There’s nothing better than hitting the open road with raucous friends, music blaring and your final destination a Toronto Maple Leaf road game. What more could a hockey fan want?
The university experience is mainly about classes, books, studying and grades. School, work, and other commitments become a strenuous cycle for most of us. Stress isn’t good for mental health, so it’s important to get away from it all once in a while.
After a hectic semester and a Christmas break in which I worked 45 hours a week, it occurred to me I had to do something invigorating. And what better way to get away from life’s anxieties than to actually leave them behind and head out on a spontaneous road trip?
But with a university student’s budget that was quickly depleting with each passing day of the winter term, there seemed to be few plausible options. We searched far and wide for a destination that would provide us with thrilling entertainment but not drain our budgets.
Looking at the Leaf game schedule made our mission clear. Tank the car and head for Buffalo, New York.
Why Buffalo? Well, apart from its proximity to Toronto and the temporary presence of the Blue and White, the casino in Niagara Falls is open 24/7, and the party scene in the region is not bad, if given a chance.
Want more incentive? The world-famous Anchor Bar, from which the greatest wings in the world originate, serves up mouth-watering mounds of their original Buffalo Wings at a reasonable price. Our mission was clear: cross the border, watch the Leafs trounce the Sabres, and then eat until we could eat no more.
We departed on Friday at 5:00 p.m., hoping to make it in time for the opening face-off. One of the essential components of an unforgettable road trip is great music. If you’re travelling to the States, I recommend bringing some great Canadian tunes. The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, Our Lady Peace and Sum 41 are great choices to blast while waiting on the Peace Bridge.
We ran into major gridlock going south on the Queen Elizabeth Way, but it cleared up and we got into Fort Erie, Ontario at around 6:00 p.m.
It seemed like an eternity but we finally crossed the border at 6:45 p.m. Then came the biggest challenge; finding cheap tickets to a sold-out game.
The Sabres are in a dire financial position, having filed for bankruptcy protection just a week ago. Buffalo might lose its team next year and one of the main reasons is poor attendance at games. The hockey club loves it when the Leafs are in town, because the games sell out months in advance. The demand was once again huge for this game, because most Leafs fans can’t get tickets to the ultra-expensive Air Canada Centre, and choose to buy out the HSBC arena because it’s cheaper.
After some careful negotiating with a scalper (which, by the way, is illegal in New York State), we ended up getting three tickets together at a great price of $35.00 US each.
We entered the stadium with five minutes gone in the first period. The game provided an electric atmosphere with lots of intensity. It wasn’t a shock that three-quarters of the crowd was cheering for the Leafs. It sounded almost like a home game for the road team. Sabres fans were surely feeling alienated, and some acted hostile towards the pro-Leaf camp. Security had to break up a few near-tussles.
Buffalo scored the game’s first goal at 13:38 of the first when Chris Gratton stationed himself in front of the Leafs net and deflected a shot from the point past a helpless Ed Belfour.
The lone Leaf highlight was Tie Domi’s punch-up with longtime Sabres nemesis Rob Ray. Domi landed a right, and down went Ray, to the delight of thousands of Torontonians. The final score was disappointing for the throng of Leafs fans who made the trip south.
After the game, most Leafs fans agreed this game meant nothing and the Sabres wouldn’t make it to the playoffs. They also insisted the Leafs have to throw a win to their “weaker NHL sisters” every now and then.
We went to the Anchor Bar to forget about the loss and drink our troubles away. The place was packed and we were lucky to get a table. A couple of ladies (Buffalo fans) from Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania sat with us and discussed the game, while our entire group pigged out on wings.
The night was action-packed, and worth the time and money spent. We saw the Leafs play, ate some phenomenal chicken, and met some really nice Americans (they do exist). Best of all, it all cost less than $100 Canadian.