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Matthews, Maple Leafs thrill fans at outdoor practice

Team takes subway to City Hall rink, enjoys break from normal routine

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- Auston Matthews was at it again Thursday, scoring awe-inspiring goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But this time, he was doing it under sunny skies during an outdoor practice. 

Matthews, who became the first United States-born player and the first Maple Leafs player to score at least 30 goals in each of his first four NHL seasons when he scored twice in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, generated a gasp from the several thousand fans gathering at Nathan Phillips Square when he scored off the post during the workout. 

Tweet from @MapleLeafs: 🎯 @AM34 #LeafsForever

"I try to treat every (game) the same and not get too crazy on how you prepare and approach things," Matthews said. "You try to do the same things and have fun. As for myself, create as much offense as I can as a line and produce."

Matthews has 54 points (31 goals, 23 assists) in 45 games this season, including 12 goals and 20 points in his past 11 games.

His Maple Leafs teammates say they believe he's just getting started.

"I think with his skill set and how driven he is, it's up to him to determine whatever level he wants to get to," captain John Tavares said. "I think that with the drive that he has he wants to be a great player and do great things in this League."

Added defenseman Tyson Barrie: "It's incredible the way he's able to control the game and his shot is obviously world-class. He's making big plays at big moments in the game too which is huge. He's a special player and he's on top of his game now."

Though Matthews' Team West fell short of making the final of the Maple Leafs' 3-on-3 mini tournament, the mood was electric throughout the hour-long outdoor session held in the heart of downtown Toronto.

"It's terrific, really great. The chance to be amongst the fans in this environment, you see the smiles on our players' faces," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "They come here, their spirit is uplifted being here around the fans and getting outside. This is a nice little break from the norm for us."

From the moment the team exited the subway and crossed Bay Street in full equipment after getting dressed at Scotiabank Arena, the buzz amongst the fans was palpable.

Tweet from @MapleLeafs: The morning commute 🚇 #LeafsForever

The mini-tournament seemed to feature all the standard outdoor hockey occurrences including defenseman Morgan Rielly yelling toward the bench for a new puck after one went out of play.

"This takes me back to playing with my brother on the outdoor pond, a lot of fond memories out there," forward Mitchell Marner said. "It's always fun coming out here and playing on the outdoor rink and our fans are always great showing us love. I think everyone enjoys this, we're grateful for how many fans come to these events. Crossing Bay Street and see all the fans waiting was unreal, it's freezing cold out here though. So it was impressive just crossing the street seeing how many people showed up to this. It's always impressive to see."

Barrie said he was at home on the subway since he takes it to and from Scotiabank Arena each day, though it was the first time he rode while in full equipment.

"I was trying to show these guys the ropes," Barrie said. "We took a few pictures, it's pretty cool to have the whole team pile on there when you're trying to get to work or maybe it's annoying, I'm not sure. But either way it was a cool day."

Toronto Mayor John Tory also came to watch and said it was amazing to see the energy in the city surrounding the Maple Leafs' visit to the outdoor rink.

"It's such a thrill to have them at City Hall. I still get thrilled as a fan my whole life, even since I was a little boy to be up close with the Leafs," Tory said. "These events are incredibly important. Some of the fans I was talking to told me they lined up at 6 a.m. to have a spot right along the boards. These are the real fans. The turnout is fantastic, it's what City Hall is for, it's one of the reasons you have a skating rink here."

The Maple Leafs (24-15-6) visit the Florida Panthers on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVAS, SN, FS-F, NHL.TV).

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