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Leafs vs Pens Live – Bestest Birthday Prezzie Ever!

March 17, 2013


This little saga all starts with a call from my sister:

Sis: “What are you doing on March 9th?”

Me: “Nothing that I recall, why?”

Sis: “Do you want to go to the Leafs game?”

Me (the raging Leafs fan from birth): “You have to ask? I’d MAKE time to go.”

Sis: “I got an offer for gondola seats to the game and I thought I’d offer them as an early birthday present.”

Me: “Uh… that’s pretty early…” (My birthday is at the end of May)

Sis: “Well… I figured there was the chance that the Leafs wouldn’t be playing in May.”

Me: “Fair enough.” (My sister is no dummy – she may not follow hockey like I do, but she knows the Leafs haven’t made the playoffs in forever.)

The last time I went to a live Leafs game was 2003. My father had just passed away and my friends decided to get me out of the house for a bit. For just a few hours I could forget that the person who had introduced me to the Leafs wasn’t there to share the games with me anymore. There was just the Leafs.

It has always been the Leafs. From when I was a small child, allowed to watch parts of the first period and staying up listening to as much of the rest of the game as I could stay awake for in my darkened room – to the first game Dad took me to at Maple Leaf Gardens (against Vancouver and Richard Brodeur), I was in love with the Leafs. It is a small wonder that a favourite picture of my dad is that of he and a pal in front of the Maple Leaf Gardens marquee.

Step one of prep for the game included finding Leafs gear for my family to wear. With the exception of my brother in-law, of course – he can’t stand the Leafs. The interest for him was the progress of Pens prospect Dustin Jeffrey, a colleague’s son, and quite possibly seeing the Leafs lose.  I wore my jersey, and provided Leafs t-shirts for my sister and fiancée.

HoftheDogDecked out in appropriate gear – we were all set. Step two, dinner at the pub down the street. Great food, nice atmosphere and a cool server – who asked us if we were in town to see the Pens play. Guy got a pretty decent tip from me, good sense of humour and knew his stuff. On to the ACC.

Neither my sister nor brother in-law had been to the ACC.  My fiancée isn’t the biggest hockey fan, but we’d attended Toronto Rock lacrosse games together. And although I’d been to the building before, I’d never entered via Gate 2, the VIP entrance. It doesn’t look too special, but having elevator operators, gave it an official touch.

Me & Katy at the GameUp to the sixth floor, past the partly view-obscured seats, across a catwalk, past a few other boxes and there we were. Gondola #2, complete with free pizza and a small (and not unexpectedly expensive) cash bar.  There are actually three rows, but apparently they don’t actually sell the third row, which is on the same level as the bar. We were seated (I never actually sat down!) in the middle row with a Plexiglas barrier in front of us. The front row was dangling out over the rest of the arena with seats and a kind of bar top so patrons could eat/drink.

I took pictures of the view so it was possible to get an idea of what we could see of the arena and ice surface.  Before we arrived, my sister and I were apprehensive about the view. We are both short in stature and often encounter issues with folk in front of us interfering with our view.  Not in this case.  In fact, we could see far better than in any other seat we’d ever had.

View from the Gondola

We were situated direct behind the visitor’s bench, so almost on the centre line.  There was no one in front of us to stand up and obstruct our view. Even if I stood up (and I did), I didn’t interfere with anyone else. It was perfect.

I follow most games on Twitter and by Facebook.  Often the complaint about the ACC is that is far too quiet. Or that the crowd only cheers when there is a specific play, not throughout the game.  Generally the perception is that the crowd is primarily corporate and not actual Leaf fans, so there is limited interest in the actual game. Again, this was not true of the group in this box.

Top Lines face-off

PPG Goal!

Despite the young gents in the front ‘row’ being drunken asshats (one was escorted out for passing out, and two others were cut off from the bar, the remainder were spilling and/or throwing food over the balcony edge), they were actually watching the game.  Everyone else was interested in watching the game as well, which added to the overall atmosphere.

One of the things that I found was that I was so interested in the game, that I had a hard time taking pictures or tweeting or anything else but watching. This is why I wasn’t cheering throughout the game. I cheered various occurrences or yelled at various plays (this isn’t any different than me being at home) but just continuous cheering was difficult. I was just too involved.

From the pregame video to the national anthems to the opening face-off, I did take photos and gazed around like a tourist. When you’re at the game live from up there, you see so much more than just what is shown on TV. You don’t miss the colour commentary (my sister said I helped in that regard), and you see both the intermission fun on the ice.  It was unfortunate that I wasn’t able to obtain a program (mostly for my sister who didn’t know the player numbers or names) to aid with some of the explanations I had for my family.

Tribute to Stompin TomPrior to the game, we were hoping there would be some sort of tribute to Stompin’ Tom Connors, who passed away earlier in the week.  During the second period, they played Sudbury Saturday Night, so my sister, brother in-law and I were all on our feet, clapping along to the song. Suddenly, there we were on the Jumbotron!  Totally made my night!

Oh, and the game?  It started out badly, but the Leafs came on strong, coming back to tie the game in the third. On to overtime and unfortunately a shootout. I say unfortunately, because few teams in the league have the skill level to match the Penguins, most certainly the Leafs. But they earned a point in the standings and that’s what counts.

So endeth the bestest birthday present I’ve ever had. Permagrin without the alcohol. Forever etched in my mind in blue and white.

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