TORONTO - The sounds of bagpipes filling the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night was a sure sign another National Hockey League season was getting under way.
The 48th Highlanders kicked off the pregame ceremonies prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the rival Montreal Canadiens -- just as they have at every Leafs opener since 1931.
With the Canadiens and Leafs meeting for the 709th time since 1917, the sense of tradition was that much more poignant. But the focus was shifted toward the present as the members of this 95th edition of the Maple Leafs franchise were introduced to the sellout crowd.
Unfortunately for that crowd, it had to salute one of the team's biggest offseason acquisitions wearing a suit instead of a uniform as Tim Connolly was unable to play due to an upper-body injury suffered in training camp.
After the players were introduced, culminating in a big ovation for team captain Dion Phaneuf, the Canadiens were invited out onto the ice and were roundly booed by the fans -- the visitors took a minute or two to actually emerge, further drawing the ire of the fans.
However, the crowd -- featuring a healthy sprinkling of Canadiens jerseys -- united to sing the national anthem with no accompaniment as a giant Canadian flag was unfurled and passed from fan to fan behind the player benches.
Hockey Night in Canada indeed.
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You could see out there that everybody was willing to compete, to sacrifice, even blocking shots to the end. Even in the third when we were up 5-0, guys were still working hard and blocking shots That's a nice feeling also for the future.