My annual Eagles road trip in 2011 took me to Buffalo, and I don't really feel like talking about what happened there. But as you might imagine, we didn't pick Buffalo because we were interested in spending a weekend there. Instead, we wanted to check out Toronto, which isn't terribly far away. We booked roundtrip travel to Buffalo, but drove a rental across the border, stayed downtown, and did a bunch of touristy stuff I'd highly recommend.
Toronto is a pretty cool city and a place I'd love to see again soon, hopefully catching a Maple Leafs game the next time around. The major arenas are situated close together, right on the shore of Lake Ontario with the CN Tower looming overhead.
After a trip up to the top of the needle, we were in need of some liquid refreshment and a good TV so we could watch some college football. We followed up on a recommendation for the city's best sports-watching experience and checked out Real Sports, which is just across the street from the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs will host the Flyers tonight.
Below, a look at Real Sports, Xfinity Live, and what's become another lost Maple Leafs season.
At Real Sports, we caught a glimpse of what is hopefully to come in south Philly at the end of this month. There are some retail stores inside the complex, sports gear, etc., but its centerpiece is a a huge high-end sports bar with an enormous TV screen and countless others all around the room.
The prices were high, but the beer was great and the atmosphere lively. Early in the afternoon, many seats on the floor tables in front of the huge TV were still empty, or more accurately, they were reserved. (We found this odd, as others were being turned away or made to stand in the bar area for hours.) That night, there'd be a Maple Leafs game, and fans had reserved tables for both before and during it. By 6, the place was packed, with every other person wearing a Leafs jersey.
Say what you will about the team (it's not hard for Flyers fans to conjure their hate for Toronto), but their gear is pretty fantastic, and a room full of it was quite a site. There were two floors and multiple viewing areas, including private party spaces and a balcony bar. Overall, Real Sports was pretty impressive. Even the rest rooms had a flat screen TV over each urinal and larger TVs in the sink area, some playing college football while others played the last game between the Leafs and that night's opponent, the Ottawa Senators.
Hopefully Xfinity Live draws a similar crowd when it opens up. After seeing Real Sports, I wondered if it wasn't in some way the inspiration for XL (think 'XL' catches on?). From what I've been told, it will blow Real Sports out of the water, which after seeing some of the expected amenities, it certainly may. However, XL could still have a bit more challenge drawing non-gameday crowds in south Philly, which isn't next door to the city's most popular tourist attraction.
Back to the Leafs, and the city that, to be honest, deserves better. Maple Leafs hockey is number one in Toronto, and it's not even close. Imagine how painful it must be to have the team be so bad for so long…
A promising start to the current season has gone up in flames, costing head coach Ron Wilson his job earlier this month. Amazingly, Wilson was given an extension in December. Perhaps a victim to his club's overachievement, he was canned just over three months later.
The Leafs slid to fourth place in the division, 12th in the conference, and appear likely to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season. Yes, since the lockout, the hockey team from the largest city in Canada has not made the playoffs once.
And yet, they're still among the league-leaders in attendance. Of course they are.
Tonight the Toronto fans will see their club host one of the hottest teams in the league, as the Flyers come in on a four-game winning streak. Ilya Bryzgalov will start his 11th straight game, facing Jonas Gustavsson, who is starting his fifth in a row. James Reimer has hit a rough patch, and new head coach Randy Carlyle is staying with the Monster
One of the bigger surprises of the Leafs' early surge was the play of former Flyer Joffrey Lupul, who was among the league's leading scorers before getting hurt. Loops separated his shoulder in a loss to the Bruins on Tuesday, and he'll miss 3-4 weeks, which is likely the end of the line for Toronto. Colby Armstrong was also hurt that night (broken nose), but he's expected to be ready to go against the Flyers.
Toronto has won only one of their last nine games, and only two of their last 14. They're in a complete free fall, which hopefully continues tonight.
The Flyers will again be without Kimmo, Mesz, and Kubina, which so far hasn't been a problem, but the Leafs do pack some scoring punch, so Bryz could be busy if there are any issues on the back end.