by Rebecca Virgin
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Take a look at the photos
(TORONTO) - Usually Sunday practices are the quietest of the week, but this was by far the loudest as thousands of fans were in attendance to watch coach Paul Maurice put his Maple Leafs through his normally tough skate in the annual Leafs Open Practice.
The mascot game is always a hit!
(Graig Abel Photograaphy)
The affair has become a yearly tradition, and even with the Santa Claus parade rivaling the event this year, it didn't seem to put a dent in the turnout. All proceeds for the ticket sales went to the Leafs Fund.
"If you open up all of your practices you wouldn't be able to yell at the players appropriately," said Maurice.
"It's a chance for the fans to see a little bit about what a practice looks like and it's a good opportunity I think for the players not just to see at the games the passion that these fans have for this team, but they want to see a practice, and I think they like that."
But it wasn't just the practice that fans were treated to. There were Alumni on hand signing autographs, a minor hockey game coached by Leafs Alumni, a mascot game, and a t-shirt toss to wrap things up with.
"I think when you can have a practice on a Sunday afternoon and have more people in the seats than I think we had the other night in Boston, you know it tells a lot about the Toronto fans," said Matt Stajan. "The people love their Leafs so it's great to play in this city."
The practice was nothing out of the ordinary for the players, but Maurice did throw a shootout into the mix to add a little extra excitement. Defenceman Bryan McCabe was the winner, being the only player to score on both of his attempts.
|Paul Maurice perhaps demonstrates how much patience he has left with his thumb and forefinger. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
"The only people that weren't real happy today were the goaltenders because everybody knows that in open practices the shots are all up around their ears," said Maurice with a grin. "But the fans bring signs, they're all excited to see their players and that's not the way it is in a lot of cities and that's what makes this team special."
Goaltender Andrew Raycroft, on the mend from a groin injury, was in agreement with Maurice's statement, but was a good sport.
"It's not as easy for me because everybody wants to do something to impress everybody and I just kind of want to do my thing and get better.
"But it's good for the fans and it's fun for everybody," said Raycroft. "It's good for everyone to come and see what we do on a daily basis and obviously we throw a shootout in for everybody."
So what makes it worthwhile for a coach to have a practice disrupted by thousands of fans? Not only do some fans get a little extra access to their team, but it helps others by way of the Leafs Fund.
"These kids come out and then we raise some money for some kids that have those same feelings but maybe don't have the same opportunities to come to a practice like this. Then they may get to go to summer camp because of the money raised at an event like this and that's really special," said Maurice.