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Inside the Takeover; Next Gen Game entertains & excites on & off the ice

by Kristina Costabile MapleLeafs / MapleLeafs.com

As fans settled into their seats at Scotiabank Arena on Monday afternoon and with puck drop right around the corner, the lights started to dim.

Music blasted through the speakers and the PixMob lightshow began. Every person in a seat had a wristband that lit up to the beat and there were projections of emojis and graffiti all over the ice.

"It's the Next Generation Game," bellowed mini in-arena host Shomoy. "And the kids are taking over!"

Meeting the Next Generation of Maple Leafs hockey

Kids in full hockey gear rushed onto the ice, doing a few laps on either end, kicking off the first of four Toronto Maple Leafs Next Gen Games presented by Scotiabank this season. There were kids on both benches that were introduced as the Leafs and Hurricanes mini-coaching staffs and even more juniors lined the bluelines ahead of the national anthems.

The game was a chance to celebrate the coming generations of Maple Leafs hockey as families of all ages filed into the rink for a rare weekday afternoon game.

There weren't just juniors in the stands watching the Maple Leafs take on the Carolina Hurricanes, however.

From the in-arena hosts and DJ to the PA announcer, almost every part of the Leafs' game day experience had kids involved.

Taking over off the ice

Victoria joined Shomoy, who was heard in the introduction to the game, as the voices getting the crowd amped. Ellery was in the PA announcer booth. Max Keys, a six-year-old sensation, played the organ. There was a mini-reporter named Crosby, who had a pre-game chat with head coach Sheldon Keefe. And DJ Brandon Duke was providing intermission beats.

Jaime, a grade nine student who eventually wants to get into sports media, took over the Maple Leafs Instagram account, posting to the team's story throughout the contest. She was even on the Leafs bench during warmups to capture the team getting loose for the game.

Along with takeovers, there was a special group of kids who had a major hand in initiatives seen around the arena.

Next Gen Committee's creativity comes to life

The Next Gen Committee, a group that was hand selected from the MLSE LaunchPad, who ranged in age from 8 to 12, were asked, what would make a hockey game more fun for you?

Those creative answers were collected by the Maple Leafs and brought to life ahead of the Buds' game against the 'Canes.

"We've got some of their ideas that we could implement into the game and into future games across our Next Gen series," said assistant marking manager Abby Forsyth. "Some of the kids are leaders at LaunchPad or leaders in the community and they were chosen for that."

There was a face painting station, a prize wheel and green screen photo booth set up around the concourse, just to name a few of the activities. All of those were ideas that came from the minds of the Next Gen Committee.

"Starting right now on the concourse, we're starting to show them some of their ideas that we have been able to implement", said Forsyth, as a group kids from the Next Gen Committee took pictures at the photo booth and spun the prize wheel about 30 minutes before puck drop. "You can tell the excitement comes every time they see something that they recognize and they know really came from inside their brain."

"Really excited," beamed a member of the Next Gen Committee, Leah, who was attending her first-ever Maple Leafs game. 

"My friend Sophia, she thought of the photo booth," Leah continued, sharing her excitement for seeing her friend's idea come to life.

Not only did the group get to see their ideas around the rink, they got extra special treatment to celebrate being in attendance.

"They're getting special t-shirts today," said Forsyth. "A lot of them, that it is their first game, they get a cool Next Gen first game certificate. Seeing their faces light up with that kind of thing is great."

And the players on the ice were excited by the initiative, too.

Bringing the fun to a wild one on the ice

"(It's a) fun day when you have all the kids here," Jason Spezza told Sportsnet's Christine Simpson during the first intermission. 

"My four (kids) are here and they don't get down to many games so they made sure that I was ready to go this morning. As a kid, I really cherished my times coming down to the rink and seeing your heroes. It's great to have games like this."

Spezza's opening goal just 30 seconds into the contest, the fastest goal to open a game by the Leafs this season, was one of eight on the day for the home team. The kids and mini's in attendance were treated to a whole lot of excitement and 14 total scores, as Toronto defeated the Hurricanes 8-6.

In the final initiative set up by the Next Gen Committee of the afternoon, the group wanted the three star selection to be determined by a game of rock, paper, scissors.

So Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who had two goals and three assists on the afternoon, and captain John Tavares, who had a goal and a pair of assists, took to the ice to battle it out for who would be named the No. 1 star.

Marner was the winner of the best-of-three series and was named the game's top performer. Tavares was the second star followed by Hurricanes forward Martin Necas in third.

The second Next Gen Game of the season is on February 1st as the Blue and White hope the excitement on and off the ice continues in a battle with the Ottawa Senators.

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