By Kevin Adshade
Hello, hockey. It's been awhile since we've seen you.
Usually, this is the time of year when most of this column is devoted to the NFL playoffs, a nod to astounding levels of mediocrity (not the quality of the football games, my abilities to predict their outcomes). But the NHL season starts tonight so hockey gets the bulk of the ink because this is Canada, baby.
I've spent the last, oh, nine or 10 months hating hockey and the Leafs. It might have been like 40 years of marriage: you love this person and think you'll never break up, but they keep disappointing you year after year and instead of cooking a veritable feast of love – one marinated and lovingly cared for and served with TLC (and maybe a brew), she serves crappy meatloaf every night. Meatloaf is gross enough, but bad meatloaf is something I wouldn't feed a dog, and it's worse when you're using meatloaf as a metaphor for love, and unrequited love for your hockey team, at that. After awhile you can longer stomach it. Which is how I'm starting to feel about this entire paragraph, to be honest.
That's what it was like for me last winter and into the spring, when the Leafs completely fell off a cliff and missed the playoffs again. I said "screw this, I want a divorce." Time has a way of healing, as the poets say, and while I've let her back into my life (the Leafs, I mean), she ain't getting a key to the place right off the bat. Nope, she's on what you might call "probation" (I'm still referring to the Leafs here) and it won't take a lot of meatloaf before she gets another boot in the arse and out the door she goes. Playoffs is what I need, is that too much to expect, honey?
No one can control what the heart wants, and this week, with NHL training camp news abounding and the approach of an actual season – as brief as it may be – I started getting pumped up for it. On Tuesday, I was jacking around with an acoustic guitar and figured out The Hockey Song, (our second national anthem is a three-chorder, and like any good country song it's three chords and the truth, to quote Patti Loveless) but couldn't remember the first part of the second verse. I also considered digging out my copy of The Passion Returns (the story of the Leafs' 1993 playoff run) then decided I didn't have the courage to unhook the DVD player and try to hook up the VCR because that kind of thing usually turns out badly for me. Start doing that, and I end up having nothing that works.
What we have tonight is the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada, which is about the best way to kick-start an NHL season. Hope springs eternal, Brian Burke is gone but I don't really care one way or the other because he's just the latest in a long line of managerial failures in Toronto, so just drop the puck and get on with it. And another good part is, there'll be no more jokes about how "the Leafs are still tied for first place," which I must have heard a hundred times the past three months, not really telling anyone that it ceased being remotely funny 99 times ago. I decided not to tell them that because of my new year's resolution thing I mentioned a couple weeks back, so I wanna be a nice guy as much as possible. Sometimes, it' s not easy.
* * *
I'll do it, but quick:
Baltimore at New England
This is a funny one. Every part of this game screams "Patriots in a walk" but the Ravens have more of a chance than a lot of people seem to think. The Patriots' defence is vulnerable and if Baltimore can run the ball effectively and keep Tom Brady off the field, the Ravens can win this. Too many three and outs, and Brady will find a way to beat them. I'll say Patriots win 31-27, but as with any playoff game, this could go either way.
San Francisco at Atlanta
For the Falcons, this is a game that could vault them to being in the conversation when it turns to the best teams in the NFL. If they win, which they probably won't. San Francisco pulled away from Green Bay last Saturday in the second half and they certainly look right now like a tough, tough team to bring down. A San Francisco/New England matchup in the Super Bowl is the one most people want to see, and it'll happen. Almost for certain. 49ers win, 23-16.
Kevin Adshade is a sport columnist for The News.