Monday night was MLSE’s “Toast to the Teams” gala event at the Royal Ontario Museum. The exclusive event featured a ton of Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs players, along with most of the organization’s bigwigs. Only premium season-ticket holders were invited (which I am not), but I was lucky enough to score an invite from some friends.
Of course, there’s no doubt that MLSE was looking to impress their biggest-spending fans, but I was still very impressed with the evening. Richard Peddie, Bryan Colangelo and Brian Burke greeted us at the entrance and made small talk. I noticed they made sure to speak with absolutely EVERYONE, while genuinely enjoying it. Oh, did I mention Carlton the Bear was there, too?
Once inside, we were all pretty blown away – First of all, the new wing in the ROM is unbelievable. None of us had seen it yet and it’s definitely the right place to host a fancy event. The walls featured running slideshows of Raps and Leafs players, while the open bar and free food made me pretty damn happy.
About an hour in, MLSE’s Adnan Virk and Raptors’ commentator Matt Devlin hit the stage to introduce Burke and Colangelo.
Colangelo spoke first – He acknowledged how disappointing last season was (obviously, right?) and heaped praise on many of the new signings. Again, it’s a PR-event, no question, but I found the man engaging and sincere.
Following him was Burke, who started off by saying, “I always hate speaking after Bryan because he’s a lot better looking than I am.”
The rest focused on the Leafs and here were his main points:
He spoke about two main objectives this offseason…
- Changing the culture of losing in Toronto. “Losing was tolerated in the past,” he said, “and it won’t be anymore.”
- Putting a much tougher squad on the ice, something I think he has accomplished
As for the short-term results, Burke wants to win now, as evidenced by the Phil Kessel Trade. “Our intention is to make the playoffs,” said Burke.
Burke also said he’s determined to entertain fans each and every night. “I’m not in the hockey business,” he said. “I’m in the entertainment business. We won’t win every game but we will be exciting.” Burke promised lots of hitting, and fighting, this coming season.
Finally, Toronto’s GM said that “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make,” noting that he’s thrilled to have retained Tomas Kaberle. Speaking of which, Kaberle was there, too.
The rest of our evening was spent mingling with players and coaches – Both teams were there but we spent more time with the Raps. And I’ll say this – Again, I’m fully aware that players were on their best behaviour, but I was continually impressed with their sincerity and personality. I really believe Colangelo has assembled a roster of quality people that will represent Toronto well. Of course, the nice-guy label isn’t something many teams are too proud of, hence the addition of Reggie Evans (who wasn’t there). Still, I had a great time meeting everyone.
Here are some thoughts on each guy:
Andrea Bargnani was absolutely swarmed at all times. Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Hedo Turkoglu were the no-shows, making Bargnani the lone star presence (if you can call him that – I just did). It was pretty funny to look across the room and see what appeared to be a skyscraper rising above the crowds. The guy seemed a little uncomfortable at times – When his entourage led him out for a short break, my buddy Brandon told him to enjoy the time away from everyone.
“I will,” said Bargs, who was noticeably wearing down by the end. With him, it was Shake hands-Pose for Picture-Move on, all night.
Alvin Williams was there, and he’s as nice a guy as I expected. The former player turned coach says he’s excited to start working with the guards and to be back in town. Pretty much everyone I saw speaking with Alvin said they were thrilled to have him back, and he’ll be a positive force in the community, no doubt. Hopefully, his impact on the players will be just as great.
The funniest guy I met? Not even close – Qunicy Douby was great. I’m walking by with a glass of wine and the guy taps me on the shoulder. Next thing I know we’re discussing everything from living in California (he played for the Kings), to tossing DeMar DeRozan alley-oops in summer league. Even NBA players are mighty impressed with our rookie, if that means anything. I asked about friends around the league and Douby said he’s tight with Francisco Garcia, beginning with his early days as a King.
“Why do you all hate Vince Carter so much,” said Douby, as I tried to explain. But seriously, he’s right – It’s in the past. There’s practically no players left from the VC-era and the new guys are pretty amused, if anything, by the situation (and frankly all it does is fire up Carter). Can we stop, please?
DeRozan also seemed like a nice kid – Soft spoken, but confident. Says he’s getting used to Toronto and can’t wait to get going.
We also ran into Marco Belinelli as I resisted the urge to crack Don Nelson jokes, and Patrick O’Bryant, who is freakishly tall in person, too.
Other Maple Leafs in attendance included Colton Orr, Vesa Toskala, Luke Schenn and Niklas Hagman. I really enjoyed meeting Toskala, who loves the fans and the city… The media? “They’re tough,” he said.