The sea of blue and white that steadily grew in Maple Leaf Square to celebrate the arrival of the Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs parted suddenly, as one man pushed his way through.
Andre Doyon, wearing the mustard yellow jersey of the hated Boston Bruins, waded bravely into the crowd.
The Leafs fans booed the 55-year-old Toronto bank employee, but his smile never waned.
“You know what, I grew up in Montreal and since I was 10 years old I’ve cheered for the Bruins,” Doyan said, mentioning Bobby Orr as the reason for his alliance. “In Montreal there’s a real rivalry between Boston and Montreal. Montreal hates Boston, Boston hates Montreal.
“Here’s there’s no history, no rivalry, between Boston and Toronto.”
You could have fooled the thousands that clogged the avenues that lead into Maple Leaf Square Wednesday night outside the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs’ downtown home arena.
The site of so many disappointments in recent years, the byproduct of a lousy hockey club, all for now at least, forgiven.
The Maple Leafs made their first NHL playoff appearance in nine years in Boston on Wednesday night. The mood in Toronto was festive, rambunctious.
Outside in the square, a free concert featuring local artist Dallas Green of alternative band City and Colour, warmed up the crowd, who gathered to watch the game on the enormous television screen affixed to the arena wall.
“Leafs win 3-2,” Green proclaimed before breaking into his first song as white Leaf-shaped balloons floated overhead in the gentle breeze on the warmest evening this spring.
The square bustled several hours before the opening faceoff, which was not good news for Victor Fraser.
The 42-year-old Toronto artist was putting the finishing touches on the giant Leaf logos that adorn the concrete surrounding the arena.
He kept shooing away unsuspecting pedestrians from walking over his rendering as the paint dried.
“These guys [the Leafs] can take the heart rate of this city up a few notches, help clear out some of that cholesterol,” Fraser noted.
While Leaf paraphernalia was everywhere, it was it was hard to miss Jonathan Benjamin, a 26-year-old Toronto resident, his face painted all blue and wearing a blue and white Leafs wig.
Benjamin also had a large Leaf flag draped over his shoulder, covering a Leafs jersey. This was over Leaf pajamas, pulled over top of Leaf boxer shorts.
“I would ask to see his Leafs jock, but that’s asking too much,” said Darlene Feniuk, his friend.
Inside Real Sports, the 1,000-seat sports bar adjacent to the square, fans crammed every inch.
“Even before the playoff schedule was released people were calling in put kind of in anticipation of when the games would be,” Sarah Mills, the general manger of Real Sports, said. “We were actually full for all the potential dates before the team had even officially made the playoffs.”
Mills said she received “a lot of interesting phone calls and e-mails” from people who pulled no punches when trying to secure a spot for the sold-out venue.
“It’s amazing how popular Larry Tanenbaum is,” Mills said, referring to the MLSE board chairman.
This is a place where the drinks are flowing, and the music is loud.
But once the game starts, and Hockey Night in Canada comes on the two-storey, high-definition screen above the sprawling bar, the game is all that matters.
Almost as an afterthought, the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox baseball game going on down the street at Rogers Centre played on one small TV. No one seemed to notice.
And when James van Riemsdyk poked home an early first-period power goal that gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead, the bar erupted in cheers, as patrons jumped up and exchanged high-fives with each other.
For long-suffering Toronto hockey fans, it was definitely game-on.
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