WARMINGTON: Pandemic turns Maple Leaf Square to playoff Ghost Town

This was playoff fever, pandemic style.

While there was plenty of excitement on television, in person at the scene of Game 1 of the local team’s 2021 quest for the Stanley Cup, there was no fever at all.

Who would have ever thought it? The Toronto Maple Leafs and main rival Montreal Canadiens are meeting for the first time in the NHL playoffs in 42 years — and there was no buzz around town at all.

Thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, not only were there no fans in the Scotiabank Arena, there were next to none in Maple Leaf Square either.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

Just call it the ghost game.

In more than 30 years of going down to cover the excitement of the Maple Leafs in the playoffs, this counts as the strangest.

Eerie might be the best word to describe it.

An early clue was the empty GO train.

A fan holds a makeshift Stanley Cup outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday, May 20, 2021. JOE WARMINGTON/TORONTO SUN
A fan holds a makeshift Stanley Cup outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday, May 20, 2021. JOE WARMINGTON/TORONTO SUN

Normally teeming with Leafs Nation blue and white, the train was empty and it was a real indicator of the sign of the times.

The response to COVID-19 has taken so much from so many and now the fun of being down at a Buds-Habs playoff tilt was stolen, too.

Inside The Vault and outside.

When they broadcast the games on the JumboTron in the square, the fans pack in all the way to Simcoe St.

Not this time.

Now it looks vacant. You would never even know anything was going on inside. All the area’s great pubs and restaurants and patios were also shut down.

If you looked through the locked doors at gate six, you could see some of the game on a TV inside.

Every now and then people were stopping in to take a look, but then headed home for a better view on their own big screen.

There was, after all, no cheering here. No Go Leafs Go! chants. No atmosphere at all.

You know something weird is happening when there are more bronze statues in Legends Row than there are people in the square.

There were a couple of fans who strolled in wearing their Maple Leaf sweaters before the game to make an appearance on the TV news but when the puck dropped it almost felt like the aftermath of a nuclear blast.

Just bizarre. Surreal.

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One of the fans who were down for the pre-game TV stand-ups was Andy The Sign Guy, who was carrying his own version of the Stanley Cup.

“I would be here anyway,” he said of the tailgate parties known to take place here on big games.

This time, he was alone. Soon he left, too.

If it’s true that the Montreal Canadiens are going to be allowed to have 2,500 fans inside the Bell Centre. If there is a Game 6, we’ve got to find some way to get some excitement back down to the Scotiabank Arena, as well.

Sure, it’s a long way from planning a Stanley Cup parade. But that’s going to be some travesty if this stay-at-home order creates a virtual celebration.

  1. While there won't be any spectators at Scotiabank Arena, Sara Adamson, owner of a home on Merton St., shows her support for the Maple Leafs with exterior decorations.

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  2. Avalanche centre Nazem Kadri watches Justin Faulk hit the ice in the aftermath of his hit on the Blues defenceman in Game 2 of their playoff series on Wednesday night. USA TODAY

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Good luck enforcing that one.

But for now, people were told to stay home and watch the game and that is exactly what they did.