Four hours before the 7 p.m. puck drop for last Saturday’s NHL All-Star game, fans crowded the area surrounding Scotiabank Arena as the city that breathes hockey embraced the NHL’s best.
On a winter day dressed as spring with sunny skies and warm temperatures, a parade of fans in colourful jerseys, like a field of vibrant blooming flowers, packed the Metro Convention Centre.
While the entire league convened in Toronto, local pride was not lost among Leafs fans who were out to support their city.
Gary De Bono was one of these Leafs fans, wearing a Mitch Marner jersey.
He said he was excited about the all-star experience and the great weather that happened to come with it.
“This is the hockey town. We are looking forward to interactions, seeing some places and the alumni players,” De Bono said.
“It feels like spring. It’s funny because we were just talking about playing some golf today, you need to come with a hat,” he said.
Toronto hosted the first NHL All-Star weekend since 2000. And from Feb. 1 to Feb. 4, the weekend was dedicated to fans with several interactive activities.
While De Bono gave up a day on the links, other fans like William Boissnoau endured a long journey to experience all the weekend had to offer.
“We are from Sault Ste. Marie, and I drove for eight hours yesterday. But this is important enough to do that. Ice hockey feels different here, it’s like a religion,” Boissnoau said.
All-Star weekend brings fans from far and wide, fans of all teams and all ages, like Petr Hruda, 62, and his wife Sue, 62.
“I have mobility problems,” Petr said. “But I’m a fan of my wife, and I’m here to support her. She is a hockey fan and this is a birthday present for her.”
Sue Hruda wore a Boston Bruins jersey.
“They are my religion,” she said. “I’m glad to see tiny ones, the new generations with different jerseys, I love that.”
While the sun was shining outside, the fans could feel like stars inside the Metro Convention Centre.
NHL mascots greeted fans as they entered the convention centre, inviting them to go downstairs and check out the 300,000-square-foot room full of activities and food stands.
Eden Enderby, 9, said she was a fan of the fan-fest.
“I liked the skills competition. It was the most beautiful thing,” he said.
And fans could also feel like former Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby, by putting their shot to the test by shooting against a dryer, just like he did growing up.
While the youngsters seemed to have the most fun, the older generation, like William Boissnoau, 42, enjoyed the nostalgia of meeting ex-players.
“Some former Leafs players like Jeff O’Neill were signing autographs and this is great,” he said.
The fan zone was a hit, as the Metro Convention Centre was packed throughout the entirety of the NHL All-Star weekend.
Among the many long queues was the one to take a picture next to the Stanley Cup, a trophy the Leafs have not hoisted since 1967.
De Bono was very young when the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup and has little recollection of it.
“I was just only five years old back in 1967. I’d like to see them winning again before I leave this planet,” he said.
But all-star weekend brought hope among some Leafs fans like De Bono.
“Maybe having the all-star in Toronto is a sign,” he said.