TORONTO -- Try as he might, Chris Martin could not score himself a ticket for the NHL season opener to see his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens.
But Martin, of Mississauga, Ontario, was not shut out completely. He and a few fans gathered in Dundas Square in the heart of downtown Toronto to experience the 2014 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off, a fan fest of the highest order. Wearing a Maple Leafs hat and No. 13 jersey with the name Sundin replaced by 'Leafsaholic' on the back, Martin and his pals were all smiles.
Oh, and his beard is dyed blue, too.
"When I was born someone game me a Leafs jersey and Leafs sock so I figure I came into the world a Maple Leafs fan and I'll go out of this world a Maple Leafs fan," Martin said. "This is sweet! This is all very exciting. It's opening night and it should be like this."
There was a sea of blue Maple Leafs jerseys throughout Dundas Square where fans took the opportunity to test the accuracy and strength of their shot at different booths while various radio and TV shows were being broadcast live. There were constant chants of "Go Leafs Go!" and there was even a cat wearing a Leafs jersey.
The highlight of the pregame festival was a free concert by Canadian rock superstars The Tragically Hip, whose lead singer, Gord Downie, is the godson of longtime Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden.
There also were scheduled appearances by former Maple Leafs players Joe Nieuwendyk, Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler.
For Nieuwendyk, who grew up in nearby Whitby, seeing thousands of fans flooding into the streets was mind-blowing.
"When I was a kid, the opening day of the NHL season meant I pulled out my Borje Salming sweater and wore it to school," Nieuwendyk said. "Now, look at this … all these things for the fans to participate in and a Tragically Hip concert, too. This is amazing."
Nieuwendyk, a Hockey Hall of Fame member who won the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils, played the 2003-04 season with Toronto and said there's nothing like a Maple Leafs fan. Even though the Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, Maple Leafs Nation remains strong and supportive.
"They are passionate sports and hockey fans in Toronto," Nieuwendyk said. "They deserve a winner."
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said the goal this season is to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Maple Leafs missed the playoffs last season, one year after taking the Boston Bruins to seven games in the first round.
Asked if he had a message he'd like to relay to the fans, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said, "The message is something that has to be earned. It's not about us talking about what our messaging is; the best way to speak to our fans is with the way we play."
Shanahan is encouraged by the numerous moves the team made in the offseason, but also knows there is plenty of work ahead.
"We're hopeful that we improved," Shanahan said. "We went after different things, but it comes down to there are 30 teams that think they have improved so now it all comes down to competition."
For super fan Chris Martin, it's all about his team getting to the playoffs.
"There have been a number of teams that finished seventh or eighth in the regular season make it to the Stanley Cup Final in recent years," Martin said. "All the Maple Leafs have to do is get to the playoffs and we'll see what happens."