TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs might play their loudest home game of the season before the exhibition schedule even comes to an end.
The Maple Leafs have added an extra pre-season game to their schedule and will be giving away all of the tickets for free. The game will be played on Sept. 22 against the Buffalo Sabres. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is hoping that a different audience will be able to attend the game and create a lively atmosphere.
"Getting more young kids in the building always adds to the excitement (and) just makes it noisier," said Tom Anselmi, MLSE's executive vice-president and chief operating officer. "That's what kids are about.
"I think this one we're probably going to hear the noise metre go off the scale because there's going to be a lot of kids (and) a lot of families."
The majority of seats for Leafs games are currently controlled by season ticket holders, which makes it tough for the average fan to get tickets. Crowds at the Air Canada Centre also tend to be quite corporate and not as loud as those in other NHL buildings.
Judging by the enthusiastic group of people that showed up for a fan appreciation rally on Wednesday morning, there should be a different vibe for the free pre-season game.
Each of the fans in attendance at the rally received two free tickets. The rest will be distributed through contests and giveaways.
A couple Maple Leafs players helped hand out some tickets and indicated that they're looking forward to having some new fans in the building.
"We want our crowd to be energetic and alive," said forward Matt Stajan. "I think with you guys being there and all the fans out it's going to be a great experience for all the players. Hopefully that can lead into the season and hopefully we can make it exciting for you guys."
Veteran goalie Curtis Joseph had his name chanted several times in his first public appearance for the team since returning to the Maple Leafs on July 1.
He can't recall an NHL team ever letting the entire crowd in for free.
"It's kind of unheard of, but it's a great promotion," said Joseph.
The game is being sponsored by Coca-Cola, which is covering the cost of the tickets.
Anselmi says the team will do all it can to ensure that fans who don't normally attend many Leafs games will get the chance on Sept. 22.
While noting that the team has the best fans in the world, he acknowledged that it's important for MLSE to reach out and continue attracting new supporters.
"This city and the demographics are changing a lot," said Anselmi. "Fifty per cent of Toronto was born somewhere else. Every kid didn't grow up playing road hockey like you and I did. Half the kids grow up in places where hockey isn't what it's all about.
"We worry about the long-term of hockey. We need to be continually investing in the growth of the game and the growth of this team in the hearts and minds of this city."