By Chris Sanders
It’s been almost two decades since the Toronto Maple Leafs last took the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens for a National Hockey League (NHL) game.
When the team moved to the Air Canada Centre in 1999, a 69-year tradition of playing on Carlton Street was broken, making it all the more special when the Leafs laced up to practice at what is now known as Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre Tuesday morning.
“We didn’t get tickets very often, but when we did, it was really special to come to all the grounds here at Maple Leaf Gardens and see all my heroes play,” said 12-year NHL veteran Dominic Moore, a Thornhill native. “It’s so nice they preserved it this way and for us to come out is a real thrill.”
Now, the Leafs have filled the skates of the former legends, ‘ooing’ and ‘ahhing’ the fans who attended the practice. And the kids who probably missed school to watch their idols can most certainly say it was worth the skip.
“It’s awesome, It’s the Gardens,” said Maple Leafs winger Zach Hyman, also a Toronto native. “Just being a kid you talk about it with all your friends and it’s one of those things you always talk about at recess. It’s great to have them support us.”
A win Monday night against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning made for a good morning skate, and it was visible.
“Obviously you’re in a better mood, so you can enjoy it more,” said Moore. “But either way it’s for us to come out and skate here.”
After winning eight of their last nine games, Toronto is looking like the Leafs of old. Since changing venues 19 seasons, the Maple Leafs have only made the playoffs eight times. Currently ranked third in the Atlantic Division, there’s no question the joy of success is back in Toronto.
“You love watching your favourite team win,” said Hyman. “I remember growing up being a huge Leafs fan and watching those teams have good playoff success.”
With the Columbus Blue Jackets in town to face off against the Leafs tomorrow night, the blue and white will look to maintain the historic success enriched in the old Maple Leaf Gardens.
“After yesterday [playing the Lightning] you put that behind you and focus on the next game,” said Hyman.
For this Leafs team, history is always on their minds.