The NHL's Maple Leafs are definitely the kings of the Toronto sport scene, selling out every game at the Air Canada Centre despite exorbitant ticket prices and a mediocre on-ice product. Despite this, the Leafs decided in 2005 to move their AHL affiliate from St. John's, Newfoundland (now home to the IceCaps) to Toronto's historic Ricoh Coliseum. The arena had previously played host to the Edmonton Oilers' affiliate, the Roadrunners (now in Oklahoma City as the Oil Barons) but Toronto fans found it hard to embrace a rival NHL club's affiliate and the Roadrunners left.
The Marlies' history can be said to stretch all the way back to 1903 when they were founded as the Marlborough Athletic Club, named after the Duke of Marlborough who was Under-Secretary of State for the British Colonies. They played in the now-demolished Ravina Gardens, then the Mutual Street Arena. They later moved to Maple Leaf Gardens before finally packing up in 1989 and moving to Hamilton. In 1991, they moved to Guelph and became the OHL's Guelph Storm, who still play at the Sleeman Centre. So techically the Marlies' history does not go back that far but the Storm's history does. Anyhow, when the Leafs moved their farm team back to Toronto in 2005 the Marlies name was restored and the history of the original franchise flows seamlessly into the newer franchise.
At first, the reborn Marlies were not a great draw. They struggled to get media attention and were held under the shadow of the behemoth Maple Leafs. The big club did enjoy the unique ability to transfer players up and down between leagues by simply going down the street. The Marlies slowly improved and attendance also slowly began to rise. Finally, by 2011 the Marlies became successful under coach Dallas Eakins and the people of Toronto began to get behind the team. As the Leafs missed the playoffs again in 2012, the Marlies began a playoff run and went all the way to the finals. That run catapulted the franchise into the limelight and as the 2013 NHL season began with a lockout, the team continued to achieve success at the gate and buzz continued to build.
Now, although the Leafs are back and challenging for a playoff spot, the Marlies' profile continues to rise thanks in part to community outreach programmes and promotions such as 'school day games.' Fans have started to realize that affordable tickets, a beautiful arena, and oh yeah, a winning record can combine to equal an amazing hockey experience. The increasing devotion of Toronto fans is best illustrated by the number of Marlies jerseys you see. Up until recently one would only see Leafs jerseys at Marlies games. Then, slowly but surely, more Marlies jerseys appeared in the stands. Now it is not uncommon to see Marlies jerseys at Leaf games!
Ricoh Coliseum, as it is now known, has a long and illustrious history of its own. It is situated in Exhibition Place, a sports and entertainment district that also features BMO Field (home to Toronto FC). The Coliseum was constructed in 1921 for livestock demonstrations as part of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. The Fair is still held yearly and the Marlies go on a long road trip during November as their arena is converted back to a an agricultural showcase, along with the neighbouring convention centre. The arena also plays host to the Toronto Boat Show mid-January and the arena is flooded to become an indoor lake! In 2003 the arena underwent massive renovations for the Roadrunners and Japanese office supply company, Ricoh bought the naming rights. Today Ricoh Coliseum is the perfect size for Marlies hockey and the growing legions of fans who fill the arena.
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".
The selection at Ricoh Coliseum is among the very best in the AHL. The standard Pizza Pizza slices go for $4 and hot dog booths are present here too. Dogs are available for a reasonable $3.75 and sausages can be had for $5.50. There are a number of interesting choices available for reasonable prices as well.
There is a Chinese stir fry booth. Crepes - both savoury and sweet - are sold elsewhere. Although the crepes are not cheap they are very good. Poutine, that Canadian arena staple, is also sold here but there are elevated flavours offered by Smoke's, who have a kiosk.
Another cool booth sells sandwiches with fresh carved meat and dessert options in the concourse include cotton candy and other confections.
To drink, national favourite Molson Canadian is sold in cans or on tap and Steamwhistle Pilsner, which is brewed nearby, is sold in tall boys. At $10 they are pricey but it is worth it for visiting fans to sample the local brew.
Walking through the historic entrance to the Coliseum, fans immediately see historical displays and old photographs as well as jerseys hanging in display cases. For the kids there is Marlies Alley which has games and activities like mini-hockey and skill challenges. The Marlies' mascot, Duke, is energetic and seems to be everywhere in the arena at all times. His antics are hilarious and he never fails to get the kids excited for the game.
It is the kids and the families that make up a big part of the atmosphere at Marlies games. On an average weeknight game there are numerous local hockey teams who come together to the games. School groups also regularly show up, particularly during the afternoon 'school day games.' Families looking for an affordable experience are always out at the games. Families aren't the only groups who show up. The team has its own vocal supporter's section; Duke's Dog Pound. They show up with drums and lead their end of the rink in cheering.
Inside the seating bowl there is plenty of evidence of the rich history of the franchise. At one end of the rink is a giant puck smashing through the wall and at the other is an arcing window that brings natural light into the seating bowl but the real highlight is the ring of plaques showcasing some of the famous Leafs who had their professional start with the Marlie franchise over the years. History buffs will love seeing Charlie Connacher, George Armstrong, Mike Palmateer, and many others. Also hanging over the ice are two banners.
Sightlines at the Coliseum are excellent anywhere you sit and suites are nicely appointed, including a Playstation-equipped suite in one corner of the rink.
The knock on the arena is sound quality. It can be difficult to hear the announcements sometimes but it is not a huge problem and doesn't detract too much from the game experience.
Exhibition Place is on the west end of downtown and is currently undergoing a transition. The parking lots are slowly but surely being developed and the latest rumours say a casino might be coming. Connected to Ricoh Coliseum is the Direct Energy Centre which hosts conventions and trade shows. On the other side of the arena is the stables for Toronto Police's mounted unit. Kids can be amused by petting or horseback riding on certain days.
Exhibition Place occupies a prime spot at the end of Queen's Quay, Toronto's waterfront boulevard. Access is through gates or archways and the 1927-era Prince's Gate is on the east end of the grounds and is nearest Ricoh Coliseum. The gate is beautiful and the CN Tower can be framed under the statues and flags that adorn the top of the arch.
Across the parking lot rises BMO Field and toward the lake are bridges to Ontario Place - an amusement park and entertainment venue which is closed for renovations and will be until 2017. The IMAX-equipped Cinesphere theatre is still open though. Molson Amphitheatre is an outdoor concert venue there and also nearby is the Echo Beach music venue. Of course, during most of the hockey season it is too cold for outdoor concerts but things do get going during the early season and in the playoffs.
The Exhibition Grounds are fairly quiet during the winter (unlike in summer when they are packed with the Canadian National Exhibition), but along the water and Queen's Quay are plenty of restaurants and shops as well as attractions and hotels. Of course, you're only a short streetcar ride away from the Entertainment District, Chinatown, and other fascinating neighbourhoods.
More and more people show up to games with each passing month. The Marlies have gone from the basement of AHL attendance to top ten in the league. The team has started selling out games on a regular basis and even though the Leafs find themselves solidly in the playoff picture for the first time in a while, the number of Marlies jerseys at games is increasing. Many of the fans are kids and families but all kinds of hockey fans show up to games. It is not uncommon to encounter Leafs fans who have recently discovered the Marlies and are learning the players and becoming excited about their potential with the big club, but many of these fans don't have a huge knowledge of other AHL teams.
Getting to Ricoh Coliseum by transit is easy, as there is streetcar service from Spadina Station on the Bloor subway line and from Union Station. GO Transit's intercity trains also run in. The transit terminal for both of these services is right outside the north entrance to the arena and there is a covered walk to the main entrance.
Getting in by car is not much more difficult with the Gardiner Expressway running just north of the facility. Lakeshore Boulevard and Fleet Street run into Exhibition Place, and Dufferin Street comes into the area from the north. There is plenty of parking onsite and at $13, pricing is reasonable. Traffic in Toronto can be a problem sometimes and coming in on transit is the best bet. During the warmer months, a walk or bike along the waterfront promenade while picking up snacks from one of the sidewalk vendors is a nice way to get to the game.
Getting around the seating bowl is easy as there is a ring where fans can walk between the upper level of seats and the platinum section. The concourse tends to get crowded during intermissions and it is not possible to walk all the way around the rink as there is a horseshoe design. Washroom lineups used to be problematic but new washrooms were installed on the upper concourse in the north end of the bowl.
There can be lineups entering the game as tickets are scanned but things are not too bad there either.
Ticket prices have come way down recently and end seats in the fan zone can be had for just $10 advance or $12 at the door. Prices rise as you get closer to the platinum seats but the best seats here are still cheaper than the nosebleeds at the Air Canada Centre. Concessions are not overpriced relative to other arenas and if you take transit, you can get to the game for just a few dollars on the streetcar or GO train. Parking, at $13, is reasonable. A Marlies game is, all told, one of the most affordable entertainment options in Toronto, and they are a successful team to boot.
An extra point is given for the historic detailing including the hundreds of plaques.
Another extra for the charitable work the Marlies do in the community, refurbishing local rinks and supporting charities in the city.
One more point for Duke the Dog, who is one of the craziest and most entertaining mascots. He can also be found at community events throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
One final extra for the Hero of the Game initiative where a Canadian soldier is honoured and presented with free tickets.
The Marlies have firmly moved into the spotlight on the Toronto sports scene. Although they do not have the diehard following of their big brothers down the road, fan support is growing rapidly. Since only 2005, the team has built upon great on-ice success and created an affordable and entertaining option for hockey fans in Toronto. The future should be bright for this team and for the fans who show up more and more to beautiful Ricoh Coliseum.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are no doubt at the top of the sporting heap in the city of Toronto. With every game sold out for years, and tickets at a premium, there are many things that the Maple Leafs are unable or unwilling to do. Enter the Toronto Marlies.
The Marlies are the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs, and hold the dubious distinction of being the only AHL affiliate that shares a market with the parent club. In 2005, the Maple Leafs decided to move their top minor league team from far away St. John's, Newfoundland, to someplace just a bit closer. The Marlies not only serve as the Leafs top feeder, perfect for those quick call-ups and easy scouting trips, but they seem to serve as the community outreach arm as well. It is with the Marlies that school games are run during weekday afternoons. It is at Marlies games where there are numerous promotions. It is at Marlies games where the parent company, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, has its community outreach programs.
The Marlies have a history that dates back to 1903, when the Toronto Marlborough Athletic Club was formed. The Toronto Marlboros served as a junior team in the OHA and OHL up until 1989. During the majority of that time they were the top feeder team for the Maple Leafs, and not only shared ownership, but a home at Maple Leaf Gardens. In 1989, owner Harold Ballard sold the Marlboros and they were moved to Hamilton. When the Leafs moved their AHL affiliate to Toronto, they officially renamed their team the Marlies, to re-link with the Marlboro history, but not make a connection with the American cigarette company.
Currently the Marlies call the Ricoh Coliseum home. Located at Exhibition Place, just a couple of kilometres from the Air Canada Centre, the Coliseum was built in 1921 and served as the home for livestock shows during the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and other displays during the Canadian National Exhibition. In 2003, after a massive renovation and corporate sponsorship from Japanese office supply company, Ricoh, the newly minted Ricoh Coliseum reopened for AHL hockey as well as other events. Owned by the city of Toronto, and operated by MLSE, the Ricoh housed the one-year wonder Toronto Roadrunners, before becoming the permanent home of the Toronto Marlies.
Great mix of old and new here. Love walking to the building and admiring the old facade. Still seems the Marlies are trying to find an identity as the Leafs dominate Toronto. Atmosphere seems to be getting better though as I went to a game that was well attended. Too bad prices are ridiculous for an AHL game (most tickets over $30 and parking for $15!).
I visited a Marlies game and Ricoh Coliseum during my recent visit to the Toronto area. Food options were more than expected, in fact pretty robust. The attendance was about ˝ full. My recommendation: get the inexpensive seats then sit where you want after the first intermission. The souvenir shop had plenty to offer: apparel, hat pins, #1 foam fingers, etc. I did not find a roster or customer service table.
Music level and PA announcer were fine; there was a female promotions person whose voice was quite painful to hear; not quite a screech and very irritating.
Bundle up as it is not exactly warm in the rink. One cannot walk around the entire concourse on the bottom level but can on top (the level above the regular seats and below the suites). I’d suggest doing that to experience and view the full rink length.
I had a fine time at the game I attended with great fans in the area in which I was seated.
I was hoping to see a portrait of the queen is such a historic venue but I guess I’m thinking of days gone by.
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