The wait is finally over for Toronto Maple Leafs fans.
The team is set to open its 2019-2020 season on home ice Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators and the backdrop of big expectations from leafs nation.
“The home opener is always an interesting game, there’s stuff going on. I think the home team is always a little bit antsy,” head coach Mike Babcock said, speaking at a news conference Wednesday morning.
“I like to start on the road. We’re starting at home tonight. We gotta play good. So you know you have your opportunity, you might be a little bit nervous, take a deep breath, get out there and get playing.”
The Leafs finished last season 46-28-8, qualifying for the playoffs for the third year-in-a-row, but fell to the Boston Bruins in the first round in game seven for the second-straight year.
The front-office is hoping to avoid a similar result this season, making acquisitions like Toronto native Jason Spezza in the off-season. However, in a surprise decision, the 36-year-old NHL veteran and life-long Leafs fan will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game.
Babcock was asked about the decision, saying that “it’s difficult to leave him out on opening night.”
“Yeah I talked to him quite a bit about this and what we’re doing. So, we’re on the same page moving ahead. We’re going to have a rotation on a few guys this first little bit until we figure out what we’re doing. We’ve talked about it and that’s what we’re doing,” Babcock said.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza warms up for the NHL hockey team's preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Buffalo N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeffrey T. Barnes
The Leafs also re-signed restricted free-agent Mitch Marner to a six year contract during the summer. The lucrative US$10.893 million a year contract will see the 22-year-old ready to play tonight, likely alongside John Taveres and Kasperi Kapanen, according to TSN.
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (left) and Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas are surrounded by media during a press conference at the Paradise Double Ice Complex in Paradise, NL on Saturday, September 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
Auston Matthews will hit the ice tonight as well, hoping to shake off allegations of disorderly conduct that surfaced late last month.
Speaking to reporters Babcock said he thinks the 22-year-old would like to put the incident behind him.
“I would like to think he put it behind him the day he owned it. I’m a big believer in that we all make huge mistakes, the second you own it, you can fix it. That’s the whole key,” Babcock said.
“Whether you did at the time or you didn’t—He owned it. That’s it. It’s done. You forgive yourself. You got to love yourself first to share yourself with other people.”
While many have speculated that Matthews or Tavares might take the position of leading the team, as of Wednesday at 3 p.m., the Leafs had still not named a captain.
Hoping to squeeze an answer out of the head coach, Babcock responded to a reporter question about the issue saying “I’m not tellin ya, hows that?”
Here’s how the city is preparing for the home opener
As the puck is set to drop on a new season, Leafs excitement is growing in the city.
Mayor John Tory announced that the iconic “Toronto” sign will be lit up in blue and white tonight to mark the beginning of the Leafs’ season.October 2, 2019
The Toronto Raptors and reigning NBA champions showed the boys in blue some love, tweeting “Good luck this season” while some of the team’s stars tried on Leafs’ gear and hockey equipment.October 2, 2019
Even the superfan known as Dart Guy chimed in tweeting “not sure if I’m gonna have time to get the war paint on but I’ll do my DartBest lol #YeahBaby #GoLeafsGo”
Waking up knowing it’s @MapleLeafs game day feels good but waking up to a message that I got tickets for the game......wooooooohooooo!!! Not sure if I’m gonna have time to get the war paint on but I’ll do my DartBest lol #YeahBaby #GoLeafsGo#HomeOpener #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/UZb1PJX81g— DartGuy (@LeafsMaz20) October 2, 2019
Fans watching from outside the Scotiabank Arena in Maple Leaf Square are also in for a special treat. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), Scotiabank and LG Electronics Canada partnered together to unveil a bigger and better LED screen to enhance the fan experience. The screen is 37 per cent larger and stands 62 feet by 35 feet.