On the streets of Toronto, a general malaise has set in every spring for the past 53 years, and it coincides with Maple Leafs fans realizing their hockey team has once again lost out on yet another chance to win the Stanley Cup Championship.
“I’ve come to expect it with the Leafs. Same thing every year,” a fan told Global News on Tuesday, a day after the Canadiens defeated the team in Game 7.
Another man called the season “disappointing,” but said he wasn’t surprised given the history of letdowns with the Leafs.
Brian Conacher, who played for the team in 1967 — the last time the Leafs won the Championship, said he’s let down like everybody else and struggles to believe it’s taken the team so long to win again.
“There will always be support and that’s a good thing, and that’s a bad thing because there’s not as much pressure to win from an economic point of view. They’re going to be successful no matter what,” said Conacher, who compared Toronto to Chicago.
He noted unlike Toronto, Chicago struggled to win back fans a few years ago when their team was playing poorly.
Dr. Ben Schellenberg, an assistant professor in the faculty of kinesiology and recreation at the University of Manitoba who studies sports psychology, told Global News sports fans are different because their team becomes part of their identity and they’re willing to forgive a team that continually loses.
“Usually when people suffer repeated failures, they quit, they disengage — that’s the normal thing to do. Sports fans are different because it’s part of their identity. It’s who they are,” he said.
“They’re not just people who watch the Maple Leafs. It’s who they are, so it’s harder to get rid of that.”
Schellenberg explained fans will justify the causes of the failure like injuries and bad luck and fans will also think they’re way out of the loss, like the fact that this was a pandemic year or that there were no fans in the stands.
He said that fans who suffer a loss fall back on their “psychological immune system,” which can make them feel better.
Schellenberg also highlighted how sports fans also feel support in others who are suffering from a similar disappointment.
“You are suffering with anyone else who is wearing the same jersey as you. Social support is great for coping with failure, with disappointment, so that can keep people alive and going,” he explained.
Alexandra Fiocco, an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Stress and Healthy Aging Research (StAR) Lab at Ryerson University, said Maple Leafs fans who identify with the team can be adversely affected by loss.
“You can actually sense what’s going on in the body by watching the game or when there’s a win or a loss. It’s quite interesting that you can have that same stress physiology even though it’s the team that’s playing and not you,” she said.
“It’s through that social identification where you start to experience the same stress physiology that you might if you were actually playing the game yourself.”
Fiocco urged fans who are feeling loss to externalize their feelings, remembering we have no control over how the Maple Leafs play.
“They might help to manage some of the stress tied into the loss,” she explained.
Individuals who focus or ruminate on the loss may feel levels of distress, Fiocco said, encouraging people to shift their focus on other things that make them happy like parenting, their employment, or friends.
Meanwhile, Conacher’s advice to fans was simple.
“I tell them to keep the faith. The world lives on hope,” he said.
Another fan told Global News he’s got faith because of the basketball team’s win in 2019.
“The Raptors did it, so I feel the Maple Leafs are due sooner than later. Hopefully sooner than later,” he said while walking away.