3MI Roadtrip Recap: Toronto

(In place of a traditional “Overreactions” post, which would be extremely tardy, this is 3MI Roadtrip Recap. A mix of what the postgame blogs usually look like and a look into the trip. Hope you like it. If you don’t, well, go find a bridge.)

Preamble

It really is the center of the hockey universe. Whether we like it or not.

Living in Buffalo, you get used to Toronto being “right there.” Honestly, it’s a nice perk. I hate Canada in general with a passion, but, to be truthful, I love going to Toronto. It’s beautiful.

I’ve made a habit of heading north to catch Sabres games since the lockout. Thanks to the Sabres’ ownership of the Leafs on the scoreboard since then, it’s been a habitually great trip. Heading into Tuesday, I had attended 15 Sabres/Leafs games at Air Canada Centre, with Buffalo winning 13 of them. Really. When you can leave an opposing arena on a winning note, it makes the trip much more enjoyable.

A couple weeks ago, I found a few standing room only tickets on StubHub for a reasonable $49.99 each. You read that right. Those damn fees turned into $60 each, but I’m a huge fan of the SRO areas at the ACC. You basically stand right at the top of the 300 level, with a birds-eye view of the ice and some space to breathe. Some would look at a $60 ticket that doesn’t include a seat and question it, but I don’t. It’s Toronto. It’s a different world.

So I headed north with some friends eager to see another win. Um, well…

Sabres @ Maple Leafs
Viewed at: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

You can’t win if you don’t score.

Thanks to an impotent offense and 60 minutes without a single powerplay, the Sabres had no chance to win in a 2-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.

First period goals by Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski were plenty of cushion as Jonas Gustavsson got the shutout for Toronto. Ryan Miller made 26 saves in the loss.

Buffalo was in rough shape early, as Thomas Vanek played just four minutes due to illness and left the game during the first period. Without their leading scorer, the Sabres struggled.

“We need to get one and it will make the boys in here feel good and hopefully we can string them on from there,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. “We’ve got a great opportunity in the rematch in a couple days.”

Opportunities are only useful if they’re converted.

  • The officiating was horrendous both ways. The only penalties called, save for the Patrick Kaleta charging penalty, all required tangible evidence to prompt a call. Stafford put the puck in the crowd. Then Stafford pushed a guy into the net and knocked it off. Then Mike Weber put the puck over the glass. That’s weak.
  • Love the atmosphere at Air Canada Centre, but honestly, that was the weakest vibe I’ve experienced there. Crowd was absolutely dead. If I ranked all the games I’ve gone to there in order of quality of atmosphere, that one was 16 out of 16. Shitty intro video doesn’t help get the crowd going either.
  • Speaking of penalties, how the fuck does Toronto get through a game like that without committing one infraction?
  • Your team has serious issues if Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick are on the ice with under three minutes left in a two-goal game.
  • That charging penalty on Kaleta is a valid call if the officials are calling a tight game. They weren’t. The guy is officially useless. He’s getting blackballed so he can’t hit. His hands aren’t being effective enough. It’s a shame, but he’s got a target on his back.
  • Really liked Nate Gerbe’s intensity. He hasn’t been effective enough offensively, but he’s showing up.
  • Another guy who stepped up and showed effort? Drew Stafford… after he took two penalties. He looked pissed. Pissed-off Stafford isn’t quite the game-breaker Pissed-off Vanek is, though.
  • Toronto’s crossover play entering the offensive zone gave the Sabres fits early. On the other end, Toronto collapsed around the net so well, most of the Sabres’ 32 shots were low-percentage. They never really had a chance.
  • Maple Leaf Square is incredible. Absolutely incredible. We went to the Real Sports Bar right across the street from ACC for a beer before gates opened. Holy shit, that place is beautiful. I envy Toronto for having a place like that to go before a game. I could wax poetic on how Buffalo wouldn’t let something like that exist, but whatever. I was blown away.
  • This team with Thomas Vanek is average. This team without Thomas Vanek is atrocious. The team should assign a personal physician for Vanek to minimize the risk of injury or sickness.
  • Fans in Buffalo who go to Sabres/Leafs games at First Niagara Center can’t possibly grasp how welcoming the ACC atmosphere is. One guy booed us in the hour before the game. On the way out, one guy said “Buffalo sucks!” which was quickly followed by “Just kidding!” Those assholes in Toronto are so goddamn nice it’s disgusting.

Some insight from Josef (@Beam_Machine) on the game and the Leafs fans:

  • I noticed at the Air Canada Centre tonight there was a very tame crowd, you couldn’t tell this was a team holding on to a playoff spot, having one of their best seasons in a while. This is one of the greatest fan bases in the NHL? Didn’t seem like that tonight.
  • There was a guy next to us in the always amusing standing room, who was just like the crowd, tame, until the last ten minutes of the game. It was either this guy finally realized he was at a sporting event, or that there were Sabres fans next to him and was going to attempt to get under our skin and it didn’t work. This guy was saying the dumbest things like “I really hate this team.” Dude, really? You really hate this team, you’re so psyched that you’re about to beat the 11th place Buffalo Sabres? I know its been a while but when you’re a winning team and in a playoff spot, you don’t overreact to a victory over a underachieving team.
  • Best quote of the night: “Thomas emptied his tank at the first intermission” — The soon to be ex-coach Lindy Ruff

And some thoughts from Tom (@BuffaloFenian) as well…

  • When I said I was going to the ACC, my friends and family were worried I’d end up in a fight. I am sure that I would have had to pay someone to fight me in Toronto. We heard a handful of lighthearted “boo’s”, and not a single aggressive comment. I found this a bit disappointing.
  • The arena gets a solid 4/5 stars overall. I liked the lower bowl, 300 level hallways, and general vibe I got while walking around. A lot of concrete, and not too much useless promotion. The 300 level has a large metal railing in between every row of seats, and this really segregates the section and kills any feeling of being a group up there. I’d hate to ever see that at FNC. The 300 level bars are outstanding (and yes, I said bars…in the 300 level).
  • The game presentation was one of the worst I have ever seen, and that places it at par with the Sabres. Intro video left everything to be desired, bloopers were in abundance and the intermission “entertainment” was better suited to Coca-Cola Field (or a carnival). In addition, the crowd at ACC can only be compared to a morgue…on a Sunday. It was silent, even though a few gentlemen in the 300’s tried their best to initiate a rousing “Go Leafs Go!” Just sucked the life out of an already brutal game.
  • Gerbe was one thing that kept me energized throughout the night. Nathan showed his usual spirit during the first and second periods, and really illustrated his determination by getting chippy with only minutes left in the game. He was clearly frustrated with the team’s dismal performance, and did everything he could to turn things around. On a side note: man crush.

After the game ended, we waited for the crowd to clear out a bit and headed for the car. One of the perks of going to games in Toronto? Outbound traffic on the Gardiner is minimal after the game. Made it back to America at 10:58.

Overall, an a solid, entertaining trip. Would’ve been nice to see a goal though.

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Posted on January 11, 2012, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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