Meet the anti-fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

Dani Di Giusto and her father, Erv, have two favorite teams: The Montreal Canadiens and literally anyone that plays the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Watch any Leafs home game when an opponent scores and the cameras will inevitably find them. They were the enthusiastic fans in the Florida Panthers jerseys at Game 1 and the ones dressed in Tampa Bay Lightning sweaters in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’re the invading Senators fans. They’re the lone Coyotes fans. The Seattle Kraken are still fairly new the NHL, but father and daughter repped their jerseys when they skated at Scotiabank Arena.

Erv Di Giusto started the tradition all the way back when the Leafs were playing at Maple Leaf Gardens, attending games while wearing an opponents’ jersey. Overall, he’s been showing up to cheer against the Leafs for around 40 years, with a collection of jerseys from around the NHL.

Dani Di Giusto almost has a full collection of jerseys, too. She was a youth hockey goalie who idolized Carey Price and watched Canadiens games with her father. It was only in the last two years that she joined him in cheering against the Maple Leafs as enemy fans in Scotiabank Arena as season ticket holders.

“It’s a bonding thing for us,” she told ESPN.

She said their Canadiens fandom was the catalyst for becoming “anti-fans” in Toronto. “Since we’re Habs fans, but we live in Toronto, we can’t always travel to Montreal to watch all their games,” Dani said. “But the Habs’ rivals are the Leafs, so it’s kind of indirectly supporting the Habs.” But it’s also about supporting these opponents, especially the ones that don’t have many fans that attend their road games.

“I think it’s cool for the players to see they’ve traveled all this distance and you have fans supporting you even though you’re so far away from your home team,” she said. “Even if the team we’re cheering for loses, just being able to fist bump them and see them smile — that really makes my day.”

The Di Giustos aren’t content to just cosplay as opposing fans. They briefly adopt these teams as their own, researching the players regarding everything from their previous NHL teams to when they were drafted. For supporting these road teams so passionately against Toronto, they’ve received everything from fist bumps to autographed sticks from the teams they are so fleetingly supporting.

What they haven’t received from Maple Leafs fans is much abuse.

“Most Leafs fans have been pretty good. There are some fun comments, not wanting to cause harm. There was one instance this year when the Habs had come to play and the Leafs were winning 7-1 and someone threw a beer at me,” said Dani Di Giusto. “But hearing about other fans in other arenas, I’m grateful to Leafs fans that I haven’t had a really bad experience.”

The Di Giustos aren’t like a lot of “enemy fans” who invade arenas just to antagonize the locals. While they revel in the Maple Leafs’ misery, they have an informal “no trash talk” rule at the game.

“We don’t trash talk, because at the end of the day we all came to watch a good hockey game,” Dani said. “It doesn’t matter whose jersey we’re in. So we want to make it a positive experience.”

OK, not completely positive.

“When they’re chanting ‘Go Leafs Go’ we chant ‘Blow Leafs Blow.'”

Their presence at the Panthers’ playoff series against the Leafs made them a viral sensation. It was like the entire Internet simultaneously realized those Lightning fans from the opening round were those Panthers fans in the second round.

“It’s honestly crazy for me. My phone has not stopped buzzing and getting calls all day,” said Dani.

Their enemy fandom comes at a time when the Maple Leafs have pushed deeper into the playoffs than they have since 2004. They’re seeking the first Stanley Cup win for the franchise since 1967.

Do the Di Giustos have any sympathy for the Maple Leafs, even as they cheer against them?

“Yes, because I never I want them to do badly. I want them to do well. I just want the other team to do better,” Dani said. “When they made it to Round 2, I was happy for them. Because now I get to wear their opponents’ jerseys for longer.” But what if the Leafs finally win the Stanley Cup? Would the family wear another team’s jersey to their parade?

“I think we get kicked out pretty quickly,” she said, with a laugh.

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