My history in the Leaf’s Centennial
Brendan Shanahan announced the start of the Toronto Maple Leafs Centennial Season with an special exhibition at NHL Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. This made me think in writing about how I became part of the Leafs Nation, mainly because I’m not even born in North America or Europe, the biggest markets for ice hockey, I was born in Brazil, a country with no knowledge or culture of hockey.
This is my history and it is also part of the 100 years history of this franchise as it is not only the history of the team located in the center of hockey universe, but a team that developed a Leafs Nation all around the world!
Back in January 2002, just months after the 9/11 terrorist attack took place, I worked for a consulting company in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and as I grew up playing basketball and watching Los Angeles Lakers games, Magic Johnson Era, I was excited to have my first travel to US to a one week training, when I would also go to Philips Arena and watch a Los Angeles Lakers @ Atlanta Hawks. It was just amazing! At that time, it wasn’t possible to buy tickets in internet, so just after one friend and I got to Atlanta on a Saturday, we went directly to Philips Arena and bought tickets for the game of our dreams! It would be played on Tuesday. The game was awesome! Watch players as Shaquile O’neal and Kobe Bryant on the court was great! That was an unbelievable night!
You may be asking why am I writing about basketball, but this fact will take me to the beginning of my love for Hockey.
Unfortunately we had nothing to do on Wednesday night and started to search what was available to do in Atlanta. At the same venue, Philips Arena, there would be an NHL game and all information I had ever had about hockey was that they played on ice, there were fights and it was an sport Canada loves. I didn’t even know the teams or the rules. At the end we bought tickets to Toronto Maple Leafs @ Atlanta Thrashers on January 30th, 2002. At least I was expecting a good game since a team from Toronto should be a good team, based in my sparce hockey knowledge.
We went to Philips Arena and although the seats were far from ice (we bought cheap tickets as we were not hockey fans at that time), but the experience was amazing for me! I saw a team on the ice with players I have never heard of as Mats Sundin, Curtis Joseph, Alexander Mogilny, Tie Domi, Gary Roberts, Brian McCabe, Darcy Tucker, Mikael Renberg, Jonas Hoglund and Tomas Kaberle. Hockey fans were also amazing, passionate and I just became one of them right in my first game! There was a lot of energy in the air! It was an awesome feeling! The score was a shutout by 6 goals for the Leafs. I was so amazed that I started to look for more information about the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Internet e it was when I got to the NHL website and the mapleleafs.com. It was love at first sight and I became a Maple Leafs fan.
I returned to Brazil and unfortunately there were no NHL game broadcasts here on that time, so the only way to follow the team was through the Internet. I was always looking for the Leafs’ game scores and I just consumed all NHL content I could. After some years, I guess in 2005, there were some NHL games broadcasted by ESPN, but they were not live and usually only were transmitted at 02:00am. It was almost no TV coverage.
There was the lockout in 2004/05 and it was very said to have the season totally cancelled and no hockey at all, even through websites. After that, the Leafs started a period where the team did not even classified for the playoffs, but at least the team had Mats Sundin, my Leafs legend of all time, playing for the team, and his 500th goal, in overtime while short-handed, completing a hat-trick, was awesome! It just shows the kind of captain he was to the Leafs and the rock solid effort he had in every game he played! I will still have a Leafs jersey autographed by him! I know the list of Leafs Legends are endless, but as I’m a Leafs fan for the last 14 years, he was the only I was fortunate to watch playing! Obviously Johnny Bower, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour and Curtis Joseph were stellar players and I’m proud for everything they did for the Leafs’ history.
I was fortunate to go to Toronto on vacation (October 2008) and watch a Senators @ Leafs game, the famous Battle of Ontario. From the begging it was just amazing to be at Air Canada Centre and feel how it is to be in a place where everybody knows the game you love and shares the same love for the team! Even before the game, I was coming from the Union Station and getting to the Air Canada Centre and I saw a place to buy the game program (a Leafs Magazine). It was being offered by CAD 5.00 and for my luck, when you bought one you would win an autograph from Darryl Sittler! Yes!! He was just there! Obviously I got it and also took a picture! That was unbelievable! For me, a fan from Brazil, to have the opportunity to get an autograph from a Leafs legend, it was a dream come true! It was the first time I felt I was part of the Leafs Nation!
In the beginning of 2009, I knew various blogs in Brazil focused on NHL hockey teams and there was even an online magazine for all information about hockey (www.theslot.com.br). They were all created by fans that got to know the NHL by very different ways, from NHL video games to vacations in North America. The guys were very well informed and followed their teams with passion. They were sharing their passion for the sport, news about the legends of the game and explaining the rules.
There was not a blog for the Maple Leafs, so I decided to start one, to provide all information I could about the Leafs. In February 2009 it was created the MapleLeafsBrasil.com, a blog to the Portuguese speaking fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And counting back, it is seven years covering every Leafs game, player negotiation, draft, history, change in the management, change in the coach and its staff. During these seven years of the blog I also used Twitter (@mapleleafsbr), that allowed me to get in contact with very special Leafs fans all around the World and understand that I was part of a Leafs Nation that truly has fans from Brazil, Croatia, Great Britain, Germany and so on!
Here in Brazil, I’m always trying to get my friends and colleagues to watch games on TV! My wife became a NHL fan, but cheering for the Blackhawks (I can say she is 99.9% perfect! Hehehehehehe). I’m always trying to explain NHL rules, the NHL teams and Leafs history to my friends, but at the end, I feel that I’m an apple in a basket of bananas! This is the soccer country and I’m a NHL fan, owner of a Leafs blog!
I thank God everyday I was fortunate to go to Toronto and New York and I have been able to buy tickets and watch the game and the team I love! I even have a canvas of James Reimer I got during one of my vacations in Toronto. He was just outside the Hockey Hall of Fame store, signing the canvas and I could not let this opportunity pass away! Reimer was very kind and to have a picture of a guy I just have seen on TV playing for the Leafs was a gift I was not even hoping for! I was able to visit the Legends Row and it was also amazing! Of course I took a picture besides Sundin’s statue!! Hehehehe
Nowadays, ESPN has the rights to broadcast live NHL games to Brazil and I also sign the NHL Centre Ice, so I can watch every Leafs game in the season! It would be awesome to have the opportunity to sign Leafs TV, as I would love to watch it’s contents, but it is not possible, not even through the Internet.
This is my history. A history of how a Brazilian guy became a Leafs fan! A history that is a little part of the 100 years history of this team! A history to be shared!