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Oh, Those Horrible Leafs Fans

Just when you think the behavior cant get any worse…

Twice last month, on Friday nights no less, the Toronto Maple Leafs came to town. We Buffalonians already know the drill; it’s been pretty much the same story since the Sabres moved across the street to then Marine Midland Arena in 1996. Thousands of blue-and-white Toronto fans descend upon downtown Buffalo. They fill up the pubs and restaurants, pack the Metro Rail, book the hotels, wave dumb signs, and parade around with silly tin foil Stanley Cups. No matter that the last time they won it all, most Torontonians weren’t even alive.

Then they play the game, and for the most part it’s the same outcome. Sabres win, yet Leafs fans carry on in the pavilion and outside like it’s New Years, then retreat to their vehicles for the long, somber ride back up the QEW.

In fact, at home, the Sabres are now 61-25-7 in franchise history against the Leafs. They have swept Toronto in four separate seasons since the new arena opened. And with the overtime win on November 29, Buffalo has now won 11 of 12 of their last home games against the Leafs.

Yet Leafs Nation continues to show up in droves. And judging by the size of the crowds and the bad acts in the stands and in the streets, it’s just getting worse.

Or better, if one judges by the economic impact of the Toronto games, which affects just about everybody. Since the Sabres went to a variable pricing format a few years ago, Toronto games have always been placed in the most expensive pricing tiers, the “platinum” or “gold” category. Last month, single ticket prices at the box office ran between $80 for the nosebleeds to $240 for club seating. It means a huge influx of cash for the Sabres organization, which on average offers amongst the cheapest tickets in the league.

For season-ticket holders who have taken a massive beating this year trying to resell unwanted tickets, the Leafs games provide the opportunity to stem some of the losses. And of course, cash registers are ringing in eateries and bars. The hotels are all packed. The atmosphere and energy surrounding these games are intense and festive. What’s not to like?

When Christian Ehrhoff netted the game-winner for Buffalo 43 seconds into overtime, Leafs fans showered the ice with debris. And beer cans. Full beer cans. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. In the seating bowl, there were the usual scattered fistfights. Outside, the pavilion emptied earlier than normal. Gray-jacketed security guards were aggressively nudging fans, especially those clad in Toronto garb, out onto Perry Street, with the goal of trying to avoid ugly incidents.

It was no better outside. On the plaza at Coca Cola Field, four Leafs fans were playing jungle gym all over the Jimmy Griffin statue. Only when an alert Buffalo fan barked out from a passing car, “Hey, guys, show some respect. Blue Jays farm team here!” did these miscreants disengage.

Tom Harris is a downtown resident, a die-hard Golden Griffs fan, and a regular patron at Washington Square Lounge, a popular game-night bistro. “One of the worst scenes I’ve ever encountered,” he reported. “Toronto visitors were demanding, inconsiderate, and treat others with no respect whatsoever. After the game I witnessed vulgar language, puking, attempts to skip on their bills, public urination, to name a few things. With all this being said, you’d think at least they would tip the servers that cater to them before and after the games.”

Last month’s two games brought even more Leafs fans into the arena then usual, perhaps the most ever. It could be argued that Buffalo fans were actually in the minority at both games, and there was a great deal of discussion in the media, on blogs and social media, and in fan discussion forums as to what could be done to reverse this trend.

Raise ticket prices even further? Even the priciest club ticket in Buffalo is chump change in Torontospeak, where people shell out hundreds of dollars to gain admittance to the Air Canada Centre.

The Edmonton Oilers deal with the influx of Leafs fans by only selling Leafs game tickets as part of a package. Want to buy a Toronto ticket? Fine. You must also by a Florida or Columbus game on a weeknight and a voucher for another game.

Over in Ottawa, they took a totally different tact. Sick and tired of Leafs fans and their boorish behavior, and of surrendering the home ice advantage to hostile fans, the Senators actually slashed ticket prices 20 percent for Toronto and Montreal games. But with one proviso: The offer was made to season-ticket holders, with explicit instructions that the tickets were not be resold, and were to go into the hands of home team fans only. “Any seats being resold will be subject to cancellation and loss of privileges,” they were warned.

It worked. Sens fans heeded the call to keep Toronto people out of their building. No idea if the front office re-upped with the same plan this season.

As awful as the Leafs fans conduct is, it could be far worse. Imagine for a moment how insufferable these visitors would be if their team actually won a Stanley Cup.

Too horrible even to contemplate.

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