By Ken Hegan for MSN

For two big reasons, Toronto is the best place to be in Canada this spring.

#1) THE MIRACLE OF SPRING

I’m from Vancouver where spring is ridiculously subtle. Spring here just means the moss gets a little greener. Oh, and the streets get louder at night because Canucks fans keep jumping on and off the bandwagon. By contrast, Toronto’s spring shift has all the subtlety of a Colton Orr punch to the jaw.

Colton

Colton Orr vehemently disagrees with another player AP Photo/J Pat Carter

The term ‘Miracle of Spring’ didn’t make any sense until I witnessed Toronto transform overnight during a May 2-4 weekend. The May 2-4 (Victoria Day weekend for us westerners) is the Official Start of Cottage/Patio Season in Ontario. And it’s an extra special weekend for Torontonians who stay at home because the town springs to life in a riot of colour.

Backyards that’ve been bleak and pathetic for 6+ months are suddenly overgrown with fauna, flora, squirrels, raccoons, and neighbours climbing over the fence to grill some steaks and share a six-pack with you.

It’s incredibly uplifting to witness this annual transition from death to life. Which brings me to the #2 reason to visit Toronto this spring:

#2) THE LEAFS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS!

Win or lose, Leafs fans are crazy about hockey. Leafs Nation lives, bleeds, and eats hockey. But given how badly their team has played since pretty much the Mesozoic Era (the 1960s), Leafs fans have mostly just wept hockey.

This spring is different, though; Leafs Nation is dreaming hockey again. For the first time since 2004, the Toronto Maple Leafs have battled their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Leafs score

I love the disbelieving kid in the middle of this photo. The Canadian Press/Chris Young

Granted, they may not stay there very long. Their first round opponent could be their hated (and speedy) rivals, the dreaded Montreal Canadiens. But none of that matters right now. The whole city is bubbling with excitement and planning where to watch the games.

So as a public service for Toronto-bound, hockey-mad tourists, here’s a list of:

10 BEST PLACES TO WATCH LEAFS PLAYOFF GAMES

 

#1) The Hockey Hall of Fame 

Granted, you don’t watch this year’s games at the HHOF. But take a pitstop at the Hall to psyche yourself up for the playoffs. Watch vintage footage of old Leafs dynasties featuring legends like Punch Imlach, Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, King Clancy, Tim Horton, and Terry Sawchuk. They’re all playing for you in the HHOF. And be sure to watch hockey’s first 3D movie, Stanley’s Game Seven (3D). This 22-minute film blends live action, 3-dimensional CGI, and classic archival footage of the greatest moments in Stanley Cup playoffs history.

#2) The ACC

The Leafs’ home rink, Air Canada Centre, will be jammed with farflung Leafs fans who’ve been waiting for this moment since Outkast’s Hey Ya! was at the top of the charts. Your chances of getting a scalped ticket under $700 are basically nil. Take heart, though: there’s a giant outdoor screen on the west entrance of the ACC where they show all the games. Also: it’ll be a zoo.

Real Sports#3) Real Sports

Maple Leaf Square, 15 York Street

Simply put, Real Sports is the best bar to watch a sports game. The 2-level bar boasts a gigantic 2-storey X 3-storey HD screen (see photo to right). The playoffs start a week from now on April 30th and Leafs fans are probably already lined up outside.

#4) Wayne Gretzky’s Sports Bar

99 Blue Jays Way
Gretzky’s features 20 HDTVs and “twelve draft taps highlighting Canadian favorites [sic]”. The bar area doesn’t accept reservations. So consider camping outside now, get a job as a bartender there, or find a way to sneak into Gretzky’s through the ceiling ventilation shaft.

#5) The Wheat Sheaf

667 King St West (at Bathurst)
One of the oldest bars in Canada (it opened 18 years before confederation), The Wheat Sheaf is a classic hockey-watching tavern. Sit at a heavy wood table, order pitchers and baskets of sticky wings, play Tragically Hip’s ‘Fifty Mission Cap’ on the jukebox, and you’re set for the Leafs to win the Cup.
Plus the staff is the best: Costya, Jimmy, Johnny and the gang will fast become your new family.

#6) The Rhino

1249 Queen Street West

A Parkdale staple and a favourite of my beer league team when I lived in Toronto (The Winnipeg Wheatfield Souldiers), The Rhino boasts 24 draft beers, cask ale, and more than 300 beers from around the world. Like so many older Toronto restaurants, the downstairs bathrooms are not wheelchair friendly…unless you enjoy stunt-riding your chair down a steep flight of stairs.

#7) The Pilot

22 Cumberland Street (in Yorkdale)
Three floors of TVs and you can watch the games on the Flight Deck outdoor patio. If the Leafs win, you’re right at the heart of Yonge Street where fans like to celebrate (see also: after Canada won gold in the Vancouver Olympics).

#8) Outdoor screen at Yonge-Dundas Square

Big screen, big crowd. Don’t worry about your safety, though; Toronto fans can watch sports on big outdoor screens without rioting when their team loses.

Dog's Bollocks#9) The Dog’s Bollocks

817 Queen Street West

The Dog’s Bollocks offers long tables and benches, TVs in every direction, wings, burgers, food from all over the world, 20 different beers on tap, and a couple of beat-up couches to jump up and down on.

#10) Any place with a clear view of the CN Tower

Keep an eye on the tower. Because a Leafs fan started this petition to light up the CN Tower when the Maple Leafs score. How cool and intimidating would that be?

Any great spots I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below. And whether you’re in Toronto or somewhere else, where are your favourite spots to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs?

— Ken Hegan


READ THIS: How to watch a hockey game (a.k.a. Hockey etiquette is for everyone)

Read more of Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan 

Ken has been a guest of Tourism Toronto and Ontario Travel. For more info on Toronto attractions, visit seetorontonow.com

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