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.”