Who wants Leafs tix?

JOE WARMINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

The bad news is today is the day after Labour Day which means summer is over and school is back.

The good news, though, is the day after Labour Day means it's hockey season!

And perhaps the best news is that I'm giving away tickets for the Maple Leafs first exhibition match, Coca-Cola Zero Fans First Game against the Boston Bruins, at the renovated Air Canada Centre on Sept. 16.

Please read on.

'MONSTER' RULES

As one of our city-side editors Jonathan Kingstone was telling me, the most-read piece on our website yesterday was one by top sports writer Steve Buffery on the 35-save performance of "The Monster" at the rookie tournament in Kitchener against Pittsburgh.

"Jonas Gustavsson looked steady, if not spectacular, in his Maple Leafs debut last night at the Memorial Auditorium," wrote Buffery. "The Monster made 35 saves, including an excellent glove stop on Eric Tangradi in the third period."

Without a playoff game here for five years, Leafs Nation feasts on this stuff. The Swedish "Monster" is one of many examples of the changes in players on this team.

But there is also a change in culture and attitude and that comes from president and GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson.

Some of that change will become noticeable today when the team unveils its new practice home at 400 Kipling Ave. in Etobicoke.

The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence is as modern a facility as anywhere in the NHL or AHL and will be the practice home to both the Leafs and the Marlies. You'll want to buy tomorrow's paper and check out online coverage of this opening, featuring Burke, MLSE venues boss Bob Hunter, MasterCard CEO Kevin Stanton, Bob Harris of Lakeshore Lions Arena, Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Mark Grimes and Leaf legends Darryl Sittler and Johnny Bower.

3 NHL ICE PADS

"The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence is the first community arena to be built in Toronto in 25 years," said an MLSE release, which describes the training centre which has "three NHL-size ice pads and one Olympic-size pad."

This is great and congratulations to all that who made it happen. In addition to helping the pro teams, it will be great for minor hockey and figure skating, too. For me, it's the beginning of what is to come in the years ahead for the Leafs Nation -- a top-flight team that competes for the Stanley Cup.

It's not going to happen tomorrow, but if we are patient and stay the course with this new direction, we will see it here.

"I don't see the Leafs making the playoffs this year," my pal Rob Del Mundo of TMLFANS.ca and the Fischler Report tells me. "They aren't deep enough at the forward position to contend for the post-season. But they'll be a more entertaining team to watch, and I think opponents are going to dread coming into the Air Canada Centre to face the Leafs' bruisers."

Not making the playoffs is not an option for Burke. He is still trying to get some scoring and who knows what he may have up his sleeve to achieve that. But with or without a playoff run this season, Burke is building something here. Rob is right that with newly acquired Colton Orr, 6-foot-3, Wayne Primeau, 6-foot-4, Garnet Exelby, 6-foot-1, Mike Komisarek, 6-foot-4, Phil Oreskovic 6-foot-4 and Mike Van Ryn, 6-foot-1 in the lineup, opposing players will have to make sure their heads are up.

You have heard of the swine flu. Teams coming in to the ACC will leave suffering the Blue Flu -- or should that be the Black and Blue Flu? This is going to be one awful experience for players coming in here who want to put on a show for parents and Hockey Night In Canada.

Its not going to happen without some bruises at The Hangar any more.

With a strong defence and improved goaltending, I don't see why they can't sneak into the playoffs. Although I lost my bet to Del Mundo last year thinking the same thing. But this year I believe this team will be building a work ethic toward the future that will one day reward the fans!

Now if you want a pair of these tickets, please e-mail me at joe.warmington@sunmedia.ca and tell me why you want them. I am looking for real Leaf fans who have never been to the ACC before and would enjoy themselves.

Please have your e-mail to me by 2 p.m. today and in tomorrow's column I will have 10 winners printed. Good luck.

Turns out the day after Labour Day is not so bad after all.

JOE.WARMINGTON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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