Air Canada Centre – Toronto Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs Rebirth
June 24th, 2016 may just prove to be a red-letter day for the Blue and White. It was on this day in Buffalo, New York, where the Toronto Maple Leafs would make what is expected to be a real stride in changing their hapless reputation and give the team purpose going forward. On June 24th, the Toronto Maple Leafs would draft Auston Matthews first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
The massive pressure that has been put on Matthews early in his Maple Leafs tenure has been nothing short of significant. However, results can be seen right out of the gate with the most significant playoff run for the Maple Leafs in years to end of Matthews’ rookie season. The drafting of Matthews brought hope to Leafs Nation, but seeing Matthews on the ice has dashed that hope and replaced it with expectation. That expectation has put the Toronto Maple Leafs back in a position as not only a relevant team in NHL but one of THE most relevant.
The Maple Leafs are one of the mythical “Original Six” in the NHL. Founded as the Toronto Arenas in 1917, with a short stint as the Toronto St. Patricks beginning in 1919, the Maple Leafs would make their first blue and white appearance in 1927. A true force to be reckoned with in the early days, the Maple Leafs secured 13 Stanley Cups as NHL Champions, second most in the NHL. However, it is that last Stanley Cup victory which came in 1967 which gives Leaf fans heartache. Currently owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, a joint venture between Rogers Communications, Bell Media and Larry Tanenbaum, the Leafs dominate the Toronto landscape and recent success has vaulted them in front of other Toronto teams to secure the most interest in the city.
Home ice for the Maple Leafs is the Air Canada Centre. Opened in 1999 and owned by MLSE, the ACC is enjoying its final year in Toronto. Beginning in the 2018-2019 season, the arena will be renamed Scotiabank Arena in a naming rights deal believed to be the most expensive in North American sports history. Formerly the postal building and originally conceived for the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, the Air Canada Centre remains a solid venue in the NHL, which is still attempting to replicate the history of its predecessor, the venerable Maple Leaf Gardens. However, the current Maple Leafs rebirth has fans expecting just that.
Food & Beverage 5
The concession situation at the Air Canada Centre is as good as any in the NHL. There is a continuous examination at the arena of the concessions and seemingly subtle changes each year. A new addition for the 2017-2018 season is the Freshii stand which features a variety of more health conscious options including salads, bowls, burritos and wraps. One of the most popular spots is the Hogtown Gourmet Hot Dogs stand, which features a huge variety of original hot dog concoctions. Lord of the Fries offers a variety of plain and topped fries and poutine, MacCheesey features gourmet mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches while Porchetta & Co. has a variety of sandwiches. Shawarma, BBQ, burgers and carved sandwiches as well as old favorites like Pizza Pizza, Mr. Sub and Tim Hortons are also easily found. Just about anything a fan is looking for can be found, even sushi!
Coca-Cola products are the soft drink option found throughout the arena. Over time, the Air Canada Centre has consistently improved the areas where alcohol is available and featured. The traditional beer guy or mobile stand can be found, but there are no less than eight bar areas in Air Canada Centre, many featuring a full bar service. The variety of craft beer is expansive and fans will not be disappointed.
Although the Air Canada Centre was originally conceived for the Toronto Raptors, it is clear who is the main draw in the arena. Maple Leaf blue and white is everywhere and Maple Leaf paraphernalia dominates throughout.
The exterior of the Air Canada Centre is visually pleasing. A modern silver look, the ACC has no real throwback feel to it at all. There are essentially two main entrances the vast majority of fans take to. The first is on the west side of the arena in Maple Leaf Square. This is the outdoor gathering place that is often shown on television, especially for Raptors games. A large video board dominates the entrance and gives fans on the outside the opportunity to see the action on the inside. The unique lighting structures have been there since the beginning and are probably the most signature feature of the arena that is not team dominated. Maple Leaf Square also features Legends Row, the series of Toronto Maple Leafs bronze statues. The fourteen greatest Maple Leafs are immortalized in bronze and include the likenesses of Red Kelly, Frank Mahovolich, Charlie Concacher, Wendel Clark, Ted Kennedy, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Syl Apps, George Armstrong, Mats Sundin, Dave Keon, Turk Broda and Tim Horton. The other entrance fans frequent is through the Galleria on the north side. The far corner of the enclosed hall features the original lettering of the Toronto Postal Delivery Building and photos of the original building and the journey it went through to become the now famous arena.
Inside the ACC fans are greeted with average sized concourses. For fans who are very observant, historic photos of great moments in Maple Leafs history as well as at the ACC are mounted on the walls, but can be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of advertising. Inside the seating bowl, the eye is immediately drawn to the huge, crystal clear video board that hangs above the east to west oriented ice surface. The seating bowl features mainly two levels of seating with luxury boxes in between and at the ends. The rafters are littered with banners. Just in front of the Foster Hewitt Media Gondola, named after the legendary CBC Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster, are banners honouring the former Maple Leaf Gardens and opening of the Air Canada Centre. Maple Leaf banners are all over the middle of the ceiling including the Stanley Cup banners from the 1918 Toronto Arenas, 1922 Toronto St. Patricks and the 1922, 1931, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs. In the last few years the Maple Leafs have reconnected with disgruntled alumnus Dave Keon and now all honoured numbers in Toronto are fully retired. Banners hang for those players and they include all of the members of Legends Row and Hap Day, Bill Barilko, Ace Bailey, King Clancy and Doug Gilmour. All of the banners are brand new from the Maple Leafs 100th season celebrated in 2016-2017. The sight lines in the Air Canada Centre are excellent and the upper bowl features a steeper than normal slope putting fans on top of the action, even in the upper levels. The best spot to get that perfect centre ice picture is from the south side of the arena.
The game day experience in Toronto usually falls back on the long tradition of the Leafs. The Leafs are greeted on the ice by a young flag bearer. The video montages for the pregame have been excellent and the montage for the game reviewed featured Maple Leaf players and their pictures from when they were young minor hockey players. The Leafs’ mascot, Carleton the Bear, travels from section to section banging his drum and leading the “Go Leafs Go” chant. Carleton is more prepared for photo ops and does not do any sort of acrobatics that other mascots do.
Air Canada Centre may be in the perfect spot. Located neatly between Front Street and the Harbourfront, the surrounding neighbourhood is an overwhelming plethora of options for either pre or post game fare. Front Street alone is littered with recognizable chain restaurants including Jack Astor’s, Texas Lone Star Grill, Canyon Creek, Casey’s and Boston Pizza. If you are looking for something a little more original, then you may want to try Joe Badalli’s or The Loose Moose. If you head a little closer to the Air Canada Centre then The Fox, or Hoop’s may be for you. Right across from the Air Canada Centre, in Maple Leaf Square is Real Sports Bar and Grill, an absolutely massive place with more TV screens than staff. If you have a little extra time and a little extra money, having a drink in The Library Club at the Royal York hotel or having a nice dinner at 360 at the top of the CN Tower will be some uniquely Toronto experiences.
To go along with the plethora of eating establishments downtown, you will also find a ton of things to do. The Air Canada Centre is shared by the Leafs along with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and Toronto Rock of the NLL. Just up the street you will find the Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Further up Front Street to Exhibition Place you will find the Ricoh Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Also on the Exhibition grounds is BMO Field, home of Toronto FC of MLS and the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Just north of ACC is the University of Toronto which fields a host of athletic teams at various locations. If you are a true hockey enthusiast, then you will most assuredly want to see the Ryerson Rams play. The Rams call the former Maple Leaf Gardens home and have done a wonderful job preserving the iconic arena while making it functional for Ryerson University. Continuing that idea, a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame, just east of the Air Canada Centre is an absolute must for hockey fans. The Hall balances a fantastic repository of hockey artifacts with interactive games and experiences. North of the Air Canada Centre is the Eaton Centre, which is the centre of a great Toronto shopping district. The Theatre District in Toronto is possibly second only to Broadway in New York City. Of course, the iconic CN Tower is also a great destination to the west of the ACC. Forget coming for the night, or spending the weekend. You could jam pack a full week in downtown Toronto and still need to return to catch what you missed.
There are a number of quality hotels that are well within walking distance of the ACC. However, the downtown location leads to a fairly expensive stay. The Westin Harbour Castle offers a prime location which can overlook the harbour and is just south of the ACC. For a truly classic Canadian experience, you should consider staying at the Fairmont Royal York, one of the oldest, most famous hotels in all of Canada. An option that is a little more affordable and also within walking distance is the Strathcona.
Assessing Toronto Maple Leaf fans continues to be challenging. The Leafs have enjoyed one of the strongest attendance runs of any NHL team. Tickets can be at a premium and sellouts are expected. In each of the last three seasons, the Maple Leafs have enjoyed over 19,000 fans per game which ranks them fifth in the NHL. Presumably they are only ranked at such a level because of the higher capacity of other arenas. The price of tickets usually means that the lower bowl is dominated with corporate season seat holders, many of which are still dressed for the office. With increased success, the crowd is becoming a little more lively, however Toronto fans are still very reserved and quiet. There is very little creativity when it comes to cheers and chants in Toronto and “Go Leafs Go” seems to be all that the crowd knows.
The location of the Air Canada Centre offers a wide variety of ways to access the arena.
The Air Canada Centre is located right downtown in Toronto, just north of the Gardiner Expressway, between the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 427. The Gardiner is significantly south of Highway 401, which is the main highway through Southern Ontario and basically the location of Pearson International Airport. Traffic is a regular occurrence in this area of downtown and getting to the arena from the east or west can be a chore, especially if you are braving rush hour during the workweek. A little tidbit if you are coming from the west, consider avoiding the majority of the Gardiner Expressway and take Lakeshore Boulevard. Often Lakeshore is the much faster option.
The Galleria offers a direct link to Union Station from the Air Canada Centre. This is fantastic for fans who prefer to take public transit. The TTC subway stops right at Union Station and there are a variety of GO Transit buses and trains that come into the station. Also, the Via trains stop at Union for those coming from a short distance out of town. The GO Transit and TTC websites offer maps, schedules and other planning tools to help you in your quest to get to the ACC. Be wary of significant construction in Union Station.
There are quite a few surface and garage parking lots in the immediate area for you to choose from if you are bringing your vehicle. Parking will not be cheap, but can be found for $20 or less. There always seems to be significant construction activity in the area of the ACC so the best plan would be to give yourself plenty of time to find and secure parking so you do not end up being one of those late-arriving Toronto fans. There are some prepaid parking options on sites like ParkWhiz, or Parking Panda but those are not as prevalent as their American counterparts.
The main ticket windows are located within the Galleria at the west end. With almost no tickets going on sale game day, lineups at the ticket windows are not usually an issue. The main and most popular gate is found within the Galleria. Increased security measures have slowed down the process a fair bit, but ACC officials have been making a concerted effort to speed up this process. The other gates are not nearly as popular, but will require patrons to wait outside.
With the current climate of security in the major sports it is imperative that fans are fully aware of the security scenario at each major sports arena that they visit. Check the Maple Leafs and Air Canada Centre websites for up to date security information on banned items and baggage requirements.
Getting around the ACC is not a huge issue. A near capacity crowd most of the time will, of course, bring heavy foot traffic in the concourses, however they are quite big and the traffic flows at a pretty decent clip. There are ample washroom facilities and washroom traffic also moves fairly quickly. Lineups at intermissions are common, however you will not spend the entire intermission in line for the washroom.
Return on Investment 3
Return on investment for the Toronto Maple Leafs is a pretty significant issue. Priced as a “once in a lifetime” event, the Leafs are at the top of the Fan Cost Index in the NHL. Ticket prices are difficult to discern with airplane style pricing, however weekday games usually start at $130 and $142 on weekends. The top tickets can easily go for over $450. Concession prices are definitely on the expensive side and parking can be found for around $20 or higher. Even fans who are interested in taking the GO Train or TTC will be welcomed with an expensive ride. Unfortunately, the return the Leafs offer, which is getting better, is definitely not once in a lifetime. The NHL is also heading to the more expensive side as compared to MLB and the NBA.
An extra mark for the change in fortunes for the Leafs on the ice. They are once again in a relevant position in the Toronto sports scene.
An extra mark for the vast history of the Leafs and their position as a member of the fabled NHL “Original Six.”
An extra mark for the Leafs front office making peace with Dave Keon and the Leafs alumni which has resulted in Legends Row.
An extra mark for the continued rivalries the Leafs have with so many teams including the Red Wings, Senators, Sabres and of course, the Canadiens.
There is no doubt that the experience at the Air Canada Centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs is a good one. However, of great concern is the cost involved. With growing success on the ice, fans can fully expect the cost will continue to rise. The Maple Leafs Rebirth is good for Toronto and good for the NHL, but it may not be good for the wallet.
Did you enjoy this content? Help support our work by becoming a supporter of Stadium Journey on Patreon. Supporter levels begin at just $2/month.
Delta Toronto Hotel
75 Lower Simcoe St
Toronto, ON M5J 3A6, Canada
Latest Crowd Reviews
The Maple Leafs are one of the cornerstone franchises in the NHL and one of the famed “Original Six.” Their tenure over time has seen them produce nearly countless inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame. They have hoisted the Stanley Cup 13 times, the second best in the NHL. Die-hard Leaf fans will cringe when reminded that they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, and their performance on the ice in recent years has been mediocre at best. However, a trip to downtown Toronto and the Maple Leafs needs to be on your list if you are a serious hockey fan. You may only be able to afford to go once, but if hockey is your thing, then you need to get to the Hangar!