More than 11,000 spectators flocked to the Scotiabank Arena for the Maple Leafs exhibition game on Saturday night. They were grateful to be there in snug-fitting masks, too, and a fellow even held a rubber turkey on his head for Monday’s Thanksgiving holiday.
Hockey’s return to normalcy – well, almost that much, at least – has been a long time coming. A full house is expected for Wednesday’s season-opener when Montreal Canadiens head to Toronto to enjoy a good booze from bitter locals.
Ottawa senators don’t do hacks like this, mainly because they’re not very good. Now Ontario has no real fight to make the crowd frenzied but none were needed on Saturday. People were happy even though their glasses had mist and they had to eat in their seats as part of the current COVID-19 protocol.
A man waved a sign that read, “It’s good to be back in the barn, eh?” One young man wrote clearly with his hand to the other: “My Frist Game Ever!”
Kids clamored for sticks like they used to and notes were hanging, Martina Ortiz Luis knocking out a pitch-perfect belt hey canada before dropping the puck. There were cans of popcorn and soft drinks in the press box and it was fun for many of us to watch live hockey for the first time in 18 months.
The Maple Leafs finished the season with an easy 4–1 victory. He’s won five of his six drills and looks quick to move on to the real thing. Nick Ritchie scored his third goal in as many games, and Pierre Angval scored his third in just two. Jack Campbell blocked all but one of the 19 shots he faced, and Wayne Simmonds smashed Scott Saborin into the snow near the end for good measure.
At this point, we don’t know if the NHL will be able to pull off its planned 82-game regular season during an ongoing pandemic, but just the thought of it feels like a pleasant breeze.
Toronto sharp-shooting center Austen Matthews, who is still recovering from wrist surgery, is yet to play and it is unclear whether he will be available on opening night. The team lost sharp Ilya Mikheev to injury against the Senators, and it looks like he may not be back for a while.
Other than that, there’s little to complain about from what we’ve seen so far. Newcomers Richie, Michael Bunting, David Kampf and Ondrej Kaas all had strong training camps. Petr Marzek, another newbie for Toronto, looks set to provide a reliable alternative to Campbell in the nets.
The Maple Leafs won three times last week and enjoyed a getaway to Ontario’s cottage country to get some rest.
“It’s not really a true escape because you’re all here,” Matthews said, chirping to a small gathering of reporters as the team chased down the Muskoka area. He was being fickle and it was accepted as such. The sharp fangs on both sides are too early to be exposed.
“We definitely wanted to win tonight,” said Toronto defense player Morgan Reilly after the win over Ottawa. “The week has been good for us, and we wanted to end it on a good note. We’re ready to rock.” The Maple Leafs have rolled over Beethoven during the playoffs for 17 years. They were good—but not good enough—in each of the last two brief seasons.
This was the first full training camp for head coach Sheldon Keefe and his third season behind the bench.
“The last few training camps have been different,” said Leafs captain John Tavares. He meant that not in a very good way. “This one has been more traditional.”
It seems like there have been more answers than questions for the first time when it comes to the season. Then again, this is Toronto so the skids are always smooth.
Will the Tampa Bay Lightning prove unstoppable for the third year in a row? Will the Florida Panthers Finally Make a Dramatic Climb? Are the Bruins starting to age a bit? What would the Canadian do without Shia Webber for the entire schedule, and what will Kerry Price do for a portion of it?
The Atlantic Division presents a far greater challenge than the 2021 all-Canadian alignment. Anything and everything can happen.
bring it on.
“As a group, I think we are ready to go,” said Campbell, who is almost always prolific as a puppy. “I think we did what we wanted to do in the preseason.”
He said that when he heard the crowd on Saturday, he got goosebumps.
“It was great to see everyone,” he said.