An iconic Canadian rock band, followed by an Original Six battle between the country’s two most iconic hockey teams. What else could you ask for?
The Tragically Hip ushered in the season opener between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday at Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off — a huge hockey launch party in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Approximately 55,000 fans packed Yonge-Dundas Square for the event, which began at noon and was highlighted by the free Hip concert at 6:30 p.m.
The Hip kicked off the show with Grace Too and followed it up with a steady stream of hits from their storied arsenal.
The concert preceded the Leafs home and season-opener against their bitter Original Six rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, which will be broadcast live from the square.
“It’s a 45-minute set but we are going to blast them,” promised Hip guitarist Rob Baker before the band took the stage. “It’s a crazy beautiful place to be playing a gig.”
“We all grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights,” added the band’s, Paul Langlois. “It’s part of the fabric of who we are.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was impressed with the all-day energy provided by the throngs of fans.
“It’s very exciting to be here,” he said. “I can’t wait until puck drop.”
“Just to look around, it’s pretty awe-inspiring.”
For a 360-degree view of the mobile hockey studio that broadcaster Ron McLean will broadcast from, click here.
Fans clad in blue and white jerseys spent the day talking about the Leafs up-coming season and mingling with some of the NHL legends that were on hand.
Longtime Leafs fan Doreen said she wasn’t sure yet if the Leafs would live up to expectations this season, but she was pleased with Mother Nature’s early performance on opening day.
“The weather is pretty good,” she said with a smile, long before ominous clouds started rolling in after 4 p.m. “The sun is out. (But) every year the Leafs play well at the start, then (they) sink.”
“I really hope they win tonight. I worry!”
Doreen said she was hoping to meet Darryl Sittler — one of several NHL legends who were on hand for photo and autograph sessions and Q&A’s. Local legend Wendel Clark was the first to arrive.
After the obligatory media interviews Clark mingled with the crowd, signing autographs.
A young fan named Alexandra was beaming after Clark signed her jersey.
“He’s a legend and he was such a great Maple Leafs player,” she said. “He was one of my dad’s favourite players.”
“For sure we are going to win tonight, and I definitely think we’ve made a huge improvement to the team and I’m really excited to get going.”
Jeff from Scarborough also has high hopes for the Buds.
“I think we are going to make the playoffs and go far,” he predicted.
But Leafs fan Chloe wasn’t so quick to predict success.
“Honestly they have a bunch of new players so we can’t really tell until we see them play,” she said, adding that she was just as excited for The Hip, as hockey.
Bernie, a Leafs fan whose wife, Michelle, supports the Habs, took offence to the recent Forum poll for CityNews that declared the Canadiens, ‘Canada’s team.’
“Something’s wrong with Canada,” he barked. “Go Leafs! All the way!”
Clark later commented on how special a Leafs vs. Habs opening game is.
“There’s nothing better than having a Montreal Toronto home-opener,” the former Leaf captain told CityNews.
“The best comes out because the emotion is great and you are going to have fans from both cities in the building. It’s a true rivalry.”
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The event is being live blogged on this website. Follow along below. For a mobile-friendly version, click here.