Toronto is ready to party. When the Toronto Maple Leafs play their first playoff game in nine years Wednesday night in Boston, it looks like fans back home will have no problem finding a place to celebrate.
The biggest playoff party in town will likely be right outside the Air Canada Centre at Maple Leaf Square, where Molson Canadian will be erecting one of its “Hockey Houses,” an idea first conceived at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Toronto’s Hockey House will host live broadcasts of all Leaf playoff games – home and away.
The playoff festivities in Maple Leaf Square will kick off Wednesday night with the Leafs Nation Party in the Square starting at 5 p.m.. Canadian band City and Colour will play a concert shortly before the 7 p.m. puck drop.
Molson will also be giving away tickets to Game Three of the Leafs’ opening round series versus the Boston Bruins – the first NHL playoff game in Toronto since the spring of 2004, according to Molson senior marketing manager Reid Black.
However, the events in the Square are just part of the excitement building in Toronto.
Even Toronto Mayor Rob Ford seems to have playoff fever as he issued a friendly wager to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino Tuesday, confidently proclaiming: “Leafs in six. Toy with them a little bit, yeah.” As of Tuesday night, Mayor Ford had not heard back from Mayor Menino on the terms of the bet.
Just across Maple Leaf Square from the Air Canada Centre, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment-owned Real Sports bar and Grill – which is acting as the licensee for the Molson events – is expecting a packed house inside to go with the crowd outdoors.
“We’ve actually been taking wait lists for the past three weeks for each game,” said Lia Pellegrino, who`s in charge of reservations at Real Sports. “Typically the first three weeks of May were completely reserved in the restaurant, so we realized we had to something else [with the Leafs in the playoffs].”
Sports bars around downtown Toronto are preparing for a surge in business and excitement.
“We don’t really know what to expect, because there’s hardly anyone that was [working when the Leafs were last in the playoffs],” Damon Kastle, general manager of the Loose Moose on Front Street, said with a laugh. “We’re not overly worried to how busy it’s going to be, but we’re looking forward to the energy and the atmosphere.”
Will Sturm, owner of Brass Taps Pizza Pub on Danforth Avenue, was the bar’s manager during the Leafs’ 2004 playoff appearance and he saw first-hand what having the team in the post-season can do for sales and atmosphere.
“I remember it vividly, you could hear [the atmosphere] on the sidewalk,” he said. “It’s amazing for business, it’s amazing for everybody.”
Mr. Kastle said the Leafs making the playoffs has “made amends” for the dent in sales that occurred when the NHL lockout wiped out half the season.
Meanwhile, Hoops Sports Bar and Grill on Bremner Boulevard did a round of hiring in advance of a potential upswing in business with the start of the baseball season combined with a Leafs playoff berth.
“We were hoping for the Leafs to make the playoffs,” said manager Pragash Sritharan. “And when it worked out and we immediately thought ‘okay, this is going to be just insane.’”
Following Game One Wednesday night, the Leafs and Bruins will stay in Boston for Game Two Saturday night. Toronto will host its first NHL playoff game in nine years on May 6.
With files from Sunny Dhillon