For the second year in a row, the Toronto Maple Leafs spent the last few days of their pre-season in Gravenhurst practicing at the Graeme Murray Arena.
The team held multiple practices at the arena, including an open-to-the-public one Thursday afternoon. The arena holds around 1,000 people but from how loud the many Maple Leafs in attendance were, the players might have thought they were still at Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto.
“I think it’s a cool opportunity to leave town and kind of escape and just have some time together. We got to play some golf, play some hockey, it’s been great,” said star defenceman Morgan Rielly.
“It’s been awesome,” added forward Wayne Simmonds. “Having the kids come out with all the fans in the stands has been electric. We’ve been shown the best hospitality. Everything we have done over the last few days has been lots of fun.”
“This rink has been great to us,” said Head Coach Sheldon Keefe. Aside from the team’s two pre-season getaways, Keefe said he brought his family to Cottage Country earlier this year for Canada Day long weekend. Keefe said he, like many of the players, has enjoyed golfing and spending time at the Muskoka Bay Resort.
At the end of the team’s final practice on Thursday, all the players skated to centre ice and saluted the fans.
Jeannette Odman brought her three sons to the practice. “We’re all Leafs fans so it’s super cool and (the team) really did it up proper,” she said.
During Thursday’s practice, team staff took to the stands and tossed free merchandise. One of the lucky fans that caught something was Jeannette‘s son Dylan who snagged a Mitch Marner jersey. “It’s nice to have gotten it for free,” she says with a laugh.
Dylan, smiling from ear to ear, says while the team’s captain John Tavares is his favourite player, he will proudly wear his Marner jersey. “It’s good to finally get to see them practice and see what work goes in behind the scenes,” he says.
This is an important year for the Maple Leafs. The team has been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round six years in a row. Dylan wouldn’t go as far as saying the team will win the Stanley Cup, but did offer up a prediction. “They’re definitely going to get out of the first round,” he confidently says.
Meanwhile, Owen travelled from Innisfil with his grandmother after hearing about the practice on 99.5 Moose FM. He waited by the team bus after the practice and got Auston Matthews to sign his hat. During the practice, he managed to catch a t-shirt. Owen says he has other Leafs merchandise but says “this one is going to be my favourite.”