TAMPA — Tuesday night in Tampa, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in a shootout at the St. Pete Times Forum, in what was — in a small way — Air Canada Centre South.
Although the players didn’t agree.
“The fans here were much louder, cheering for us, than they are at home,” said Leafs defenceman Ian White. “This was one of the best crowds I ever played in front of.”
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said pretty much the same thing.
“That was a great crowd,” Wilson said. “A lot louder than we have back in Toronto.”
There were almost 19,000 people inside the St. Pete Times Forum (the deal on Tuesday was four beers or sodas, four hot dogs and four tickets for $54), and well over half of them were cheering very, very loudly for the Leafs.
In fact, the crowd in Tampa was so pro-Leafs, they even cheered O Canada. Loudly. This was Leaf Nation on the road and it was an impressive sight.
The Lightning had a complete sellout for a game between two teams that were already out of the playoffs. Obviously, the Lightning – a team that has struggled to sell tickets this season – would absolutely love it if Ontario had spring break from October until April and their only opponent was the Leafs.
Of course, it also demonstrated that real Leafs fans can’t buy affordable tickets in Toronto, but they can get cheap seats on the road. The Toronto fans in Tampa on Tuesday were young, loud and proud and they were treated to a great hockey game (who would have believed that?). The Leafs bounced back from a 3-0 deficit to win. Jason Blake was terrific, Curtis Joseph was a hero in the shootout and John Mitchell scored the winner.
One can’t begin to imagine how great the crowds in Toronto would be if the real fans could afford platinum season tickets.