Some things never change

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Now where were we before being interrupted ...

It happened in the autumn of 1988 when then-sports editor Wayne Parrish telephoned while I was covering an auto race in Florida and asked: "How would you like to cover the Blue Jays next year?"

Hello, dream job. Goodbye car fumes and Maple Leafs. It has been almost two decades since I spent quality time writing about the Leafs as a Sun reporter. In the interim there were World Series championships and reincarnations as a tongue-in-cheek columnist and feature writer but, now ... back to the hockey game:

And, look. All kinds of familiar names such as Ferguson, Gagner, Sutter and Stastny. And, then, the awful truth comes -- they're the kids of the guys I covered the first time around. I am a walking fossil with a weight problem.

So, what has been happening since Dave Stieb became perfect, the Raptors were born, the Gardens died and the Argos became an afterthought? Well, the Maple Leafs still haven't won the Stanley Cup. So, evidently, I haven't missed a thing.

This has been confirmed after scanning the Leafs pre-season. "We haven't been playing well as a team. And, I'll admit I'm not playing well. I know I have to shake out of it." So said, Vesa Toskala after the sky fell on him in Buffalo last week, right? Actually, Mapleholics it is a quote from Ed Olczyk on Feb. 1, 1989 trying to explain the team's 2-8-3 January record. Toskala just said something like it.

Some things (insert heavy sigh, here) never change.

The Leafs would finish the 1988-89 season one spot removed from the playoffs -- just like last season.

The only difference is the coach now in charge of explaining how this could happen is patient, diplomatic and analytical. Where Paul Maurice can almost be professorial, John Brophy had all the charm of the school bully. Every media briefing, which then consisted of a half-dozen guys with mustard stains on their jackets from the night before, began with a four-letter word. A lot of the in-between and endings consisted of that word, too.

Somewhere there is a tape in the department of him sounding like he's about to burst a blood vessel, expletives dripping from his mouth like saliva from a bulldog on a bone.

Controversy swirling around the Leafs' main man? Nothing new. "We're going to give him another shot (on the first line). I'd like to see what he can do there." No, that's not Maurice talking about who gets to play with Mats Sundin.

It's George Armstrong, who took over as Leafs coach after Brophy was fired in December 1988. So, John Kordic got a second chance to prove he belonged with Gary Leeman and Ed Olczyk. And, we all know how well that worked out. It makes Nik Antropov look like the second coming of Cam Neely.

Fans and media bitching about ownership/management? Where have we heard that one before? Oh, here it is. A Sun poll shows that owner Harold Ballard is the most disliked of the Maple Leafs, drawing an 83.7% disapproval rating. Wrote one reader: "As long as he runs this show and people buy tickets and he makes lots of money ... he doesn't care one bit. Harold has to die off before anything happens."

He did. So, what happens?

Instead of the Stanley Cup we got the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund. Which is kind of like Harold, except it doesn't have a redeeming quality named Clancy, can't talk, doesn't have a mutt as a sidekick or, even a dog named Puck.

Some people believe today's athletes have become spoiled and irresponsible. See Mark Bell.

They've forgotten Ken Yaremchuk. Admittedly, this is not a difficult thing to do because his most memorable moment as a Maple Leaf came when he was detained by L.A. police after an incident outside a restaurant following a loss (what else) to the Kings. A witness said Yaremchuk was in the middle of the street playing matador to passing vehicles.

"There are no charges. We just pick them up and hold them until we think it's safe for them to go," police Sgt. Bob Quinlan told the Sun that sparkling February day in 1989. Then, he chuckled: "I was surprised to see he was arrested at 11 p.m. I guess it was because the game was in the afternoon. Most of the time hockey players don't get arrested until about 2 o'clock."

Next day, Yaremchuk was sent to the minors.

"That kind of stuff we won't accept," said co-coach Garry Lariviere. "We're here to make the playoffs."

Here we are, a generation later, and it's all that they're still trying to do.


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