ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. - They waited outside Mile One Stadium to get a chance to meet their favourite players. At the beginning of the week it didn't seem like they would get the opportunity at all. It took six days but the Leafs finally made their long-awaited journey to St. John's much to the delight of their east coast faithful.
As Leaf players made their way to the arena to play the annual blue and white intra-squad scrimmage on Sunday night, fans met them with both amazement and the hope of getting an autograph. Before the blue squad won 6-1, fans soaked up the excitement of the atmosphere like Brendan Murphy of St. John's.
Murphy, 31, didn't ask for autographs. He was too busy shaking hands with the players and welcoming them to Newfoundland.
"Just to see these guys is totally unbelievable," said Murphy. "For me to see Mats Sundin or Shayne Corson walk by is just great. You watch them on Hockey Night In Canada every Saturday and sometimes you don't think it's real until you actually shake their hands. I can finally say that I met them."
As he walked with Leafs fans, Gary Roberts was approached by a man who's from his home town of Twillingate, Nfld. The city is about 400 kilometres north of St. John's and the man asked Roberts how his parents were doing. Roberts smiled and talked with him for a few moments.
"I know his parents and I've talked with him before," said 35-year-old Steven Dalley. "I'm a big fan and I'm glad they came. I thought they might not come at all, but this is wonderful for the city."
Roberts said he's used to people coming up to him and talking about his family when he comes to town.
"Most of the people here know my parents," said Roberts with a laugh. "If they don't know my parents then it's my cousin or uncle."
Leafs players have seen first hand what a caring community this city is. During the tragedy that hit the United States on Tuesday, 27 planes were redirected to St. John's. Many passengers stayed in the lobbies of hotel rooms and at Mile One Stadium. People generously gave their time to help the hundreds who were stranded
"You hear the stories at the hotel with some of the staff taking home laundry from some of the passengers that were left here and doing it for them," said Roberts. "My cousin works for the Salvation Army and he says they've been working around the clock feeding and taking care of people. It's just their way of life. They go out of their way to do things for people and expect nothing in return."
And for that, the Leafs would like to put on a good show for them on Monday night when they play the Canadiens.
Notes: Leafs President Ken Dryden addressed the sellout crowd of 5,813 people before the team's annual blue and white intra-squad game. He praised their efforts in helping the many that were stranded in St. John's after the disaster in the U.S.
"All week long you've proven to have done your best as a community," said Dryden. "Tonight we will do our best."
Before the game, the St. John's Bagpipe Band played Amazing Grace in honour of the many that died in the U.S.
In the scrimmage, the Blue team defeated the White team by a score of 6-1. All six goalies in camp played one period and seven different players accounted for the scoring.