As part of Canadian Forces Appreciation Weekend, four soldiers in camouflage gear slid down ropes from the Air Canada Centre rafters down to the ice during a pre-game ceremony last night.
Given the amount of regulars missing from the lineups of the Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, maybe general managers Cliff Fletcher and Bryan Murray should have been waiting at the bottom with tryout contracts for the troops.
This edition of the Battle of Ontario was lacking some very familiar names.
Absent from the Senators were injured players Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Chris Phillips and Patrick Eaves. With Alfredsson, Toronto's Public Enemy No. 1, still back in Ottawa, the capacity crowd had trouble figuring out which Senator to boo consistently.
The Leafs, meanwhile, were even worse off with eight players sidelined. Goalie prospect Justin Pogge, who was sitting in the press box, probably thought he was watching a Marlies reunion on the ice, considering how many of his former American Hockey League teammates were donning Leafs uniforms.
That's what made the 4-2 Toronto victory over the visiting Senators last night so impressive.
Whether it was the impressive two-point performance by Dominic Moore that netted first-star honours for the Toronto native, or the game-winning goal scored by the oft-injured Carlo Colaiacovo at 4:28 of the third period, the Leafs were full value for the improbable victory.
"It was a war of attrition out there," summed up veteran Darcy Tucker, one of the few familiar faces in the Toronto forward ranks.
Moore's first goal as a Leaf opened the scoring and was followed by Jiri Tlusty's fifth of the season about five minutes later. Nick Foligno and Chris Neil beat Vesa Toskala to draw the visitors even, but the Sens' hopes were dashed when Colaiacovo and Jason Blake scored in the final 16 minutes to snap Toronto's three-game losing steak.
"It's a euphoric feeling," said Moore, who sported an omni-present grin as he waved to the crowd after being named the game's first star. "To do this for the team you grew up cheering for, during a game on Hockey Night in Canada, well, it's something I will always remember.
"Everybody contributed, and that's the best part."
The same could not be said for the Senators, who managed just nine shots on goal during the first two periods.
Considered the class of the East for much of the season, the conference-leading Sens now find themselves just three points ahead the hard-charging Montreal Canadiens.
While the absence of Heatley, Alfredsson and Phillips played a key role, the Leafs exposed many of the warts in the Sens game. Scoring depth continues to be a concern while goaltending is a question mark as well.
Making his first appearance since Jan. 22, beleaguered goaltender Ray Emery was average at best, allowing four goals on 26 shots. Senators management wishes Emery would create headlines by winning games for a change, not for his elaborate tattoos or penchant of showing up late to practice.
"I felt all right," Emery said, adding that "obviously if you lose, you won't be satisfied."
Senators coach John Paddock was angry for a couple of reasons.
First off, he, like many of his players, could not understand how the Sens were slapped with the only six penalties, all minors. It was the first time the Leafs played a penalty-free contest since Jan. 12, 2002 against the Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre.
More importantly, Paddock was not satisfied with the lacklustre effort turned in by his swooning squad.
"We've got to show a little more desperation and play like a first-place team," forward Mike Fisher said.
Joe Corvo hit the post near the six-minute point of the third and two minutes later Jason Blake scored to make it 4-2.
Dominic Moore scored his first as a Leaf. Carlo Colaiacovo got his first goal of the season and Robbie Earl, just up from the Marlies, got his first NHL point.
KUBINA CAN PLAY
Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina made a lead-saving defensive play in the second period on a Toronto power play. He broke up a two-on-one, sprawling to block a Dean McAmmond centring pass with Toronto clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Ottawa's Luke Richardson broke into the league in 1987 with the Leafs, when John Brophy was the coach. "The game isn't as physical now," Richardson said. He remembers one practice in which the volatile Brophy was showing Miroslav Frycer how to play in front of the net. "He (Brophy) was pushing and hitting him to take him out. He hit him so hard in the knee he put Mirko in the hospital."