Props for Leafs fans

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

As a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan living in Ontario, it’s somewhat unsurprising " yet also somewhat shameful " that I’d never attended a game at the Forum or the Bell Centre until last weekend.

I made the pilgrimage for the matchup versus the Toronto Maple Leafs and was amazed at the degree to which the town was abuzz with hockey. This was the biggest game of the year and everybody knew it.

Only one catch: by “everybody,” I don’t just mean Habs fans.

I stayed at the Sheraton hotel across the street from the Bell Centre, and it was clear within 15 minutes that 90 per cent of the hotel’s clientele was comprised of Leafs fans in town for the game.

As such, over the three days I was in Montreal, I spent more time chirping Leafs blue and St. Pat’s green than conversing with my fellow lovers of le bleu, blanc et rouge.

I assumed the ratio would be better once we reached the arena and I was right " barely.

The arena buzzed as the game started, but within minutes we had to start a Habs chant to overpower a crescendo of “Go Leafs Go.”

The crowd went wild when Andrei Kostitsyn scored the first goal, but the roar from Toronto’s faithful wasn’t to be taken lightly when the Leafs tied it up.

The shootout might have been the best and most deafening three minutes of my life " I couldn’t hear the guy next to me over the boos as each Toronto shooter skated to centre ice " but the invading Leafs fans held their own in cheering when Sundin potted his goal.

While an away crowd could never match the intensity of the Montreal fans, they did the best one could expect. In fact, I’d argue the Toronto constituency of the stadium was far more intense than the usual home crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

Leafs fans have it rough when it comes to tickets " if they can get past the price raise caused by corporate buyouts of season tickets, they still usually get stuck next to some yuppie trying to hear his business partner on his Blackberry through the crowd noise.

And just as you’re more likely to find a suit than a jersey in the front row at the ACC, it seemed this weekend you were more likely to find a real Leafs fan taking to the road.

I hate Leafs Nation as much as any red-blooded Habs fan, but I’ll give it credit; when a playoff spot’s on the line, it supports its team " no matter what lengths it has to go to.

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