The old joke goes like this, "I went to the fights and a hockey game broke-out." Last Wednesday, a new version was hatched with the tag line being, "I went to a hockey game and a riot broke-out." As you all know, civil disobedience was all the rage following the Canucks game seven loss to Boston.
From a distance, it seemed as though the people in Vancouver had lost their heads. Was this a case of hockey fans exercising their frustration by igniting fires, engaging in physical warfare and looting? Or, the criminal element seizing the opportunity to reek havoc and mob mentality taking hold?
In Toronto, our rioting is reserved for G20 meetings. I got to thinking about what it would take to get Maple Leafs fans pouring out into the streets.
On the hockey front, Toronto has developed an apathy towards their boys of winter. Expectation levels do not include a Stanley Cup or even a playoff berth. The Leafs poor play and subsequent record have become the norm.
What situation would cause Leafs Nation to hit the pavement and start rioting?
A false newspaper report from April 2012 provides an unlikely and truly unbelievable scenario.
DOWNTOWN STREETS TURN INTO BATTLEFIELD - CITY ROCKED BY CIVIL UNREST
April 1, 2012
For many people who call Toronto home, it conjured up vivid memories of the rioting during the G20 meetings in June 2010. For hockey fans, it dialed up images from the 2011 Stanley Cup final, when Vancouver lost to Boston.
The intensity of last nights uprising far exceeded the events in 2010 and 2011. An estimated crowd of 2.5 million civilians converged on Toronto's downtown core. In no time at all, law enforcement realized they were trapped in a no-win-situation. "We were in the wrong place, at the wrong time," is how Police Commissioner Joe Friday described the predicament faced by his department.
Mayor Dick Chevrolet, immediately called for military assistance. "This is much larger than any snowstorm," stated the civic leader.
Management and players from the Leafs, went live-on-air to plead for a stoppage in the unruly activity. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, both obtained at the trade deadline, voiced their concerns to a national audience. New team owner, Jim Balsillie, feverishly worked his BlackBerry, sending text messages and emails, calling for calm to be restored.
The authorities implemented every trick-in-the-book to disperse the huge gathering. Neon signs in Dundas Square alerted the public to a sudden and dramatic drop in the price of gasoline. to .50 per/litre. The Air Canada Centre offered to distribute sushi and caviar to the throngs of agitated individuals surrounding Maple Leaf Square.
Toronto, known as "Hollywood North", became a goldmine to a film crew shooting a scene in the vicinity. The movie features a blockbuster cast - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, The Rock, Mike Tyson, Will Smith, Claude Van Damme, Mickey Rourke and Mickey Rooney. The action/adventure flick has no script and is completely improvised. "The street demonstration blended in nicely with what we were trying to capture on film," said director Woody Allen.
Veteran hockey observers could only shake their heads when asked to recall a similar reaction by Leaf fans. Throughout the media, there was only one question - Why did a glorious moment in team history turn so ugly?
For the first time in six seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs secured a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sure, it was eighth-place and didn't come until the final contest. Still, it was a significant achievement for a struggling franchise, who's reputation took a beating in hockey circles. Prospects for a strong finish began to surface just prior to Christmas. A mid-season trade brought Rick Nash into the fold from Columbus. When coach Mark Messier lured former Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom out of retirement, another hole in the Leafs restructured line-up was plugged. The acquisition of Crosby and Ovechkin, put their playoff run into overdrive.
The Leafs 9-1 triumph over Ottawa in the final game of the 2011-12 campaign, eliminated the Senators from playoff competition. In the standings, Toronto racked-up 90 points and Ottawa finished with 88.
So why all the trouble?
The contest was broadcast on large outdoor video screens for those blanked from securing game tickets, but who wanted to be close to the action. The more a Leaf victory seemed certain, traffic increased as people made their way downtown.
In a total state of euphoria, the pure joy of returning to playoff action was a jolt for long time Leaf fans. When years of mediocrity finally come to a close, polar opposites can be flung together to salute the changing times. These are the ingredients for a perfect storm.
The conditions were ripe for hooligans to stir-the-pot. Their motivation fuelled by a need to inflict upheaval and massive amounts of alcohol. Surveillance footage clearly identified the culprits and those who simply got swept away in the crowd.
"The degree of damage when a mob gathers is influenced/determined by lurking individuals who set fires and smash windows. They are not true fans," explained a gravel-voiced Mayor Chevrolet to the press.
"It was a case of a celebration being hijacked and way too many bodies in a limited amount of space," summed-up Deputy Mayor Joe Chrysler.
"Then, when you add in 500,00 protesters who were marching in support of a second National Hockey League team for the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), all hell broke loose," added Joe Friday.
Concerned over the events, Jim Balsille indicated he may have to give consideration to moving some playoff dates to Hamilton.
A group known as "Friends of the Buffalo Sabres in Southern Ontario", have served notice they will descend on the Hamilton Coliseum should this occur.
"Territorial rights are sacred," screamed spokesman Bill Irvine in a telephone interview from his Fort Erie home.
The Canadian group will be joined by residents of Buffalo and Western New York.