By Ethan Shippen aka TheBoxBreaker

My alarm clock went off at exactly 1 AM. The day I had waited for had arrived, May 14th 2013. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. To understand why this game was so important to me, let’s back up a bit, shall we? The year was 2004 and I was a 9-year-old boy in Denmark who just realized that there was a sport out there greater than any other: hockey. I started playing hockey myself and loved to play NHL 2005 on the old PlayStation 2. My favorite team immediately became the Toronto Maple Leafs. Why? I guess I was drawn to the logo and uniforms. After that I was hooked.

As most hockey fans would be aware of, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only NHL team to not reach the playoffs between the two lockouts… until this year. This year was different. For the first time in 9 years the Maple Leafs had made the playoffs and I was ecstatic. I was going to watch every single Leafs playoff game despite the time difference. All games at 7 PM would be broadcast live in Denmark… at 1 AM. Although I had school every day I couldn’t keep myself from watching every game. This was my first Maple Leafs playoff series, after all.

The previous night had been the best game of my life to date, game 6. The Leafs had won it and James Reimer, my favorite player, had been outstanding. And on top of that he had worn two different masks in the game. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of goalie masks. The Leafs had beaten all odds and won game 5 and game 6 to force the decisive game 7 in Boston. How could I be any happier?

I rubbed my eyes and turned on the TV. The national anthem was on and I proudly mouthed ‘Oh Canada’ and was trembling with excitement. The puck had been dropped. The game had started.

Matt Bartkowski scored early and gave the Bruins the 1-0 lead. “I’ve seen this before” I thought. “Here we go again…” But the Leafs were having none of that. Playing perhaps the best game of his career, Cody Franson scored to tie the game at 1 and then scored another one to give the Leafs the lead. Before you knew it, Kessel had made it 3-1 and Kadri had basically killed the Bruins with his 4-1 wrister. Or had he?

I literally danced around my room, jumping, (silently) screaming. I sat with my Maple Leafs apparel and celebrated like crazy. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I had never felt such an adrenaline rush before. But on top of all that, I still had a bad feeling. I went: “Come on, guys. The game isn’t over… but look at the seconds ticking away.”

At one point of the game all I did was watch the clock. Second after second ticked away and I got more and more excited. Could it really be? Were the Leafs really leading the Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 and about to advance, or was this all just a dream? Would I be woken up by my alarm clock in a minute only to find out that the game hadn’t begun yet?

I didn’t know it yet, but in just 10 minutes of play I’d actually have wished that the 4-1 Leafs lead (and therefore the whole game) had been a dream. If only I had known what was coming. Nathan Horton scored to reduce the Leafs’ lead to only two goals. With less than two minutes to go, Milan Lucic scored to make it a one goal game. My jaw dropped as I watched in disbelieve.

To make matters worst Patrice Bergeron scored while the Bruins were 6-on-5 and the Leafs had been shot down. Many Bruins fans had left the arena early because of the terrible play of the Bruins, but now they were all trying to claw their way back into the arena. The loud atmosphere at the TD Garden didn’t mind that many had left; it seemed like the loudest Bruins fans had stayed.

Overtime was coming. The wait was probably the longest 15-minute wait of my life. Although it was now a tie game heading to OT, I felt like Boston had gained all the momentum. I felt like they had already won. It didn’t seem fair anymore.

On the edge of my bed I saw Patrice Bergeron seal the deal as he scored for Boston. James Reimer was down. It was such an intense picture of the Leafs player that perhaps had been the toughest warrior in this series was just lying there… motionless. It was over. The Bruins advanced.

 

I just sat there. I didn’t do anything, I just sat there. An empty stare glanced upon the television. My eyes were looking towards the TV, but it was as if my brain wasn’t really paying attention to what was happening on the ice. Time had frozen.

During the handshakes I started to collect myself. I had no idea what I should do next. It was 4 AM which meant that I had to get up for school in 2 hours. Should I keep watching, should I do some homework, should I turn off the TV, and should I go to bed? Things had, just for a moment, lost their meaning.

I watched the rest of the broadcast and went to bed. Falling asleep wasn’t easy. The first thing I saw after closing my eyes was the Bruins victory. And for the first time in my life, I cried over a hockey game. The old saying “It’s just a game” seemed like a huge lie right now. It was so much more than just a game.

In the following days I started to return to my old self again. I suddenly wanted to hang out with my friends again and the world had started spinning again. Time was ticking. The world was evolving. I still had to endure the heartless mocking of every non-Leaf fan in the world, but the truth is that the Leafs gained more than they lost. They mocked the ones that had come far and fallen down, but at least the Leafs made it far enough to discover that they’re human and make mistakes. Pity the ones that don’t come far enough to fall short.

The Leafs used to be the laughing stock of the hockey world. You couldn’t tell a hockey joke without the Leafs being on the receiving end of it. A team that ironically was considered to be one of the hockey capitals of the world with its loyal fan base, Hockey Hall of Fame and Toronto Card Expo, still featured a team that was failing miserably year-in and year-out.

What had been lost was a series. What had been won was the respect of the hockey world and the hearts of Leafs fans everywhere. With a young and improving Leafs team under head coach Randy Carlyle, it’s very easy as a Leafs fan to be optimistic regarding the future.

One thing is for certain: The Leafs have learned that no lead is safe in hockey. But going deeper in the playoffs next year is easier said than done, but I’ll be there. All of Leafs Nation will be there. And after a series like that against the heavily-favored Bruins, whom the Leafs (almost miraculously) pushed to OT in the decisive Game 7 after everyone expected the Bruins to sweep the series, you know that the rest of the world will be there as well.