Have new faces brought a winning attitude back to this city’s professional hockey and basketball teams? Find out for yourself as the Maple Leafs and Raptors seek to maintain their mid-season momentum at the Air Canada Centre.
BLADES OF STEEL
You could be forgiven for wondering why it’s so difficult to get tickets to a Toronto Maple Leafs home game. After all, the National Hockey League team—and Canada’s most valuable sports franchise—hasn’t exactly been burning up the ice in recent years. It’s no secret they haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and despite attracting some laudable talent, the squad has been shut out of the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons. Such inferiority prompted a high-profile executive change last year, with team owners installing prized hockey mind Brian Burke as general manager. An architect of recent Cup contenders the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks, Burke is noted for preferring big, tough players, and this past summer made good on his reputation by signing workhorses like Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin. You won’t be seeing these defensemen at the all-star game; they earn their pay not with fancy stickhandling, but with body checks and blocked shots. Phil Kessel, acquired from the Boston Bruins, has added some scoring, but halfway through the season it’s clear the team is still a star or two away from contending. From this vantage point, the 2009–10 Maple Leafs will not likely be remembered among the storied lineups of yesteryear, but Toronto’s rink rats and ice queens nevertheless continue to live and die by the fortunes of their blue-collar hockey heroes.