Leafs lose game, but win back fans
If you listen to "The Always Mighty Newstalk 1010" on a regular basis, you know that I was just as mad as most hockey fans about the lousy NHL lockout. But after Monday's Toronto Maple Leaf home opener, I've got to admit it; they won me over and I'm back on board. Free tickets, free blue and white scarves.....heck, even a free beer for adult members of the sold out crowd at Air Canada Centre. Unfortunately the Leafs couldn't give their loyal fans a free win, but only because Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller was sensational and the Sabres stole a 2-1 decision.
The Leafs, however, managed to steal a lot of hearts by competing hard all night long. That's something coach Randy Carlyle has been preaching; urging his troops to not settle for being, in his words, "ordinary".
Meanwhile, there was nothing "ordinary" about the Leafs outstanding pre-game ceremonies on Monday. How about Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield dropping the puck for the ceremonial face-off.....from outer space? He also received a little help from a few Leafs legends as the Jumbotron showed the puck popping into the goalie glove of Felix Potvin and then being transferred to a bunch of ex-Leafs, including Darryl Sittler who was shown dodging the chefs in the ACC kitchen while delivering the puck to the ice. Hilarious stuff, and a real nice touch for a Maple Leaf organization that has been known to take itself a tad too serious. Everybody raves about the Montreal Canadiens and their classy ceremonies, such as Saturday's season opener in Montreal that saw the Leafs edge the Habs 2-1. But did we really need another Bleu-Blanc-Rouge torch relay, and how compelling is it when the torch is handed from Henri Richard to Jean Beliveau to......Brian Gionta? The Leafs ceremony was far less haughty and struck a nice balance between celebrating some of their famous faces and having fun.
By the way, the mood up in the ACC media box was a lot lighter too. The media dogs sit up in the nosebleeds, with Maple Leaf management looking over their shoulders from their private suites directly behind. In the past, that meant putting up with Brian Burke screaming at the referees and spewing profanities every time the puck wound up in the Leafs net - something that happened quite often during Burke's watch. New GM, David Nonis isn't exactly "Mr. Personality". But at least he's not going to explode every time he doesn't get his own way, and you could just feel everybody exhale (management and media) without the presence of Burke and his grumpy old bear routine.
It's early, of course, and the mood will obviously change if the Leafs really start to stink again. But there was definitely a refreshing mood in the air Monday night and the Leafs did a very nice job of making their fans feel appreciated again, as the post-lockout puck is finally in play.