Sports
Features

A Leafs fan in the BC legislature

Adam Olsen, MLA and die hard Leafs fan, traces his fandom back to the Victoria Maple Leafs

Keith Norbury
April 18, 2023
Sports
Features

A Leafs fan in the BC legislature

Adam Olsen, MLA and die hard Leafs fan, traces his fandom back to the Victoria Maple Leafs

Keith Norbury
Apr 18, 2023
Victoria Maple Leafs memorabilia. Photo: UsedVictoria.com
Victoria Maple Leafs memorabilia. Photo: UsedVictoria.com
Sports
Features

A Leafs fan in the BC legislature

Adam Olsen, MLA and die hard Leafs fan, traces his fandom back to the Victoria Maple Leafs

Keith Norbury
April 18, 2023
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A Leafs fan in the BC legislature
Victoria Maple Leafs memorabilia. Photo: UsedVictoria.com

It might seem very odd for a prominent BC politician to cheer on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But Adam Olsen, the Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, just can’t help it.

His dad, Carl Olsen, is a Maple Leafs fan, as are his uncles and other members of the Olsen family.

“There’s basically a problem with the rest of the family if you don’t end up a Maple Leafs fan,” Adam quipped as the National Hockey League regular season was winding down.

The Olsens have been part of Leafs Nation dating back to when the National Hockey League had just six teams and only two in Canada. Hockey fans in the rest of the country typically aligned with either Toronto or Montreal. In the mid 1960s, when Carl was a youngster, it wasn’t unusual for fans on southern Vancouver Island to cheer for the Leafs — in no small part because the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Maple Leafs were Toronto’s farm team.

The parent club even called up two Victoria players—centre Milan Marcetta, and defenceman Autry Erickson—for Toronto’s last successful Stanley Cup run in the spring of 1967. Marcetta, who died in 2014, played three playoff games and Erickson, who died in 2010, just one but that was enough to get their names engraved on the Cup

Another member of the Victoria Maple Leafs, right winger Ed Litzenberger in 1965-66, earlier won the Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1962, 1963, and 1964—and with Chicago in 1961. And Bill Flett, who played for Victoria briefly in the 1964-65 season, later won the Stanley Cup in 1974 with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Olsens, members of the Tsartlip First Nation on the Saanich Peninsula, were Leafs fans in those halcyon days and remain fans to this day even though the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup, or even reached the Cup final, since 1967.

According to Adam, though, other First Nations families in the region have allegiances with different original six NHL teams. That the Leafs captain at the time, George Armstrong, was one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players was a bonus for the Olsens.

“The reason why I framed this in the context of the reserve and my dad is because there are very, very well-defined lines between the families in our community around the original six teams that they watched,” Adam said. “It goes back to the days when there were very few televisions in the community and the families would get together and watch the games.”

Adam was born in 1976 and grew up in a household where the TV was stored in a closet and only brought out for Hockey in Night in Canada on Saturday nights. His early Leaf memories include watching the likes of goaltender Mike Palmateer and power forward Wendel Clark, although Adam recalls that as an “era of just really truly terrible hockey.”

Nevertheless, he has never faltered in his adoration of the Leafs — even after decades of disappointment.

“I start every season in October hopeful and so far I’ve ended every season either in March or in April, dreaming for yet another season,” Adam said just days before the Leafs were poised to begin their 2023 Stanley Cup run against Tampa Bay. “That’s kind of been the story of my life.”

The 1994 playoffs were among the most bitter of those disappointments. After the Canucks eliminated the Leafs in the conference final, Adam, who was living in Toronto at the time, found himself cheering strongly for the New York Rangers, who went on to win the Cup that year.

“To survive as a West Coast Maple Leafs fan, you had to find a reason to dislike the Vancouver Canucks,” he said.

For a time, he had two favourite teams: the Leafs and whoever happened to be playing the Canucks.

In 2001, he proved his dedication to the Leafs in another way when he sold his car for $800 in order to fly to Toronto to watch the Leafs lose to New Jersey in a playoff series. He dyed his hair blue and crafted a sign that caught the attention of a camera crew and “made it into the opening pack for the game” on national television. 

“The Maple Leafs are a very accessible hockey team for a hockey fan. I know that all of my friends in other cities are going to cringe at this but they’re Canada’s hockey team,” Adam said, adding with a chuckle, “I just made a lot of enemies.”

Over the years, he and his dad would make a point of catching a Leafs game in Vancouver whenever possible. “This was one of those pivotal moments with me and my dad, the relationship that I had with him,” he said.

This March, Adam’s 15-year-old son, Silas, accompanied the elder Olsens on the pilgrimage, further forging the intergenerational bond. Despite the frustration of watching the Leafs lose 4-1 to the lowly Canucks, Adam remains as optimistic as always about his team’s chances this spring.

Adam Olsen and son Silas take a selfie at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Photo: Adam Olsen

For one thing, star players like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have matured. Another is that the Leafs are playing better defensively. And a third is that while they have had trouble against non-playoff bound opponents, like the Canucks, the Leafs have excelled against other Cup contenders.

“From my perspective, they’re a team that plays to the level of their opponents and we’re going to be facing very good hockey teams in the East this year,” Adam said.

Olsen didn’t play hockey growing up. He came from a soccer and canoeing family, although he did play some recreational hockey as an adult. And before getting into politics, he worked as communications and community relations manager for the Victoria Salmon Kings ECHL team for a couple of years in the mid 2000s. “It was quite an opportunity for a hockey fan, of course, to work in pro hockey.”

Victoria, of course, has a long hockey tradition. Back in 1925, the Victoria Cougars became the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. But when that iteration of the Western Hockey League folded after the following season, most of Victoria’s players transferred to a new NHL team in Detroit, at first called the Cougars and eventually the Red Wings.

A new minor pro hockey team called the Cougars played out of Victoria’s Memorial Arena from 1949 to 1961. And then came the Victoria Maple Leafs, who were WHL playoff champions in 1966, missed the playoffs in 1967, and, after three years of heavy financial losses, relocated to Phoenix, Arizona.

Leafs Nation is well aware that current Maple Leaf star Auston Matthews grew up in the Phoenix area. Is that just a coincidence? Obviously.

Do the Leafs finally have a shot this year at breaking the long Cup drought?

“The answer obviously is yes,” Adam said. “It always is yes.”

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Keith Norbury
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