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Ahead of the start on Tuesday of the Maple Leafs’ second-round series with the Florida Panthers, head coach Sheldon Keefe was breaking down all the different types of motivation.

“There’s the internal ones. There’s the selfish ones, that are all about you. There’s the ones that are about the team. Ones that are about your family, and about the fans, and Leafs Nation, and all of that,” Keefe said.

How about sticking it to Florida? How’s that for a motivation? Let’s leave hockey history out of it for a second. How about giving it in the chin to a fair-weather friend?

Florida is the 11th province, and the only one evenly divided between English and French. You cannot go anywhere in Florida without finding, a) Canadians, and, b) Panera Bread.

(What is it with Americans and Panera Bread? It’s bread. Would anybody go to Florence for a chain called Italy Hamburgers? It’s madness.)

Canada gives Florida balance. Without Canada on hand to keep things cool, Florida is endless spring break, which, if you’ve ever been to Florida during actual spring break, is a living hell.

Without hundreds of thousands of Canadian visitors tipping things toward sanity, Florida goes from funny ha-ha to funny strange. It might already be there, but Canada is doing its best to pull it in the other direction.

How does Florida repay this debt amongst friends? It throws a big party and leaves us off the invite list. When we call up to ask why, it doesn’t want to say.

On Monday, Canadians trying to buy tickets to see the Leafs play at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise hit a “Do Not Enter” sign.

A note on Ticketmaster read: “FLA Live Arena is located in Sunrise, Florida. Sales to this event will be restricted to residents of the United States. Residency will be based on credit card billing address. Orders by residents outside of the United States will be canceled without notice and refunds given.”


The Panthers clarified to The Canadian Press that this was a homers-only presale. Canadians will be free to buy whatever tickets remain after late-morning on Tuesday, or whatever they can find on the resale market.

Is that fair? Maybe, if you’re in Canada. We love a mandated leg up.

But not if you’re in Florida. In Florida, they have a word for this sort of set-up – socialism.

What’s the deal with giving elites an advantage in the marketplace? What if someone decides that only people from Fort Myers can buy the new iPhone the day after it’s released? There’d be trouble.

Why isn’t the free market deciding who gets tickets when? Why isn’t money the ultimate arbiter of who gets to go first?

What the Panthers are doing here is, well … – I’m going to pause before I say this and give you a real look – … it’s un-American.

As a state, you can’t go for Donald Trump two elections in a row, and also bar the rich – even if they’re rich Canadians – from getting what they want when they want it. The two things do not belong together.

It is unfair, but it’s also sad. Sad! Also, failing and crooked.

Only a failing operation needs to stack the deck. What are the Panthers afraid of? That no one will come?

(Actually, that’s a reasonable fear. If I owned the Panthers, I’d be afraid of that, too. It’s a hell of a drive out there to FLA Live and then you have to find parking and it’s a whole thing. A lot to ask on Saturday if the weather’s nice.)

Presumably, the Panthers are afraid that too many Leafs fans will tilt the atmosphere in Toronto’s favour. They haven’t thought this through. Mostly, Leafs fans go to games to read on their phones about what’s happening right in front of them, and to send selfies to every person they’ve ever met. Whatever’s happening on the ice is mostly an afterthought.

If the Leafs start slow, their fans are not shy about complaining about that: “Do you know how hard it is to buy hockey tickets in Florida these days? And we flew all the way here on Spirit for this?”

But that was before the Panthers thought it wise to make securing Leafs tickets a patriotic act, instead of an annoying reminder that you have too much money.

Now if you go to a game down south, you aren’t just slugging for the Leafs (who most Canadians can’t stand). You’re sticking up for our national values (and people might be willing to temporarily forget you’re from Toronto).

In trying to give apathetic Floridians a nudge, the Panthers ticked off a whole country.

So, first off, thanks. Everybody was pretty excited about facing down the Boston Bruins and their curse. When they heard it was Florida instead, it was kind of like, “Aw. Okay. Well, sure. I guess that’s fine, too.”

Now there’s something to get stuck into straight off.

The only way this tactic worked is if the point was convincing more Canadians to come. If you were already going to fly all the way down there, get a hotel and eat at Panera Bread six times, what difference does it make you if the ticket costs you $400 instead of $200?

All you’ve accomplished is making people angry. Angry people don’t stare at their phones and boo their own team.

The home-ice advantage seems to have disappeared in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. As of Monday evening, visiting teams were winning at a .630 clip (31-18).

So what does Florida do? They make it worse. They turn their own barn into the temporary headquarters of a bunch of true believers, hard-core hosers and hockey revolutionaries.

It doesn’t matter how many of them there are. They will be heard. And in being heard, they will have proved that you can’t keep Canada out. We find a way.

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