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Jun. 23, 2021 | Wednesday
Editorials and Opinions
Ross' Ramblings: A team in need of leadership and inspiration
Angela Medoco and Meagan Sentineal sport their Leafs jerseys. (Ross Robinson)

Each spring, St. Davids resident and CBC Hockey Night in Canada legend Ralph Mellanby is repeatedly asked to predict the winner of the Stanley Cup. His stock response is, "Whichever team avoids injury and has a hot goalie."

This theory flows right down to the NOTL Hot Tub league, Wallbangers, and other old timers leagues. Add in the variable of key players leaving during the playoffs for holidays in Florida or Mexico, and game results are often influenced by which team members are not able to be on the ice.

What fun it was in NOTL for the past two weeks to have such positive energy and good natured sporting rivalry on display on the mean streets of our COVID-19 weary town.

On Charlotte Street elegantly riding her chestnut Belgian gelding Whiskey was Meagan Sentineal wearing a Toronto Maple Leaf sweater. She spent time working with horses in rugby-mad New Zealand and said. "I was surprised and happy the Kiwis had heard of our great national game of hockey. But Rocket Richard was the most recognizable name."

That being said, Meagan told me her mother Laura is a passionate and long-suffering Leaf fan, and would be devastated if they came up short again.

Last Saturday, a delightful spring morning, Niagara-on-the-Lake's well-known "Walking Lady" Angela Medoco was wearing a blue and white Leaf sweater as she power-walked along Mary Street in Old Town.

"I'm not a serious hockey fan, but after so many years, friends tell me this has got to be the year the Leafs go all the way and win the Cup. It's been how many years now? Has it been 54?"

And while picking up another mouth-watering pizza on Sunday evening at Garage Pizza on York Road in St. Davids, pizza meister Franca Pingue proudly curbsided in a replica Habs sweater.

"It's mostly red, which is good when you are working with our delicious, fairly famous marinara sauce. When we get really busy in the kitchen, weird things can happen."

During the Leafs-Habs first round series Mellanby's annual prognostication proved true. Maple Leaf captain John Tavares was sadly, badly injured in the first period of the first game. Then, perhaps the most positive teammate in the NHL, Leaf goalie Jack Campbell, was really warm in the crease. Really warm, but not hot. It was hard to watch this fine young man during his post-game news conference after his Leafs had been upset by les Canadiens de Montreal.

The Canadiens avoided serious injury and their magnificent goalie Carey Price was sizzling hot for all seven games. Yes, crease ice melting hot!

The Leafs have now lost seven consecutive playoff series. They just can't figure out how to clinch and win. Leadership, grit, depth, team spirit. What's the problem? Maybe when four of their star players are earning 50 per cent of the team's total payroll, the other lads feel a bit hard-done-by. Who knows? Something about putting too many of your eggs in four baskets?

We could spend an evening yacking in a NOTL sports bar and not determine the major difference between these two Original Six franchises. The red, white and blue sweaters seemed to fly, needing to win. The blue and white sweatered Toronto players sometimes seemed to be up and down like a toilet seat. They really seem to try, they answer the post-game questions diplomatically, but the intangible, the necessary spark, is usually missing.

With the tragedy in B.C., it is a delicate and sad time in our history now. The conversation is on now, everywhere, including here in NOTL. The Leafs need a true leader who has “it." Always trying to win, never slacking off in practice, always aware of the head spaces of his teammates, tough as nails, funny when appropriate. A grinder.

I am talking about a proud Anishinaabe person, from near Sudbury, Ont., George "Chief" Armstrong was his name, and he died just last January at age 90. Captain of the Leafs for 13 years, he led the team to four Stanley Cups.

He was of Irish-Algonquin heritage and played 21 seasons in the NHL, all with the Maple Leafs: a record 1,188 games, 296 goals, about 14 per year. Some big goals.

Strategies and styles change, but speed and grit, desire and desperation always win. Not that long ago, goalies played a stand-up style and goals through the five hole were rare. Then the butterfly style became all the rage. Tony Esposito from the Soo, Dominik Hasek from Czechoslovakia and Erwin Wiens from right here in Queenston were early adapters back in the 1970s.

Really sharp sharpshooters now aim at the five hole, and the first goal of Game 7 went right between Campbell's legs. Ugly...

The day of the Game 7 final, I was flummoxed to hear Leaf coach Sheldon Keefe say, after losing the fifth and sixth games, "As much as it sucks how we got here, and what we've been through the last couple of games – and we hate it – I really feel, frankly, that we are right where we're supposed to be."

Did he really say that? Did he? They were supposed to have won Game 5 and Game 6. Too much deep thinking in the Leaf organization. The Shamaplan has not worked after seven years full of dashed hopes. Perhaps move on.

What a magnificent game of hockey we watched, Game 7 between the Maple Leafs and les Canadiens. Fast, hard-hitting, non-stop action, and close, so close. In the end,

Never bet against a streak, the Leafs were on the sad side of the traditional handshake line.