The Battle of Ontario went down in Toronto on Saturday night and the Ottawa Senators were on the losing end, falling 6-3 to the Maple Leafs. Three of those goals were courtesy of Phil Kessel, who is second in the League for goal scoring this season with 30 big ones. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the article, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Moving on.
While this season has been particularly heated in the NHL, rivalries are nothing new, especially for the Leafs. So, in honour of winning another Battle of Ontario, here are some of the biggest rivalries in the franchise.
Leafs vs Sens:
This rivalry is called The Battle of Ontario because, you guessed it, the Leafs and the Sens are the only NHL teams in Ontario. Not only that, but the teams also play in the same division, so every game they play against each other is particularly important.
Despite their geographical similarities, hockey fans know that any deep-seated rivalry is formed on the ice, and this one is no exception.
One of the most notable games came during the 02-03 season. Darcy Tucker skated to the Senators’ bench and started a fight with Chris Neil, which sparked a huge on-and-off-ice brawl between the two teams. Tucker claimed that Neil spit at the Toronto bench, which as it turns out, didn’t happen. Later that game, Tie Domi received a game misconduct (on top of a bunch of other minors and majors, because it’s Tie Domi and that’s just how he rolls) after instigating a fight with Magnus Arvedson. A total of 163 penalty minutes were handed out between the teams, and both Tucker and Domi were suspended without pay; Tucker for five games and Domi for three.
Leafs vs. Habs:
Back in the Original Six days, after the Great Depression and the loss of four teams, the NHL had four American teams and only two Canadian teams: the Habs and the Leafs. Thus began one of the oldest, longest lasting and most famous rivalries in the history of the League.
The Montreal Canadiens have been a rival since before the Maple Leafs were even called the Maple Leafs; they were the Toronto Arenas until 1919, and the Toronto St. Patricks until 1927.
Most of the rivalry comes from on-ice meetings, but it is not solely based on hockey. It’s no secret that French and English Canadians have generally always had a rocky relationship. During the early years of the NHL, they were two significantly different cultures in close proximity, which definitely intensified the teams’ dislike of one another.
The Leafs moved to the Western Conference in 1981, and didn’t return to the Eastern Conference, until 1998, when they were reunited with their famous foes (excuse my Joe Bowen-esque wordplay, I couldn’t resist). Since then, the rivalry has been even stronger, especially because the Canadiens won 10 Stanley Cups in their time apart, while the Leafs won, well, none.
Both franchises acknowledge and encourage the rivalry, and every game they play against each other is officially called “Rivalry Night”.
Leafs vs. Kings:
To this day, hockey fans and professionals remember the 1993 Campbell Conference Final series between the Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings as one of, if not the, hardest fought and greatest 7-game series’ in the NHL’s history.
The Wendel Clark-led Leafs were winning the series 3-2. Gretzky, who had been traded to traded to the Kings five years earlier, had been criticized about his efforts during the series going into game six, with one reporter famously saying he was playing like he had a piano on his back. True to hockey legend form, he scored the game-winning goal in a close battle, sending the series back to Toronto for one last game. There, he scored a hat trick to prove that the title “The Great One” didn’t come easily. The Kings won the game 5-4, and went on to lose to the Canadiens in the Cup Finals.
While this series is hard to look back on for most fans who can remember it, it is also an important reminder that the Leafs, with all their painful trades over the years, did not make the most criticized and famous trade of all time in the NHL, and in sports. (Edmonton Oilers, we’re looking at you).
Leafs vs Sabres:
It may not be their biggest rivalry, but it’s pretty safe to say that the Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres do not get along.
The rivalry came to be when the Leafs re-entered the Eastern Conference in 1998, putting them in a conference with the Sens, the Boston Bruins, and of course, the Sabres. Not so surprisingly, the Leafs have rivalries with all of these teams.
Another key factor in this rivalry has to do with the proximity of the two teams. Toronto and Buffalo are only 159kms away from each other. They are connected by the QEW highway, which is where the name “Battle of the QEW” comes from.
Of course, when anyone thinks of this rivalry now, they’ll probably think of the pre-season brawl this past September, when John Scott and Kessel started to, for lack of a better term, beat the living crap out of each other. Naturally, the rest of the players joined in, and this happened. Nothing says rivalry like a goalie fight.
Leafs vs Red Wings:
The rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings also dates back to the Original Six era. It makes sense when you think about it; there were only 5 teams to play against, which meant they faced each other on a fairly regular basis. Eventually, they’re going to start disliking each other.
While the Leafs moved back to the Eastern Conference in 1998, the Red Wings didn’t follow their lead until this season, making them inter-divisional rivals again. Until now, the rivalry had died down significantly. Being in different conferences meant that the teams rarely played regular season games against each other. The Leafs’ lack of playoffs between 05-06 and 12-13 also didn’t help to fuel any tension between the teams.
Even though the rivalry isn’t the best known, the Winter Classic game in January sparked a little fire on the ice. Maybe this will be the year the Leafs and the Red Wings will meet again in the playoffs and old tensions will flare? We’ll have to wait to find out.
Leafs vs Bruins:
This rivalry is mainly rooted in last year’s playoff run, which I’m sure every hockey fan remembers, and every Leafs fan tries to forget. Another 7-game series saw another game 7 loss on home ice. The Bruins came back from a 3-goal deficit in the 3rd period, tied it up, and won in overtime. It was one of the most shocking and heartbreaking playoff losses in Leafs history. It was 20 years after the similar loss to the Kings, because, ya know, there wasn’t enough salt in the wound as it was already.
The foundation of the rivalry came from the whole Kessel and Tyler Seguin trade/draft extravaganza of 2009. If for some reason you don’t know what that means, the Leafs got Kessel for a first and second round pick in 2010, and a first round pick in 2011. That first rounder in the 2010 Entry Draft was Seguin, who went on to win his first Stanley Cup in his first NHL season. When Kessel scored, Toronto fans would cheer “Thank you Seguin”. When Seguin scored, Boston fans would cheer “Thank you Kessel”.
Now? Seguin plays for the Dallas Stars after being traded in July of 2013, and Kessel is the top goal scorer for the Leafs, and second in the NHL.
Leafs Nation vs Bryan McCabe:
Alright, so this isn’t so much a rivalry as it is a mass fan reaction to a former Leaf playing at the ACC. Nevertheless, it is hilarious and totally deserving of a spot on this list. For those of you who missed the ever-shining legacy McCabe left in the city of Toronto, I’ll fill you in (while cringing, mind you).
The incident happened in 2007, in a game against the Sabres. The 4-4 game went into overtime, and with less than 10 seconds left, Bryan McCabe scored. Sounds great, right? He should be a hero, not a rival. I’m sure he would be, if he had scored on the right net. Yup, he scored on his own net…in overtime…with next to no time left on the clock.
After being traded to the Florida Panthers in September 2008, McCabe was continuously welcomed back to the ACC with a chorus of boos every time he touched the puck.
It’s worth mentioning that McCabe had 68 points in 73 games for the Leafs in the 05-06 season, finishing 3rd overall in points for defencemen. He was also on reserve for the 2006 Canadian Men’s Olympic team, and was called up to the roster, although that year’s Olympics aren’t exactly worth bragging about. But, when all is said and done, fans don’t forget who scored for them, and who scored against them.. on their own net.. in overtime (that can’t be reiterated enough).