Game Day: A crucial win and the return of a familiar voice
Let's not mince words: The Leafs must win tonight.
They must beat the struggling Sabres, who are off to a dreadful 3-9-2 start and currently reside in the Eastern basement. They must grab two points against a team that will be without the mind-boggling, puck-stopping services of one Ryan Miller.
Not that it will be easy.
Buffalo has dominated Toronto in recent times, including taking 8 of the last 9 games at the ACC. Like a house fire in Cheektowaga, the Sabres have crackled and raged, smoking up the score and burning the Leafs night after night.
But with your indulgence, I'd like to talk about something else this morning.
When the puck drops, there will be a familiar voice in the enemy broadcast booth, a voice that breathed humour and insight into Leafs Nation for more than two decades.
It's been three years since Harry Neale left Toronto for Buffalo. And while this isn't a knock against anybody else, well, I still miss Harry.
I miss the way he made Joe Bowen unravel into turbo-charged bursts of laughter at least once a game. I miss his vivid similes and deranged metaphors. I miss the pitch-perfect chemistry he shared with Bob Cole during the late 80s and 90s.
Win or lose – and it was usually lose – Harry was a reliable beacon when Leaf fans felt lost at sea. On some nights, he was the best part of a game. Listening to Harry was like listening to an old friend who always jumped in at the right moment with the right words.
Anyway, since we can no longer hear him, I thought it would be nice to at least read him. I jotted down a few questions for our old friend and he was kind enough to reply. (Thanks to the Sabres' Chris Bandura for facilitating this on late notice.)
Q: Is there a memory that stands out from your time in Toronto?
"After my first game that I did, they asked me back to do another game. I didn't know why they did, but that is probably the biggest highlight! I do remember one time in Detroit, it was April Fool's. Midway through the second period, Joe Bowen ran out of the booth and said he was going to be sick and I had to take over the play-by-play duties. So for the rest of the period I had to handle both. When it was over, I looked behind me and Joe was standing with a producer and a stats guy laughing away, watching me sweat it out. That was a pretty funny memory. I think I did okay that night."
Q: What's the difference between Buffalo and Toronto fans?
"Buffalo fans are, I think, louder and more enthusiastic. I think the reason for this is that for many nights you have a decent amount of fans of the opposing team in the building. They really challenge the Buffalo fans to make noise. In Toronto, everyone in the building seems to be a Leafs fan."
Q: Is there anything you miss about Toronto?
"I miss the people I worked with there over the years. Everyone really knew their job and were great at it. I miss the guys and gals who work on the broadcast in the trucks and people like Joe Bowen and Mark Askin. They were a pleasure to work with and I learned a lot from them."
Q: What would it take to get you back?
"It would take a lot to get me back! For one, I don’t miss the traffic on the QEW. It is great to work where I live and I enjoy who I work with here. You should never say never but... probably never!"
Q: What’s your assessment of this current Leafs team?
"Better than last year and I can see what Brian Burke is doing to build a more complete team. He has firmed up the goaltending and defensive core. The forwards are the next group he is working on. The team is moving in the right direction. I'm not sure if they are a playoff team just yet, but they have made the right moves to be right in the mix. The need in my mind is to add some depth to the offensive side of things."
PHOTO: CBC PUBLICITY