The last few days of my Toronto Maple Leafs Training Camp experience was an absolute blur, but I thought it best to check back in one more time and put a bow on my experience with the most exciting team in the NHL.
Now that the dust is settled and my brain has shifted to try to retain as many of those memories as possible, I’ve found myself asking, “what was your favourite moment?” and lord knows there was no shortage of moments to choose from.
Bumping into Auston Matthews in the halls on Day One while standing with my father while we both frantically picked our jaws up off the floor from witnessing one of our favourite players right in front of us was a neat experience for me and my family.
But that wasn’t my favourite moment.
Watching Zach O’Brien snipe two goals in a scrimmage took me back to our Kelly Cup Finals run and filled me with pride to see our local boy more than holding his own against some of the best players on the planet.
That one was up there, but it still wasn’t my favourite moment.
Getting to do colour commentary with my mentor and friend Brian Rogers as he got to call a full game featuring Leafs legends in the Alumni Game on Sunday night was simply awesome. Saying the names of Gilmour and Clark on the broadcast unironically was something I’ll never forget. Getting to hear Brian back in the drivers seat calling plays featuring many of his former friends and teammates from the old St. John’s Maple Leafs was surreal and brought me back to my formative days sitting in the stands at the old Memorial Stadium with my father and grandfather.
But that still wasn’t my top moment.
Watching the line of Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Kasperi Kapanen turn heads and induce ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the packed house at Mile One Centre during the Maple Leafs exhibition game on Tuesday was a spectacular experience.
But still, it wasn’t enough to take top spot.
In fact, my favourite moment wasn’t even really MY moment. Collectively, it was the fans who created the most memorable moments for me.
Watching the look of bewilderment on young fans’ faces as they just begin to understand that, yes, these guys autographing your jersey are the same ones you watch on TV and in video games.
THAT was one of my favourite moments.
Chatting with an elder Maple Leafs fan who vividly remembers the last Cup won in 1967 and was almost brought to tears at FINALLY being able to see the blue and white in person.
How could that NOT be one of my favourite moments?
Seeing the passion of our homegrown fans as they waited overnight, some for multiple nights in a row, just to get a glimpse of their heroes as they practice?
THAT is the kind of moment that is going to stick with me.
Knowing that the fans, the Growlers and the passion that exudes from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador is all helping to contribute to the success of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports is perhaps my biggest takeaway.
We all have our role to play in this bigger picture.
Seeing guys like Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Timothy Liljegren, both up-and-coming stars within the Leafs organization, find success early in their careers and seeing the Leafs use the Growlers as a part of their development, that reaffirms that what we are doing, both as fans and as an organization, is valuable.
The fact of the matter is, no matter what happens this season, for the Leafs or the Growlers, we all can be proud to say that we bore witness.
Later on this season, when the Leafs begin their climb through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you can stand proud knowing that it all started here. With you in the stands, cheering them on.
When a Growler gets called up to the Marlies and eventually the Maple Leafs, you will know that it was your support that helped him get there.
To sum it up, my favourite moment was the moment I realized that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are not just individuals crammed into a hockey rink. We are the sum of our parts. We are a community united under a great, big blue and white umbrella.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m mighty proud to be a part of this great community. So to the fans, the Maple Leafs and all involved, thank you all for an incredible week. I can’t wait to keep the ball rolling and hoist our province’s first championship banner at Mile One Centre on October 11. I’ll see you there.