Friday, February 26, 2010

Hershey Bears 2 at Toronto Marlies 3 - February 25, 2010

After lunch with an old colleague (Thanks Rob) and a much-needed nap to cure the jet lag, I boarded the streetcar to head over to the Ricoh Coliseum to watch some AHL hockey. The Maple Leafs' affiliate is the Toronto Marlies, and they were hosting Hershey, who are the farm team of the Washington Capitals.

The Arena

The Ricoh Coliseum is located on the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds just west of downtown. Two streetcar routes, including the 509 from Union Station, terminate here at the Exhibition Place stop; from there it's just a minute walk to the main entrance. With a TTC ride costing $3, a group of 3 might be better off driving as there is parking on the CNE grounds.

The arena was built in 1921 and served primarily as an agricultural facility for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair since then. It didn't become a hockey rink until the Toronto Roadrunners were relocated there in 2003. That team served as Edmonton's affiliate for only a season and after the lockout, the Maple Leafs moved their farm team here from St. John's, Newfoundland. The Marlies have played here since then, even achieving a division title back in 2008.

So that's what a Toronto championship banner looks like

There are two seating levels here - a "platinum" level that comprises the first 7 rows ($38), and the rest of the seats, which are divided into sides ($30) and end zones ($18). There's even a single row known as the red zone which is only $10. All prices are for tickets bought before game day; it's $4 more if you buy on game day. Tickets are also available at the Air Canada Centre. Given the lack of fans there, buy a cheap ticket and sit where you want.

In the main entrance there are several trophies that are presented annually to the Marlies' MVP, best defenseman, etc. It's interesting to note that almost none of the players have made an impact with the Leafs, which illustrates just how poor their farm system is. Having said that, there is a display that rings the ice surface just below the suites which is called "Developing Leafs since 1927" and lists dozens of Leafs who must have played in the AHL.

The concourse offers some displays on the other AHL teams including a great map that is a must for any roadtripper (shown below). Food options are typical and I didn't eat anything while I was there. There was a poutine stand that I'll try on my next visit.

Above the seating bowl is a wide concourse that encircles the rink. I spent the third period wandering around here watching the game from various angles. Seemed to be a few scouts that use this area as it is quite spacious and provides a good view of the ice. There are even TV's at one end; the picture below shows the Marlies scoring their 3rd goal just as the Canadian women were being presented with their Olympic gold medals (below - check out the red light at the far end).

If you enter the club area, you can see the Marlies going to and coming off the ice. Below is distant relative Joey MacDonald smiling after being announced as the 2nd star.

The Ricoh Coliseum is a good place to watch a hockey game. There are no distractions and no bad seats here. Easily accessible by transit and offering reasonably priced tickets, it's a mystery why the Marlies aren't more popular in the so-called "Center of the Hockey Universe".

Fans? Where are you?

The Game

The Bears are the top team in the AHL with a 44-12-2 record while the Marlies lie 6th in the North Division with a 24-27-10 mark. The league actually separates overtime and shootout losses, which I hate, so I've combined them above. Regardless, the Bears had to be favoured in this battle, and they started quickly. A giveaway in the Marlies end was poked by MacDonald right onto the stick of Andrew Joudrey who potted the easy goal for a 1-0 Bears lead just 64 seconds into the contest.

The Marlies fought back and tied the game midway through the period when Kyle Calder scored on a rebound. In the second, Toronto added another when defenseman Juraj Mikus found himself some open ice in the faceoff circle and snapped a shot that beat Bears' keeper Braden Holtby high to the glove side.

Holtby saved this Mikus shot

In the third, Hershey got into penalty trouble and Calder added his second on a 5-3 advantage to make it 3-1 Marlies. The Bears got one back when Steve Pinizzotto tipped home a point shot, but despite a flurry at the end, they could not get the equalizer and Toronto escaped with a 3-2 win.

It was fun to see a Toronto team hold a lead for a change. MacDonald played well and made a great toe save in the final couple of minutes to preserve the win.

MacDonald with another save

The game itself wasn't that exciting, a lot of chippy neutral zone play, but I can't complain - seeing a Toronto team win a game over the best team in the league is not something I'll enjoy often.

Other Thoughts

Where are all the hockey fans in Toronto? The Marlies are averaging just over 3,600 per game and only 2,725 showed up to watch this tilt. Maybe the weather and the women's gold medal game kept some at home, but still, it's terrible that Toronto is smitten only with the Leafs. Tickets here are reasonable and the on-ice product is good; the game crew puts on a good show to entertain fans during the intermissions and time outs. I really don't understand how minor league hockey can be so completely ignored here. Hey Toronto fans: get out and support the Marlies!

Too many empty seats

Next Up

LeBron and the Cavaliers are in town tonight but there are no good tickets and I'm not going to pay over face value from scalpers. With the Canada/Slovakia game starting at 9:30, I might skip the Raptors and make my way to a local for the hockey game instead. Either way, I'll update you tomorrow.



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