December 3, 2004 (TORONTO
-- As fans in Toronto hunger for NHL hockey, the Maple Leafs farm team rolled through Air Canada Centre this week to treat Hogtown's faithful to pair of games, AHL style. And although they weren't the usual boys in blue and white fans are used to seeing this time of year, their AHL counterparts put on quite a show nonetheless.
Wednesday, the St. John's Maple Leafs handed the Binghamton Senators a 4-2 loss at ACC to drop the puck on the two-game set in the big league arena and the Buds followed it up with a 3-2 win over those same Sens Friday.
| Jason MacDonald and Brian McGratten got the scrapping started early. (Graig Abel Photography) |
Any criticism of crowd size was taken out of the equation as paid attendance was announced at 17,422, a crowd that most NHL cities would be lucky to draw on a Friday in December. Additionally, the audience was the largest AHL crowd to witness a regular-season game in Canada in the league's history.
Proving that familiarity breeds contempt, Jason MacDonald of the Leafs and Brian McGratten dropped the gloves just over two minutes in. McGratten got the best of MacDonald in the short bout, but the rise it got from the crowd showed that fans were glad to see Canada's game back on the ACC ice.
But that was only the beginning.
Four goals later the game was tied and as tensions rose, the two teams checking lines squared-off in and old fashioned five-on-five dust up.
"I think a thing like that really shows our character," said David Ling. "We haven't had one of those yet this year and we're a close bunch of guys and we just showed out there that we're going to stick together no matter who it is."
The crowd erupted with the turn in events as players wrestled with one another through what would amount to a ten-minute stoppage in play and a boatload of penalties for the offenders. By the end of the contest, 164 penalty minutes had been handed out on 35 infractions.
It was old-time hockey at its best.
"I think that was the turning point in the game," said defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. "We came out in the third period and our fourth-line guys go out there and start us strong, get the fans going and get everyone on their feet. Then we come out the next shift and get the game-winning goal. It was a big momentum builder for us."
Ling would pocket the winner after Colaiacovo and Nathan Perrott opened the scoring, but no doubt it was the way the team bandied together in the third to pull out the gritty win that observers will remember most.
The Leafs now have one more road game before heading back to the Rock, but for a Toronto native like Colaiacovo, this was a trip he'll likely remember for awhile and, for the 17,422 fans it was a preview of what's to come next fall when the AHL Leafs take root in Toronto.
"It was a great experience to be in front of the Toronto crowd, a hometown boy in front of family and friends," said Colaiacovo. "It was really great to get the fans behind us, something we haven't experienced on this scale this season and we're real glad we got these two wins."