Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Road Trip Recap: Part V It's Hockey Night Tonight!

Road Trip Recaps: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

As we were getting ready for the night's festivities, Heather recommended that we catch the end of the Habs-Sharks game at the hotel bar.  So we headed downstairs decked out in full Bruins gear, eliciting random looks as one might expect in enemy territory.  Grabbed a couple of seats at the bar, only to find the AC Milan - Brescia match on instead.  Hey Ronaldino is still fun to watch.

We downed our beverages, but not before striking up another hockey conversation with some people at the bar.  Did I mention I like this city?

On our way out we noticed a little something hanging on the wall.  I thought this was good sign.

And then it was time to go.  So without further delay, let's get to the good stuff.  And I'm going to use my normal game rundown, adapted for the road:

Just the facts, Jack (Edwards)
  • Regular Season game #25, road game #13
  • Boston Bruins (14-8-2) at. Toronto Maple Leafs (8-12-4)
  • Second game aginst the Leafs (Bruins won 2-0 at home on October 28)
John Blue Plate Special

We hopped a cab down to the Air Canada Centre, striking up a nice conversation with our cabbie.  We asked him if he had any recommendations for a good bar in the area and he mentioned that there was this brand new place just across the street from the arena.  So we checked it out.  For about one minute.

Real Sports is a gleaming new building with huge flat screens and a very tony appearance, like GameOn!, but more chic.  Velvet ropes and bouncers outside, dark wood and glass inside.  Long lines and expensive beers.  We quickly realized that this wasn't our kind of place, so told Heather to follow me to place just up the street that might do the trick.

So we headed to the Loose Moose on Front Street.

Much, much better.

I had been there before, as it was the pregame hangout place for a bunch of us before we saw the Red Sox get absolutely slaughtered by the Blue Jays on August 23, 2008.

This time, it was Leafs fans, not Sox ones, who took over the bar.  And they were good people.  We managed to grab a couple seats at the bar from a couple of guys who were in town on business and sat next to a couple of kids who were at their first Leafs game by way of British Columbia.  I grabbed a beer.  Heather, on the other hand, thinking we were still at the Four's, had a mixed drink.  Unlike the drinks at the Four's, these were kiddie cup size.  I had a hunch that this was going to be the case hence my choice to go with the brews.

Of course, we were getting hungry too, so we grabbed a menu.  What to order?  There were the standard burgers and sandwiches.  And then there was this:

A buffalo chicken sandwich served on waffles.

Heather seemed a bit hesitant.  She wasn't sold on waffles as a bread substitute. But I insisted and she ended up going along with it.

We were not disappointed. This was SO good.

I know that chicken and waffles is fast becoming a popular dish as restaurants have found another foodie treat to beat into the ground.  Usually, though, that involves fried chicken served on top of Belgian waffles and served with maple syrup.  This was a much simpler concept, replacing a roll with waffles, and serving it on top of a pound of fries.

After devouring that fabulous meal, I wasn't really hungry once inside the arena.  But I was thirsty, so I grabbed a beer.  During the first intermission, we took a walk around the concourse again.  That's when we found the Tim Horton's stand.

Large coffee - $1.50.

You read that right.

I love this place.  You're talking $3.50 for a comparable Dunks at the Garden and that's after waiting 5 minutes in line because some pink hat wants whipped cream on her coolatta and another 5 waiting for the guy to get your drink while you hope they got your order right.

The Couture Corner

I'm just going to lay it out here - Toronto is the world capital for sweater porn.

Sweaters of just about every style worn by the Leafs in their existence were on display here.  Better yet, they were for sale here too.

Immediately across from the Real Sports bar is the Real Sports Apparel Store.  Now, it should be noted that the store is owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the same company that owns the Leafs and the Air Canada Center as well as the Raptors, Toronto FC and the Marlies of the AHL.  This place has the absolute best selection I have ever seen at  team run store.

I mean, look at this: Gretzky throwbacks, late 80s Lemieuxs, and loads of different Leafs sweaters, including the late 80s/early 90s Wendell Clark and mid 90s Doug Gilmour ones seen here.

This is just plain sick.  Want a mid-70s Borje Salming or Daryl Sittler? They have it.  Want a late 60s Johhny Bower? Sure.  Late 90s Mats Sundin? No problem.

We almost had this at one time at the FleetCenter, but the guy who used to order all the old Bruins sweaters was fired and his replacements just haven't had the same demand and/or desire to order more of them.  Then again, with the way the current Bruins sweaters are selling out, the store isn't hurting for sales, either.

Even the customers bring it here:

A late 60s Lanny MacDonald.  Although the other one may be an Andrew Raycroft 3rd.  But, damn, if those aren't sweet.

Have I mentioned that we hadn't even stepped foot in the arena yet?

After looking around and finding some sweet (if not outrageously expensive) Hockey Night in Canada branded travel mugs (we'll be getting those online, thanks), we made our way into the rink.

Wide open concourses.  Loads of food choices.  Even free beer samples!

We walked around downstairs for a bit then headed upstairs to take a lap around the place as the teams were warming up.

Toronto fans bring their "A" game when it comes to wearing their colors:

Tie Domi 3rd, circa 2005

Pound for pound, Domi was one of the toughest goons I've ever seen.  Sure, I hated him when he was playing against the Bruins, but I always kinda liked him as a player.  He would have been an interesting Bruin, Jay Miller meets PJ Stock.

If there was one thing I took away from this weekend, it's that Leafs fans absolutely love Wendell Clark.

The first overall pick in the 1995 entry draft, Clark had 3 separate stints with the Leafs, serving as captain from 1991 to 1994.  He was a decent scorer, but was also known to be very physical ala Cam Neely.  He was traded to the Nordiques in 1994.  As part of the deal, Toronto received a young Swedish centre named Mats Sundin.  I think they made out ok in that one.

The Leafs honored his #17 in 2008.

1994 Wendell Clark Nordiques home and 1995 Islanders Away

This completely blew my mind.

As I said, Toronto fans love Wendell Clark, but this took it to a new level.  Clark played one season each for these two teams before returning to the Leafs midway through the 1995 season.  Those Quebec sweaters were beautiful in their simplicity featuring the fleur de lis.  As for the the Islanders one, aka the Gorton 'fishsticks' ones, they were so ugly that they have a certain charm to them.

Going, Going, Gondola

This was my first time visiting the Air Canada Centre.  I had heard from numerous people, both friends and on TV that this was one of the best places to see a game in the NHL.  So I would be remiss if I didn not share a little bit of the building with you.

There weren't a lot of memorabilia type displays (most places in the concourses were taken up by food stands and merchandise vendors), but this one stood out to me.  Photos of every player who wore the captain's C for the Leafs.  I wish the Bruins would do something like this, but then again, they'd have to have pictures of Jason Allison and Joe Thornton.  So maybe not.

The sightlines were great.  No columns and the balcony seats were set at a fairly steep angle putting you closer to the ice than a comparable seat at the Garden.

Hockey is presented in a fairly pure form here.  No t-shirt cannons. No crappy music.  Trivia questions based on the history of the Leafs.  I loved every bit of it.

I really like how the Leafs honor their Stanley Cup winners.  Simple banners with a picture of the cup featuring the team logo at the time and the year on the bottom. 

The other interesting thing they do is that they  really don't retire numbers in the traditional sense.  Only the numbers 5 (Bill Barilko) and 6 (Ae Bailey) have been taken out of circulation.  Great players have their numbers 'honored' instead, much like what NFL teams do with their rings of honor.  Hence you have the number 1 worn by hall of famer Johnny Bower and Bruins reject Andrew Raycroft.

One other really interesting feature is the Foster Hewitt media gondola.

Hewitt was a longtime radio broadcaster in Canada who gained fame calling the national hockey night in Canada broadcasts for 40 years.  The old Maple Leaf Gardens featured a gondola hanging at the top of the building where broadcasters were stationed.  When the Air Canada Center was built, the pressbox was named in his honor.

The Row 12 Rundown

Well, seeing that we were on a road trip with just the two of us, 307 wasn't represented all that well.  We had seats in section 323, row 11 and they were fantastic.

Doosh of the Day

Even north of the border, there are societal losers to be found.

Honorable mention goes to the bunch of college age kids in front of us who went from mild mannered clowns when the Leafs were trailing to full-fledged asshats once they tied it up.  Also need to give a shout out to the 12 year old girls in the train station after the game who tried to talk trash to us, despite the fact they've never seen the Leafs even make it to the finals in their lifetime.

But the winner goes to the self proclaimed Penguins fan outside the train station on Front Street who said the happiest day of his life was when Ulf Samuelsson took out Cam Neely's knees.  Very few taunts tend to get me worked up like someone who glorifies a player getting injured, regardless of what team they play for  (yes, even the Habs).

To her credit, Heather suggested we hop in cab and get out of there before things escalated.  So we headed back towards the hotel.

The Clothes Line

I was a little concerned that with a scarcity of tickets available, there would be few Bruins fans there for the game.  Boy was I wrong.  There were plenty.  Including this guy:

1972 Wayne Cashman home

I've seen a lot of early 70s Bruins replicas.  But those tend to feature the same players: Orr, Bucyk, Esposito, Cheevers.  But this was the first time I've ever seen a Cashman, the career Bruin who served as captain form 1978 to 1983.

As for what we wore, I went with the 1970 Orr and Heather went with the late 80s Neely.  We figured we'd get along with more fans if we wore players that are Hall of Famers that are universally (well, almost) respected among hockey fans.

The Lobel Prize

We all know that the Leafs have Phil Kessel.  What we also know is that Kessel has never scored against the Bruins sinced he was traded.  And he still hasn't, sort of.  The box score shows that he had no goals or assists and landed 6 shots on net (all of which were saved by Tim Thomas), but it was his goal scored in final round of the shootout that gave the Leafs a 3-2 victory and landed him the first star of the game award.

That hurt, real bad.

It also didn't help that Kris Versteeg, a pretty decent player who was once a Bruins minor leaguer (traded to Chicago for the forgetable Brandon Bochenski), tied the game at 2-2 at 19:18 of the third period.


The Home End

Though the Bruins got a point, this felt like a bad loss.  Giving up 2 points to a division rival was bad. Having Phil Kessel be the one to seal the deal was worse. Furthermore, a good portion of the good will and camaraderie we felt druing the day was a bit diminished by the way a few classless fans acted towards us after the game.

I really hoped to go out after the game and celebrate with a pint or two, but we headed back to the hotel bar and relaxed instead.  Besides, we had to be up early to catch the bus back to the airport. So we went back to the room and watched the late game on the CBC and headed off to bed shortly thereafter.

Though the game didn't go exactly as we had hoped for and that we almost never made it up there in the first place, it was a pretty good birthday weekend.

Next year, I'm thinking the Windy City for a B's-Blackhawks game.

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