should advance to the second round, although nothing is a surety when this team is in the playoffs. They're rather unpredictable, hence the frustration.
Tonight I'll be glued to the Leafs game as we try to win at home to force a game seven with the President's Trophy winning Capitals. What a series this has been... four games have been decided in OT and the other was decided by a single goal. The Leafs are hanging with the big boys and it's been thrilling.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are in Anaheim so I've been waking up to find out how we've done. We lost last night, lowering our record to 4-13. That's a .235 winning percentage. That's bad... very, very bad.
The past two years the Jays and Leafs were flipped. The Jays were thrilling, advancing to two ALCS. The Leafs were junk. They've essentially switched spots on the Toronto pro sports spectrum.
One day, all three teams will be competitive. It's never happened before, but hope springs eternal. In the meantime, I'm just glad we've had two out of three in the playoffs the past few years. It sure beats how things looked a mere five years ago.
And two out of three ain't bad.
Bill Barilko's overtime winner in game five of the 1951 Stanley Cup final was scored 66 years ago tonight. I love the legend of Bashin' Bill and have hosted this tribute in one form or another for the past 19 years.
If you're interested in Bill Barilko's story, I urge you to listen to my conversation with hockey historian Kevin Shea. He's quite the expert and full of interesting details. It's mandatory listening for any Maple Leafs fans interested in the club's 100 year history.
On the topic of Leafs history, Tim Thompson's updated Maple Leafs Forever montage captures it perfectly. I simply can't get tired of watching this.
Tim and I spoke about this montage in great detail during his visit to my basement studio. If you want to hear how it came together and the effort involved, listen to this.
The song accompanying Tim's montage is Peace and Quiet by Ron Hawkins, lead singer and songwriter for Lowest of the Low. Ron visited me last summer and we spoke about this song and its use by Tim for Maple Leafs Forever. Here's that conversation.
Tonight, let's win it for Bill. Go Leafs!
Looking back, the best thing that ever happened to the Toronto Maple Leafs was blowing that 4-1 third period lead in Boston. At the time, it was excruciating. Up 4-1 in the game seven with about ten minutes to play, the upset was imminent. Or so we thought...
Had we won that game, would we have torn it all down for a true rebuild? Would the Shanaplan have come to town? Would we be where we are today?
Where we are today is what this entry is all about. The Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. The rookies have exceeded all expectations, and Auston Matthews is sitting on 39 goals. It's a young, fun team that's getting results for Mike Babcock. It's a team that looks like it's only a couple of years away from truly contending for the Stanley Cup.
We Leaf fans deserve this. If you exclude the shortened 2012-13 season, we haven't been in the playoffs since 2003-04. I was in my 20s in 2003-04 with a two year old who is now a hulking fifteen year old. And that fifteen year old owns an Auston Matthews jersey and absolutely adores his Leafs. I can't tell you how excited I am to watch Leaf playoff games with that boy.
Go Leafs Go!
I've been busy. I've failed to document not one but two significant trades involving Toronto teams.
Yesterday the Leafs sent minor-leaguer Byron Froese and a conditional second round pick in 2017 to Tampa for fourth-line centre Brian Boyle. The only reason you make this deal is to make the playoffs this season. It seems the tear-down is officially over.
Depending on the day, I can be passionately want the Leafs to miss the playoffs and land another top ten pick or make the playoffs and give me some fun April nights with the family. It seems the Shanaplan now calls for option #2. Giddy-up!
The Raptors, meanwhile, have won four in a row after a rough stretch. All four games have been comebacks from double-digit deficits and thrilling finishes. The defensive intensity late in games has been amped up with the addition of Serge Ibaka and now P.J. Tucker.
While I was busy, the Raptors sent Jared Sullinger and two second-round draft picks to Phoenix for the former Toronto draftee. We're going to need him if we're going to take a series against the Cavs.
We're all hoping we don't meet the Cavs until the conference final, but Kyle Lowry's surgery makes that unlikely. But if a finals berth goes through Cleveland, it might be better to catch them early. Here's hopin'.
The Maple Leafs Forever is brilliant. Now that Tim Thompson has updated the montage to include Auston and the kids, it's even better.
If you're interested in long form discussions about this Leafs montage, I spoke with both Tim Thompson and singer Ron Hawkins about it in great detail.
In this 216th episode, Mike chats with Kevin Shea about his years working with "Weird Al" Yankovic and Motley Crue, selling Smells Like Teen Spirit to radio and the legend of Bill Barilko in glorious blue and white detail. This episode is exactly 1:18:17.
You can listen to this episode in a variety of ways:
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I've been blogging here for 14 years, and during that time there were some pretty low times in Toronto sports. Just four years ago I wrote this about the new bottom for Toronto sports teams. Things were very, very bad for the big five.In 2016, things got a whole lot better. In fact, there's something great to report about every team in the big five not nicknamed the Argos. Although we didn't win a championship, we were close!
Ten years after their birth, TFC hosted the MLS Cup final, losing a heartbreaker to Seattle. That second leg against Montreal in the semi-final was absolutely thrilling.
Toronto Blue Jays
For the second year in a row, the Blue Jays played in the ALCS. Unlike the hype train of 2015, this didn't seem likely in September as we sputtered into the playoffs, but an Edwin walk-off against Baltimore in the wildcard game and a sweep of the Rangers in the ALDS helped recapture the joy of the previous year.
For the first time in franchise history, the Raptors won a best-of-seven playoff series. And we did it twice! We even took two games against Cleveland in the conference finals, making this far and away the best Raptors season, ever.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season, the Leafs were bad. Very, very bad. This is a good thing, as it helped us land Auston Matthews with the first overall pick in the draft. Now, with Matthews, Marner and Nylander, the future actually looks bright and the present is a lot of fun, too.
Let's not ruin this entry with an Argos update.
In addition to successful developments for the big four teams in this city, Toronto hosted the Grey Cup, World Cup of Hockey and World Juniors. 2016 was a very good year for Toronto sports. Let's hope for a championship in 2017.
As a Toronto hockey fan born in the 70s, I idolized Wendel Clark. You'd be hard pressed to find a Toronto hockey fan born in the 70s who didn't. Here's something I wrote about Wendel almost 10 years ago.
I will never forget the 1985-86 post season when we swept the Chicago Black Hawks in three games. That was when my brothers and I first broke out the Diet Coke. You would have thought we had just won the cup. Wendel was our leader and a member of The Hound Line with Russ Courtnall and Gary Leeman. We took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game before bowing out. We went just as deep the next season, too.
Wendel Clark scored the overtime winner in the greatest game I ever saw. My brother Ryan proudly wore his #17 jersey and we all suffered during his long periods of inactivity due to injuries. Clark was our guy and pound for pound the toughest player you'll ever see playing the game. Doug Gilmour remains my favourite Leaf, but Clark was the definitive Leaf.
Last night, I had an opportunity to meet #17. His new book Bleeding Blue is coming out, and there was a little get together at Maple Leaf Gardens to commemorate the occasion.
I got a photo and some time alone with him. We primarily discussed the fan-created All Heart tribute video I've been enjoying for the past decade. Wendel knows about it, Wendel loves it and I was able to fill him in on the origin thanks to some excellent sleuthing by Down Goes Brown. Wendel seemed genuinely interested and as humble as I'd heard.
After our five minute conversation, others wanted his attention. After four years of having such people I admire visit me for 60-120 minute one-on-one conversations in my house, I think I've become conditioned to expect that. But no, I chose not to invite Wendel to my house. I saved that imposition for Ken Reid.
I've had an advance copy of Bleeding Blue for some time now and I love the stories. It really is an ideal holiday gift for any Toronto hockey fan born in the 70s.
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