TORONTO – Still reeling from Monday’s deadly van attack, hundreds of Torontonians braved the rain outside Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night to cheer on the city’s teams as they played in pivotal games.
Five of Toronto’s professional sports teams were in action with four of them — the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, and Marlies — in playoff games. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment hosts an outdoor viewing party beside Air Canada Centre for all Leafs and Raptors post-season games, and the corporation stepped up to host a double-sized celebration for those two teams, with smaller screens dedicated to TFC and the Marlies.
“It’s extremely rare to have the Leafs, the Raptors, TFC, the Jays and even the Marlies playing on the same day,” said Eddie Baruela, one of the first fans into Maple Leaf Square.
He was wearing merchandise from each team and had a mask of Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan.
“I’m going to have to swivel my head 360 degrees to keep track of both games. Depending on how momentum shifts, I’ll have to focus on the Leafs game and then sometimes the Raptors game and then focus on the TFC game later.”
Game 5 of the Raptors first-round playoff series with the Washington Wizards was shown on a large screen on the west side of the arena. Two more screens on the opposite side of the square had on Game 7 of the Maple Leafs’ playoff series with the Bruins in Boston. Organizers promised fans that as soon as the Raptors game was done, the bigger screen would switch to the NHL game and then all screens would change to Toronto FC at Chivas Guadalajara in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Just two blocks west of Maple Leaf Square, the Blue Jays were hosting the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre in a regular-season game. Toronto is chasing Boston for top spot in the American League East. The American Hockey League’s Marlies faced the Utica Comets in the Game 3 of their best-of-five series, with Toronto holding a 2-0 lead.
MLSE owns the four playoff teams, while the Blue Jays are owned wholly by Rogers Communications, a co-owner of MLSE.
A moment of silence honouring the victims of Monday’s van attack was held in Maple Leaf Square, mirroring a similar ceremony inside the arena. Raptors and Wizards players held up Toronto Strong banners as the national anthems were played before tipoff, honouring the 10 people killed and 14 injured in Monday’s horrific van attack in the north end of Toronto.
PA announcer Herbie Kuhn told the Air Canada Centre crowd that the Raptors, Wizards and NBA would be making donations to the TorontoStrong Fund set up by the city of Toronto. The fund had raised more than $413,000 as of 5:30 p.m. ET Wednesday.
“Toronto will be forever strong,” said Kuhn, prompting a round of loud applause.
Outside the arena, many fans felt that the public celebration was necessary to help heal the city.
“It’s amazing, it’s amazing,” said Lucas Stockley, wearing a Leafs jersey on the hockey end of the square. “The fact that that happened was tragic, so sad for the city. The fact that we all come together for a night like this, it’s truly inspirational.”
Stockley’s friend Mike Ireland added: “Got to rally around sports.”
Event organizers worked with Toronto Police Services to insure the safety of fans. Maple Leaf Square viewing parties are usually directly beside the arena, but with the additional screens for the NHL playoff game police and organizers split the square into two large fenced-off areas. Traffic was barred from the surrounding streets and fans were searched before entering the square.
— With files from Neil Davidson
For more information, visit https://torontofoundation.ca/torontostrong/