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After being deprived of the game we love for an unbearable 119-day lockout, the NHL returned to action this past Saturday night to kick off a shortened 48 game 2013 season. The owners, players, and media knew that they would receive mixed reactions from the fans, but with the action set to return in the centre of the hockey universe on Monday night, how would Leafs Nation respond?
As a life long Leafs fan, I tend to possess the stereotypical traits that come with it. For example, I – as well as most of you who are reading this – believe every year is “the” year. We haven’t had a playoff appearance since the spring of 2004? Then it just makes sense for the blue and white to be raising Lord Stanley’s mug come June 2013, right?
Each year is a clean slate for the buds, and as I began to walk down to the Air Canada Centre around 4:30 yesterday evening, you could literally feel the buzz and excitement beginning. Seas of blue began to emerge. Fans shouting “GO LEAFS GO” across the sidewalks to each other, while obnoxious fans (myself included) began yelling obscenities to anyone wearing Buffalo Sabres memorabilia.
As I went through the turnstiles, I was immediately greeted with ACC employees handing out free Maple Leaf scarves, as well as vouchers for free hot dogs, pop, and – wait for it – BEER. Yes folks, the ACC felt so bad for us, that they were willing to give us free beer. Now that’s saying something for a place that usually charges $15 for a cold one.
When the clock struck seven, the lights went dim, and Wolfmother’s “Joker and a Thief” began an opening montage that had everyone in the building roaring. Projections of the Maple Leafs history were shown on the ice, with a top-notch light show and music that was perfect for pumping up a crowd. It was so well put together that it included a member of Leafs Nation dropping the puck from outer space, as well as live appearances from Leaf greats Felix Potvin, Darcy Tucker, Darryl Sittler, and Johnny Bower. All that was missing was a Mats Sundin “coming-out-of-retirement” announcement.
From puck drop to the final buzzer, the sold out crowd was never silent. Even though Buffalo began the third period with a 2-0 lead, a usually disgruntled Toronto crowd was just happy to be watching their boys again. The Leafs had constant pressure, outshooting Buffalo 35-20, and although Nazem Kadri ended Ryan Miller’s shutout bid with only 1:42 remaining, the place absolutely exploded. It ended as a 2-1 loss that was tough to swallow, but was quickly forgotten after a few more pints at Real Sports bar. Leafs Nation just wanted a reason to celebrate again, and although the long awaited homecoming ended in defeat, our heads were held high reminding each other of the fact that “Hey, at least we kicked Montreal’s ass on Saturday.” So cheers Leaf Nation, here’s to the return of hockey, and another emotional campaign. Go Leafs Go.
by Joey B