Leafs aim for better times in Pens' new arena

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:25 PM ET

TORONTO - The only NHL team more happier about the Pittsburgh Penguins moving into a brand new arena this season is the Maple Leafs.

Toronto lost its first game there when it was called the Civic Arena, 4-3 on Jan. 11, 1968, and its last visit in a 5-4 shootout on a Sidney Crosby goal on March 10 of this year. Whether it was called the Civic Arena, the Igloo or the Mellon Arena, there wasn’t a whole lot of success.

The Leafs make their first foray into the Consolidated Energy Center on Wednesday, leaving a record of 32-40-6-1 at what became the NHL’s oldest barn after Maple Leaf Gardens closed. Included were a whopping 10 losses by five or more goals, most of them in Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr era. Twice the Pens hit double figures against the Leafs, by 12-1 and 11-4 scores and that’s where Lemieux made his famous comeback from retirement on Dec. 27, 2000.

The Leafs did have a little success there, two overtime wins in the 1999 playoffs on goals by Sergei Berezin and the series’ clincher by Garry Valk. Defenceman Tomas Kaberle was around for both.

“It’s a small building and there are a lot of memories for the old guys who are not playing anymore,” Kaberle said. “We’ve played a lot of games there and it’s always fun to play against Pittsburgh. They always have great teams and they won the Cup a couple of years ago. They’ve got a young team again and it will be big test for us, especially in their new building.”

Assistant coach Keith Acton recalled his first visit in 1980 with the Montreal Canadiens.

“The first thing I thought about was the Pittsburgh Hornets,” Acton said. “There is a guy named Bob Hassard, a great figure around minor hockey in Stouffville where I grew up, who played on the 1951 Leafs’ Stanley Cup team. He had this great Pittsburgh Hornets jacket (the town’s AHL/IHL team) and as I looked around there, I thought about him.”

The new place seats 18,087, a nod to Crosby’s number and cost $321 million US. Kaberle hopes there will be an upgrade on the visitors’ room, which wasn’t much better than a kids’ minor hockey facility.

“I saw the room on TV the other day,” Kaberle said. “It looks like they have a big screen TV and stuff.

“Most of the teams have new arenas. But it’s always exciting to go in somewhere when it’s full, like it is in our building.”


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