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Born in Toronto, raised on the Blue Jackets.
Yes, there are fans out there with that lineage, though we should explain they mostly live in Toronto, Ohio, two hours east of Columbus. The ‘other’ Toronto, nestled on the Ohio River, has a population of about 5,000 and when the title tides are coming in, such as the World Series champion Blue Jay and last year’s Raptors, they share the pride. But this first-ever playoff series between the Maple Leafs and Jackets has meant choosing sides.
“Of course the Jackets will win, but I seeing it go the distance,” said River Pappas, a 20-year-old fan whose mother owns Smitty’s Sports Pub in town. “I’m no bandwagon jumper, I liked the Jackets before they started winning last year (upsetting Tampa Bay in playoffs) back to the time they started getting good with Bob (Sergei Bobrovsky) in net.
“I was at Game 4 at Nationwide Arena last year when they beat the Lightning, it was incredible to be there for the first playoff series win in their history.”
Citizens in the former town of Newburg’s Landing and later, Sloanes Station, voted to change their name in 1881, backing civic leader Thomas M. Daniels’ assertion that the new Canadian city, then just 48, was ‘a place worth emulating’.
“When I’m away from home and asked where I’m from, I say Toronto and almost everyone says ‘you don’t sound Canadian’,” Pappas laughed in a phone interview. “But when the Raptors won, I bought a championship shirt online that included ‘Toronto, World Champions’ and I liked that play on words.”
But Pappas, a wrestler in his junior year at Fairmont State University across the water in West Virginia, admits he’s something of a rebel in Toronto, which maintains a longer loyalty to the Penguins.
“Pittsburgh is just a half hour away,” reminded his mom, Stephanie Elverb, from behind the bar taps at Smitty’s. “If I have the Jackets game on TV here, there’s a few people, but the bigger viewing party is for the Penguins.”
Elverd was a sportswriter from Steubenville, Ohio, who left the business to buy Smitty. Despite River’s attempts to back the home state NHL team, her allegiance is to Mario Lemieux.
“When the Jackets came into the league (in 2000), the Penguins made a big push to keep this area theirs. (Executives) Eddie Johnston and Craig Patrick came through here a lot.”
But she’s well aware of the bond of the two Torontos and knows some Leaf connections, too.
“One of my favourite Penguins was (Scarborough, Ont., native) Larry Murphy. When I used to go to old Mellon Arena (the Igloo) for games, you’d see the players come and go with $80,000 cars, but Larry drove an old ragtop Mustang sh–box. We respected him for that.
“And (the late Leaf coach) John Brophy coached the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL near here. The Leafs came down for a mini-camp many years ago.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020