I hate Phil Kessel.
No, I mean it.
Not because he's the leading goal scorer in the NHL at the time of this post, for he is a legitimate offensive talent. Not because he spurned the Bruins' attempts to offer him a contract extension, because eventually that paved the way for the B's to draft Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton. And certainly not because he was born in Wisconsin, for he was a member of the US men's Olympic hockey team.
Nope. I hate him because he ruined what could have been an absolutely epic 35th birthday party for me.
A year ago, Heather and I braved the elements and poorly maintained American Eagle aircraft to make the trek up to Toronto for a Bruins-Leafs matchup on my birthday, a Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada game no less.
And we had a blast. Everything was great - the city, the food, the climate controlled underground passageways, the Hockey Hall of Fame, even the people. And the game itself was great. For the most part, that is.
Nathan Horton gave the Bruins an early lead before Carl Gunnarsson tied it up late in the first period. The game was knotted at one a piece into the thrid when Greg Campbell reclaimed the lead for the B's six minutes into the third stanza. But former Bruins property Kris Versteeg got one back for the Leafs with a powerplay strike in the final minute of play to send the game into overtime.
After a scoreless OT, the game went to shootout. Nazem Kadri beat Tim Thomas on the first shot, but Tyler Seguin equalized with a shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Thomas stoned Nikolai Kulemin and David Krejci couldn't get one past Giguere on the other end. Then it was Kessel's turn and he slipped one past Thomas. Michael Ryder was our last hope and he missed.
Kessel's shot stood as the game winner.
Sure, the Bruins got a point out of the game and perhaps I should be angry at Krejci and Ryder, but it felt like a loss and the fact that it was the petulant Kessel who iced it made it hurt even more.
Fast forward to when the schedule was released for the 2011-2 season and one date immediately stood out: December 3, 2012.
Toronto at Boston.
An Original Six matchup. The final Saturday night game of the regular season. The night before my 36th birthday. But perhaps most importantly, a chance at revenge.
Let's take a look back, then, at what went down.
Just the Facts, Jack (Edwards)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (14-9-2) at Boston Bruins (15-7-1)
- Game 24, home game 16
- Bruins with 25 out of a possible 26 points in their last 13 games, going without a regulation loss in the entire month of November
- Second game of a home and home series with Toronto, with the Bruins having won 6-3 at the Air Canada Center two nights prior
John Blue Plate Special
Being a Saturday night game, we figured we'd actually get a good amount of Leafs fans coming down for this game. And because this was going to be the de-facto celebration of my birthday with my hockey peeps, I got to the Fours fairly early, around 4:00. In fact, Heather and Pete got there earlier and headed upstairs to grab some seats as we also had to deal with crowds watching the various college football conference championships.
By the time I got there, there bar was somewhat full and there were a good number of Leafs fans already enjoying some fine alcoholic libations. Based on our past experiences, the vast majority of Leafs fans are great people and willing to engage in playful hockey banter. And sure enough, these folks were more than willing to trade friendly barbs with us. Granted, being able to boast about a certain 35 pound silver chalice gave us all the ammunition we needed, we kept it genial, willing to listen to them blather on about having the league's leading scorer (Kessel) while we thanked them for securing our future (Seguin, Knight and Hamilton) and letting them know that Brian Burke was the best General Manager we've ever had. And for the hate we have for Mike Komisarek, theirs' is apparently greater. All of which made for, hands down, the most enjoyable pregame of the season to date.
Most surprising, though, was the fact that the vast majority of the Leafs fans at the Fours were not from the province of Ontario. The ones we hung out with were from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There may have even been a couple from P.E.I. as well. And every single one of them had nothing but nice things to say about our fair city. There were a couple of guys from Halifax who came down to see the Christmas tree that the city donated to Boston, a longstanding traditon, which was pretty cool.
And it just so happened that one of them was a former goalie. It was imperative, then, that we introduced him to Tim Barry, our resident goal tender/goalie apologist. Needless to say, they hit it off right away.
And to be honest, this is the way it should be. I love engaging opposing fans in a jovial manner over drinks before and after the game. People that travel to see their team play on the road deserve a measure of respect, provided they act respectfully as well. We've had great exchanges with fans in Chicago and Toronto and likewise visiting fans from Toronto, Washington and even Buffalo have been fun to talk to. It certainly helps when you know your players and history with regard to the other team, but even the most neophyte of fans can get along if there is mutual respect.
Unfortunately, more often than not, there is some idiot on either side that spoils it. Usually its some drunken imbecile who takes umbrage that someone who ever venture on the road to support their team would have the audacity to show up in our building while having never been on a road trip themselves or don't know jack about their own team. No, its more important to defend the home turf from someone who would never, ever pose any sort of threat otherwise, than it is to act as a decent human being and a properly mannered hockey fan.
I might be losing ground on my stance here, but I'm not going down without a fight (no pun intended).
As for our dining selections, I was greeted by a plate of dark chocolate raspberry cookies that Heather had baked, the recipe having been used specifically for my birthday proceedings. Absolutelt delicious. We split a Bobby Orr, teriyaki style, with Heather agreeing to the addition of cheese (normally witheld) as another token of birthday salutations. As always, it was fantastic.
Games against Toronto get me giddy. With a Saturday night home date, I knew that Toronto fans would be there en masse and thet meant unabashed sweater porn.
But wait, there's more.
The Leafs made a major change to to their third sweater design for the 2011-12 season, ditching the design they wore for the past 11 seasons that was based on what they wore in the early 60's for a new one that is based on the sweaters they wore when the won the Stanley Cup in 1967.
The old Leafs' third sweater was one of my all time favorites, but the new ones are stunning as well.
At first glance, they look somewhat similar to what they normally wear, but a closer look reveals a more pointed crest with a different (and much improved) font. The sleeve and hem striping is bolder and a white stripe has been added down the sides of the pants. I know these are subtle differences, but when the primary home is close to simplistic perfection to begin with, the slight modifications make the alternates stand out.
When Toronto officially released the new design to the public, they also offered up a list of the 14 games that they'd be wearing them. Surprisingly, there were a bunch of away games included. And, as luck would have it, the Bruins were one of those teams that would don the old home whites, along with Original Six bretheren in Chicago and New York as well as fellow rivals Ottawa and Buffalo.
The Leafs actually wore their thirds at home against the Bruins on November 5th, a 7-0 shutout for the B's which a bunch of our 307 crews was fornutate to be at. But when I saw they were going to bring them along for the game on December 3rd, I got excited. Often, the Bruins wear their white uniforms at home once a season, either at the request of the away team or for photography purposes.
So while a bunch of my friends were across town at the 2011 American Outlaws Winter Ball, getting gussied up and having fun while raising money for a worthwhile cause, I got dressed up myself in my hockey formalwear, in this case going with the 1967 inspired Bobby Orr.
And there were a host of other fans in attendence that broke out their Saturday night bast as well. Let's take a look at some of the highlights:
Circa 1993 Wendel Clark Maple Leafs away replica
Circa 2005 Darcy Tucker Maple Leafs away replica
Circa 2000 Curtis Joseph Maple Leafs alternate replica
2006 Eric Lindros Maple Leafs away replica
80's Mike Milbury Bruins away replica
You really need a loafer in your hand to complete this look.
1996 Bill Ranford Bruins away replica
Tought to see it in the picture, but why on earth would anyone ever buy this unless you missed your chance when he was with the Bruins 10 years earlier.
Guy Lafleur Canadiens away replica
Bill Barilko Maple Leafs home replica
Who in their right mind wears a Habs sweater to a Bruins/Leafs game? Really?
As for the Barilko, as much as he never wore this particular sweater, he's one of only two Leafs players with their numbers retired (Ace Bailey's #6 is the other) having won 4 cups before he died in a plane crash.
Maple Leafs away replica
This one left me stumped. The style is from the early to mid 70's, as evidenced by the lack of a nameplate, but no Leaf wore #32 until Ron Zanussi wore in in 1980. By then, players had names on their backs. So I have no diea what this one is supposed to be, but it does look sharp nonetheless.
circa 2009 Tomas Kaberle Maple Leafs home replica
2011 Dion Phaneuf Maple Leafs alternate replica
circa 2009 Phil Kessel Maple Leafs home replica
The Phaneuf sweater is simple and classy. Phaneuf? not as much.
The Kessel one? Hey, I didn't buy it.
1926-7 Toronto St. Pats Replica
Before a game, I usually pick a particular sweater design or player for the opposing team as my desired target. The challenge varies based on who we are playing (let's face it, there isn't much to choose from with the newer franchises), but some team force me to set the bar high. Toronto is one of them. So, before the game I told Heather I wanted to find a St. Pat's (the predecessor to the Leafs) sweater.
We weren't even into the arena before we found this guy. Maybe I should have set the bar higher?
Mid 90's Doug Gilmour Maple Leafs away replica
2009 Jonas Gustavsson Maple Leafs home replica
2007 Mats Sundin Maple Leafs away replica
These were some of the aforementioned Leafs fans we hung out with at the Fours for pregame. Quality hosers.
The Row 11 Rundown
As we head closer to ski season, the Saturday appearances by the Hoyts draw to a close and Saturday was no exception. Kathi, Charla and the kids took the night off and even Cornelius missed out on this one (he had a wedding or something - clearly his friend, or his fiance, was not a Bruins fan).
But we did have Robyn in seat 11, which was nice.
Doosh of the Day
Originally, I was going to give this out to the guy at the bar who kept saying "Leafs suck". But he was in actuality a Canadian wearing a Leafs sweater who purported to be a Bruins fan. His whole story was sketchy and he was a fraud hater, so I'll give him a pass.
So, in his stead, I will give it out to the DB who tried to gain access to the private party upstairs at the Fours after the game despite there being a sign on the door clearly stating that the upstairs was closed. And props to Tina for playing the role of enforcer.
The Bob Lobel Prize
Fortunately, Kessel did not ruin this game for me. He did land five shots on goal, but none went in and he finished a -2 on the night.
The Leafs also have former Bruins first round draft pick Joe Colborne on their roster (16th verall in the 2008 Entry Draft). but he never played a minute for the Bruins in the regular season, thus making him ineligible for the prize.
The Home End
After storming their way through the month of November without a regulation loss (their first month like that since the 1969 season), it was reasonable to think that the advent of December might bring different results. For this night at least, it was more of the same. The game was fairly close through the first two periods, with the Bruins holding 2-1 lead. But the B's extended their lead early in the third on a Johnny Boychuk slapshot. And midway through the period, the Bruins has a solid two minutes of constant pressure in the Toronto zone. Though they didn't score, they had their way with the Toronto defense, maintaining possession at will. And you could see that the Leafs' will was crushed. There was no way they were going to get back in the game. Perhaps losing their first three matchups with the Bruins (by scores of 6-2, 7-0 and 6-3) weighed on them as well. Whatever hope they may have had was completely dashed when Nathan Horton added an insurance goal late in the game.
So the Bruins continued to roll on. Next up was a date on the road with the best team in the conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, now bolstered by the return of Sidney Crosby. Needless to say, this one was highly anticipated.