For months, Fort Albany resident Brent Edwards was looking forward to the 2011-12 NHL season to begin Oct. 6.
The reason: he was going to see the Toronto Maple Leafs season opener against their historic rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
“I was really anxious, and the days seemed long,” Edwards said of the wait.
“I’ve been a Leaf since forever, well since Wendel Clark got drafted in ’85,” he said. “Even in the dark days,” he said, referring the team’s losing record in the 1980s and early 1990s. Then the team advanced to the Western Conference finals in the 1993 playoffs.
“That was a fun time,” he said. “That damn Gretzky.”
Leaf fans know he is referring to Wayne Gretzky’s infamous high stick on Leafs favourite Doug Gilmour, which did not garner a penalty.
The incident happened during the conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings. The Leafs went on to lose the series as the Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens.
“I’m a crazy Leafs fan,” he said. “Right now, I’m talking to you wearing my Leafs jersey and hat. Also, I have a Leaf poster in my office, I have eight jerseys and three Leaf caps.”
There is one thing, however, he is missing.
“I’ve never found a Leaf cell phone cover,” he said. “I’ve looked around in Toronto, Timmins, Thunder Bay, everywhere. Can never find one.”
He spreads his love of the Leafs whenever he can. During the summer, he and his wife made dinner and invited other family members to come over, “but only if you wear the blue-and-white” he instructed them. Sure enough, they did.
On Sept. 8, he posted a video on his Facebook profile of a flag-raising ceremony outside his house, where his son raised a Leaf flag on a flagpole outside their home with his daughter singing the National Anthem in Cree.
“Good luck, Leafs! We are in the playoffs this year!” Edwards declared in the video.
Edwards relishes the chance to show off his love for the blue-and-white.
“I love it when people stare at me in my Leaf gear and go ‘Ah, typical Leaf fan,’” he said.
“I do get a lot of ragging from other people (for being a Leaf fan), and I’ll ask if they’re a Canadiens fan, and 99 per cent of the time, they are.”
Edwards has seen two Leaf games in his lifetime: once in 1999 when they played the Anaheim Ducks and then last spring when they played their last game of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes. He had been planning to attend this year’s season opener since August when his aunt Lucie and her partner Brad Dobson bought tickets.
Edwards and his wife Skylene Metatawabin left Fort Albany Oct. 4.
They visited family along the way before arriving in Toronto Oct. 6. They arrived at the Air Canada Centre (ACC) two hours before game time.
“It was amazing to see all the Leaf fans,” he said. “They were dressed in Leaf jerseys, had their face painted, and there were father, sons, brothers, everyone. The passion was there and it was great to be a part of it.”
They took their seats six rows back from ice level. “The suckiest part was sitting behind (Canadiens goaltender Carey) Price,” he said.
He found himself surrounded by Habs fans, but this did not stifle his spirit. After the introduction of the Leafs opening line-up (in which he described the atmosphere “amazing”), he joined other Leaf fans in booing the Canadien players as they took the ice.
After a scoreless first period, the Leafs scored within the first minute of the second period. However, Edwards was not at his seat.
“I was still in the line-up to go to the washroom,” he said, laughing. “And I heard the horn and thought dammit. We started yelling away in the washroom.”
He didn’t miss the next goal in the third period, however, when Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf fired a slap shot past Price. “It was amazing. I was dancing in front of these Canadiens fans, going ‘Yeah, yeah.’”
The Leafs went on to win 2-0. After the final buzzer sounded, Edwards bolted from his seat. When watching the Leafs at home on LeafsTV, he noticed the camera’s placement where fans would gather during the station’s post-game show.
“I knew where it was and ran for it,” he recalls, laughing. “There was a lineup and the cameraman saw me in my Leaf gear, cheering. He just smiled and shook his head.”
Wearing two Leaf toques on his hands, which were given away during the game, a furry Leafs hat, and his jersey, he proceeded to jump up and down in front of the camera as other Leaf fans gathered during the show.
At home, friends and family caught glimpses of Edwards jumping just as the show cut to a commercial. One friend recorded the show, took a screenshot and posted a photo of an excited, cheering Edwards, front and centre on national television, on Facebook.
“Quite a few people saw me,” he said. “Including my daughter and my babysitter.”
Edwards said he is grateful to have been able to attend the game.
“A lot of thanks to Lucie and Brad Dobson for getting the tickets,” he said. “And to my babysitter Carol for looking after my kids.”
As for catching another Leafs game.
“I plan to go again, for sure,” he said. “But I don’t know when. Probably try to get on TV again.”
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