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There's still time for the Frontenacs to capture the city's fancy
Posted: March 17th, 2013 @ 11:05am
This afternoon the Kingston Frontenacs will toy with the emotions of their fans once again. What is undoubtedly the least successful junior hockey team in Canada over the last 40 years will either qualify for the playoffs by the narrowest of margins or fall short yet again, in the last two months having blown the feathers out of the 15-point cushion they tried to ride into the post-season.
The Frontenacs, they of six wins since Sir John A's birthday - the most recent one, that is - they of the month-long, 12-game losing streak through early February, they who haven't won back-to-back games since Jan. 4-6, are not surprisingly looking up at eight other teams that will be going to the Ontario Hockey League playoffs if they can't beat the Ottawa 67's this afternoon.
If they can't, and let's not forget, these are the last-place Ottawa 67's, a team that threw in the towel at the trading deadline and has largely gone through the motions ever since - except for the two games they beat Kingston as part of that aforementioned 12-game losing streak - the Frontenacs will be full value for coming home 18th in a 20-team race.
Therein, however, lies the essence of fandom for the Frontenacs' faithful. Those who scoff at more than a dozen years of ineptitude and sneer at a measly one division championship in 40 seasons don't get it. Anybody can root for a winner. Takes something special to remain loyal to a loser.
Cheering for losers can be an epochal experience. I should know.
When I was young, one of the rare times I recall that we ate at the dining room table on Indian Road was Thanksgiving, 1963. The World Series was on TV. My dad was rooting for the Dodgers so, contrarian that I am - even at the age of 8 - I started cheering for the Yankees. Three years later, the 1966 edition of the greatest dynasty in all of sport was in last place (you can look it up).
The Frontenacs of my youth were the pro Frontenacs, farm team of the NHL's Boston Bruins. So, while I knew lots of people who were Toronto fans and Montreal fans and Chicago fans, I was the only Boston fan. It was so cool, however, when Reg Fleming or Ted Green or Ed Westfall, Tommy Williams or Bobby Leiter, who had played here, would pop up on TV on Saturday night. That was all a poor Boston fan could hang his pennant on, though. In the pre-expansion NHL the Bruins were awful.
The first five years I was a hockey fan I rooted for a last-place team. It was a big deal the year they finished fifth, ahead of the Rangers. Even Bobby Orr couldn't lift them out of last place (people sometimes forget that it wasn't until the Esposito trade they finally emerged from the doldrum).
Not one let it go at that, I was also a geek for the Father Bauer national team, listening to radio broadcasts from overseas every spring. Forty-five years later I bet I can name 18 of the 20 guys on the 1968 Olympic team without peeking, that's how consumed I was, but three years later the team was disbanded, so hopeless had it become to think it could compete with the Soviets, the Czechoslovakians - even the Finns started having their way with us.
(Fortunately the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were still competitive in the CFL; thank goodness for the B.C. Lions).
When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970, I was so used to rooting for the underdog, perennially hoping to climb the mountain, so accustomed to dreaming the impossible dream, that when Bobby Orr scored I sat there for a moment in our living room on Herchmer Crescent and thought, 'OK. Now what?' It was like when you get that last card and you've finished your set, and part of your hobby is over. The unrightable wrong had been righted.
It occurred to me: It could never get any better than this, and being a fan was never the same.
Professionally, I think having my heart broken as a youth made it easy as a sports writer to ignore the cheering, helped me to be objective and enabled me to look for stories in places other than the winner's circle. I believe it helped me appreciate sport in its grander scheme.
Having written that, I suppose it is still nice to get to the mountain top every now and then, take a turn, have your loyalty rewarded, your blind faith restored.
For the long suffering of the fans of the present-day Frontenacs, then, let's hope the team is successful today, and no matter how hollow it may appear, I offer this as evidence it won't be an insignificant victory.
People remember the sophomore Frontenacs of 1975 taking the Toronto Marlboros to an eighth game in the first round of a playoff run in which the Marlies would not lose another game en route to winning the Memorial Cup. That team was the toast of the city. Mike O'Connell could have been elected mayor. Almost 40 years later, many insist that remains the team's finest moment.
What is easily forgotten, however, is those Canadians of Mike Crombeen, Brad Rhiness, Alex Forsyth and Barry Scully finished the season badly, so badly the coach was fired with two weeks to go. It may be revered today but those Canadians were nothing more than an eighth-place team that made the playoffs on the last day of the season and someone else had to lose for it to happen. In the context of the team's history, it was just another bunch that couldn't get past the first round of playoffs.
Sound familiar? Maybe, but people who were here in 1975 remember the absolute magic in the air for two weeks that spring. Maybe this team can do the same. Long-suffering fans don't need much, and there's still time for this version of the Frontenacs to deliver.
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