As hundreds of fans huddled in the cold on Wednesday, some of the Maple Leafs didn’t feel the chills at all.
The Leafs practised outdoors at the Sunnyvale Acres Rink in Rexdale, bringing to mind childhood memories for a few.
“I used to do this all the time,” forward Joey Crabb, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, said. “I would go to one rink in particular downtown and we would have a pretty good pickup game. My parents would drop me off in the morning and come pick me up at dinner time. The rink had boards and nets.”
With his past exposure to playing outside, Crabb was one of a handful of Leafs who opted not to wear a balaclava under his helmet.
Coach Ron Wilson said the experience of practising outdoors in front of fans who might not get as close to the Leafs otherwise is something he enjoys.
“It’s great for all the kids, great that this neighbourhood gets a nice rink. This is the best one I have seen so far. The ice is perfect. We were able to get something accomplished and for the players, it’s fun.”
The Leafs signed autographs as they departed the ice. The rink is the 30th completed project as part of the MLSE Team Up Foundation’s legacy program.
General manager Brian Burke reiterated to QMI Agency on Tuesday the Leafs want to host a Winter Classic. Not surprisingly, his coach and the players backed him up.
“I would love that,” Wilson said. “You get to wear a hat (behind the bench) and that would be cool.”
Said winger Colby Armstrong: “I think it is pretty cool. It’s more of an event than a game, but still, there are some pretty big points on the line in those games. I like that it is in a football stadium better, looks a little more rectangular, suits it a little better, but nonetheless, it’s a really cool event.”
Some of the Leafs figure they know who would be the star if HBO did a 24/7 Winter Classic documentary series involving the club.
“Probably Army (Armstrong),” goalie James Reimer said. “He’s the funniest guy on our team.”
Mayor Rob Ford, of course, supports the idea of a Winter Classic game in Toronto.
“I’d love to see Montreal and Toronto and maybe play it at Downsview Park,” Ford said. “You could draw 40,000 people. It would be amazing. We should do it.”
NOT JUST ANY WIN
Don’t underestimate the importance of blowing a team out of the water, as the Leafs did with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 7-3 win on Tuesday night. The Leafs want to establish themselves on home ice, and with nine home games in January, it was a good start.
“It certainly helps our confidence that after a week where we did not play that well, we were able to adjust and find our game in short order,” Wilson said. “It took a little while, but I thought we were getting scoring chances throughout the game and it was only a matter of time before the puck started to go in consistently.”
Fan voting for the 2012 all-star game closed on Wednesday night at 11:59, and there was a good chance a couple of Leafs were going to be voted to the game on Jan. 29 in Ottawa. Phil Kessel was leading all players in votes, and Dion Phaneuf was second among defencemen. James Reimer, meanwhile, was second among goalies. Fans will determine three forwards, two defencemen and one goalie for the game.
Incidentally, if Reimer is voted in, the right to vote for fans should be taken away. Myriad others, including Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings, deserve it more.