Tuesday January 20th, 2015

Off The Draw

You knew this was coming.

The Maple Leafs put up another stinker of an effort in front of their home fans last night, dropping a 4–1 decision to a Hurricanes club that is no one’s idea of a powerhouse. Not surprisingly, the defeat didn’t go over well with Toronto’s fans, who pay the highest ticket prices in the league. Four of them showed their displeasure during the game by tossing their team jerseys onto the ice—two hit the surface during play.

According to a team official, Air Canada Centre security ejected three people who threw jerseys on the ice, and police charged two with public mischief.

There’s already been some blowback to the arrests on social media, but the Leafs aren’t the bad guys here. Throwing anything onto the ice during a game puts players at risk, so it’s an incredibly stupid thing to do.

Jersey-tossing Maple Leafs fans banned from arena for one year

Still, I understand the frustration that motivated the jersey tossers.

Because I am one.

Well, was one. Once.

It was a long time ago, pushing 30 years, that I paid for two seats behind the glass in Detroit for my girlfriend and me when my favorite team visited the Red Wings. It was an extravagant decision given what I was making at the time and the sorry state of my then-favorite franchise, but I wanted her to love the game the way I did and, well, love makes you do crazy things.

Long story short, the night began perfectly. My team rewarded my big investment by building a convincing 4–1 lead, leading to an emptying of Joe Louis Arena in the dying moments.

And then my team gave up three goals in the final 100 seconds before giving the game away in overtime.

You ever see those TV images of losing fans looking gut-shot as they try to process what just happened? That was me. I was stunned. And after a couple minutes of replaying the horror of those final moments in my mind, I was certain of only one thing: There was no way I was walking out into a jubilant Detroit crowd wearing a stinkin’ Bruins sweater. So I took it off and heaved it over the glass.

Now mind you, the game was over. The players were off the ice. My expression of anguish went unnoticed by everyone except the guy who was shoveling snow from around the edge of the rink. He simply scooped up the jersey along with a few tossed programs and beer cups and dumped it in the trash without ever looking up.

As far as statements go, it didn’t prove to be very effective. Plus it was really dumb. That jersey wasn’t cheap and I'd basically just thrown it in the garbage. I didn’t exactly impress my girlfriend with my maturity, either. In hindsight, it’s not something of which I’m particularly proud.

Struggling Maple Leafs in playoff bubble trouble as time gets tight

Toronto’s jersey-tossers were not sucker punched by a loss like I was, so theirs was not a spontaneous gut reaction. Maybe it was more a matter of finally reaching a breaking point after so much disappointment. Four years ago an aggrieved fan was busted for throwing waffles on the ACC ice as the team’s losses mounted. The Maple Leafs have been to the playoffs only once (a first round exit) since that display of anguish. To paraphrase the great philosopher Popeye, those fans have stoods all they could and they can’t stands no more. 

I suppose I can sympathize with that kind of frustration. Most hardcore fans have been through it.

But there are better ways to show your disgust. Don’t go to the rink in the first place. Don't spend at the team’s concession stands. Don’t buy its merchandise. Don’t watch on TV or listen on the radio. 

A jersey toss may be satisfying for a moment, but refusing to open your wallet is the only way to make an organization take notice.

What to watch tonight

Bruins at Stars (8:30 p.m. EST; NESN, FS-SW)

Play our new daily fantasy hockey game!

Gotta love the evil geniuses working game presentation for Dallas. Just in case visiting Boston forgets that Tyler Seguin is The One That Got Away, the Stars have something special planned as a reminder. You’ll have to watch the game to hear it for yourself.

While the Seguin reunion makes for a spicy side dish, neither side is taking its eyes off the main course. Both teams need the two points. Desperately. The Bruins come into this one clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with 54 points. The Panthers sit just four points back but have three games in hand, meaning that Boston can’t afford another stinker like the one it delivered on Saturday against the Blue Jackets. Dallas, meanwhile, is coming off impressive victories over the Capitals and the Blackhawks, which pulled the Stars to within four points of the eighth-place Flames in the West.

No telling yet who the teams will start in goal. Tuukka Rask is 4-1-1 with a .950 save percentage in his last six starts, but with a game tomorrow night in Colorado he could sit in favor of Niklas Svedberg. The backup turned in a 14-save shutout of the Devils on Jan. 8 in his last start.

Kari Lehtonen has allowed seven goals in his last two starts, but won both games. He’s clearly Dallas’s No. 1, but Anders Lindback was solid in his previous two appearances as well. For the first time in a long time, coach Lindy Ruff seemingly can’t go wrong with his choice.

Rest of the schedule: Senators at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; RDS2, TSN5, MSG); Oilers at Capitals (7 p.m. EST; SNW, CSN-DC); Penguins at Flyers, 7:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN, TVA, SN1, SNO, ROOT); Predators at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-TN, RDS, SNE); Wild at Red Wings (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-N, FS-WI, FS-D); Canucks at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; SNP, SUN); Coyotes at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; FS-A, CSN-CH)

What you missed last night

• A fan of struggling Minnesota couldn’t resist needling the Packers and their partisans after Green Bay’s heartbreaking NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks.

• The location may not be the greatest, but the 2016 Winter Classic promises an excellent matchup.

• Chicago’s Dan (Car Bomb) Carcillo, who has a long rap sheet of dirty hits, got himself suspended again.

The numbers game

• The Islanders’ 31 wins in their first 46 games, including 16 victories on home ice, tied a franchise record set in 1978–79.

• Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller’s shutout streak of 200:45, which ended on Monday night against Florida, was his career best.

• When Pittsburgh and Philadelphia meet tonight, the Flyers will be going for a sixth straight win over their in-state rivals, dating back to Nov. 13, 2013.

Hot links

• Forget those clownish sweaters they are planning to wear for their Stadium Series games. The Sharks need to wear these Metallica-inspired jerseys instead.

• The Canucks are auctioning off the set of equipment that Roberto Luongo had made for the 2014 Heritage Classic. Naturally, Bobby Lu had a little fun with the idea.

• Would Edmonton actually trade Taylor Hall? Frustrated with his own recent performance, Hall understands it could happen if he can’t regain his scoring touch.

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