By Lara Kuipers
It’s a Saturday night in Toronto. The sun is just beginning to set, casting a golden glow over the busy people walking in the streets.
“Tickets, I got tickets!” a man yells as he waves two pieces of paper in the air feverishly. It’s not just any Saturday in Toronto, it’s a Saturday night and the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing hockey at home.
Inside the home venue of the Leafs, Scotiabank Arena, men, women, boys and girls of all ages are walking around with a jump in their step. Holding a cold beer in one hand and a hotdog in the other, it’d be hard pressed to find someone not sporting the home team’s jersey – either in the royal blue they wear at home games or the sharp white they wear at away games. Occasionally a rare fan may be seen wearing the other team’s jersey, usually getting heckled by Leafs fans in the hallway that circle the perimeter outside the rink.
With beers in their hands, fans find their seat sections and wait in line as ushers point them to their seats. Through the curtains to the sections the ice is unveiled. The bright lights, the white ice and the screaming fans hits like a rush of adrenaline. The players are already out there warming up – shooting pucks hard at the empty net – never failing to miss their shots. The favourites are all there including the young guns, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Frederik “Freddy” Andersen stretches on their end in the neutral zone. John Tavares and Nazem Kadri are chatting as they skate around. There’s a vibe in the arena, it’s only a vibe you can get from being in the rink to watch a game live. That is, if you can afford it.
For anyone who’s a Leafs fan, seeing a home game in person is a must. However, unfortunately for Leafs fans, they have one of the most expensive tickets in the National Hockey League (NHL). A ticket in the nose bleeds (the seats at the top section of the stands) is still going to cost around $100 per person and better sectioned seats are hard to come by. However, in recent years, an alternative approach to watching the game at Scotiabank Arena has evolved, Maple Leaf Square.
Maple Leaf Square is located at 15 York Street in Toronto, in the area right outside the front doors to the arena. During playoff time it is sectioned off from traffic and designated as a “tailgate” area for Leafs fans to gather during the game. Above the front doors hangs a large screen that plays the game while it’s on. For the past few years the crowd has been packed with fans and the best part is, it’s free.
21-year-old Ryerson University student Haley Bretney has been a fan of the Leafs for most of her life and has visited Maple Leaf Square to watch a game on three separate occasions.
Bretney said that she didn’t know what to expect the first time she went but remembers that as soon as she walked in, a worker handed her a rally towel with music blasting on the speakers.
“Everybody was really into it. I almost felt like that was more exciting than actually being inside because those were the true fans – trekking out to go to the square and watch. There weren’t a lot of people on their phones or whatever, not watching. If you went to the square you were going to stand for three hours and you were going to watch,” said Bretney.
“I know I would rather be inside, but the atmosphere is so much better outside because those are really the true fans.”
Like Bretney, Ryerson student Mat Rodger, a 20-year-old Leafs fan, said he prefers watching the game in Maple Leaf Square rather than inside the arena.
“I feel like that’s where the real fans go. Inside the rink, the tickets are so expensive, you don’t really get the blue-collar fans,” Rodger said.
But to get to see a Leafs’ game at Maple Leaf Square during the playoffs, the team has to make the playoffs first. That shouldn’t be an issue this season as the Leafs are having one of their best seasons in recent years. They are currently sitting in third place in their division with 89 points. They sit four points behind the Boston Bruins – one of their biggest rivals in the game – with 12 games left in the season.
The results so far this season are not surprising when a deeper look is taken into the dynamics of the team. This season started on a high note before it even started when highly sought after free-agent forward John Tavares signed with the Leafs on July 1, 2018 after playing nine seasons with the New York Islanders.
Tavares is now having one of his best seasons in the NHL as he currently sits fourth in the league with 39 goals scored. But this 2018-19 Leafs’ team is one with a lot of depth because Tavares isn’t the only one on the NHL’s statistics leaderboard. Mitch Marner, playing his third season in the NHL at only 21-years-old sits fourth in the league with 60 assist.
Auston Matthews who is also playing his third season in the NHL, recently became the first player in the Leafs’ long history to score at least 30 goals in his first three seasons in the NHL. In the plus-minus category, not one but two Leafs players cracked the top ten in the league with veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey topping the league with a +33 plus-minus, and defenceman Morgan Rielly sitting in fourth with +30. This comes to no surprise as the team sits third in the league in goals against average with a +46.
In addition to being fourth in the league with plus-minus, Reilly is having one of his best seasons as he sits first in the league with goals by a defenceman at 19. Backing them up, Freddy Andersen sits third in the league with goaltender wins at 33.
With a team channeling such depth and skill with just a few weeks left in the regular season, a playoff run seems very likely. So, you might want to consider hopping on the subway or GO Transit train and riding to Maple Leaf Square to watch the game in a crowd of fellow Leafs fans. Just remember to bring your jersey.