This was a big deal. While I did manage to make semi-regular trips to Maple Leaf Gardens, I've been living in Ottawa for the entire ACC era. I got to one game in the early days, but nothing since.
So this game marked only the second time in a decade that I've seen the Leafs play a home game. Unless you count every game they play in Ottawa. Which I do.
An occasion like this deserves a play-by-play. So here's an in-person breakdown of the Leafs first home win of the season.
6:50: We settle into our seats. The fans around me for this evening will include: "Guy who keeps yelling 'MONSTER' after every Gustavsson save"; "Guy who ends every sentence with the word 'yo' "; and "Guy who complains 'he cost us our future' every time any current or former Leaf is shown on the scoreboard"
And finally there's... well, there's really no nice way to say this... there's "nice young female Red Wings fan who doesn't seem to realize she's showing the entire section her butt crack every time she stands up". She's sitting directly in front of me, by the way.
On the bright side, the preceding paragraph was the first one in history to include "Red Wings" and "crack" but not "Bob Probert".
6:55 - True story: my phone refuse to connect to twitter from within the ACC. You win this round, Burkie.
6:58 - The Leafs show a clever pre-game video highlighting the eight-decade rivalry between the Leafs and Wings. It somehow leaves out Mike Foligno and Nikolai Borschevsky, but it does include a shot of Wendel Clark pummelling Probert, so I'll give it a B+.
7:00 - The Hall of Fame ceremony begins, with the introduction of various living Hall of Famers.
9:15: The Hall of Fame ceremony ends.
(I kid, I kid. Great ceremony. We all enjoyed every second of it.)
7:05 - Brian Leetch is introduced to the crowd. "He cost us our future!" protests the guy behind me, in his best Adam Sandler's mother voice. I can see his point. Maxim Kondratiev and Jarkko Immonen turned out to be awesome.
7:07 - The inductees drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. The Leafs are represented by Johnny Mitchell, in what may be the single best argument for maybe picking a real captain once and for all some time soon.
7:10 - The ceremony ends. All the inductees leave the center ice area, except for Brett Hull who circles around waiting for a breakaway pass instead of backchecking.
7:12 - Your referee for tonight's game: Kerry Fraser! I immediately start trying to figure out how many security guards I could fight off. Answer: zero.
7:15 - The game begins. Our seats are in the corner, four rows back of the glass. I'm literally a few feet from the ice, watching everything from the comfort of my seat. I feel like Vesa Toskala.
7:35 - The Leafs get on the board first, as Wayne Primeau beats Chris Osgood cleanly on a two-on-one. I'm not an NHL goaltending coach, but I'm pretty sure "getting beat clean by Wayne Primeau" isn't a good sign for the rest of the night.
7:42 - Gustavsson looks sharp tonight. "MONSTER" guy two rows behind me is already getting hoarse.
7:50 - I get to see Phil Kessel's first goal as a Leaf from about 20 feet away, as he swats home a Jason Blake shot that was going to go in anyways. This leads to an awkward post-goal celebration right in front of us, as Kessel apologizes and Blake pretends he doesn't care, then barely fights off the urge to smash his stick over Kessel's head as soon as his back is turned.
7:52 - Speaking of Jason Blake, is his "Come on Toronto, let's make some noise!" scoreboard appearance available as a standalone DVD? Because I'll buy it. Seriously, MLSE, name your price.
7:58 - The first period ends. Time to go figure out what everyone in the platinum seats is doing during intermission that keeps them from getting to their seats in time for the start of the next period.
8:03 - Fun fact: the restaurant below the platinum section serves a "Platinum Burger" that costs $38. It comes with foie gras torchon, sautéed shallots, and a picture of the starving African child you could have fed for a month with $38.
8:06 - People are walking into the restaurant, sitting down and ordering full course meals. During the first intermission. I'm seriously considering flipping over some tables.
8:11 - On the way back to our seats, we walk by the fabled platinum lounges. These underground bunkers can best be described as standard NHL luxury boxes, but without an actual view of the ice. For many hockey fans, that would be considered a problem. The folks at the ACC don't seem to notice.
8:15 - The teams switch sides for the second period, meaning Jonas Gustavsson will be guarding the net right in front of us. So if you're hoping to read any more close-up descriptions of goals, you're going to need to skip ahead.
8:27 - Jeff Finger scores to put the Leafs ahead 3-0. First Primeau, now Finger? If Rickard Wallin scores tonight, Osgood may hang himself.
8:32 - Every time Kessels on the ice, "He cost us our future" guy is borderline apoplectic. I'm desperately trying to think of a way to get within earshot and casually mention the Owen Nolan trade.
8:35 - Highlight of the period: Gustavsson freezes a shoot-in with his glove. After a delayed whistle, referee Eric Furlatt skates over to have an extended conversation with Gustavsson about delay of game rules. A few seconds into discussion, Gustavsson turns away, rolls his eyes, and pretends to be deeply interested in his water bottle. Furlatt keeps talking to the back of his head, leading to Mike Komisarek eventually coming over and subtley steering him out of the crease. As far as I know, Furlatt is still lecturing Gustavsson from Philadelphia right now.
8:50 - "MONSTER" guy is looking a little flush.
8:55 - Second intermission. Under advice from my doctor, I decide to stay in my seat.
9:17 - The Wings pull to within 3-1 on an early goal by Dan Cleary. I call the ACC game day staff and cancel my "Jonas, will you marry me?" scoreboard message.
9:28 - The Leafs restore the three goal lead when John Mitchell tips in a Phil Kessel shot. Wait, no, that wasn't accurate, let me try again: Phil Kessel's shot happens to hit John Mitchell's stick on the way into the net. Seriously, Mitchell had no idea. He stole that move from me, by the way. Except instead of going into the net, the puck ricochets into the corner. And instead of my stick, it's usually my groin.
9:32 - Gustavsson crosses the 30-save mark. "MONSTER" guy is no longer wearing pants.
9:36 - Despite a lifetime of attending live sporting events, I've never caught a puck or a foul ball. But my luck may be changing. Tonight, I caught Jason Williams' fibula.
9:45 - During the dying moments, Gustavsson skates over the Leafs bench, punches Toskala in the face, and returns to his crease in time to stop a 3-on-0.
9:50 - The final buzzer sounds, and Osgood storms off the ice. Or, more accurately, he storms over to the door leading off the ice -- and then gets rejected by an usher, who refuses to open the door because there's going to be a post-game ceremony and the Red Wings aren't allowed to leave yet. Apparently nobody told them.
So we get to see the entire Wings team forced to line up on the blue line to watch Gustavsson get "player of the game" honors. As Gustavsson awkwardly tries to figure out how to accept a trophy from Johnny Bower, the Wings look at each other with "wait, are we allowed to leave yet?" expressions on their face. High comedy.
10:00 - We file out of the ACC. After an almost ten-year absence, I've witnessed Kessel's first goal, Gustavsson's best game, and the first Leafs home win in seven months.
Is all of that completely, utterly, 100% due to me being there? No, of course not. The real percentage is probably only in the 80-90% range.
But let's not take any chances, ACC -- get those comped season tickets in the mail now. I'll be there for you. I'm all about the team.