Ten people were killed and 15 others hospitalized on Monday when a man drove a rented van onto the sidewalk and plowed through pedestrians for more than half a mile on one of Toronto’s busiest streets. It feels almost rote by this point to transition from tragedy to sporting event, but it makes sense. Where else but at a game are you going to have so many people, in grief or shock or anger, in the same place at the same time? Tautologically, sports can heal only those for whom they’re healing, but civic pride in dark moments are for just about everyone.
“Sports don’t really matter in the moment,” said forward Zach Hyman, born and raised and playing for Toronto, and he’s right. “But I think that afterwards it brings people together,” and he’s also right.
The Maple Leafs had to win in Boston on Saturday just to bring their series back to Toronto, and they had to win last night in order to send it back to Boston for Game 7. They’d have a crowd on their side desperate for something good. And not merely the usual desperate-for-something-good Leafs fans who haven’t seen their team win a playoff series since before the ‘04 lockout.
It started with a moment of silence, and then with that uniquely Canadian act of fans taking over the singing of their national anthem. (This has spread, on occasion, to a few American cities, almost certainly thanks to hockey, but our anthem is eminently less singable.) It was a moment.
The Leafs got their win, a tight 3-1 contest where they limited mistakes and where Frederik Andersen stood tall and where Mitch Marner, who’s emerged as their best player in this series, scored the game-winner and tacked on an assist. And if it feels cliched to say they did it for Toronto, they set out to do just that.
“We talked about [the attack] in a big group; we spent the whole time talking about it,” Mike Babcock said of the Leafs. “That’s all everyone was talking about right from the get-go. The bottom line is, it was our job to do our [part] here tonight. It’s so important that we rally around these people, help out and do everything we can. We have a fantastic city; we can’t let this get in the way of what we’ve got going.”
There are local boys all over this team. When Connor Brown says this game “was the loudest I’ve ever heard them in here,” he’s speaking not only as a two-year NHL veteran, but with the authority of having grown up in Etobicoke.
And when Marner talks about what the night meant to him, he’s talking as a native of Thornhill, just up the road from North York, the site of the attacks.
“This world is made for loving each other and making each other better, and the things that have been happening this last year are unfortunate,” said Marner. “We have to stop them some way, somehow. It was a big win for us after an emotional day.”
Game 7 is Wednesday.