Daytime hockey in Toronto isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s usually reserved for young kids cutting class to hit up the local shinny rinks.
The Maple Leafs playing a home game at 2 pm on a weekday afternoon? Well, that’s a new one.
Typically the beneficiaries of one of the league’s more favourable TV schedules to accommodate their nationwide audience, the Leafs face the Carolina Hurricanes at home this Tuesday at 2 pm local time in a matchup that, at first glance, seems like a totally botched decision on behalf of the NHL’s schedule makers. But, there is a good reason behind the very unusual timing of the opening puck drop.
In what’s being dubbed as the “Next Century Game,” the game’s start time falls exactly 100 years to the minute from Toronto’s first NHL game. In that matchup, the Toronto Arenas fell in a 10-9 thriller to the Montreal Wanderers.
To commemorate the occasion, Toronto will trade in their traditional sweaters for a special edition jersey: featuring a large white “T” surrounded with the word “Arenas” emblazoned across the chest.
Tuesday’s matchup against Carolina is just one of two Leafs games this season that will start before 7 pm Eastern Time. Twelve days later, Toronto will be on the road as they take on the Vegas Golden Knights at 3:30 pm in a New Year’s Eve matinee performance.
When Tuesday’s game was announced back in September, the team stated the one of the incentives behind the start time was the opportunity for “next generation fans”, aka kids, to be able to attend.
Pushing away from the corporate image the Leafs have come to be known for around the league, the Leafs have been encouraging people to either bring a young fan to the game with them, or donate their tickets away if they’re unable to attend.
Timed in with that last week of classes before the holiday break when everyone’s doing just a little bit less, the game should provide the opportunity for at least a few fresh young faces to make it down to the Air Canada Centre.
The Next Century Game is just one of many events in the NHL’s ongoing centennial celebration. On January 1st of this year, the Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-4 in a Centennial Classic outdoor game at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Throughout the month of January, the league recognized the game’s 100 Greatest Players during the course of its history. And this past weekend, the Ottawa Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in the NHL100 Classic, another outdoor contest taking place at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.
The Tuesday afternoon game comes at an interesting time for the Leafs. Superstar forward Auston Matthews is still out day-to-day, missing Sunday’s practice with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He hasn’t skated in any of the Leafs’ last four games, where they’ve gone just 1-3 in that timeframe. The game is also Toronto’s last home game until January 2nd, as they’ll hit the road for five games, broken up by a four-day Christmas break.
If nothing else, it’ll be a good gesture of goodwill, and a likely reason for a few sudden illnesses in Toronto offices.