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Still the Dividing Line between Leafs and Sens Fans

I was contacted recently by Joe O’Connor from the National Post regarding an article he was writing regarding hockey parents. When I told him where I lived, he mentioned he had done a story on my hometown years ago, talking about it as the “dividing line” in Central Ontario separating Leafs and Senators fans. I had never seen the article that he later shared with me, so thought I would share it again for all my fellow Madocians. The article was originally printed in the National Post. Thanks Joe! Love the references to Ace Pizza and highlighting some of the characters in my home town!


Living with the enemy: Wrestling with loyalty in hockey’s version of the Mason-Dixon line ~ National Post

Sat Apr 10 2004

Page: S1 / FRONT

Section: Sports

Byline: Joe O’Connor

Source: National Post

Madoc is the sort of town where front doors are left unlocked, neighbours stop and say hello to one another, and parents feel comfortable letting their children play — unsupervised — in the streets.

It is a place tied to simpler and safer times, where peoples’ lives appear to be untouched by the frenetic pace and attendant worries of faraway big city life.

But Madoc’s picture perfect pastoralism has been blemished by an accident of geography. The sleepy village of 1,397 on the shore of Moira Lake is the Mason-Dixon Line in the Battle of Ontario — halfway between Ottawa and Toronto. And as the middleground separating Leafs Nation from Senators Country it is, or so the residents say, a town of hotly contested hockey loyalties.

Only you would never know it.

Madoc may as well be mid-town Toronto as far as Ottawa fans are concerned. While Leafs flags occasionally flutter past on car windows, the only sign of Senators’ red is found in the rusted body of ageing pickup trucks, and in the brick buildings that border the town’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it strip.

The outdoor trend is reflected inside.

Across the street from Izzy’s Bulk Foods and just down the way from the Pick N’ Save is Ace Pizzeria. It is a mom-and-pop operation with a day-glow-orange bristol board sign tacked above the cash register, advertising deluxe slices for $3.25 each. (Customers are invited to add a pop for 50 cents). The proprietor, Tony Best, has hockey hair and a Wendel Clark moustache. He also has a genetic-stake in the Ottawa-Toronto series.

His first cousin is Ottawa forward Mike Fisher’s mother. But Best’s blood connection has not made him a Senators’ man. There are no Mike Fisher sweaters papering his pizzeria’s walls, nor autographed programs to be produced from behind the counter. Best and his cousin have not seen each other in years and he prefers to view the Battle of Ontario from a neutral perspective.

“I just think it is good having two Canadian teams,” he says, before admitting he doesn’t really follow hockey much at all.

Best’s wife, Deborah, isn’t much of a fan either. But her friend Bonny Critch is.

Critch is a short order cook in the adjoining restaurant, Papadop’s, and with seven hours to go until the puck drops to start Game 1, the 44-year-old is finding it hard to concentrate on work.

When talk turns to Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker she plunks herself down in a chair with the conviction of a cook who is preparing to take an extended lunch break.

“I didn’t wear my Leafs Nation T-shirt today because I was afraid I’d get grease on it,” she says.

Critch was crestfallen when she compared Toronto’s first-round playoff schedule to her schedule for the next week, and learned that for three of the first four games she would be busy cooking other peoples’ dinners and not watching her boys in blue and white.

Bonny’s obsession with the Leafs came in handy though.

When her employer realized that she risked having a bitter employee hovering over a hot stove she ran a cable into Papadop’s kitchen area, and then cleared room in a corner for a 12-inch colour TV.

Critch already knows she is quite likely going to repay the generosity with decreased productivity, but at this point, she doesn’t care: Her loyalty to the Leafs is deeper than any deep fryer.

“My relative plays for Toronto,” the 44-year-old says with a twinkle in her tired eyes.

“My maiden name is Francis — and my mom always says you never know.”

Critch is confident the series will be brief despite all the offensive weapons the Senators have arrayed against her team. “I predict Toronto is going to win in four games,” she says.

Don Carl is likewise a Leafs man. The 50-something lumberjack is sitting at the next table scratching his way through a pile of instant win lottery tickets. (“I won $200 last month,” he says.) Carl’s allegiance to Toronto is hereditary, passed down from the days when he sat at his father’s knee and watched as the grainy, black-and-white images of George Armstrong, Dickie Duff and Ted Kennedy circled the Maple Leaf Gardens ice.

It is the history of that golden era — when a trip to the Stanley Cup final for Toronto was an event guaranteed to happen every two or three years — that animates the veterans gathered around a table inside the Madoc Legion. As they work their way to the bottom of their pint glasses and draw deeply on their cigarettes, their memories eventually land on a date that is held dear — and in some ways despised — by every member of Leafs Nation.

“I remember after they won in 1967,” says Pat Doyle, who doffed his Leafs cap in accordance with Legion rules upon entering the establishment. “I went down to Yonge Street to watch the parade and I had my son on my shoulders. And I think it was Frank Mahovlich who reached out and tousled his hair.”

It is now three hours before game time, and the only Senators fans to be unearthed after four hours worth of diligent excavation are those who have been referred to anecdotally; long lost cousins, favourite uncles, and crazy neighbours.

Then along came Joe Vanecko.

He is 9 years old, and he is walking the slow, dejected walk of a child whose after school play-time has been put at risk because he has been told he has to sell raffle tickets to raise money for Madoc Public School. (First prize is a 13-foot trampoline or patio furniture provided courtesy of Home Hardware).

Joe’s two best friends, Cole and Edward, are Toronto fans.

“They are always bragging and stuff,” Joe says.

He is at least a head taller than them both, and he is proudly wearing the sweater of his favourite team: the Ottawa Senators. He likes Ottawa because they are “fast.” He and his friends are fast, too, and with an excuse to slack off at hand, the boys abandon their fund-raising efforts and run home to grab their road hockey sticks.

The ensuing mayhem that results is just 100 metres or so up the street from Bonny Critch’s post at Papadop’s.

Cole, a sawed-off six-year-old, quickly shows himself to be Tie Domi to Joe’s Zdeno Chara. And when the two pals tire of chasing after a tennis ball, he asks if Joe would like to drop the sticks and dance.

It is a foolhardy move.

Joe’s size advantage begins to show through almost immediately, and as he gains the upper hand he menaces: “I’m going to give you a wedgie.”

Sensing his defeat is at hand — and knowing full well Toronto had blasted the Senators 6-0 in the final game of the regular season — the instigator attempts to reason his way out of the jam.

“No, no,” Cole says. “The Leafs should be winning.”

But they weren’t.

It is just after nine p.m. and Marian Hossa has just outraced Tomas Kaberle, skipped over a sprawling Ed Belfour and deposited the puck in the Toronto net to give Ottawa a 4-2 lead.

The mood inside Papadop’s kitchen is sombre. Bonny Critch is not cooking. She is wringing her hands in despair. But then, like a true Leafs fan, she regains her composure and changes her prediction.

“I know I said four straight,” she says.

“But it’s just the first game. I think this is going to be a long series.”

© 2004 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.

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