Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review: We Are Your Leafs (2014)

By Mike Ulmer

Give the Toronto Maple Leafs credit for one thing - they know how to plan ahead.

The Leafs will celebrate their 100th season later in this decade. The team's marketing department decided to celebrate with not one book of reviewing all that history, but eight - and by not waiting for the actual anniversary season to start.

"We Are Your Leafs" is one of the first shots over the bow, so to speak.

The Leafs have an odd place in North American sports. They were part of the "Original Six" teams from 1942 until 1967, and shared Canada's fan enthusiasm with the Montreal Canadiens. Since Montreal was the obvious choice for French-Canadian fans, the Leafs earned the rest of the country. Even though other NHL teams from Canada are around now, there are no doubt Leaf fans across the country in strange outposts to this day.

There's also the fact that the Maple Leafs haven't given their fans much to watch often since 1967, the year of their last Stanley Cup. They have been generally mediocre since then, with some close calls at greatness and some lapses into farce. Baseball fans know how the Cubs haven't won a World Series in more than 100 years but still have loyal backers throughout the country. That's probably the closest comparison to Leaf Nation.

This particular book shines the spotlight on the Maple Leafs players and management over the years. It starts with Conn Smythe and ends with current coach Randy Carlyle. What's striking about the list of players, and certainly everyone close to important has a small section dedicated to him, is that Toronto has never relied on hockey icons. The best runs came in the late 1940s and the mid 1960s. I suppose the best players in team history were Frank Mahovlich and Mats Sundin, with exceptions made for those who played in the 1920s and 1930s and are tougher to judge from the perspective of today.

They all are represented here, though. Everyone gets a page or two or three, with some good pictures for each one. Ulner, a fine veteran journalist from Toronto, comes through with appropriate text for each personality. Therefore, it's a good-looking package.

But is "We Are Your Leafs" worth buying? That's a fair question. The listed price is $40, which seems a little steep for a book that only takes a day or two to buzz through. It might have been nice to have made it a little bigger, with more text on each player. Some Toronto boosters probably are a least vaguely familiar with the top names in team history.

Then again, I'm not in the target audience since I'm not a Maple Leafs fan. Those who qualify probably will find this to be a good keepsake. It's still not going to be a "best buy" from a consumer magazine, but I could see it being a very suitable gift for that Toronto hockey fan on your holiday shopping list.

Three stars

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