How a pair of Leafs tickets and a good deed led to a cross-country friendship
A 14-year-old Leafs fan will see his heroes play Monday, all thanks to a Calgary firefighter
A Thorold, Ont. teenager still can't believe he'll see his first, regular season Toronto Maple Leafs game Monday night, all thanks to the generosity of a Calgary Flames fan he met over Facebook.
It's a big deal for Jack Sider, 14, who's a self-proclaimed Leafs fanatic.
"I'm dedicated to the Leafs hardcore," he said. "I make sure that all the games are on my TV or on some kind of mobile device or something."
He's followed the Leafs to preseason games and to training camp — almost trampling other fans in his quest for an Auston Matthews autograph, according to his mother.
But now, he'll see his heroes at home, in a rivalry game against Boston for free.
"It was literally like I just won a gold medal or something. My heart just dropped and my eyes sprung open and my mouth dropped," he said.
"I was so excited."
'I've got to help this kid out'
It all started when Kyler Mitchell, a 23-year-old firefighter and Calgary Flames fan, realized he couldn't use tickets he'd bought for a Leafs game during a stay in Toronto.
He posted a message on a Leafs fan page, and within minutes, multiple offers began to pile in.
Provinces away, Jack sprang into action.
"It's not usual that people are selling tickets on this particular group," he said. "I was more interested just to see what he was charging."
Mitchell planned to sell the tickets for face value, about $350.
Despite receiving offers above $500, he noticed Jack's age and passion and wanted to work something out.
"Talking to a kid and knowing how hard it is to go to a Toronto Maple Leafs game and just thinking about how hard it was for myself at 12, 13, 14 to go to a Flames game I couldn't afford … " he said.
"I knew it was going to be once in a lifetime for him."
Jack told Mitchell he wanted to take his mother to the game, and he planned to save all the money he made from his job at a local deli to pay for the tickets.
Candi Sider is also acutely aware of her son's Leafs addiction.
"His very first paycheque, he got paid on a Friday morning and within an hour he had preseason tickets," she said. "He texted me at work and said, 'I got some tickets. We're going to a preseason game.'"
In Calgary, Mitchell was reminded of his own teenage years.
"I remember at 14-years-old, working at the garden centre just trying to make money and all this kid wanted to do is take his mom to the game and that really touched me," he said.
The two began to bond, sharing stories about their love for their families, their passion for their teams and even their struggles.
"I was like, 'Man, I'm looking at myself nine years ago ... I've got to help this kid out,'" Mitchell said.
So when the moment came for Jack to hand over his savings, Mitchell couldn't take his money.
"We video chatted and I was like, 'You know, you seem like an amazing young man and I'd be honoured to just give them to you,'" Mitchell said.
"I started to tear up; he started to tear up. He said he couldn't believe it."
The teen's mother said she didn't hear about the whole exchange until Jack had the tickets in hand.
"You spend a small fortune going to a Leafs game for sure and for someone to just give them away like that, it's really incredible," she said.
Jack and Mitchell still talk regularly — they even play hockey against each other through Xbox — and they hope to one day meet in- person.
"I've been saying to my friends and my family he feels like the little brother I never had," Mitchell said.
For Jack, Mitchell is his inspiration to pay it forward one day.
"When I'm older and I can afford the tickets like he can I'm definitely going to be returning the favour to somebody else," he said.
"It's definitely going to be an amazing moment in life, something that I will never forget."