The Leafs had been pretty lousy for most of the time I lived in Ontario up to that point. Not always, and they did have some decent playoff runs, but at times they were the laughing stock of the league. And for a few years before 1993, they were not a good team. Fans had grown complacent and apathetic. That all changed when Cliff Fletcher became the General Manager he hired Pat Burns as the coach and traded for Doug Gilmour, their star player. Hopes were high, but Leaf fans had come to expect high hopes to become unrealized expectations.
When the Leafs barely made the playoffs and then got slaughtered in the first two games in Detroit, it seemed whatever hype and hoopla had been created was fading fast. Then, the Leafs did something that nobody could have predicted. They made a series of it, and we were all glued to every second of it.
Twenty years. It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years. I was 28 when this happened. I thought I had lived so many years, so much of life. In fact, at times, it seemed my life was over. Like I had done so much, done as much as I needed to do. But in reality, I was barely getting started. Now, I am 48, and 28 seems like eons ago.
At the time this happened, it was not a good time in my life. I had a horrible job, no money and I barely went out at all. I had just survived two horrible job endings and I don't remember being happy 99% of the time. Like many, I looked forward to the weekends and loathed Monday morning and having to go to work. In many ways hockey was my salvation. At least I still had enjoyment out of that. And then it happened.
It was a magical time. A magical few weeks. And it seemingly came out of nowhere, and became something that no one could have even imagined it would be. One of those magic moments in your life when the most important thing came out of nowhere and just swallowed up the rest of your life. Like it didn't exist.
For many of us, it was all we thought of. Certainly, it was all anybody talked about.
It was when time seemed to stop. Every game was like the greatest game we had ever seen. Every game was a game we had to win. The losses were devastating. The wins were exhilarating. Life was a hockey roller coaster, and nobody wanted to get off the ride.
They were two big moments and two great memories sandwiched around a whole bunch of things that happened in my life that spring.
Something very special happened in that 6 weeks period in 1993, and I will not forget it for the rest of my life. It was just some hockey games, but it was so much more than that.
The moment when the Leafs came back in Game 7, down 3-1 with just a few minutes left, and then Nikolai Borschevsky
tipped in Bob Rouse's shot in overtime was a moment frozen in time for me. It still gives me chills and takes me back to that moment. I just played the clip, and I got those chills again, and the goosebumps. That feeling will never leave me as many times as I watch the clip for the rest of my life.
A couple of weeks later, when the Leafs played the St. Louis Blues in the next round, it happened again. At the same time my life was going nowhere but downhill, many of my friends were making their way. They all had great jobs, and three of them were getting married in that one month. One of them actually got married the night that the Leafs won an overtime game against the Blues, on the famous Gilmour wrap around goal.
I remember my friend Vern watching the game on his mini tv at the wedding, and telling him that I didn't want to know the score or anything about the game. Luckily, I was able to achieve that and watch the whole game on tape when I got home.
That series ended up tied 3-3 with the final game on a Saturday night in Toronto. People all day were talking about the game, and the city basically shut down. I recall going to my friend Eric's house to watch it. Eric still lived with his parents then and we watched the game in their den, something we had done many times growing up. It was an easy win for the Leafs, and as they were up 5-0 by the end of the second period, there was not much to do other than look forward to the next round, and do it all over again.
Which is exactly what the city did. Another great series against the Los Angeles Kings, and now the excitement had gone on for more than a month, although it seemed like just minutes. It was just a blur. Another seven game series, and it appeared the Leafs were going to win it in six games, but that did not happen. The famous Wayne Gretzky stick incident in game 6, and then the game 7 in Toronto where the Leafs came up short. It was over.
It was 3 seven game series in a row, and those 21 games were like nothing any of us had experienced before, or since.
It is now 20 years since that time, but it is something we never forget. For our generation, it was the greatest playoff run we will likely ever see.
For me, it was a turning point when I needed a turning point. Another direction. After that summer I quit my job, got a new one and was on my way. Hockey never seemed to be the same again for me, and that series was the last bit of hockey I remember enjoying, but it came at the right time in my life.
I really don't care at all about the 2013 Maple Leafs, or pro hockey in general, as I don't follow anymore. But the timing I find incredibly ironic. It was one of those times when all the stars aligned for me.