It goes without saying – not everyone can afford Leafs playoff tickets. I won’t tell you to go broke or give up your rent or stop eating or anything delusional like that. But if you’re middle class, if you’re contemplating how to spend your extra cash, torn between the new piece of lawn furniture or a vacation you’ll very likely forget, do this instead. Bite the playoffs bullet; create yourself a lifetime memory. Do it at least once, if you can.
What’s it like? Deafeningly loud, to start. At its loudest the Scotiabank Arena makes conversation impossible.
When Auston Matthews scores in the second period to put the Leafs up a score against the Bruins, your loudest screams of his name are drowned out by the chorus twenty thousand strong. The SBA’s regularly cold, dead heart comes to life.
It’s coloured with vibrant blues and whites that for the first time all season blur the line between the rich and the poor seats. After Auston scores the go-ahead powerplay goal he feels an earthquake beneath his feet; the SBA shaking on its foundation, set in motion by helicopter rally towels and stomping feet. The fanatical crowd, mostly unfamiliars, shares in the overwhelming feeling of being part of “something”.
It’s a feeling of community and shared joy that even the most independent hockey watchers should strive for.
When the players are introduced, a wave surges through the crowd. “Freddie, Freddie, Freddie, Freddie”. We move through the anthems, usually trivial and frankly seeming a bit of a waste time, but tonight providing a powerful backdrop to the imminent conflict. Boston; the big, bad team from the USA. Toronto; the league darling in the North.
Martina Ortiz-Luis is the best anthem singer the NHL has to offer, and to hear her craft in this charged setting is surreal. In the following decades-long minute, the crowd sits quietly, forward postured and visibly nervous. And at the opening faceoff the sound of the puck drop is eminently clear. Eerie. Then, a surge of energy so strong it brings the crowd to their feet, and we stand for many of the sixty minutes of play.
Strangers embrace after goals and jump around with abandon.
— Jake (@jakebeleafs) April 16, 2019
In the playoffs, when every goal scored by the Maple Leafs is one goal closer to staving off elimination and earning another seven-game contest, the casual high five with friends doesn’t suffice.
Most of the crowd have invested more than two hundred hours watching a famously inconsistent team find their place somewhere between winning thirteen goal games against Chicago in October and losing shutout games against Arizona in February.
It’s been a harsh season overshadowed by prolonged contract negotiations, impending offer sheets, a ruthlessly negative and dismissive mainstream media, and rumours of turmoil in the front office. But all that was for this. The Maple Leafs goals that steal and extend the lead are affirmations of the value of the team’s big money contracts and potent jabs against condescending mainstream pundits. The crowd has shared in the wild emotions of a regular season long since finished and is rewarded tonight.
The post-game celebration is a visceral experience. The stairs down the rafters and the food and drink concourses are narrow pathways that create long, slow queues. Tonight, these queues provide the context for high fives, hugs, chorus chants, and parrot yells.
Exiting the arena, the crowd assimilates seamlessly into the city. Small pockets collect at Hoops, Real Sports, St.Louis, and other near bars. Bar staff and patrons welcome all, including Bruins fans, who manage to persist through unending (and deserved) criticism from fans of the winning side. The Leafs lead the series 2-1. When you’re a part of the crowd, you’re a part of the win.
What an experience. If you get the chance, it’s worth paying for.