Monday, February 18, 2008

A Week of Work in Maple Leaf Nation

It was the best of weeks, and it was the worst of weeks.

Yeah, I know ... a bit cliché don’t you think?

True, but it was.

A work week in Toronto for me is 4 days too long. But we got so much done. And as I alluded to earlier, I was dropped off at the train station by my loving family as they headed to the Grandma’s house for Alannah’s seventh birthday.

The purpose of this trip was two-fold; the first to get sign off by staff members that we had accurately captured their business processes in use case documents stuffed with diagrams and narrative to describe the diagrams. The second reason to portray our vision of what the final solution would achieve and even look like for them. The former would consume the early days of the week, the latter the later days.

The temperature was minus 34 degrees Celsius and the sidewalks were layered by thick uneven ice barricaded by high banks of snow on both sides.

I must say that I do enjoy our counterparts in the Toronto office. Walking through the door, I feel like I am home in our Windsor office. We were greeted warmly and set up in the large boardroom to begin our exercises.

As the various staff came into our meetings – new faces appeared that we had not interviewed in earlier visits. So as expected, new tasks and variations to the processes we discussed were uncovered. We captured these variations and recorded them into what we hope will now finally be the final documentation of how things currently work.

This process carried on from Monday through Wednesday, each day ending with piles of red-marked documents to be revised. Each evening we as a team would go and have dinner – a nice steak one night, seafood the next. Each meal with a couple of beers and great conversation about what we had learned or uncovered that day, and how these revelations fit into our vision. Our vision was still solid and accurate.

On the third day we were relocated from the big executive boardroom to a smaller version. The Board of Directors were in the office this day, and the red carpet rolled out – as it should be – to accommodate their efforts. This evening our company executives had taken over our hotel lounge. The conversation was excellent, so we hung around and enjoyed the type of camaraderie that our company is famous for.

The Maple Leafs game was on the TV in the hotel lounge. They were playing the Sabers in Buffalo. And they were losing. Again like so often, by a single goal. And our eyes drifted to the big LCD TV to watch the high definition play by play.

The Executives jeered our loyalty to the Leafs, in good humor of course. One was a Windsor boy who roots for the Red Wings, the other from Calgary, who roots for the Flames. Having gone through my high school years in Atlanta, I am always quick to point out to him that I rooted for the Flames in Atlanta long before he had ever heard of them.

But it is hard to be a Maple Leafs fan.

The next day was the presentation of our vision. The executives were still in the building, and interested in the session. And it was going well. Very well.

It was also Valentines day.

Around the table we made a common statement that one of these trips we were going to get our hands on Maple Leaf tickets. They are impossible to get, sold out nearly every game – and when tickets could be found – they were priced beyond reasonable expectation.

I doubt they would be sold out on Valentines Day”, said one supervisor.

This is the time they usually release their unsold tickets”, stated another.

Let’s give it a try”, said Peter – our team leader – and the presenter of our Vision presentation.

Jamie launched his web browser to the Ticket Master website. I went down to the lobby of the building to have a smoke. Yes, I started smoking again. Naturally, when it’s minus thirty-four degrees Celsius outside.

Both Peter and Jamie are die-hard Leaf fans. I couldn’t bear to witness the disappointment of not finding tickets once again.

When I returned, Jamie said “I hope you wanted to go to the Leaf’s game tonight”.

You got some?” I turned and asked.

Jamie beamed a proud nod.

How much?” I asked.

Eighty-seven bucks” came the reply. “And I already bought you one”.

Ahh .. uhhh … errr – great! Thanks! I’ll pay back when we get home.

I hadn’t budgeted for a hockey game. It was Valentines Day. Darlene was already mad that I was away for it. To tell her I was going to a Maple Leafs game … how would she take that? It turned out later that she was quite happy for me.

Jeff, a sales representative from our London office was going to join us, up also for our meetings. Formally of Toronto, he was quite adept to drive us in. He picked us up at the Hotel, and away we went.

The traffic in downtown Toronto is never easy to navigate. Even more difficult when trying to get to the Air Canada Center for a Maple Leafs game. But he did it. Like a pro. And he found a great parking lot with only a couple of blocks to walk to the arena.

Ontario is a pretty big province. Toronto sits on the coast of Lake Ontario. All areas west of Toronto are populated with predominantly die-hard Maple Leafs fans; the kind of fans like those in New England who root for the Red Sox , Celtics and Patriots. Fans like those in New York who live and die for their Yankees.

Leaf Nation.

But the funny part about it is that this organization – steeped in such heavy tradition and legend as the Toronto Maple Leafs – this version of the Maple Leafs - stink.

Like they have for years. Forty one years to be exact. They likely will for years to come.

They stink.

And tonight they were fighting for position.

The way the rest of the Leafs Nation saw this game was different than my perspective. You see, I have grown very tired of being let down by these bums. And right across the Detroit River from Windsor we have the Red Wings – easily the best team in the National Hockey League.

Leaf Nation saw this game to be the one that got them to within eight points of the wild card position.

I saw this to be the game that keeps them out of the basement. To keep them from being the worst team in the NHL.

But still, any Leafs fan will tell you that to just attend a game is an experience. Toronto and Montreal easily share the distinction of being the capital of Hockey. The home of hockey. We live in a land where you do not have to refer to it as ice-hockey. Hockey is indeed Hockey in Canada.

I got a program, just like I would a Tigers program for a ball game. Jeff bought a round of giant sized beers – just like I would do at a ball game. And we headed for our seats.

And what great seats they were.

We were in the 1st row of the upper level. We hung out the crowd – with the ice nearly beneath is. We could clearly see the whole ice. We could see plays form on our end and play out down the ice. We could hear the hits. We could see the finesse. And we could clearly see all the goals. We could clearly see all the penalties that were called on our Leafs. We could clearly hear all the boos that the fans were piling on the players. And we could see all the goals resulting from the New York Rangers power plays.

The Leafs did come close to tying it up. And into the last two minutes it was a close game. But when they pulled the goalie in the closing seconds, New York’s one goal lead became two with a long slider across open ice as the puck slowly trickled into the empty net.

Deep sigh.

I may be the first person to wait twenty five years to see the Maple Leafs play in person, only to finally decide to root instead now for the Red Wings.

But it just seems so damned unpatriotic to be a Canadian – the home of hockey – only to root for the team from Detroit.

If I were to switch my allegiance, I would be able to root for a likely Stanley Cup final team. I could get tickets – because while Detroit is called Hockey-Town – the city is complacent with having the best team in the NHL. Yawn. I could go and see the play offs.

But that red wheel with a red wing attached seems so insignificant an icon. The Canadian flag was changed from a version of the British Iron Cross in the mid 1960’s. The blue maple leaf icon known for the Toronto Team was colored red.

Red to satisfy the fans of the Montreal Canadians.

To symbolize in the hockey Canadian way that English and French indeed live and play hockey together.

That truly is where the red and white maple leaf Canadian flag came from.

Canadiana, baby.

On the train home, we barely discussed the game. It was disappointing. We were much quieter coming home.

Saturday night I watched the Maple Leafs play in Boston. It was on the CBC – Hockey Night in Canada. And they played much better. And they beat the Bruins four to three – in overtime.

And I thought to myself “Great!! We are only eight points out of the wild card!!”.

It’s hard to be a Maple Leafs fan.

Yeah, I know ... a bit cliché don’t you think?

True, but it is.


Pat Caputo said...

Hate to say it, but you might have to wait another 40 years before the Leafs win the Cup. Long live Keon, The Chief, The Big M, the Stemmer, Allan Stanley, Tim Horton, Sawchuck and Bower and Shack. And God Bless Punch. He was a mean man, but a great coach - although I do like Paul Maurice.

Fred Brill said...


I was only five when the Leafs last won a cup. We were living in Jackson Michigan, and we picked up the CBC on an old black and white console TV.

I will say this - should the Leafs ever win another, and I think your time line is accurate - Toronto would rock like no place on earth ever rocked before.

Thanks for the comment, Book, you made my day.

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