For fans here, this was not as much a March Leafs Nation trip to Montreal as it was the Fire Ron Wilson travelling road show.
For some it was a pilgrimage. Long suffering Maple Leaf fans wanted hockey justice.
And they got it.
“Finally,” said Mike Bidwell of Toronto. “It’s about time.
“It took two years longer than it should have,” added Craig Succee.
They, with fellow GTA paramedic and fire fighting pals Jamie Pietrobon, Matt Rollwagen, Rob Hanson and Tim Nykamp are down here for Burlington fire fighter Ian Johnston’s bachelor party.
But they were going to be part of the chorus of thousands in blue and white in the Bell Centre — trying to send the message to Burke that his friend had to go.
Friday night they celebrated — not on the personal level but as Leaf fans with a glimmer of hope that not only can they make the playoffs but perhaps get in there and do some damage.
Everybody applauded the Randy Carlyle choice as Wilson’s replacement.
Hanson, the lone Habs fan in the group, said he’s thrilled because instead of listening to his friends scream “Fire Wilson” all night there will be a chance for a decent hockey game with a lot on the line.
Incidentally, Carlyle was fired from the Anaheim Ducks after a 4-1 win against Montreal on Nov. 30 — ending a 273-182-61 coaching stint but, as they all pointed out, winning a Stanley Cup.
It was certainly never going to happen in Toronto with Wilson.
And Burke may not be far behind, too, because his act in Toronto is wearing thin. If he thinks the trade deadline is “murder” he should wait and see how fans feel if this team misses the playoffs this year and doesn’t get in there next year either.
People know as much about hockey in Toronto as he does but as ridiculous as his act has been this season, he must realize if he doesn’t he will be gone when the new ownership takes over.
Bell and Rogers don’t think all media people are scum since they employ many of them.
It’s time for Burke to deliver something. Leaf fans already know losing. They want to see some winning.
These fans here this weekend are the actual Leaf fans — not corporate seat people at the ACC. They are the ones who have been bleeding blue and white for a lot longer than Wilson and Burke ever did or ever will.
They are not interested in next year or any more P.T Barnum-power spin either.
Enough with the excuses and enough with glossing over that this will soon be eight springs in a row without playoff hockey.
Fans are happy to have Carlyle and with less than a quarter of the season to go, the real Maple Leaf fans want the team to do everything they can to get into the spring time show of all shows.
“We had quite a night in store for Mr. Wilson, “ said Barry Gooding, one of ten Whitby/Oshawa area pals who were expecting this game to mean something when they planned it.
Now Alex Keppen and pal Joseph Calhoon, as well as Josh Gagnon and his ten pals from the mines in Sudbury, will focus on cheering for the team and making it a fun Saturday night.
“With the Habs out of this year I am pretty sure the Bell Centre is going to be 50-50 Leafs fans,” Gooding said.
Don Cherry was against booing the team or chanting for Ron Wilson’s head from the beginning. He thought Burke should keep Wilson until the end of the season.
“Listen I don’t like Wilson and Wilson does not like me and that’s all right but no guy deserves that kind of treatment,” Cherry said before news of the firing. “I feel bad for him and his family because I know what he was going through.”
With coaching though, Cherry said, he always took the glass half full approach with his players.
“I don’t believe in negativity,” said Cherry, whose new movie the Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II airs on CBC Sunday night. “I don’t think yelling at players or coaches helps you win. That stuff is better done behind closed doors.”
It shows the kind of man Cherry is — to back those guys up when just last month Burke went behind his back to CBC brass to complain about his weekly “vicious” comments.
Now with Carlyle at the helm this ticket even got hotter — with so many Leaf fans coming in by plane, train or automobile. There will be a playoff atmosphere for sure.
The tension was already happening on Via Train 52, which left Toronto at 6:40 a.m. and got into Montreal in the early afternoon. It was not just between Leaf and Hab fans going down for the game but between actual married couples.
There would have been no yelling “Fire Ron Wilson” from Carol and Rejean Manseau and Laurie and Guy Richard. But they may be yelling at each other. You see the Hamilton residents have a division in their families. The men are best friends and life long Habs fans and the women are best friends and have always bleed blue and white.
They actually all get along pretty well — except for nights when they two rivals play on the ice.
Cherry said the fans are right to think the Leafs can make up five points and get themselves back in the playoff hunt.
“Why not? It has happened before. One of these goalies could get hot and there’s not reason the Leafs can’t go on a run and win a bunch in a row.”
It’s not Ron Wilson’s hot potato anymore.
Over to you Randy Carlyle.