Identical twins and bitter rivals: how the Habs/Leafs series is testing the bonds of these hockey-loving brothers
MONTREAL -- A wise man once said that a house divided upon itself cannot stand. That man never watched hockey and he definitely never met the Ewing family.
The story of that clan is one of divided loyalties, the type that test familial love to its limit. For the Ewing family is one of two fandoms: half cheer for the noble Montreal Canadiens, professional hockey's most storied franchise. The other cheer for the beleaguered, seemingly cursed Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nowhere is this divide more pronounced than when it comes to Jason and James Ewing, 36-year-old identical twins raised within this home of rivals in the suburbs of Toronto.
“My mom was born and raised in Montreal and my dad was born and raised in Toronto,” Jason explained. “It was complicated, because it was divided loyalties. Both my mom and my dad are very avid hockey fans and for them, growing up, Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada was almost a religion in each one of their households.”
The result was that growing up, the brothers worshipped Leafs players like Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. But in the early 90s, they diverged – Jason took after his mom and cheered for Habs, putting a poster of Patrick Roy up on his wall, while James went the other way.
“Then, in '93, the Habs won the cup and it was solidified at that point. I was a Habs fan and had bragging rights up until now.”
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While wearing the blue-and-white of the hated Leafs into a Montreal bar could be a good way to start a fist fight, things never got that far in the Ewing household. Instead, the rivalry came out in more innocent – albeit fairly twisted – ways. For instance, there's the garden gnome.
Initially blue, the gnome was... ahem... “borrowed” from a yard by James. The lawn ornament became a good luck charm for son and father, who would rub its head for luck during Leafs games. That is until Jason, in turn, borrowed the sacred gnome.
“I gave it to a friend who then painted it in all Habs colours,” he said. “They had no idea, they thought they misplaced it. And then it returned one day and they were just completely blown away and upset about it. But once that happened, I owned it. It was mine.”
But not for long. James eventually moved to Calgary, while Jason stayed in the Toronto area. Once again, the gnome was stolen, this time by a mutual friend who brought it to Calgary, where he was once again painted in the Leafs colours.
“I was actually really upset about that! You stole something from my house! But a year or two later, my niece was traveling to Alberta and I said 'If you can get gnome back to Ontario, I'll give you $50 bucks.”
Gnome thievery has become a tradition, with the dimunitive folkloric being frequently having his hockey allegiance changed.
Photo via Jason Ewing
With the two teams now facing off in the playoffs for the first time in over 40 years, you'd think the brothers would be at each others' throats. But Jason said things have remained cordial... for now.
“We have a group chat going and (at the beginning of the series) we all thought the Leafs were going to win. They were the better team on paper. It was a little more chatty, a little more friendly. But after (Saturday night's Canadiens win), it's been like radio silence. Nobody is talking to each other. You can kind of feel the tension between us.”
With a decisive game seven looming (and the Leafs history of choking in the playoffs becoming increasingly relevant after two straight Canadiens wins in overtime), it will be interesting to see how the Ewing clan reacts to the result. Both brothers have sons who now cheer for their respective teams, as the belief in their team's superiority gets passed down to a new generation. Which side will get the bragging rights for the next 40 years?
“When the Habs win, this is just one more pin on your chest, to say 'We got you again,'” said Jason. “Or the other way around, 'Of course the Leafs are better, we're going all the way to the Cup.' I'm kind of curious to see where this goes.”