Bigger screen, better picture - same old Leaf fans

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, FREE PRESS SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

It's like sitting in your living room.

Except for the 16-by-28-foot screen, the high definition picture (at least, for those who don't have high-def television at home), the thumping sound system and the 80 or so Toronto Maple Leaf fans sitting around you cheering for their beloved squad.

Who would let 80 Leaf fans into their house to begin with?

And you know they are Leaf fans. The Mats Sundin sweater, Alexander Mogilny sweater and Jeff O'Neill sweater are dead giveaways. So's the Jekyll and Hyde support.

"All right, we're hot," yells one guy when they score. Two hours later the same guy is threatening to go home early because the Leafs are losing and "they suck tonight."

Nope, this isn't home, but they are watching Thursday's Maple Leafs-Nashville Predators game that wasn't available on regular television.

Which is why these 80 or so people have spent $12 each to sit in front of a big screen at SilverCity in Masonville to watch a hockey game. The game was available if you are a subscriber to Leafs TV.

Seven games were scheduled to be shown on the big screen. The remaining games are against the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.

"To be honest with you, I have Leafs TV at home," said Jake Morgan, who was at the game with friends Jeremy and Justin Campbell. "But the big selling point for me was high definition."

Brian Miller and Keith Tapp came for the same reason.

"It was the size of the screen and because we wanted to see a good team (Nashville)," Miller said. "I've got to tell you, I'm impressed. You can really appreciate how fast the game is."

But it wasn't just a guys' night out. There were families with young kids and several couples.

"This is the first free night we've had," said Terry Deziel, who was at the game with son Corey and Dawn Ackland.

"We've been dying to come," Ackland said. They are big Leaf fans. "Our dog's name is Tucker (after Leafs player Darcy Tucker)."

The big screen was enough to attract Aylmer resident John Enns, who was wearing his Mats Sundin sweater. He watched the Panthers and Maple Leafs on the big screen earlier in the year.

"You are at the game with a bunch of other Leaf fans, that makes it better," Enns said. "People get into it. It gets pretty interesting. It's so much cooler than television. It's almost like being there. More realistic."

People do get into it, although this is one of the more sedate games.

The national anthems are played and six people stand for the Canadian anthem, three for the U.S. one.

Every Leaf rush is punctuated by shouts of "go, go, go." There's the "oohs and ahhs" of near misses.

The sound is terrific. The thud of a puck hitting the goaltenders' pad is thick and rich.

"The one way they could make it better is sell beer," Deziel said.

Like every game, fans yell "shoot, shoot," during a power play.

"I wish they could hear me," Rob Milmine said.

A Leaf goal brings some fans jumping to their feet and cheering.

A minute later, the Predators score and there's a collective groan. Except for 13-year-old Ben Katz. He leaps to his feet. Katz is sporting a snazzy Predator sweater and is the only Nashville fan in the place.

A beer would actually go nicely with the popcorn and help pass the time of having to watch the Leafs.

We could also all use a break from the commercials. The same commercials over and over. By the time the night is done, we've watched people in pyjamas eat 1,000 Tim Hortons breakfast sandwiches; Sidney Crosby tell us what he can and can't control; Dennis Hull telling us he got so fat, he couldn't put on his 1972 Team Canada ring until he and wife Janet lost a combined 87 pounds thanks to Herbal Magic; and a guy faking a curling injury so he can go home and have sex . . . over and over again. At least it's with his wife.

"For $12, I shouldn't have to look at any commercials," Milmine said.

And just like a real game, when the Predators score into an empty net to secure the win, the crowd grumbles and leaves, even though the game isn't over. There's the tinkling of glass. Someone's managed to enjoy a beer.

"That was good," Miller said. "I'd come back again."


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