Living in Toronto, Ontario means the Sharks come to town exactly once a year. This was the fifth-straight year I have gone to Sharks vs. Leafs and sixth time I have seen San Jose; I went to the outdoor game against L.A.
I kept a running diary of my experience this time around. I noted the time left in the period as best I could and my thoughts on what was going on in front and around me.
A few primer stats from my previous Sharks-Leafs experiences. I have never seen San Jose lose to Toronto. There have been blowouts, close games and last years back and forth rollicking affair that included a penalty shot in the third and some OT. My best friend Ben and I always go and we both noted it might be hard to top last year’s game. I was also on TV once and want to try and get on again.
Pregame: It’s a 15-minute subway ride, five-minute walk, and a brief five minute wait in line. We are inside the Air Canada Centre and have to trek up to the balcony, because it is the only tickets we can afford. However, we went with first row and they turned out to be pretty great because you can see everything clearly on both ends.
In Our Seats: The Leafs play a hype video for their Centennial Season with the song “Dream On’ as the backing track. You can only imagine how easy it was to turn that into some great one-liners about Toronto being a failure for most of our lives.
Anthems: O Canada is the best. Toronto also passes over the lower bowl, a giant Canada flag and Leafs flag on either side. It is pretty cool in person. It is almost game time and you can feel a buzz throughout the crowd you didn’t feel in previous years. The rookies have taken this city’s heart.
Seatmates: Leaf fans all around us. I am an island unto myself wearing my black Owen Nolan jersey proudly. However, with a minute to go a family of four shows up beside us. The small boy, about eight years old is head to toe in Couture gear. Throwback Couture jersey, #39 hat, Sharks jacket, this kid is like looking into the past at my childhood self. You can tell it is his first game and he is pumped. I decide in that moment he will be my Padawan and I will be his Jedi. I will teach him how to be a Sharks fan deep inside Leafs Nation.
16:55- Zack Hyman crumples onto the ice in a heap after taking a direct Burns clapper to the ankle. It looks downright painful and I feel bad. The PP also looks out of sorts to start but settles in.
15:33- Good chances for the Sharks.
13:30- San Jose looks sloppy and disinterested. Burns looks like he has some serious jet lag. I don’t have a good feeling about the game already but I put on a brave face for the kid beside me and tell him San Jose will turn it around.
13:02- Mathews, Nylander, and Hyman take it to the Sharks. 1 zip bad guys; not the start San Jose was hoping for. My best friend yells obscenities directly in my ear; I may be partially deaf now.
10:53- Icings are fun.
9:38- Military awareness moment. Thank You Monica! Also she put the jersey that they give her on, Monica is the best.
8:01- PP still sucking. I need more beer.
6:40- My note says “Roman Polak blows still.” Story checks out.
4:20- What is an embellishing penalty?!?!?! Karlsson gets strong-armed in the face but somehow takes a penalty? This is the start of the descent for the refs from bad to worse to comical. I yell loudly that the refs are horrible. My young Padawan follows suit and his mom gives me a side-eye. She hates me already.
1:31- Please let this period end. Now preferably, as this is not fun.
I head down to a lower section and meet up with an old friend from college. He buys me a beer and we catch up. We put $20 on the game. Not my smartest bet at the time.
16:29- Back in my upper deck seat and Toronto scores. Great. My best friend pelvic thrusts in my direction to make sure I am aware that Toronto is beating San Jose. BUT WAIT! What is this? Goalie interference, no goal, and a penalty to Nazem Kadri. The ACC boos loudly but hey you can’t touch the goalie.
16:29- You still can’t touch the goalie. No goal.
13:43- How is that holding? Come on refs. Also, the Leafs are extremely dangerous in transition and take every opportunity to break out of the zone for odd-man rushes. The speed and skill of the kids is very, very apparent.
12:14- This is fine. Leafs are up 2-0 and look like the better team. The ACC has become very loud, as they love Auston Matthews very much.
9:23- Sharks need to score on this PP otherwise they are going to be toast. My emotions have cratered and I am planning my post-game escape. My Padawan looks heartbroken. His dad bought him chicken fingers to cheer him up.
5:23- I need more alcohol. I have somehow become even sadder about the impending Sharks loss.
4:53- Burns is struggling. I have said this about 15 times tonight.
1:43- How is Andersen playing this well? I am not a fan of this.
My Padawan is very sad and has started coming up with ways that the Sharks can pull this out. We decide that they will score in the first minute and then score three more times and win 4-2. We also found out Alan Thicke died after his pickup hockey game. At least he went out like a true Canadian, with skates on his feet. Tonight sucks.
14:52- Andersen is standing on his head. My best friend starts talking about how many Vezina’s he will win. Leafs fans are insufferable.
9:46- Sharks have picked up play. Mikkel Boedker is playing like a man possessed tonight. Thanks for coming out Mikkel, 25 games into the season.
9:45- This is still super depressing and I have resigned myself to eating popcorn and looking for cool Sharks jerseys. There is a throwback Friesen, a Nabokov, a Hedberg for some reason, and another Nolan that I can see.
7:10- YESSSSS!!!!!! I don’t care how Justin Braun made it to the slot or why, but that was a wicked backhand. I note it was better than both Leafs goals, Ben retorts with the classic, “they don’t ask how, they ask how many”. My Padawan jumps up in excitement but sits back down after he realizes San Jose is still losing. We high five and I tell him the comeback is on.
6:00- San Jose is finally playing like the cup contender they are. They smell blood. The tide has turned. The ACC has become stress filled and quiet.
5:14- Oh man, power play time. 0/5 on the night, but all their sins can be forgiven with a goal here. I teach the Padawan about the PP shark chomp they do at the tank. He is super into that, because he is eight.
5:10- OH MY GOD IT IS HAPPENING!!!! I am fully out of my seat clapping and yelling and high fiving the Padawan. He joins me in standing and notes that it is really quiet now. The ACC has reverted back to it’s traditionally quiet, library status, save for the Sharks fans whooping and yelling.
2:32- This is a game now, I am fully invested in every bounce. I should have never doubted you Sharks, please forgive me.
Ben says how San Jose is getting at least a point they didn’t deserve, I laugh and tell him to shut it, even though he is super right. My Padawan looks like he is about to cry he is so nervous.
4:10- OH MY JONES
3:58- OH MY JONES AGAIN
3:10- OH MY THORNTON
2:00- This is wild and every person is living and dying with every bounce. Live hockey is the absolute best.
1:54- OH MY LABANC
1:30- GO FORTH AND SPREAD THE GOSPEL OF MARTIN JONES FOR HE IS OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR
I am 90% sure I blacked out during the end of the overtime. The 3-on-3 format is bonkers and took years off my life.
First shooter- Jones save. Good. My Padawan is filming the entire shootout.
Pavelski- I jumped up and cheered. From where I was sitting that went in. Alas, it somehow hit the bar and stayed out.
Second shooter- Jones save again. I don’t want to get my hopes up but the W is right there.
Couture- My Padawan is decked out in Couture gear and audibly gasps when they announce him as the shooter. He hands the phone he has been using to tape back to his mom. She asks why he isn’t filming his favourite player. He says ‘I can’t I am too nervous to do it.” I smile and remember back to when I was a kid and would have said the exact same thing. He is my hero. Couture also scored and the kid lost his mind cheering so hard.
Third shooter- Jones save. Sharks win. I obnoxiously stand up and declare that the game was never in doubt. I get serenaded with some adult language.
My final note from the game was ‘That. Was. Crazy. Jones is a god.” The personal winning streak stays intact. My Padawan and I part ways, but I know the Sharks captured his heart tonight and he is one of us for life now. Go Sharks.