December 19, 2014 - Toronto, Ontario
The Air Canada Centre isn't the kind of place we would normally venture to here at Roaming The Rinks. We're not into the NHL, and a hockey fan can't normally open the doors to the arena without dropping $200 for even the most inexpensive ticket to a Leafs game. When we found out that the World Juniors were coming to Toronto it put this arena, which opened in 1999 as a replacement for the famed Maple Leaf Gardens, back on our radar. Located in the core of downtown and only a couple blocks from the Hockey Hall of Fame, The ACC is a modern building which seems to capture the spirit of hockey in Canada's largest city. The arena is easily accessible by subway or commuter train, and has a prominent presence in the city. On one side of the arena is Maple Leaf Square, and this brick courtyard pays tribute to the NHL's Leafs with leaf shaped bricks and statues of former Maple Leafs greats. There is also an odd metal tube-like sculpture near the entrance. A large digital video board sits outside the arena showing ads and announcing upcoming events, and this side of the building features a glass wall with a raised red letter sign bearing the arena name. The rest of the concrete exterior fits well with the neighborhood of high-rises and corporate buildings. The back side of the arena has a more classic looking brown concrete facade with high glass windows. The building has an unmistakeable "arena profile", and is thought of by many as the hockey epicenter of Canada. The box office and lower entrance hallways are attached to Union Station, and this setup brings to mind many large city venues such as Madison Square Garden or Boston Garden. We were able to secure a ticket for this pre-tournament gave against Russia for a mere $22, a far cry from the price of an NHL ticket. Being able to check out this famous venue and make our first visit to the Hall of Fame made this a great day in itself, being able to also see, in person, a battle between the 2 nations with such a legendary hockey culture was phenomenal.
Once inside the Air Canada Centre you find yourself in a place similar to other NHL venues. With a capacity of just over 20,000 with standees this place feels busy and always crowded. The lower bowl features blue and yellow seats. The main concourse runs about half way up the lower bowl. The top of the lower bowl features red seats, and on the 300 level there is another concourse which accesses the dark blue, steeply angled seats. All seats in the arena are padded. The concourse areas are a combination of shopping mall and tribute to Leafs history. The upper concourse features a Captains Wall which pays tribute to former team captains. A nice video boards sits above center ice, and with the steep angle of the upper level even the nosebleed seats (we were 4 rows from the top) offer a good view of the ice. Upper level seats had a railing in front of each row as well. This being an NHL venue there is a large corporate presence, and there are luxury suites on various levels, including at the top of the lower bowl, and also above the 300 level seats. Banners hang from the rafters reminding fans that the Leafs did actually have a successful team back in the day, although they have not won a cup since 1967. With so many people on hand and such large lines at intermission there were quite a few vendors who roamed the stands selling soda, peanuts, and beer. The folks next to me ordered a couple Labatt's tall cans and the $34 price tag jolted me back into the reality that we were at an NHL venue. Although large arenas like this are not really our cup of tea the Air Canada Centre does have a sense of history about it and its exudes character and makes you feel like you are someplace special when you are within these walls.
The game day presentation for this pre-tournament game lacked a little in its precision, but that was made up for ten-fold by the enthusiasm, love of country and love of hockey shown by the Canadian faithful. Nearly an hour before the gates opened you could hear the "Let's Go Canada" chant out on Maple Leaf Square and inside in the hallways leading from Union Station to the ACC. An aerial view would have shown a sea of red as the fans came ready to cheer their young Canadian stars. The atmosphere and excitement level was electric and something that you would never experience at an exhibition game unless these 2 teams were taking to the ice. The IIHF was still moving into the arena for the tournament, which wouldn't kick into full gear until a week later after the Christmas holiday. There were no programs or lineups available at all, something we were could not believe was the case considering the game had a national TV audience and was presented on a world stage. There were some IIHF merchandise available, but it was wickedly expensive and they did not even have souvenir pucks available. The presentation itself was rather low-key, and there were fan contests at intermission, although the second intermission contest which saw 2 teams compete to assemble a giant puzzle the fastest ended as a gaffe as each team only had half of the puzzle. The ice still featured the Leafs logo at center ice as there would be another NHL game here before the official start of the World Juniors. Fans weren't there for the presentation however, and you could tell the crowd was made up of hardcore hockey fans here to support their country. Conversation in the hallways and seating area centered largely around how the fans in attendance tonight could not afford to attend an NHL game, but that they were fine with that as junior hockey offered more action. From the playing of "O Canada" to the final shift of the game the crowd was vocal, cheering every rush and clapping for every save or defensive zone clear. The wave broke out in the stands a couple times and circled the entire arena repeatedly. Fans were here to have fun and cheer for their countrymen. Canada outplayed Russia badly with a shot total of 53-20, but the Russian goalie controlled the game and the Russians scored in overtime to win 2-1. The sold out crowd was stunned, but looked forward to the real tournament which started next week. International contests seem to have a higher meaning than your run of the mill contest between 2 teams. Being able to experience the electricity and passion of the crowd, and see such a high level of play on the ice, only a couple blocks away from the Hockey Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to great hockey performers and performances, was a truly memorable event.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the 2015 World Junior Championship is available at: Tournament Home
Other information about the Air Canada Centre is available at: Arena Home
More photos of the Air Canada Centre can be found Here