December 27, 2005

Maple Leafs vs. Canadians – Canadian hockey at its best

Thomas Kieller

On a cool Saturday night, I went to the Bell Center, as did the 22,000 other spectators, to see the Habs play against the Leafs in a typical Canadian hockey game. Two clubs which hold together 37 Stanley cups! That night, the stake was not the silver cup, but a simple victory. Yet the players gave everything they had in order to seize the two points. The rivalry Toronto-Montreal remains intact.

The Maple Leafs in their immaculate white jerseys with deep blue tones were ready to face the tricoloured. With a few hundred supporters who came from Ontario, it was easy to sense that the Torontonians would deliver a furious match. Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi and Bryan McCabe were there to give good body checks and to bring trouble. Oh yes!

After some holographic effects and the famous musical theme “Hockey Night in Canada”, the referee dropped the puck in the center of the ice rink. The Toronto fans spontaneously yelled: “Go Leafs go.” The response from the excited Canadian supporters didn’t take long to come by chanting in their turn and much louder: “Go Habs go.” Everything to put yourself into the game.

From the start, the Canadians deployed their attack based on speed and accurate passes. The first beautiful incursion came from captain Saku Koivu who rushed at top speed into the opponent’s zone. Just before firing a shot, Mats Sundin held him up. The message was clear. The tricoloured players were going to exert a sustained pressure on the Leafs. Not in their game, the Toronto players accumulated penalties at the great disarray of their goalkeeper Ed Belfour who had to block a burst of shots. At the end of the 1st period, the score was still nil even with the 18 shots of the Canadians.

Disconcerted in the first period, the Leafs came back from the intermission with more energy. After Kovalev high sticked and Bégin hooked excessively, the Torontonians benefited from a two-man advantage. They didn’t miss their chance. McCabe, who received a pass from his teammate Tomas Kaberle, fired a solid slap-shot which beat José Théodore to his left side. The Maple Leafs fans expressed immediately their joy. They celebrated again with another goal three minutes later. The Canadian players kept their spirits up and they responded with two goals. To shake his teammates, Domi charged the Montreal goalkeeper. Awakened by the dynamism of their tough guy, the Leafs broke the tie at the end of the period. The score was 3 to 2.

However, the outcome of the match was far from decided. After tying up the score, the Canadians came back charging with a superb goal. Koivu, who was working in the corner of the ice rink as usual, delivered the puck to his comrade Kovalev. As a renowned goalscorer, the latter took a tremendous shot from the slot which gave the lead to the Montrealers. The Leafs increased right away the tempo. They took advantage of a bouncing puck to beat the vigilance of Théodore. After three periods, neither of the two clubs could take a definitive lead. Montreal and Toronto fans were asking for more. They wanted a winner.

The overtime began rapidly with Ribeiro’s fakes and Lindros’ power incursion. No one could touch the twine of the net. It took a power play to change finally the course of the game. O’neill fired an unstoppable slap-shot which gave the victory to the Leafs by the score of 5 to 4.

On Sainte-Catherine Street, the partisans exclaimed a wide range of emotions where joy and deception were intermixed. All were chatting and were telling their highlights. Even though the fans of the Montreal Canadians saw the victory slip through their fingers, they want to see more hockey, because in this kind of match pleasure is always there.