Ri­val­ries guide us whether we ad­mit it or not

The Compass - - SPORTS -

The sto­ried ri­valry be­tween the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens and the Toronto Maple Leafs got its start on Christ­mas Day 1917. The game was con­tested at the Arena Gar­dens, the pre­cur­sor to the ven­er­a­ble Maple Leaf Gar­dens, in Toronto.

A game fea­tur­ing the likes of Ge­orges Vez­ina, Reg Noble, Hap Holmes, Joe Malone, Newsy Lalonde and Di­dier Pitre, Toronto, who were then al­ter­nately called the Toronto Are­nas or Toron­tos, de­feated their Mon­treal op­po­nents 7-5 in what was surely a barn burner.

Three days later on the 29th, the Cana­di­ens ex­acted a small mea­sure of re­venge with a 9-2 vic­tory. That was just the start how­ever.

Over the next 98 years, the Maple Leafs and Cana­di­ens have met 725 times, as per the web­site Hockey Ref­er­ence. Toronto have won 293 of those con­tests, with Mon­treal cap­tur­ing 334 vic­to­ries. There have been 88 ties and 10 over­time losses mixed in there to bal­ance things out.

The ri­valry was dif­fer­ent back then. Then it was the English speak­ing Protes­tants of Toronto vs. the Ro­man Catholic French cit­i­zens who resided in Mon­treal. With city ver­sus city, re­li­gion ver­sus re­li­gion, the games were an early ver­sion of the Hunger Games played out on ice.

For many years, they were the only two Cana­dian teams in the league, which only served to in­ten­sify the ha­tred fans felt to­wards the other fran­chise.

This isn’t the only ri­valry that ex­ists in hockey. One can­not dis­count Bos­ton-Mon­treal, DetroitToronto, Chicago-New York, Cal­gary-Ed­mon­ton or ColoradoDetroit.

They too have ra­bid fan bases that hold a strong dis­like for each other. And, that is only hockey. There are count­less other ri­val­ries in sports that of­fer the same in­tense ha­tred for the other team.

Think the Green Bay Pack­er­sChicago Bears (NFL), New York Yan­kees-Bos­ton Red Sox (MLB) and Bos­ton Celtics-Los An­ge­les Lak­ers (NBA).

Th­ese ri­val­ries are more than that for the fans of th­ese teams. They be­come a way of life and a bea­con for them to hold onto dur­ing dif­fi­cult times.

Fans of th­ese teams fly their flags with pride. They wear the gear of their favourite teams and au­to­mat­i­cally find the bad in a stranger when they’re wear­ing the gear of a ri­val team.

The more fa­nat­i­cal ones will form bonds with peo­ple who share their love for the team. They strug­gle with ac­cept­ing fans of ri­val or­ga­ni­za­tions into their flock.

Sure they’ll do it, but with great trep­i­da­tion. There will be not-so­gen­tle barbs lofted at each other when to­gether.

I think that’s what makes the con­nec­tion be­tween sports, peo­ple and so­ci­ety such an in­ter­est­ing mix­ture.

Of­ten, our ties to an ath­letic group dic­tate how we live our lives and spend our money. They play a part in our re­la­tion­ships and how we in­ter­act with peo­ple.

They mold our dreams and a suc­cess­ful run by your favourite team can bring fans back from the brink of despair.

There is some­thing in­vig­o­rat­ing about taunt­ing a ri­val fan about their team’s elim­i­na­tion from the play­offs game.

At a per­sonal level, th­ese teams be­come a part of you. Teams are no longer re­ferred to as ‘they,’ but ‘we’ in­stead. You place your­self on the team. Ev­ery­thing takes on a big­ger mean­ing.

A loss means you can’t watch the morn­ing high­lights for fear of re­liv­ing the pain of los­ing, while a win puts a smile on your face and some pep in your step.

There’s also that eter­nal hope that keeps you be­liev­ing.

‘Next year, we’ll be bet­ter’ – the per­sonal mantra of Maple Leafs fans ev­ery­where.

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Ni­cholas Mercer is a re­porter/pho­tog­ra­pher with The Com­pass. A Maple Leafs fan, he knows what it’s like to con­tin­u­ally hope for a win­ning sea­son and can be reached at nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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