It took 18 years, but the Toronto Maple Leafs will be holding their training camp at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
That the Maple Leafs will be coming to Mile One next September is far from breaking news.
Toronto head coach Mike Babcock let the plans slip out last month during the team’s most recent training camp in Niagara Falls, Ont., but the Maple Leafs’ official announcement on Tuesday provided more details, including that their visit will culminate with an NHL preseason game.
The camp opens Sept. 13, 2019, with the first of three days of on-ice sessions leading up to a Sept. 17 exhibition matchup against the Ottawa Senators.
A release from the team says fans will also have the opportunity to become engaged in practices, scrimmages, outdoor activities and a Maple Leafs alumni game.
Toronto was to have held its training camp here in the fall of 2001, the first year of operation for Mile One and when St. John’s was home to the American Hockey League’s Maple Leafs. However, world-shaking events meant it never happened.
On the morning of Sept. 11 that year, the Maple Leafs, whose lineup featured captain Mats Sundin and goaltender Curtis Joseph, were scheduled to undergo physicals in Toronto in the morning and fly to St. John's that afternoon.
But then came the terrorist attacks that saw hijacked planes crash into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
As a result, all airline traffic was cancelled. Airplanes were grounded, dozens of them in Newfoundland.
The Maple Leafs remained in Toronto and began training camp there. Meanwhile, Mile One Centre had been converted into a receiving, registering and hosteling centre for nearly 5,000 passengers and crew members from flights grounded in St. John's.
Over the next few days in Toronto, there was discussion about whether the Maple Leafs could, would or should play a scheduled exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens at Mile One Centre. At the time, air lanes remained closed and there was some thought the game might come too soon after the 9/11 tragedies.
But flights eventually resumed and the decision was made to proceed with the contest, in large part as a way of recognizing the contribution Newfoundlanders made as hosts to shaken strangers in the days previous.
The Maple Leafs flew into St. John’s late at night, their plane finding a berth among others still grounded at the airport in Torbay. The next day, they played an intrasquad game at Mile One and on Monday, Sept. 17, a day later than originally scheduled, squared off against the Canadiens in the first official hockey game in the new facility.
It was the first of seven NHL exhibition games that have played at Mile One.
Interestingly, even though the building had been home to AHL farm clubs of the Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Canadiens (and now the Leafs’ ECHL affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers), it’s been the Senators who have been, by far, the most frequent pre-season competitors in St. John’s.
The lone exceptions have been that 2011 Leafs-Habs game and a 2007 pairing of the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders.
Otherwise, it was the Sens taking on the Leafs here in 2003, the Islanders for two games in 2014 and the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015.
There was also the 2011 Kraft Hockeyville game between Ottawa and Winnipeg, resulting from Conception Bay South winning a nation-wide contest and the right to stage an NHL friendly.
That game had been originally scheduled for Robert French Memorial Stadium in C.B.S., but was moved to Mile One so as to accommodate more fans. The contest had heightened local interest, given St. John’s native Colin Greening was with the Senators and that the Jets had just moved their AHL team to St. John’s.
And next year, it will be Ottawa again.
There is still more information to come about the Maple Leafs’ 2019 training camp stay in St. John’s, the collateral activities and the pre-season game, including whether all on-ice sessions will be at Mile One.
There is also the matter of ticket pricing and distribution. What is definitely known is that Growlers season-ticket holders will have first right to purchase tickets for the Leafs-Sens exhibition.