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'Wasn’t expecting that': Maple Leafs players arrive to massive greeting in St. Thomas

Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Easton Cowan couldn’t believe the size of the crowd when the team bus pulled up to the Joe Thornton Community Centre in St. Thomas, Ont.

“I was sitting beside [Fraser] Minten on the bus and I said to him, ‘This is crazy’,” said Cowan, the Leafs first round draft pick from nearby Mt. Brydges, Ont. “I told him we have to go out first and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

IN PICTURES: Kraft Hockeyville in St. Thomas

With chants of ‘Go Leafs Go’, more than 1,000 people lined the entrance to the arena as the Leafs arrived for their preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres.

The event is the result of nearby West Lorne winning the Kraft Hockeyville contest in the spring.

“There is Leafs pride everywhere, but I wasn’t expecting to see that many kids here that early in the morning,” said Matthew Knies, Leafs’ left-winger. “We couldn’t ask for a better welcome to the community.”

After getting off the bus, John Tavares, Max Domi, and Cowan were among the players who signed autographs and took photos for more than a half hour before entering the arena for their morning skate.

Former London Knight Max Domi (middle) and John Tavares (right) practiced in St. Thomas, Ont. as part of Kraft Hockeyville on Sept. 27, 2023. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

“It’s amazing, I love the Leafs so much,” said Reese Garrett, a student from Dutton who got a number of autographs. “I got Tavares, Robertson, I got Max [Domi], it’s been so awesome I love it.”

Once inside, the students from Rodney, West Lorne, and Dutton watched the practices.

Student Hunter Brent was fortunate enough to get a stick from Leafs defenceman John Klingberg.

“He signed my paper in the hallway, and I asked him if I could get a stick after practice,” said Brent. “He told me ‘If I break it’, but he never broke it, so he gave me a full stick.”

Some students were chosen to take part in a question and answer session with Domi and Tavares after practice, and smiles could be seen throughout the rink.

Students looked on as the Buffalo Sabres had a morning skate in St. Thomas, Ont. as part of Kraft Hockeyville on Sept. 27, 2023. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

“It is everything we wanted it to be,” said Jessica Small, an organizer with West Lorne Kraft Hockeyville. “The crowd is amazing, the kids are here, they are smiling and having a blast, it’s incredible.”

As Cowan gets set to play, he’ll have a huge fan base of family, friends and supporters in the stands of an arena in which he’s very familiar.

“I played Junior B in this barn in my 16-year-old year,” said Cowan. “It wasn’t packed, but it’ll be packed tonight with lots of people, hopefully we can pull out the win here.”

Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares signs the back of a jersey for Cam Thomson during the Kraft Hockeyville celebrations in St. Thomas, Ont. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Brent Lale/CTV News London) Top Stories

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