“So you're a Leafs fan, then?”
This is the go-to assumption whenever I tell someone I'm from Toronto. In this case, my questioner was a young guy working a zip-line in Alaska. “No!” I said. I was tempted to add that I think the Toronto Maple Leafs and their unwavering fans embody everything that's wrong with the National Hockey League, but I contented myself with, “No, no. No.”
He nodded. “I'm from Minnesota,” he said, “and I just can't bring myself to cheer for the Stars. I'm not sure why it is, but they just don't excite me.”
“We grew up in Winnipeg,” said my brother, adding the unnecessary element of mischief.
“You happy to see the Jets come back?” asked the zip-line guy.
“I have friends who are,” I said. “My relationship to the NHL changed when the Jets were sold to Phoenix. I think I stopped being a fan of a team and learned how to become a fan of the game — kinda-sorta.” This is true. If a game is on, I'm happy to tune in and watch, so long as both teams are engaged. This discounts 90% of Leafs games, along with what I've seen so far of the new Jets.
I can't say I'm especially gratified to see the Jets return to Winnipeg. First of all, it really isn't a “return” in the strictest sense of the word: the Jets were sold to Phoenix, who still retain that franchise property. If that specific franchise had been sold back to Winnipeg, I might have been cajoled into a half-assed state of celebration. But there remains no-one on that team who ever called Winnipeg home for even the shortest duration. The team that, in the off-season, hoofed it out to the various satellite farming communities to play charity baseball games, the athletes who made the occasional school gym appearance to encourage kids away from drugs, etc. — that team has vanished.
What Winnipeg has instead is a team they purchased and moved from Atlanta — yet another southern city whose only prior exposure to ice was in their mint juleps. Winnipeg has purchased a re-entry into the NHL. And it has purchased, on promissory terms, several seasons' worth of NHL games which they will host. The only player to express unreserved delight at living in Winnipeg is dead. The rest of the team will have to get pointers on discretion from their colleagues in Calgary and Edmonton. There are only so many strip clubs in Winnipeg, and that is a city that thrives on talk.
I said none of this to the zip-line guy. “So who do you cheer for?” he asked.
“Whoever's playing an interesting game,” I said. “That's often Detroit. Colorado, occasionally. New Jersey. Actually, Chicago is a team that's almost always interesting to watch, even when they don't quite have what they need to go the distance. I've generally kept one eye on them, right from the 80s on.”
“I hear you,” he said. “I like Boston that way, myself.”
“Then you've had a good summer,” I said.
He grinned. “I've had very good summer.”
“I'm happy for you,” I said. And I was.
Alright, people: put on a happy face!
Image cadged from this site. Over here Ken Dryden offers some suggestions in aid of keeping the game healthy.