Friendly “Center of the Universe”

Toronto vs. Winnipeg - January 5, 2011 - opening faceoffI had the awesome opportunity last week to head to Toronto to see the Leafs host the Winnipeg Jets at the ACC. And while I had predicted a win against Toronto in the last Jets hockey podcast, that wasn’t the case. In fact, I don’t recall much of the game because of the great conversations I was having with other fans and observed a number of unique things about Toronto.

Friendly Toronto?

When I arrived at Pearson Airport I decided the easiest way to get around was going to be by TTC –Toronto’s transit system. I was familiar with it and the cost was low. At just $3 to get anywhere around the GTA it was exactly what I needed. I needed to get my twoonie broken down smaller but the convenience store said they weren’t able to because they can’t do a “no sale” on their register. The cheapest item was $1.89, so that wouldn’t do me any good. But then some other people waiting in the arrival area heard me and offered to change it. Was I in Toronto or some other parallel universe? People in Toronto being nice? “They must be tourists,” I thought to myself. I thanked them and ran to the Rocket – the name of the bus that takes me to the subway.

The thing is, it kept on happening throughout the two days that I was in Toronto. People held doors, said thank you and seemed to be genuinely courteous and friendly. It was a welcomed surprise compared to some of my other visits to the “center of the universe.”

Game day

My friend Lyndsay - a die-hard Leafs fan - in Jets gear

Thursday quickly arrived after landing Wednesday evening – imagine my surprise when I learned Thursday came after Wednesday. All of my usual connections for tickets had fallen through and I was starting to get a little stressed until my friend came to the rescue. I managed to get a pair of tickets legally – for below the face value of $203 each – on the day of the game and was happy to go with my friend. I met her downtown at her office and again the friendly attitude continued; even in the core of downtown Toronto.

We were trying to find a couple of places to eat around the ACC, but hadn’t made any reservations. My advice, make a reservation on game night if you think there’s even a remote chance you’ll be dining near the arena. We opted to eat at one of the shops inside the arena as we could easily grab our beer at the same time. We had a great chat with the clerk, considering we were both in Jets shirts, about how awesome the Jets were and the impact the move has had on the Leafs. This guy, while slinging beer and pizza for a living, was very knowledgeable and friendly.

We found our seats and watched the pre-game skate. Of course, we ran in to some more Jets fans. One had been in Montreal the night before and was also visiting from Winnipeg. This is what I’m talking about. The Jets have their slogan – fuelled by passion – completely correct. Fans travel out of town to see the team. It was a great conversation and a cool experience for me when he said that he knew about this site.

I even took the opportunity to chat with some Leafs fans as well and made a friendly bet that the team who scored first received a drink on the other persons tab – sadly that was a round of beers I paid for. In all honesty I don’t recall the second half of the game – not because of the drinks, but because of the great conversations. It was starting to become clear that the Jets were out of it so I took the chance to learn more about the hockey fans in Toronto around us.

One womans’ father had played a game for the Leafs back in the day and she was there trying to educate her older son on the game. They were headed back to UAE and Saudi Arabia for work so decided to catch the game on the way through. They were Canucks fans, but deep down she said she was a Bruins fan.

Another Leafs fan was attending her first ever game in person with her younger brother. She gave him the tickets for a Christmas present and was treating him well. Buying him drinks, even though he was only 17. Pretty cool sister I’d say – hockey, drinks and the Jets!

Then there was my friend too. The interesting thing is that she’s a die-hard Leafs fan who lived in Winnipeg for a couple of years when there was definitely no NHL team. In fact, she’s been on the Leafs season tickets waiting list for over 10 years. She showed up in complete Jets gear – t-shirt, hoodie and likely would have worn her hat too had she not forgotten it.

It truly is proof that while we can scream for our team, and trash talk each other, the game of hockey is what really unites us. There were no death threats thrown around, or profanity used even. It may be due to our seats in the lower bowl, but having been in the ACC for other games and cheering for the away team, I’ve never experienced that either. I guess Toronto does have some class after all. Of course, they have no excuse for not winning a cup in the last fifteen-years like Winnipeg does.

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Marshall Stevenson regularly contributes to one of the best Winnipeg Jets blogs as an editor and co-founder while also working on JET FUEL – a documentary about Winnipeg Jets fans. Of course he's also behind the only official, unofficial Jets fan gear site. And as if he wasn't busy enough, a co-host on the popular Winnipeg Jets focused Jets Hockey Podcast.