Nineteen years later, I still remember the Diet Coke. For years and years afterwards, clinch night meant having Diet Coke on stand by.
Being born in the mid 70s meant being too young to remember any Maple Leaf playoff success in that decade. The early 80s was a virtual wasteland of playoff victories for our hockey club and in 1985 when our beloved Blue Jays won the pennant, they lost the ALCS to the Royals in seven. Nineteen years ago today, however, our Maple Leafs played the Chicago Black Hawks at Maple Leaf Gardens in the clinching game of their first round playoff series. Their terrible record of 25-48-7 was good enough for fourth in the Norris division and a match up with the division winner from Chicago. Somehow, against all odds, the Leafs played superb hockey taking games one and two on the road. In game three, on April 12, 1986, my brothers and I watched Wendel Clark lead us to the best-of-five sweep.
It was our first taste of the thrill a playoff series victory brought us, and we instinctively headed to the fridge for something to celebrate with. I remember we grabbed cans of Diet Coke and began spraying them at each other in celebration. Our Leafs were victorious and we were elated.
It's hard to believe that was nineteen years ago and we were that ecstatic over a first round win. There have been several series victories since for both the Leafs and Jays, but I'll never forget my first such memory. Tonight I'll take a slow sip of Diet Coke and fondly recall the taste of victory.