The Toronto Maple Leafs rode the Rocket on Thursday, taking the subway two stops to city hall for an outdoor practice at Nathan Phillips Square.
Auston Matthews, Jake Muzzin and Connor Brown took the honours in the Leafs’ 3-on-3 outdoor tournament. But the fans were probably the big winners on the day, lining up eight or nine deep to see their hockey heroes.
Not that the Leafs didn’t have fun, despite a chill in the air.
“It was a blast,” said centre John Tavares. “Obviously to be right in the heart of the city with the skyline and obviously amazing support from our fans.
“Just to be outside, change the atmosphere. Make you feel like a kid in a fun, little competitive tournament. It was a lot of fun.”
Bemused subway riders saw the helmeted Leafs in full gear other than their skates get on the subway at Union Station, just steps away from their Scotiabank Centre home, and travel two stops to Osgoode before emerging on the street and making the short walk to Nathan Phillips Square with a police escort walking alongside.
The city hall skating rink, under iconic arches, was surrounded by boards and decorated with a Leafs logo at centre ice for the occasion.
“You just try to really appreciate special moments like this where you get to participate with the fans,” said Tavares, who grew up a Leafs fan in nearby Oakville.
“Pretty cool to see,” said winger Zach Hyman. “I wasn’t expecting this big of a turnout. But that’s Leafs Nation for you.”
Added Mayor John Tory: “This is the hockey capital of the world.”
The Leafs were divided into six teams for the 3-on-3 tournament, which started with a round of 90-second preliminary games before things got serious with two-minute semi-finals and the final.
Backup goalie Garret Sparks was an early star but players like Tavares and Matthews put on an offensive show. Winger William Nylander drew laughs – and a penalty shot – when he fired his stick across the ice to stop a Justin Holl rush.
The tournament came down to Team Black (Matthews, Muzzin and Brown) against Team Grey (Par Lindholm, Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott). And it went to overtime before a controversial goal decided the affair.
Sparks made a stop on a Brown wrist shot and then dropped the puck to pass it to a teammate. The six-foot-three, 213-pound Muzzin pushed Sparks aside and cheekily tucked it in for the winner.
“That’s a goal,” said Leafs TV reporter Paul Hendrick, playing the role of announcer.
While Team Black celebrated at mid-ice. Team Grey threw up their hands in mock outrage. Playing the aggrieved goalie, Sparks broke his stick on the crossbar.
Word was the winning team got a free pass on a future morning skate.
The Leafs, coming off a 5-4 win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night, next play Saturday at Montreal.