The Lippy Leafs- Fact or Fiction?

ACCORDING to Toronto Star and The Hockey News writer Ken Campbell, the Toronto Maple Leafs have re-invented themselves more times than Madonna. In the transitions, Campbell argues, the Leafs have gone from sluggish (1998), to skilled and soft (1999-2000), to slow and plodding (2001) to this year’s mishmash, which Campbell declines to describe. That is, until now, where his report on the Leafs’ constant yapping yielded the headline “the Lippy Leafs”.It’s not hard to see where Campbell is coming from. Over the past few days, teams in other cities- especially Ottawa and Long Island, the homes of the Leafs’ play-off adversaries this year- have complained that Toronto are nothing short of cheap, running players and constantly whining at the referees when they don’t get a break. The Star’s Damien Cox, who has a knack for hitting the nail on the head, also moaned that the Leafs “(start) bellyaching as soon as they get to the rink if their café lattes aren’t quite hot enough” while the Toronto Sun’s Al Strachan decided to expose a “shocking” truth to Leaf fans: that no matter what their fans believe, the Leafs are viewed as cheap shot artists and whiners. No matter where you turned in Toronto, the media- usually blatantly pro-Leafs- always made references to the Leafs’ carping, perhaps in a moan because the Leafs faced a pivotal Game 4 in Ottawa down two games to one to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Semi-Final that morning.

To be honest, I was a little shocked to hear the Toronto-area radio station, 680 News, cite the sports pages referring to the Leafs as a classless act. For one, the Leafs receive so little criticism- even on CBC, a supposedly national station- anywhere that the boatload they receive now seemed a little overwhelming, as if the Toronto-area media finally had to grapple with the naked truth (which it almost is). For another- and this may sound like I’m swayed, but I can’t disagree with it- I’m starting to believe that the Leafs are whining a little too much, and their babyish rants are growing just a little tiresome.

For one, I almost couldn’t believe what Darcy Tucker did in Game 3, waving his stick with a towel on it as if it were a white flag. Sure, it could be “heat of the moment”, but isn’t the play-offs all about handling your emotions anyway, and couldn’t Tucker have expressed his anger differently? Say, by scoring? For another, it seemed that, instead of moaning about how close the Leafs actually came to winning Game 3, the Leafs decided to focus on the negative, or, in other words, the “bad call” by referee Brad Watson, not calling interference on Benoit Brunet (pushed by Toronto’s Robert Reichel) on the winning goal. Never mind the rally- that means nothing. It’s that “evil man” Watson, showing his back to the Leafs.

“The whole year we were screaming and yelling and calling (the different names,” said Leafs winger Alexander Mogilny to Campbell. “If I kept calling you different names, how are you going to respond? (You’re not going to say afterwards) ‘Yeah, I’ll give this team a break. It doesn’t work that way.”

Nice to hear Mogilny, a rare bright light in Toronto, tell it like it is, and, like it or not, the Leafs have to follow Mogilny’s ideal if they want to succeed. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche dispose easily of whiners like them, because they focus on the hockey, and a team like the Montreal Canadiens can cause more problems since the bigger clubs hasn’t fazed them yet, and if Montreal can put away non-whiners like the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins, then they’ll easily take out the Leafs. So far, all Toronto has been able to do consistently these play-offs is whine, and, though they haven’t been affected too much by it yet, they will be soon. Nowhere has the absence of Mats Sundin, who does a great job at holding the fort, been so significant, as the Leafs clearly lack his leadership.

Enough with the excuses: the Leafs make too many of those. It’s time now for them to focus on what they have and make the best of it. They can’t complain all the time that the referees are conspiring against them, because, not only are they not, the Leafs won’t get anywhere if they do. The Senators can turn the other cheek to the Leafs’ cheap shots and even when they do go to the box they don’t complain. They may not have a superstar like Toronto, but right now, they’re the better team, and that’s only because they don’t complain. As many writers have said: the Senators just turn away and enjoy the power plays. Maybe if the Leafs did that once in a while they wouldn’t be so worried about that Stanley Cup drought.

-Daniel Grasso

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