On Thursday night, as the Edmonton Oilers were demolishing the Toronto Maple Leafs, I was doing something I do about twice a year – I sat in the nose-bleed seats at Air Canada Centre. At the very top of Section 321. Nothing but the truest hockey fans all around. No empty seats. Not one.
Just lots and lots of Leafs’ jerseys. A couple of Oilers’ jerseys and about a swimming pool-full of beer. And what happened in the middle of the third period, about four rows in front of me, showed everything about how Leafs’ fans feel about the coach and team Brian Burke has assembled.
After the second period ended, and after Jonas Gustavsson had been yanked in favour of Jean-Sebastien Giguère, the Air Canada Centre faithful booed their team off the ice. It’s always hard to boo your own team off the ice. Although, for Leafs’ fans, it seems to be getting easier and easier.
Then, in the third period, with the Leafs unable to put one past Oilers’ netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, it happened. About four well-lubricated guys just below and to my right began the chant. “Fi-re Wil-son (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap), Fi-re Wil-son!” The chant picked up momentum. The entire section seemed to be joining in. A few abstained – but not many. Down on the Leafs’ bench, I cannot imagine that Ron Wilson could not hear the displeasure.
The “Fi-re Wil-son” chant went on for a minute or so. When it fizzled out, a big guy, about 45 years old stood up. He had a big cup of swimming pool in his right hand. “I’ll do it! I’ll coach the Leafs!” he bellowed. “I’m the guy you want. It’s me,” he barked, spinning around and looking at all the fans around him. “My name’s Dave, by the way!”
There was a brief silence. I thought it my civic duty to loudly remind Dave that, if he became head coach, no beer would be allowed on the bench. Large laugh from entire section. Another pause. Then the same fans who’d been calling for Wilson’s head began a new chant.
“Hi-re Dave! (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap), Hi-re Dave!” Uproarious laughter from everyone and deep bows from Dave. With each, a little beer baptized the couple sitting in front of him. More laughter. And more chants of “Hi-re Dave!”
Now, to me, it seems very unlikely Brian Burke will hire Dave to replace Ron Wilson. But, who knows, Dave could be a hell of a motivator. And it seems that’s what Burke’s Leafs need right now. They need someone who is not content to stand on the bench and watch his team coast through three periods of hockey – especially after the gas job they pulled on Tuesday against Simon Gagne and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
At this stage of my life/career, I find it extremely difficult to advocate anyone losing his or her job. Having watched it from the inside and outside, that action has devastating effects. And, if the Leafs were working toward the first overall draft choice in June 2011, I’d say the old season-long tankeroo makes sense. But that first overall choice (should the Leafs finish 30th) would go to Boston. The Toronto Maple Leafs are not playing for Ron Wilson.
They’re pros and they won’t say those words, but that’s the fact. And what happened high in Section 321 on Thursday night shows exactly how the fans feel about what Brian Burke’s next move should be. Whether Wilson goes, and whether or not Dave gets hired, has really got to be one of Burke’s upcoming decisions.