ALL FIVE OF TORONTO’S MAJOR PROFESSIONAL SPORTS SQUADS ARE LINED UP FOR ACTION IN OCTOBER, AND HOPES ARE HIGH THAT THEY’LL EARN SOME IMPORTANT WINS
Whether or not they’re deserving of the attention, the Toronto Maple Leafs are inevitably the talk of this town as soon as the weather begins to cool. But there’s a decidedly different atmosphere surrounding the Blue and White’s upcoming season. Following years of subpar returns from highly paid players who never quite seemed to coalesce, the Leafs seem to have accepted their fate and entered rebuilding mode. Stalwarts like Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul anchor an otherwise unremarkable lineup; it’ll be reasonably competitive, but few fans are expecting the team to contend this season. Local puckheads instead have their sights set on the future: team president (and hall of fame player) Brendan Shanahan has brought on marquee hockey minds, including GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock, to mold the squad in their image, a job facilitated by a preponderance of future draft picks, and, ideally, the continued development of young contributors such as Nazem Kadri, Morgan Reilly and James van Riemsdyk.
The Toronto Raptors know rebuilding all too well. The NBA team’s most recent teardown attempt, two seasons ago, was short-circuited by some surprisingly strong play that lead to a hotly contested 2014 playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. Ultimately a losing effort, those seven games nevertheless set up the #WeTheNorth ballers as a squad to watch—at least until they orchestrated a notorious first-round flameout the very next year. Hoping to learn from recent history, the Dinos will now look to reestablish themselves with a new, tougher attitude, exemplified by the offseason acquisitions of “3-and-D” forward DeMarre Carroll and backup (Canadian) point guard Cory Joseph, also known for his steady defense. Although questions still remain, it seems reasonable to expect the team—still lead by all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan—to be competitive at the beginning of its 2015-16 campaign.
On the other hand, October heralds the end of the season for two of the city’s more mercurial sports franchises. Toronto FC, our Major League Soccer outfit, plays out what has arguably been its best season with the support of its fervent fans: three of the team’s final four matches are on the friendly turf of BMO Field. With a bit of luck—and strong play by stars Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore—these last games will be but a prelude to the Reds’ first ever MLS playoff appearance. Also counting on a postseason berth are the Toronto Argonauts, who’ve managed a respectable record despite the loss (to injury) of quarterback Ricky Ray and an off year from receiver Chad Owens. The Boatmen—now spotlighting players such as quarterback Trevor Harris and wide receiver Vidal Hazelton—meet their CFL rivals in three October home games, which should help the team gauge its strength to tackle the road to the Grey Cup.
No doubt this amounts to an abundance of athletic action, but it’ll all become so much background noise when the city’s most hoped-for fall feat comes to pass. With just a few regular season games remaining at the start of the month, the Toronto Blue Jays have slugged themselves to the top of their division, earning their first trip to the Major League Baseball playoffs since the club’s early-‘90s heyday. The Jays went on a tear following the midseason acquisitions of ace starter David Price and top shortstop Troy Tulowitski. Expect the whole country to hop on the team’s already sizeable bandwagon when it enters the fall-baseball fray starting October 8. It’ll be a real challenge to score seats for however many autumn games the Jays end up playing at the Rogers Centre, but you can bet that any sports bar worth its beer taps will be showing every pitch on multiple screens. —Craig Moy
6 DOWNTOWN BARS FOR CATCHING ALL THE ACTION
THE HOME TEAM MAY NOT ALWAYS EMERGE VICTORIOUS, BUT YOUR COMMUNAL SPORTS-WATCHING EXPERIENCE IS CERTAIN TO BE A WINNING ONE AT THESE POPULAR DOWNTOWN WATERING HOLES.
REAL SPORTS BAR & GRILL Without a doubt the heaviest hitter of this city’s sports bar scene, this behemoth is unmatched both in terms of scale (its 25,000 square feet feature 199 televisions, including a room-dominating 39-foot screen) and proximity to all the action (it’s directly adjacent to the Air Canada Centre). The upscale food and beverage options are similarly sizeable.
THE LOOSE MOOSE This venerable downtown spot can be a bit touristy, but that doesn’t detract from its significant selection of Ontario craft beers on tap, including offerings from Oast House, Collective Arts, Great Lakes Brewery and other fine labels.
WAYNE GRETZKY’S Hockey fans make the pilgrimage to The Great One’s restaurant and bar, which serves up a cosmopolitan spread of bar bites, burgers, pizzas, steaks and more. If the weather’s still balmy, consider a seat on the expansive rooftop patio, and don’t forget to check out the dining room’s vast collection of Gretzky memorabilia.
THE DOCK ELLIS Arguably the most intimate of Toronto’s sports bars, this Dundas West spot is named for a Pittsburgh Pirates hurler who, in 1970, threw a no-hitter while allegedly under the influence of LSD. It caters to the hipster set with foosball, shuffleboard and pool tables, plus varied snacks and suds from some of the province’s better-known craft brewers.
MEATING AT THE BOTTOM LINE Just steps from the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Financial District’s skyscrapers, this slender space caters to a higher-end clientele before, during and after the big game.
THE SHARK CLUB The atmosphere may not be for everyone, but this Western Canadian export does swift business thanks to its ample menu, amiable service and nearly 60 screens for catching all the action. Its location at Toronto’s busiest intersection certainly helps, too.
5 WAYS TO GET IN ON THE FUN
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A HOMERUN HERO, SEVEN-FOOT CENTRE OR GOLDEN-BOOTED STRIKER TO ENGAGE IN A BIT OF FRIENDLY COMPETITION WHILE IN TOWN
1 It’s not the easiest spot to access, but Port Lands focal point Polson Pier boasts a number of worthy recreational options, including a driving range, mini-golf course, climbing wall and go-kart track.
2 Table tennis aficionados can work on their drop shots—before enjoying a few shots of the liquid variety—at King West Ping-Pong lounge Spin.
3 In addition to being a full-fledged sports bar with upscale food, cocktails and more than 60 TVs, The Ballroom also boasts a number of 10-pin bowling lanes plus myriad other games room–type activities.
4 The Hockey Hall of Fame pays homage to the legends of Canada’s favourite pastime through varied, in-depth exhibitions. Amateur rink rats can also test their skills against the game’s best in simulated shootouts.
5 Toronto Bicycle Tours offers several appealing ways to see the city while getting some light exercise: the company offers spins around downtown and the Toronto Islands, as well as a full-day tour through 15 of the city’s varied and vibrant neighbourhoods.
3 SHOPS FOR COVETED COLLECTIBLES
Memories of a big game can endure long after the third strike is thrown or the final buzzer sounds. Sure, you can show your allegiance with a team-branded cap, jersey or novelty item from a stadium concession stand, but options also exist for super fans seeking more exclusive mementos. The Sport Gallery, for example, highlights the heritage of North American sports with its assemblage of fine-art photographic prints depicting some of the most storied moments and players in baseball, football, hockey, boxing and more, alongside vintage-inspired apparel. If your interests are more contemporary, Frameworth specializes in cards, photos, jerseys and other items, autographed by such NHL stars as Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and John Tavares. And just a few blocks north of the Rogers Centre, From Hockey to Hollywood boasts a fantastically eclectic and oft-changing inventory of sports and entertainment memorabilia: bobbleheads, books, game-worn apparel, posters and even trading cards.