On Sunday evening I went to the Air Canada Centre to see my first ever hockey game. Massive thanks to my brother Adrian for the brilliant Christmas gift idea!

Similarly to my first live baseball experience in NYC a few months ago, I barely knew a thing about the game of hockey and had never even gone as far as watching a match on TV before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Canada’s national winter sport.

I took some notes & photos throughout the match, and I present to you here a review in my (sports illiterate) eyes of the Toronto Maple Leafs vs the New Jersey Devils on Sunday 12th January, 2014.


The venue

I arrived at the Air Canada Centre around 15 minutes short of the 7pm face-off (I’m led to believe that’s the hockey-equivalent term for a ‘kick-off’). The venue is home to the Maple Leafs in the NHL, the Raptors in the NBA and the Rock in the NLL (Lacrosse), with a hockey capacity of just under 19,000. Judging by the sheer amount of people trying to get in, I figured there was a good chance that number would be reached.

One thing I love about downtown Toronto is that most buildings and public transport facilities are linked by an underground walkway called the PATH. The Air Canada Centre is no exception; it can be accessed via the subway without stepping foot in the chilly outdoors for even a second. However, as I’d spent most of the afternoon underground already taking part in the No Pants Subway Ride, I opted to take in some fresh air and walk my way to the arena along Bay St.


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Gate 1


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The PATH entrance to the Air Canada Centre


The hot dog

I was feeling pretty peckish and decided to grab a bite to eat before I found my spot inside. There were dozens of food options dotted around the arena; I knew I’d found the right place when I walked past a hot dog stand where they were frying up a bundle of bacon-covered sausages. Looking over the menu, they not only offered the bacon-covered dog, but a butter chicken dog, a poutine dog and a Ruben dog, amongst other varieties. I’d hit hot dog gold!

In the end I walked away with a footlong mac & cheese dog and a medium Molson lager for the princely sum of $22. Now to find my seat and tuck in.


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Bacon-covered hot dogs 😀


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My extortionately expensive mac & cheese dog and beer. But it was worth it.


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Found my seat!


The National Anthems

I could have sworn that when two countries take part in a sporting match, there are normally two different people from each of the represented countries in attendance to sing their respective national anthems. But not here at the hockey!

The US national anthem was sung first – and beautifully so, I might add. The majority of the crowd sang along with the Star Spangled Banner, including the Canadians. This surprised me. You’d never see Aussies sing God Defend New Zealand.

The Canadian national anthem followed, sung by the same girl. Perhaps she had duel citizenship?

A kid sitting next to me with a mini-vuvuzela decided to join in with a monotone squeal towards the climax of the anthem. It wasn’t to be the last I’d hear from him.


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The Star Spangled Banner (Kumlu, if you read this, I took this pic for you!)


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The Canadian flag held up by the crowd during O Canada


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‘Our home and native land’


The first period

Vuvuzela kid squealed again with excitement to signify the face-off. And so the match began.

The first thing that struck me was that the referees are extremely agile. They ably dodged the speeding puck with precise accuracy every time it came hurtling their way, jumping over it or skating around it in the nick of time.

I loved the way the players ricochet the puck off the side of rink every now & then. They were also highly skilled at stopping the puck mid-air with their sticks, as well as at aiming the puck at the corner of the rink, curving it around behind the goal nets to the opposite side. It took me a while to get a gist of the general play of the game, but my attention was adequately garnered whenever a player performed one of these three impressive feats.

The crowd seemed fairly docile for much of the first period. The occasional “Go Leafs Go! Go Leafs Go!” chant would rise and fall, as would requests to “SHOOT!” from punters frustrated with the lack of pucks being hit towards the vicinity of the goals. We also vocalised our disappointment when a Maple Leafs player dribbled the puck halfway across the rink, only to go for a shot and miss the puck entirely.

The first of many time-outs was called. A group of people entered the rink during the break to choreographically sweep & shovel away the shards of ice dug up by the skates.


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The rink sweepers


Vuvuzela kid let out a series of HONK-HONK-HONK, HOOOOOONK-HOOOOOONK-HOOOOOONK, HONK-HONK-HONKS, not dissimilar to the morse code distress signal.

The players would occasionally congregate around one of four circular markings around the rink where the ref would drop the puck for another face-off. I never quite picked up the hard & fast rules surrounding this activity.


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A mid-game face-off


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The view from where I was sitting


Two more time-outs were called in quick succession. The time-outs were fast becoming my favourite aspect of the production thanks to the mini-presenations and shots of people in the crowd projected onto the big screen.

During the third time-out the camera cut to a man from Newfoundland whose name I recall was Geoffrey Randall. Upon announcement that he served as a marine in the Canadian forces, he received a standing ovation from the grateful crowd. It was very nice to see; he was clearly humbled by the gesture.


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A well-deserved standing ovation


Finally, with 4 mins 7 seconds left in the first period, #42 Tyler Bozac scored a goal for the Maple Leafs! The action centred very close to the goals on the opposite end of the rink so it was difficult to see exactly how it eventuated, but the crowd went wild.

Some time was set aside in the break between first and second period for the Tim Hortons Timbits Minor Hockey. Two junior league teams made their way onto the rink to give a mini hockey game a shot. Despite the fact they only played for five minutes, it turned out to be the most engaging junior match out of any sport I’ve seen. Mostly because it was hilarious to see the kids lose their balance on the ice and fall over.


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The Timbits


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Fallen kid #1


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Fallen kid #2


The second period

The Devils caught up very early on, scoring with 18:21 remaining in the period. A single NJ fan cheered loudly in the row in front of me.

A clumsy Devils players dropped his stick mid-play. He never went back to pick it up; one of the refs kicked it off the field and the poor guy played stickless for a few minutes until he was called off.

Another score to the Maple Leafs with 14:04 left! Vuvuzela kid let us all know about it.

A second point went to the Devils at the 13:37 mark, but I missed the action. To be honest, my interest in the game was beginning to wane by now and I was busy consulting Google to find out how many 20 minute periods make up a full match. I could tell I was gonna be hockeyed out by the end of the third period and I was worried there might be a fourth. Thankfully there are only three.

The Michael Hill Jeweller Kiss Cam was fired up during one of the time-outs. The camera focused on various couples throughout the crowd hoping to capture a kiss for everyone to see. Highlights included kisses from a sweet elderly couple, a guy kissing a horse, and two girls going in for a pash. The biggest laugh came from a guy who had nobody sitting next to him; a girl in the row behind came to his rescue and planted one on his lips. That got a massive cheer.


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A guy kissing a horse


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Another mid-game face-off


During another time-out the camera again panned around the crowd to find whoever had the craziest reaction to being on screen. The guy chosen as the craziest won himself a Blackberry.

By the end of the second period the scores were level at 2-all.

Brian from Ajax was called onto the rink in the break between the second and third period. It was his 24th birthday and he was the lucky fan chosen for a chance at $1,000, plus tickets to an upcoming match and a Maple Leafs jersey. 50 pucks were lined up along the centre of the rink and he had to hit 20 of them into the goals to win. He won the prize around 30 shots in – not a bad way at all to spend a birthday.


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The winning shot for Brian from Ajax


I took a quick break from the arena and grabbed a delicious Häagen-Dazs caramel almond ice cream from the snack bar.


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The third period

One of the players rebounded the puck off the plastic guards above the rink – that was a bit dangerous, I thought. A little higher up and someone in the crowd would have ended up in hospital.

Vuvuzela kid realised his pipe was capable of producing a melody; not just a single note.

I noticed a bunch of banners hanging from the ceiling, dating 1918 through to 1967. I assumed these were the years Toronto came out on top of the league. Wikipedia indeed confirms this for me – the Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 🙁


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Premierships from 1918-1967


A montage of the top 10 ‘game faces’ showed on the screen during a time-out. The most bloodied & gruesome looking faces of course received the most enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. Börje Salming came out on top.


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Top 10 Game Faces #3: Mats Sundin


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Top 10 Game Faces #2: Terry Sawchuk
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Top 10 Game Faces #1: Börje Salming 


Vuvuzela kid was quite proficient at the Las Chiapanecas Mexican hand-clapping tune by now.

The third period came to an end at 2-all so overtime was called. Both teams played a 4-per-side sudden death match for 5 minutes. The Devils came exceptionally close to scoring with 2.2 seconds remaining but the Maple Leafs goalie was too good. Nobody scored.

Hey, Mike Myers was in the house!


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Mike Myers got noise


The failure to score during overtime resulted in a shootout to decide the winner, which if you ask me, is a total waste of a game. They may as well have not wasted their energy playing the three periods and just gone straight to shootouts to begin with. Anyway, rules are rules, and each team had three shots each to score.

The first shot was a SCORE by the Maple Leafs #21!

The Devils missed…

The Maple Leafs missed…

The Devils Missed…

The Maple Leafs missed…

And finally, the Devils missed again, resulting in the Toronto Maple Leafs winning their first game of the year, 3-2!


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The final missed shootout shot by the Devils which led to Toronto’s win


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The happy Toronto crowd


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The winning team


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Congratulating each other after a close game


Conclusion & post-match

It was fantastic to tick off another entry on my Canadian bucket list: seeing a hockey game in Canada, made even better by Toronto coming out on top. But you know what I’ve come to realise? When you enjoy the food, junior league and time-out presentations more than the main event itself, it’s a pretty good indication that perhaps sport just isn’t for you. I think I’ll leave my sports-watching endeavours on hold for the time being.

As I was leaving the arena I heard a guy calling people over to his stall for a free Maple Leafs t-shirt. I wanted to get in on some of this action so I lined up for my gift. He asked me for my size and was about to hand over my Medium when he asked to check my ID – ultimately denying me of my free shirt because I’m not Canadian. Dammit!

But I did manage to pick up a free Kraft mac & cheese dinner at the door on the way out 🙂


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It made up for not getting the shirt



Thanks again Adrian for the ticket!


Last Sunday I went to my very first baseball game at Citi Field in Queens, New York City! Before I left work in Sydney, my very kind colleagues had chipped in for a ticket to see the New York Mets vs the Milwaukee Brewers as my leaving gift. I thought I’d share some observations & pics here so that everyone back at home can see what the experience was like 🙂

Pretty much everything I knew about baseball up until this point, I’d learnt either from The Simpsons or from the baseball game on Wii Sports. I’d never even seen a match on TV before. Well, I did actually play a bit of softball in year 7 but it is a different game and I can barely remember a thing about it – so I will admit to being a true baseball virgin as I made my way along the crowded #7 subway line headed to Mets – Willets Point station.


Pre-match presentation

I arrived at the stadium around 1pm along with many thousands of Mets supporters (I didn’t see a single Brewers fan all day) and we all queued for quite some time to get through security. Unlike most attractions I’d been to in NYC so far, there was no annoying X-Ray scanner here – just a simple bag search and a pat-down.

As soon as I got in I was chased by a woman who threw a free Mets 31 t-shirt at me! I wasn’t expecting a free shirt and apparently I walked right past her as she was handing them out at the entrance.

It took a while to find my seat – it was up four flights of stairs accessible only at the other end of the stadium, but I was presented with this awesome view once I got there:

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I doubt there was a better seat in the house!

The mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomburg, had just begun a pre-match presentation, inducting a charming fellow named Mike Piazza into the Mets Hall Of Fame. I had no idea who he was but he seemed well-loved by the crowd.

After a short speech, Bloomberg proclaimed the 29th of September 2013 to be “Mike Piazza Day.” Oh, how the crowd cheered!

A bloke called John Franco came up to the podium and said a few words, followed by a few others who all beamed about ol’ mate Piazza. Bloomberg came back to present the award, which Piazza received to a standing ovation:

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Mets Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza accepting his award

He thanked The Mets. People cheered.

He thanked God. More people cheered.

He thanked Fonzie, and then he thanked his agent because if it wasn’t for him, he might have ended up playing for the The Dodgers. People cheered again.

He thanked Fred & Jeff. People booed. Poor Fred & Jeff 🙁

He was very emotional when he thanked his dad. That brought the biggest cheer from the crowd. He thanked the rest of his family and promised to teach his young son how to hit – “the rest is up to him,” he said. That got a laugh.

After the presentation he took part in the Ceremonial First Throw, which was caught by the current Mets captain, David Wright:

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The Ceremonial First Throw

The ticket holder of the day then appeared on camera – a lass named Bonnie who had been a Mets member since 2006. She had the honour of saying “Play ball!” into the microphone – and so the game began.

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A full stadium of Mets supporters


The Game!

The Mets started on the field with the Brewers batting. After merely five minutes, three Brewers players at the pitch and not a single hit of the ball, the teams changed sides – what the…? So soon? Did someone call time out? I had no idea what was going on.

It took me a few innings to realise there are three outs per frame, two frames per innings, and that not every innings results in runs.

The first run was scored 20 minutes into the game by the Mets. I was sure he was out because the ball reached home base before he did, but apparently he made it in time.

In the next innings, one of the Brewers made a successful dash from first to second as the pitcher was about to deliver the ball to the batter. Sneaky little bugger. I didn’t know they were allowed to do that.

It was around this time I noticed there were no sponsor logos painted on the field, which made a pleasant change from Australian sporting fields that are plastered with corporate emblems at awkward angles so that they look good on TV.

At the fourth innings there was a massive cheer when a Brewers player at third base ran home & got caught out. Sucker.

Some people came out between an innings to rake the field. Interesting.

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The field rakers

There was a deliberation about another Brewers guy who safely made it to first base, but the crowd didn’t agree. Lots of boos.

The crowd made an unexpected cheer when #5 David Wright was called up to bat – and then I remembered he was the team captain who caught the Ceremonial First Throw earlier in the proceedings.

In between one of the innings they showed 1800 Kiss Cam on the video screen. A roaming camera focused on couples in the crowd and the idea was that they’d see themselves on the screen and kiss. The most heartwarming kiss was from an elderly couple probably in their 70’s, it got a big “Awwwww” from the audience. Such a cute idea 🙂


The Hot Dog

During the 5th innings I decided to go for a walk and buy some food. But first I went to the bathroom to change into my free Mets 31 shirt, which I now realised was in honour of Mike Piazza’s Hall of Fame induction.

I made my way to the bar and ordered a hot dog & large Budweiser (with souvenir plastic cup).

While my order was being prepared, a guy who had just been served came back to the counter and asked the assistant if he could have an empty cup for dipping sauce. The guy at the counter wouldn’t give him one and said he’d have to pay $1.50 if he wanted the empty cup … “That completely puts me off the Mets, man!” he jeered back in frustration as he cuplessly walked away. Haha.

With hands full of beer and sausage I climbed over everyone to get back to my seat, eager to try my first proper Nathan’s Famous New York hot dog – and what better place to try but the baseball! But hang on… I opened my container and all I got was a bread roll and a sausage, what’s going on here? There was no sauce / mustard / onions, nothing!

I learnt the hard way that you have to put your own bloody condiments on the hot dog at the condiments stand. I couldn’t be bothered climbing back over everyone and proceeded to eat the most miserable looking hot dog I’d ever had in my life.

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At least the beer was tops!


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Some more of the happy Mets crowd


Good singing, bad Mexican Waves & the result

Around two thirds into the game we were all asked to stand and remove out hats for a rendition of God Bless America, sung by a young police officer. It was quite a humbling moment to be amongst thousands of patriotic Americans singing their praises at the top of their lungs.

Then some people dressed as chickens came out onto the field and got everyone to sing Let’s Go Out To The Ball Game.

I could hear a lot of cheering in the grandstand above me and looking up we could make out the beginnings of a Mexican Wave. They attempted to start it twice, but both times it didn’t even last a quarter of the stadium until it fizzled out. Americans might rule at singing patriotic songs in harmonic unison, but they suck at Mexican Waves.

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The Mets at play during the final few innings

At the eighth innings the Mets pitcher suspected another sneaky Brewer was about to make his way from first to second base unannounced, so he threw the ball to his teammate on first to scare him – but he missed the catch and let the Brewers guy complete his run to second with ease!

There hadn’t been a run scored since the fourth innings. It was 2-1 to the Brewers and being nearly 3 hours in, the game was starting to get a little slow and uneventful to be honest.

But the biggest moment of excitement was yet to come. In the second frame of the eighth innings, the Mets batter hit a short ball which was overthrown by the Brewers catcher to first – the Mets guy who was on first at the time made it all the way to home, hurrah!

That was followed straight afterwards by another perfectly angled shot, resulting in yet another Mets run.

At 3-2 to the Mets, the Brewers were unsuccessful batters in the ninth innings and the game was called.

The Mets won and we all went home happy!

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Cheers to that!


What sport should I see next?

The baseball was (surprisingly) a heap of fun. While I’ll never be a sports aficionado, I am pretty keen on at least seeing one match of every major sport while I’m based in North America. In my last few months in Sydney I managed to see a live match of AFL, NRL and Association Football, so I’ll try my best to continue the trend while I’m running hot.

So what should I see next?

Or something else entirely?

Feel freeI to leave a comment below – I await your suggestions 🙂

And better luck in the playoffs next year, Mets!