The national sport of Canada is...Lacrosse! Many believe that hockey is the national sport in the land of the Maple Leaf, but it is really the fastest sport on two feet. For those of you new to lacrosse it is something you want to check out. There are two varieties; indoor and outdoor. Indoor or box lacrosse is played within the confines of a standard hockey arena. The gameplay is a fantastic melding of the structure and roughness of hockey, with the possession game found in basketball.
The Toronto Rock joined the National Lacrosse League in 1999 moving from Hamilton. Since that time the Rock have been a jewel of the league, leading in attendance and winning 5 Champion's Cups including 4 in their first 5 years. Their entry into Toronto was marketed brilliantly. They hold the distinction of having been the final event at historic Maple Leaf Gardens. Since their last championship in 2005, much has changed for the Rock but the winning ways have returned. This review takes place during the final game of the 2011 season in which the Toronto Rock defeated the Washington Stealth to win their 6th Champion's Cup.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are many food options available at the ACC. Pizza Pizza is a staple throughout the ACC and other chains like Tim Horton's and Mr. Sub are also available. Pouring rights belong to Molson so Molson Canadian is everywhere along with Coors Light. There is Molson Canadian actually brewed on site and it can be purchased in the Molson Canadian bar or the upper level Ice Box bar.
If you are looking for something different, try Burkie's Dog House. Named after current GM of the Maple Leafs Brian Burke, Burkie's offers a plethora of unique hot dog options in both the regular and foot-long varieties. I'm not a huge hot dog fan, but the Poutine Hot Dog that I had was definitely unique!
Concession prices are on the high side and many stands were closed due to the smaller crowd.
Although the Air Canada Centre is home for the Rock, it is clear that they are a tenant of the building and not part of the ownership. Signs for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors are everywhere in the ACC, however there is little hoopla for the Rock. In the seating bowl the 5 banners for the 5 titles hang proudly. Also there is a banner hanging for Lacrosse Hall-of-Fame Coach Les Bartley who led the Rock to 4 championships before succumbing to cancer.
The seating bowl offers great sightlines from most seats. The scoreboard is fantastic and boasts 3 levels. The top octagonal level offers a wealth of information about the game. The middle 4 sided video board offers a clear view of the action and the bottom ribbon offers lots of info.
The Rock play contemporary and classic rock music during the game which takes the experience one step beyond the in game organ featured in the NBA. The public address announcer offers comments during the play which are sometimes great, like embellishing a big save made by the goaltender, to unnecessary, like leading the Go Rock Go chant.
Possibly the most brilliant move in brining the NLL to Toronto was the naming of the team. The Rock take advantage of the vast plethora of songs that feature the word "Rock." Most teams have one routine and song when a goal is scored ... the Rock have at least four! Once the home team scores you can expect the traditional fog horn followed by "Rock You" by Helix, "Can't Stop the Rock" by Apollo 440, "I Wanna Rock" by Twisted Sister or "For Those About to Rock, We Salute You" by AC/DC. I'm not sure a team could be named any better!
The Air Canada Centre is in the heart of downtown Toronto. There is a ton of things to do downtown from shopping at nearby Eaton Centre to sailing at the waterfront. A must-see sight would be the Hockey Hall of Fame just a few short blocks north.
There are also numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy. The scuttlebutt downtown at this time was the brand-new Maple Leaf Square just outside of the doors. Inside Maple Leaf Square is the Real Sports Bar and Grill which is a neat spot to stop and eat before or after the game.
The only drawback of the neighborhood downtown is the overabundance of high-rise condominiums. It is at the point where it is difficult to see the ACC from many points downtown and makes downtown feel more and more like real estate sell-outs.
Being the championship game, the Rock enjoyed higher than normal attendance. Over the past few seasons the Rock have averaged approximately 10,000 fans. This is a sizeable drop from the 15,000 - 18,000 the Rock enjoyed at the beginning of the millennium. The Champion's Cup game brought in over 14,000 fans. A respectable crowd, but still not what it once was.
The fans that showed were loud and proud! Getting behind the Rock at the most important moments and most of the time sensing when a boost was needed by the team. The knowledge base of the fan was strong and they helped make the experience a memorable one.
Coming from the west, when coming downtown the question is always whether to drive down or take transit. On this day I decided to drive down. Unfortunately, I should have taken transit. With a (poorly marked) marathon closing down Lakeshore Blvd., I was forced to park several blocks further than I had planned. I parked near the harborfront. This was not a big deal, but having to pay $15 for the location was!
The ACC is attached to Union Station, which is the main station for trains and subway in Toronto. It is an easy walk from the subway into the ACC. Depending on the number in your vehicle, this may be your best option. However, there is lots of parking downtown and it would be more financially viable to drive right down and park with a group of four.
For the Championship Game, tickets were running from $15-$75. My upper-deck, fourth row, center ticket was a mild $27. With parking on the high side and concessions on the high side, a low-price ticket was appreciated, if not needed. Getting to see the championship won by the home team for under $60 made the day feel worthwhile. Lower priced tickets during the regular season, including discounts for youth, make the Toronto Rock a solid piece of entertainment and well worth your money.
An extra point goes to the Rock for a super-exciting game and the Champion's Cup being presented at the ACC to the Rock.
An extra point goes to the best possible way to end a storied career. After 14 seasons, legendary Toronto Rock goaltender Bob "Whipper" Watson played his final game. Watson is the all-time leader in saves and has 6 championship rings. In the Champion's Cup Watson played the game of his life, making 46 saves and named the Champion's Cup MVP. Toronto won 8-7
An extra point for athletes that are real people. The majority of players in the NLL have full-time jobs. Bob Watson is a police officer in Waterloo, Ontario.
It's a great day when you can see a team win a championship. It's an even better day when it's the home team. It's an even better day when you can say you did all of that and didn't have to take out a second mortgage to afford it. The Toronto Rock are a whole lot of fun and well worth your time and effort. They produce a great atmosphere to watch sports, and boast knowledgeable and fun fans. Bottom line ... the Rock will Rock You!
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