Today is a historic day as the Leafs have shown the NHL that just because one has lost — consistently over time — doesn’t make one a loser.
I’ve lost many times in my life, from competitions to very close influences that have helped define who I am. Through this loss, I’ve learned to lose. Learning to lose takes tremendous courage and a clear focus on finding the opportunity to improve. Improvement as a concept is wonderful and encouraging. But as a tangible, day-to-day method, it is grueling, strenuous, stressful, and painfully revealing (especially when uncovering weaknesses). In order to find order for myself, I’ve always developed an order of operation to keep me focused on the main goal — process. I can only speak for myself and my experience with improvement when I say that it has been challenging, mostly because it’s a daily thing for me. I’ve learned to give myself a break over time, but it is difficult because I’ve always been naturally intense about refinement and its process. I’ve seen these same attributes in the Leafs players over the years because every Leafs player is naturally aware of the standards one must live up to to be a part of an organization of this caliber.
The Leafs broke a streak of losses to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in today’s first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This means they’ve knocked out the defending Stanley Cup champs for their first Stanley Cup playoffs win in 19 years. The Leafs have always given a tremendous effort, no matter what challenges they’ve faced, either internally or externally. For perspective, we hadn’t gotten past the first round of the NHL playoffs since before YouTube was invented, but we never let up, and here we are today. As a lifelong Maple Leafs fan, I can attest to their persevering attitude. It’s not a one-time occurrence but a deep-seated value I’ve seen maintained since I was a child. I can remember as a child sitting with my dad in the basement watching Gretzky single-handedly demolish us, along with many other standout players and teams over the years. Throughout all of this loss, I’ve never lost faith in the Maple Leafs’ ability to lose with honor and focus on refinement. As a fan base, we are always looking ahead despite the adversity from a humble and tenuous history (from bankruptcy issues to inappropriate selection standards like not accepting Herb Carnegie, etc.). We have overcome so many obstacles that most people would lose faith in their team. The spirit of “team” is a principle that has shaped my life and has been the cornerstone of my mentality when it comes to being a team player. This mindset made it very challenging in group dynamics for me personally, as most individuals are more focused on being individualistic and an individual. Therefore that can create many points of contention for me that I have had to overcome over the years based on where I’m from and my system of operation.
At many points in my life, I’ve been encouraged by peers and other notable individuals to go out on my own and work solo because of my many skills. This has never worked for me fundamentally, however, because (in my realistic view) no one makes history alone. Despite the many stars that the Leafs have had over the years — whether it be unstoppable scorers like Auston Matthews, great captains/leaders like John Tavares, dependable wingers like William Nylander or Wayne Simmonds, Ilya Samsonov, Matt Knies, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly — all the way down to people who transcended the game like Tim Horton — there’s always been a “team before individual” attitude.
You never know what someone has inside them. Knies, for example, doesn’t have the stats of a more experienced player, but he contributed on a level no one would’ve expected. This points to the significance of the team over one individual. Without that team mentality, you can’t see those standout individuals develop or learn the ways in which they can participate and contribute.
No matter how good I am at any particular thing in any particular way, the team will always outshine me as an individual from a mindset perspective because of who I am as an individual. This attitude is not just the basis of my mind but can be seen in all aspects of my life, especially in my most challenging times. I believe that’s why I’ve resonated so deeply with the Maple Leafs organization my entire life.
Whether or not the Leafs go on to make history again in these playoffs by breaking their 55-year title draught and capturing their first Stanley Cup win in a generation, they will either win or lose with grace as one cohesive team. Most importantly, they can always be counted on to be back on the ice and working to improve for the game to come.
Here we Go.
P.S. No matter what my circumstances, I will never stop with my clear knowing that every single individual has a tremendous ability that, when directionalized, can be just as powerful as the most powerful. Therefore I will always choose the team over being the star.