Air Canada Centre
We came up to Toronto in January to see the New York Rangers play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The arena is centrally located downtown which I love! It’s always a pain in the ass when you go to a game and the venue is in the middle of nowhere (looking at you 49ers, and Jets, and Giants!) I was really excited to see a hockey game in Canada, because, well, hockey is just so Canadian and it’s not something that was as popular for me growing down South. Hockey is to Canada as soccer is to the rest of the world. Sure, I went to minor league hockey games all of the time and frequented the Florida Panthers games when I lived in Miami, but this is the real deal. The Maple Leafs were celebrating their Centennial season and both teams were still in playoff contention, which totally heightened the energy.
Working in sports my entire professional career, going to a new venue is a different experience for me than most sports fans. I take notice of the security lines, the food, the game presentation, all of the nerdy/unnoticed stuff that normal fans don’t notice that take countless hours of planning and preparation. We got there early because we wanted the full gameday experience… Good thing, because we were met with nice long security lines. Seeing as how we were at a Friday night hockey game in the Great White North, we were obviously a few pints deep and were not interested in waiting in lines. In a generous ploy to beat the lines, we ended up in the tiny team store getting us no closer to the nearest beer vendor. Gates didn’t open until an hour before puck drop, which was shocking because they missed out on at least 4 additional Molson Canadian purchases.
When we FINALLY got in we went straight for the Molson brewery hoping to get a Molson Dry (unavailable in The States) but were met with judging looks and told that hadn’t been served in about 10 years. So, we got some Steam Whistles and a large popcorn and began our walking tour. One of the things that I found so interesting is that the bathrooms were branded. I went to the ladies and was met by Michael Bublé’s face, a promotion for his CD. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally into seeing him but I was a little taken aback.
This was not a passive crowd of sports fans. These fans were active, knowledgeable, and to our surprise… Friendly. Yes, everything you’ve heard is true; Canadians are overly friendly. Working in sports, we go out of our way to not be obnoxious visiting fans, be conversational, and engaging with neighbors. We also had awesome seats so that played to our advantage, no 300 level for us. When the intro video came on we were pretty mesmerized. It was not only a hype video, it also told the history of the sport and team. I had no idea the history and pride of Canadian hockey, if the Montréal Canadiens are the New York Yankees, then the Leafs are the St. Louis Cardinals. I looked to the rafters at all the Lord Stanley Cup Banners hanging above the ice, and I was awestricken. Mike even had tears in his eyes thinking of the history and the parallels to his Yankees. I think by the end of the game we had tried one of each beer sampling and the Rangers won, making it a very sweet, and tipsy evening.
Overall, venue was slightly above average, gameday presentation blewit out of the water!!! It was also the start of a really incredible trip so it was a win for the Rangers and our weekend!