Community comes together as Maple Leafs host outdoor practice

Feb 11, 2024 | News

As the second half of the NHL season has arrived, the Toronto Maple Leafs held its annual outdoor practice at Nathan Phillips Square.

THERE is an extra return here. That counts as a typo. Anything extra an editor has to do to make copy publishable annoys that editor. I am experienced. I annoyed many editors.

Many fans around the GTA gathered at Toronto’s City Hall to watch the team live free of charge.

Danny Howatt, a lifelong die-hard Leafs fan, said watching the team outdoors in the heart of Toronto brings the community together.

“It’s just really good seeing all the fans come together, especially as a community, seeing everyone from all over the area, all parts of the GTA, just brings a lot of joy to people here, just to have one collective group we can get behind,” Howatt said.

Auston Matthews during warmups at Maple Leafs outdoor practice at Nathan Phillips Square on February 8th.

Auston Matthews during warmups at Maple Leafs outdoor practice at Nathan Phillips Square on Feb.8. Photo credit: Luca Tersigni

Although the practice is open to all ages, Leafs fan Ian Wong, who had brought his son, said events like these are meaningful to younger generations.

“It brings the kids together so they can watch their favourite players, so I think that’s important,” Wong said while many children called out their favourite players out of pure excitement.

Mutual feelings from fans were shared with players as Captain John Tavares reminded the media of why playing for his hometown team is so great.

“I think it’s just remarkable,” he said. “I think the passion this city and this fanbase has for the Toronto Maple Leafs and what it means to the city of Toronto and Leafs nation as a whole.”

The Leafs’ practice follows a 5-4 win against the Dallas Stars the night before, keeping the vibes at a high when arriving to a sea of blue where players were able to sign autographs and take photos with fans.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe said even after a tiring game the night prior, the team will always show up for its fans. `

“It seems to never fall on a great spot in the schedule,” Keefe said. “You’d like to get a day off and all that, but this is a nice time to come out and see the engagement, love and support of the fans and to get outside and play some hockey.”

On their commute, many Torontonians were surprised as the Maple Leafs used the subway from Union Station to Queen Station to get to the ice rink.

Morgan Rielly, currently the longest-tenured Leafs player, said the subway ride to City Hall was “good, smooth sailing.”

The Maple Leafs look to finish out this season strong as a difficult stretch in the schedule approaches. Rielly said having an event like this eases the pressure of the long season.

“I think it’s a good change of pace for us over the course of the season,” Rielly said.

The practice consisted of a three-on-three tournament where the players separated into three groups: Team North America, Team Ontario and Team Europe.

During the tournament, Mayor Olivia Chow, whose office is just steps away, made a special guest appearance at the rink.

“Bring the Stanley Cup home,” she said, which many fans hope will come true soon.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander kept their momentum going from the night before for the mini-tournament. Nylander led Team Europe to a victory in the final over Team North America.

Ryan Reaves, in his first season with the Blue-and-White, was able to take part in his first outdoor practice in front of many passionate fans.

“Hockey is alive and well in Toronto, the support that comes out for a practice like this, unbelievable,” Reaves said. “It’s something you don’t see in any other city.”