Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shooting down the walls of heartache, Wendel is the Warrior

Wendel Clark is the Leafs. He gave it all and got nothing. He is the same as all of us in Leafs Nation.

There is full awareness among the blue-and-white brethren that it is mortifying to read an article about Wendel Clark that references Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky in the first three paragraphs, because he is not in their strata. True, it is ironic that the Leafs scheduled this for the same night that the Montreal Canadiens are honouring a hockey demigod, Patrick Roy, but you know what? Leafs Nation doesn't care

To quote Cox Bloc, we are the "straw that stirs this country's hockey drink" and will, "no matter how much we lose, we will never suffer an even worse fate -- not mattering," you don't have to care. Caring what other people think of you as fans, well, that's for Canucks and Sennies fans.

One stab at putting this in perspective is to imagine a six-year-old falling in thrall with Luke Schenn, the most dynamic rookie the Leafs have had since 1985. That little boy or girl is out there, with the audacity of hope — yep, went there — and knows nothing of the horrible baggage that comes with making the choice to inject blue-and-white into your bloodstream, an incurable affliction. 

A truth is, though, for a couple years in the mid-1980s, Wendel Clark brought hope to the most drab, futile, godforsaken franchise in North American sports. A fellow conscientious objector puts it is this way: Imagine if Jarome Iginla — and Wendel wasn't that class of player, mind you — had come up to the NHL with the worst team in the league. Imagine that he had to drop the gloves every night, since no one else in that dressing room had any pride left after all the losing the Leafs had done and after what Harold Ballard, Punch Imlach Part II and Gerry McNamara had done to throw Toronto's hockey tradition into utter disrepute.

He hit people, he fought, he had that heavy wrist shot and in those days when hockey players didn't seem so faceless and interchangeable, he seemed as close to a natural phenomenon as you can get. If Ballard had never come along and ruined the Leafs, Wendel Clark would not have mattered as much as he did for a generation of Ontarians. He would not have mattered as much if MLSE had never come together and the Leafs had ended up with an ownership group which was set up to win Stanley Cups, not build condominiums.

When you follow hockey through the lens of the Leafs, you do so knowing all of this. We know full well that there is no joy in Leafland. It is like being part of a dysfunctional family's drama. You know all the jokes, know the whole tortured history. When the P.A. announcer at Air Canada Centre intones, "your Toronto Maple Leafs," you fire back at the TV, "he means the high school teachers in the crowd."

Once in a while, those who have to pretend not to care in order to allay the anger need something like this. The plight of the Leafs is akin to the nod People Under The Stairs, on their new album, gives to former hip-hop fans: "A lot of you left, but I don't even blame you."

That might be. Wendel never left us, though and it's our wont to celebrate No. 17 and if it comes off like an eff-you to the rest of Canada who cannot or will not understand, well ...

Other business
  • Down Goes Brown has the top 17 Wendel Clark moments.
  • Cox Bloc's taunting of Vancouver fans must be passed along, strictly as a public service:
    "The Leafs wear iconic uniforms with a crest that is recognized worldwide —the Canucks change their uniforms as often as Van Halen change lead singers. They celebrate second-tier Swedes like Naslund and the Sedins, while the Leafs have iced two of the very greatest ever to wear the Tre Kronor — Sundin and Salming. They venerate Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden. We honour Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. We are on coast-to-coast-to-coast just about every Saturday night from 1931 to Armageddon. They are seen on the late game once a month or so. Classic songs are written about our team and its players. You ever hear 'The Ballad of Tony Tanti'?
  • We couldn't get away without The Rheostatics.

Roy and Clark: Two routes to rafters (Stephen Brunt,


Andrew Bucholtz said...

Linden and Smyl have a lot in common with Clark, and all three are worthy of respect in my book. Why Toronto fans in the Cox Bloc mold feel they need to mock the West Coast is beyond me. Yeah, the Canucks aren't the world's greatest franchise, but our cupless streak is shorter than the Leafs'!

sager said...

Vancouver's last Cup? 1915.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Indeed, but the Canucks aren't the Millionares. The Canucks' cupless streak only dates from 1970, when they joined the league. The Leafs' streak goes back to 1967.