If winning isn't everything, why bother keeping score?

The morning sucks. Especially with a family; especially with kids.

Before my daughter was born, I remember watching SportsDesk (now SportsCentre) on TSN at 2 a.m. and wondering whether this would be the last time I would ever willfully be awake to watch the late broadcast. It was. As my kids have grown, I’ve managed a few instances of evening consciousness, and being a musician, I’ve sometimes wandered in just as the highlights have started. Still, there’s always a price to pay on the back end.

This winter’s post-Christmas holidays started with the dreadful bleeping of the bedside alarm, and tired legs hitting the cold floor. It got even worse once I started thinking about the next six months: six months of early mornings, stupid breakfasts, school lunches, and napsacks packed with books and pencils and flutes and volleyball runners. In the kitchen, The Fan’s Brady and Lange were on the radio. They tried their best, but they could not.

But then, suddenly, things got a little easier. I willed my legs to move through the hallway and down the stairs to the front door, which I pushed open into the relative cold, two of Toronto’s newspapers sitting at my feet. I collected them and brought them to the kitchen, throwing them onto the table. Upstairs, I called to the rest. My voice rang out and I was surprised by its pitch: melodic, excited, upticked, even a little youthful. The night before, the Leafs had beaten Buffalo 2-0, the first time they’ve won decisively over their cross-border opponent. My daughter and I had guessed the 3 Stars: two out of three right. Turns out, it was a pretty good day to be alive.

For Leaf fans, winning makes life easier, more fun. It’s the same for whatever team you happen to support. Winning throws light at dark mornings. It lends the world a tighter spin and the day a leap of energy. It gives strangers on buses something to talk about and, in my case, it gives fathers the excuse to call sons wanting to knock around the details of the game. It gets kids on the street with sticks and a ball and it makes the snow and subzero temperatures and blizzards seem beautiful and poetic and northern, instead of giving people the sense they are being punished. Winning gives you something to think about—Kulemin’s pass to Grabowski; Phanuef’s swollen warrior face—while shovelling the snow or scraping ice off the windshield, listening to The Fan’s Brady and Lange. They tried their best and every joke worked.

Winning also thickens the narrative. Losing is dramatic, too, but it drains the narrative, reducing the story to the pale broth of misery. Winning gave us Dion Phaneuf getting voted to the starting lineup of the all-star game; then getting knocked in the face with a puck; then returning to play top minutes and extend his point run; then being voted the Most Over-Rated Player in the NHL; then defended by Brian Burke, who reminded people that “everyone hates the Toronto Maple Leafs.” All of this happened within seven days. In both cases, each figure delivered that which they’d promised upon arriving in town: a sense of outrageous defiance and newsprint bombast, wholly conscious and embracing of their place in the narrative. Toronto is a big hockey stage—maybe the biggest—and Burke and Phaneuf are both large enough to fill the light. Whether this will come back to haunt them is another reason why the Leafs are compelling viewing, but, for now, it makes wanting to follow the storyline essential and fun. It gets the city out of bed and it gets us to work early. Productivity is at an all-time high.

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