A Year After Tragedy, Maple Leafs Look to Avenge Game 7 Demons

Toronto Maple Leafs
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It was like any ordinary day in Toronto. People going to work. Store owners opening their shops. The sun was shining. Spring was in the air.

Until it wasn’t. On the busy stretch of Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard Avenues, a van would ram its way into the crowds at Mel Lastman Square. 10 were left dead, 16 more injured. For a city that is considered to be the beacon of the world for its diversity and security, Toronto was under attack. A senseless tragedy that would change the lives of those affected forever.

The world mourned for the losses of these innocent Toronto citizens. We saw the immense bravery and courage by Toronto first responders, in the face of violence and terror. And just like one year ago, Torontonians can escape their present struggles to cheer and support an entity greater than ourselves.

That is of course, Ontario’s capital team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs Provided Anchor of Hope for a City in Despair

Sports has been entrenched in our cultures for generations. Not only are we captivated by the brilliance of athletes in their respective sports, but more so by the game’s ability to heal and unite us in the face of adversity.

Hockey has enthralled millions of Canadians since the dawn of Canada’s confederation. As supporters of the Toronto Maple Leafs, fans understand that their blind love and faith towards this franchise can be considered idealistic. But this is sports. Hockey and the Maple Leafs have shaped the identity of this city, desperately hoping for success since 1967.

The Yonge Street tragedy occurred on the morning of the Maple Leafs’ Game 6 match-up against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs were down 3-2, needing to win on home ice to force a Game 7. In the chaos that unfolded at Mel Lastman Square, hockey took a temporary back seat. The primary focus was the safety and security of a city in crisis.

But as the minutes turned to hours after the attack, the emotional spirit became locked together to support Toronto’s premier hockey team that night. All of Scotiabank Arena had a moment of silence in memory of the victims who lost their lives during the attack. And with the entire city glued to the game, the Maple Leafs put on an inspiring performance. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. They were all over their arch-nemesis Boston Bruins, winning 3-1 to force a Game 7. It was a victory for Toronto, a city looking for a spark of hope in the midst of dark sorrow.

“We’re sending all our love,” said Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who scored the winning goal and added an assist. “It’s happening too often now, these things. It sucks. This world’s made for loving each other and making each other better.

“This is a big win for us after an emotional day.”

Toronto Maple Leafs Look to Win First Playoff Series on Tragedy’s One-Year Anniversary

As a student attending the University of Toronto, I could hear the piercing sounds of sirens that fateful April morning. Little did I realize that the city’s history would change forever by tragic events that occurred 14 kilometres away.

One year later, the loss still stings those individuals affected by the tragedy. Ceremonies, vigils and flowers are being organized throughout the city, honouring those innocent citizens who died. And similarly to a year ago, there is a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game tonight. Only this time, it’s a do-or-die Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, with the Leafs looking to win its first playoff series since 2004.

Recent history is not kind to the Maple Leafs when it comes to Game 7’s. Particularly against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. In 2013, up 4-1 in the third period, the Leafs would lose 5-4 in OT. Last year, Toronto was up 4-3 heading to the final period, only to give up four unanswered goals to the big bad Bruins.

But the past is meaningless. Looking backwards is counterproductive. The Maple Leafs are much more improved this year, with the additions of star forward John Tavares and defenseman Jake Muzzin. Through six games, the Leafs are outscoring the Bruins on even strength 11 to 8. With Toronto’s 12-11 record in Game 7’s put to the test tonight, Mike Babcock is preaching a similar message ahead of this historic game.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to be better tomorrow,” says Babcock. “It is an opportunity for our hockey club. We look forward to it.

One year later, Mel Lastman Square, once a place of horror and destruction, is now a sacred gathering spot for peace and reflection. Life is never to be treated so cheaply and for granted.

The rest of the world watched how our city lived up to the “Toronto Strong” persona. Disaster builds strength. And in tremendous hardship, we turn to hockey as the avenue for healing and conquering adversity.

Toronto fans will once again gather with a ferocious spirit, cheering on their beloved Maple Leafs. The city may never be the same, but our hearts will be with those victims today and always.

And our love and passion for the game of hockey will always live on.