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Maple Leafs fans fill up First Niagara Center for NHL Draft

Tonight’s draft crowd looks a lot like a Sabres vs. Maple Leafs crowd during the season – filled with plenty of blue and white.

“Leaf Nation has arrived,” proclaimed Mike Cawtrey.

Toronto fans made the short trip down the QEW to see the Maple Leafs draft center Auston Matthews with the first overall pick.

“Matthews, he looks like the center we need,” said Russ Hamilton, who has attended the NHL Draft for 20 years with his friends. This is the first draft he’s been to where the Maple Leafs had the first overall pick.

“He’s big, strong, a two-way center,” Hamilton continued. “But we’re not asking him to save the franchise or anything.”

This marks the first time the Maple Leafs have the first pick in the draft since selecting Wendel Clarke in 1985.

“They’re starting to be competitive,” said Mel Chin. He grew up in Toronto, but now lives in Rochester.  “They’ve got good management, a really good coach. They are starting to invest in their draft picks.”

The Leafs needed a little bit of luck to land the Arizona-born Matthews. As the worst team in the league last year, Toronto had a 20 percent chance to win the lottery. For Cawtrey, that luck continued yesterday, when he won tickets to tonight’s draft on TSN. He had to name a player based on two clues: He wore No. 9 with the Leafs his rookie season and played against Canada in its worst World Junior Performance.

The answer? Nik Antropov.

He’s hoping the Leafs do more than the obvious, possibly adding a player through trade. It’s the 100 anniversary of the team after all, he said.

We’ll soon find out if booking a hotel for the whole weekend was worth it.

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