October 16, 2010
Leafs Nation re-ignited
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If you’re Brian Burke, the next best thing to getting the Maple Leafs out of the basement is seeing how many supporters are fetching Toronto sweaters from the closet.
Five years out of the playoffs has created a lot of cynicism in every province of Leafs Nation and it will take a lot more than four wins to convince everyone that this year’s team is for real. But heading home from a 2-0 road trip, proof that opening wins over Montreal and Ottawa weren’t flukes, the ice has been broken in public relations. The team anticipates a warm reception when it returns Monday night to the Air Canada Centre to play the New York Islanders and tries to extend its best start in 18 years.
“We’ve re-ignited the best fan base in hockey,” general manager Burke said on Saturday. “We saw blue everywhere we went in Pittsburgh and New York.
“I must have signed 20 autographs for Leafs fans last night and even one for a Rangers guy, and posed for about 10 pictures. I met people who drove all the way to New York from Hamilton, Oshawa and Burlington.”
When pressed by reporters about the seven-point jump from last season’s mark to now, coach Ron Wilson called dwelling on last year “irrelevant”.
“If we knew what happened in the stock market last year, it wouldn’t have crashed,” Wilson added. “But this is money in the bank for us,”
Former captain Wendel Clark, now a team ambassador, has often been in the line of fan ire when making public appearances the past few seasons. But while in London at a function on Saturday, Clark noted the team’s winning streak has made his task much more bearable.
“It’s way more fun being out and about — and getting less questions that I can’t answer,” Clark joked in a phone interview. “These are a new group of guys, they’re fun to watch and hopefully this (early success) melds them together. To have this early in the season, instead of having to come from behind all the time in spring is great and hopefully, it (playoffs) does happen.”