It took some doing, but the Kirkof family got what they came for.
Six free tickets to the Maple Leafs’ pre-season game, September 22 at Air Canada Centre.
Tickets for the game are a freebie for Leafs fans, a thank-you for fan support called the Coca-Cola Zero Fans First Game. The remaining tickets will be distributed by the club. The game, which pits the Leafs against the Buffalo Sabres, will include a tailgate party, activities and autograph sessions.
Leaf fans were alerted by the club that on Wednesday morning, something was going on at the ACC Galleria.
To make sure she got first dibs, mother Kymberly, father Thanas and children Marah, 14, Bolton, 12, Nikala, 10 and Kole, eight, stood sentinel by the arena doors Tuesday night.
“We started around 4 p.m., Tuesday and Thanas shuffled the kids in and out as it got later,” said Kymberly. “I found a Tim Hortons that was open nearby and we used the bathroom there.”
The Kirkofs were treated to a tour of the Leafs dressing room Wednesday and front row seats for the announcement with featured alumnus Wendel Clark, prospects John Mitchell and Jeremy Williams, incumbent Leafs Carlo Colaiacovo and Matt Stajan and the returning Curtis Joseph.
They are what the rally was all about: lifetime fans that rarely get the chance to rub shoulders with their heroes. The Kirkofs have been on a waiting list for season tickets for eight years.
Between seven and eight hundred fans packed a section of the Galleria in front of the Gate 1 doors. They chanted “Go Leafs Go” and cheered Joseph enthusiastically.
The event re-affirmed the spectacular bond between the Leafs and their followers, a hold seemingly untarnished by three straight seasons out of the post-season.
A nicely planned vacation meant Josh Tzventarny didn’t need to skip work to make the announcement. A 24-year-old urban planner, he has been a Leafs fan all his life. He is in it, he says, because of the potential payoff.
“One day it is going to end and we are going to win the Stanley Cup. It might take 100 years of hell to get there, but it will be worth it.”
The question, of course, for July 16 and every other day, is are the Leafs closer?
Certainly, Leafs’ general manager Cliff Fletcher was talking up his acquisitions which include two-way free agent forward Niklas Hagman and defenceman Jeff Finger
. Landing Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg, Fletcher said, would muscle up the team.
“When we go into other rinks the opposition will have less of a degree of comfort,” he said.
In all the Leafs have added five free agents, completed three trades and drafted Luke Schenn
to anchor their blueline in years to come.
“We have a team that will win a lot of hockey games and make a lot of people here happier,” Fletcher said.
The abundant loyalty of Leafs fans never gets old, said Joseph who is returning to Toronto after stints with Detroit, Phoenix and Calgary.
“It’s incredible here,” he said. “This is Broadway for hockey. It’s a privilege to pull this sweater on.”