TORONTO -- The grandstand on the south side of the outdoor rink at Nathan Phillips Square was jammed to capacity. Around the rest of the rink, people were lined up six, seven, eight rows deep, in some places even more, screaming, yelling, shouting, hoping to get their favorite player’s attention.

There were fans on rooftops, on elevated walkways, on balconies of a condominium overlooking the rink.

All of them there late Thursday morning, just to get a glimpse of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the heart of the city when the team held its annual outdoor practice at the skating rink, just south of city hall.

“That was fun,” said forward Ryan Reaves, in his first season with the Maple Leafs after signing a three-year contract on July 1, 2023. “You see hockey is alive and well in Toronto. The support that comes out for a practice like this is unbelievable. It’s something you don’t see in any other city. It’s always fun to hear kids chanting your name. It never gets old.”

Reaves knew he was in for a wild morning the moment he, along with the rest of his teammates, boarded the subway at Union Station for the short trip to Nathan Phillips Square.

“It was like a petting zoo, to be honest with you,” Reaves said.

The experience was not new for captain John Tavares, who has participated in several outdoor practices since signing a seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018. But Tavares said he never tires of the atmosphere.

“It’s just remarkable, the passion this city and fan base has for the Toronto Maple Leafs, what it means to the city of Toronto and Leafs Nation as a whole so it’s always very special,” Tavares said. “A lot of us grew up playing on the outdoor rinks so it’s cool and fun for us to have a little skate and a 3-on-3 tournament. You can hear and feel the passion; the love for this team is incredible.”


Tavares, who has 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 49 games, will try to extend his goal streak to four games when the Maple Leafs (26-15-8) play at the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, SNE, SNO, SNP). Tavares has six points (three goals, three assists) in his past three games after going the prior nine without a point, the longest stretch during his time with Toronto.

“Everyone is probably feeling a little more refreshed, you get a little break (Toronto's eight-day break ended Sunday) and recharge but I’ve been really happy with my game all season long,” Tavares said.

“Throughout 82 (games) there’s always one or two that aren’t great where you’d like to play a little better, but over the course of the year, the foundation of my game has been, I think, fairly strong so it’s good to see things going in and getting rewarded so it’s just about keeping playing well and keeping that consistency.”

After concluding practice, players did their best to sign as many autographs and pose for as many pictures as possible.

“It’s a good change of pace for us over the course of the season,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “Just being a part of the community, being involved with the city is always good and always fun. We appreciate our fans a lot, so this is a good opportunity for us to come out here, have fun and put on a good practice for them.”

Some, including Reaves and Tavares, remained on the ice for about 20 minutes, taking the chance to share the experience with their kids.

“My boy just started getting into hockey and he eats this stuff up,” Reaves said. “He scored five goals the other day and now he rubs it in my face every day.”

Coach Sheldon Keefe said he does not get much time to get on the ice with his sons during the season due to his busy schedule, so he also made sure to share a moment with them on the ice.

“I try to get out in the summer when I can but you try to cherish these moments like this when you can,” Keefe said. “My kids are getting older here and you try to cherish and maximize every chance you get to do something like this.

"I miss a lot, they miss their dad a lot, so to have the privilege to get out here and take part in the event, I want to make sure they have the chance to do so.”