The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs played in an NHL playoff game I was in the eleventh grade. It was Game 6 against the Flyers and I was working an evening shift at a craft store in Ancaster, Ontario. I had pleaded with my manager to forgo the usual light muzak radio station he usually played (I called it dentist chair music) and switch over to the game. He obliged and I finished my shift while listening to the Leafs and biting my nails.
Toronto staved off elimination by erasing a two goal deficit in the third period, but all for not. I made it home in time to see Jeremy Roenick score an overtime winner and end Toronto’s season. That was 2004 and it was the last time playoff hockey has been played in the Air Canada Centre.
After years of near misses, futile spring pushes, and waffle-tossing atrociousness on ice, the Leafs are returning to the playoffs for the first time since that night I was hanging on Joe Bowen’s every word while putting away loose yarn. By no means does it seem like yesterday, and the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized just how much the world has changed since that last match. It put into perspective how long it has actually been and the more I thought about it, the scarier it was.
Here is what life was like the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs appeared in the NHL playoffs:
- John Paul II was the Pope – there have been two Popes since then.
- YouTube hadn’t been invented
- Same goes for Twitter and the iPhone
- Pluto was still a planet
- Zdeno Chara was wearing the colours of the Ottawa Senators and Chris Pronger was still a member of the St. Louis Blues
- Dick Cheney hadn’t shot anyone in the face … at least as far as we know
- Rihanna was not famous. No one had heard of Twilight. Lost and Mad Men had yet to appear on a television screen.
- Sidney Crosby hadn’t been drafted by Pittsburgh and Michael Phelps had zero Olympic medals
- Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Johnny Carson were all still alive
- Barack Obama was still a relative unknown – he wouldn’t garner national attention for another couple months during his DNC Convention keynote speech
- Brad Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston
- Gmail had been around for a month, Facebook for three
- Christopher Nolan hadn’t saved Batman yet – the most recent big screen Bruce Wayne was George Clooney, Bat-nipples and all
- The Boston Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 – sharing a bond with the Leafs as sports franchises with rabid fanbases and comically long championship droughts. The Red Sox have since won two World Series titles. And Toronto’s making their first post-season appearance since 2004. Ouch.
That said, I still love me some Leafs playoff hockey. There is nothing like the atmosphere in Southern Ontario when the blue and white are in the post-season and if you listen closely you can hear a legion of people exhaling excitedly and saying: It’s about damn time.