Toronto Maple Leafs open training camp in Niagara Falls

In the Toronto sports market, expectations are always set to high. With only two playoff appearances over the last 10 years, it’s safe to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs have not met the hockey crazed city’s expectation for the club.

Last year’s roster gave fans a reason to remain hopeful for what the future holds, as their rookie laden roster suffered a closely contested 4-2 series loss to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals. Each game was decided by a single goal.

But this recent success cannot weigh too heavily upon the minds of the Toronto Maple Leafs once training camp began, with 73 invitees fighting over the 20 roster spots available during the regular season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs gave fans the opportunity to view these roster spot battles up close, when the team took to the ice at Niagara Falls’ Gale Centre Arena from Sept. 15-17.  

Fans gathered outside of the arena well before the 9am start time to secure their tickets, free with a donation to the Niagara Children’s Centre, which according to their website is a “provider of rehabilitation and support services to children and youth with physical, developmental and communicative delays and disabilities.”

“The (Toronto Maple) Leafs were very generous in choosing the Niagara Children’s Centre to be their charity for this event,” said Joanne Rome, a Speech-Language Pathologist at the centre. “Although it is a free event, we’ve been asking the community for a donation upon entry, and all the proceeds are going to the Children’s Centre.”

Once the line of fans took to their seats, they were able to watch fan favourites such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and James van Riemsdyk as they took to the ice, taking part in drills and scrimmages running into the afternoon.  

The three days of training camp offered fans the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the teams new free-agent acquisitions, most notably in the form of veteran forward and three-time NHL All Star Patrick Marleau, further solidifying the Leafs’ offensive lineup.

“It’s just a really deep group upfront,” said TSN reporter Mark Masters. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, they’re going to score a lot of goals this year.”

For many of the players new to the team, training camp offers the opportunity to quickly work out any issues in their game, in hopes of making the jump to the NHL. For international players, such as former Swedish Hockey League (SHL) defenseman Andreas Borgman, there is a learning curve that comes with a new coach’s system and the NHL’s smaller ice surface.

“The ice is much smaller here, so you go a little faster than it does at home. That’s probably the biggest change,” said Borgman during media availability, “but it’s my kind of style.”

With the NHL regular season officially kicking off on Wed. Oct. 4, fans and players alike will be closely observing how this roster performs during this season, and whether or not they’ll make it back to the postseason in 2018.