Fans of hockey who have an affinity for musty old sports barns in all likelihood wistfully gravitate to Toronto. Maple Leaf Gardens has been gone for a while now, but that structure still stands and has been re-purposed, and its glorious history is retold in black and white imagery at Air Canada Centre.
But here in Toronto stands another great temple of hockey – it’s called Ricoh Coliseum, and sits on the fairgrounds of the Canadian National Exhibition on the Lake Ontario waterfront. It opened in 1921, has had a multitude of uses, and since 2003 has served as the home venue for the city’s American Hockey League (AHL) franchise, first the Toronto Roadrunners, and then the Toronto Marlies, top affiliate of the Maple Leafs. The franchise has been growing slowly and steadily in popularity, offering a reasonable pricing alternative to the high cost of attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game.
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".
Many older venues don't do much beyond the typical hot dogs/nachos/beer "ballpark dreck" concession fare, mostly because of the lack of sufficient infrastructure to service mass food preparation. Such is not the case at Ricoh Coliseum. The food selection is tremendous.
Local chains Pizza Pizza and Tim Horton's are staples. A "poutinerie" offers various concoctions of Canadian spun poutine, which are French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds ($6.50-$8.50). A specialty stand named Duke's Dog House sells jumbo dogs served southern, barbecued or even poutine style ($7.00 and up).
Another stand named Hero burger sells a jumbo angus burger ($8.50) and hand dipped shakes. Molson Canadian is the local ale ($10 for the tall can). Pulled pork sandwiches ($8.50) and mac and cheese ($5) are available at the Pizza Pizza stand. It is all good stuff here.
The team has come a long way since setting up shop in Ricoh Coliseum after relocating their AHL affiliate from St. John's, Newfoundland more than a decade ago. After a brutal season housing the Edmonton affiliate Roadrunners team, the Leafs came in and gradually started accessorizing the fan experience with some cool stuff. Team memorabilia adorns the concourses and the entry lobby, mixing in with ample historical murals of the building itself. The seating bowl is ringed with the names of every Leafs prospect who came through the system, going back to 1927. It's a fun exercise just studying the names and discerning who is recognizable.
Then there are the other entertainment features, from a pregame gathering area off the lobby offering interactive games and fun things for the youngsters, to the ice dancers who entertain in the stands, to the very outgoing mascot. It's a great family experience, and the Marlies have nailed it as for the game day experience.
The four-sided center-hung video board is an abomination and virtually unwatchable. It needs to be replaced, and is the lone black mark on the enjoyable atmosphere.
The stately building sits in the midst of the Canadian National Exhibition Fairgrounds, and is for the most part surrounded by vast parking lots, and the elevated Gardiner Expressway hugs the property. Across the parking lot is BMO Field, home of the MLS Toronto FC. Eating options can best be found in the city.
The marker for cool sports bistros is Real Sports, run by MLSE and located next door to the Air Canada Centre. Shoeless Joe's is a pretty neat place with multiple locations in Toronto, the closest one to Ricoh Coliseum on Queens Quay.
For a terrific old time tavern experience check out the Wheat Sheaf, at the corner of King Street and Bathurst, where history and sports come together nicely.
Here is the elephant in the room - Toronto is not a great hockey town. It's a great Leafs town. People will pay absurd amounts of money to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play, and in the meantime, the AHL affiliate and the numerous junior franchises in the region struggle to draw fans (the OHL Toronto St. Mikes Majors departed for Mississauga and the Brampton Battalion moved to North Bay). The Marlies fan base is a growing one, and has a lot to do with the enhancement of the fan experience and the aggressive marketing push that the team has undertaken. Nonetheless, on most nights it is an easy ticket and there is work to be done in this regard.
Traffic is generally a nightmare in Toronto and it is only getting worse with the overbuilding going on in the city. The Gardiner Expressway to the Lakeshore exits from either east or west will take you right to the parking lot at Ricoh. Allow ample time to navigate the traffic. Parking at the fairgrounds is generally $13 but is always subject to change depending on the events going on elsewhere on the property.
There are great public transportation alternatives. The GO Train regional commuter service has a station right at the fairgrounds and it is easy walking distance to the arena. The 509 shuttle bus or the 511 streetcar takes you right from the downtown core to a platform outside the arena ($3 fare).
With ticket prices starting at $10 and going as high as $49, the Marlies ticket price structure is among the highest in the AHL. But the $10 seats, called the "fan zone" in the upper reaches of one end zone, still provide a terrific viewing experience, and with the seating bowl less than filled on most nights, upgrading to better seats is not a problem and the ushers here are pretty friendly and laid back. Concession prices are totally major league level, but the food is good here so definitely worth checking out. There are no parking alternatives other than the paid lot, and in fact, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to find a free parking space anywhere in Toronto.
Give two stars for all the cool historic interpretive elements adorning every nook and cranny of the building. Allow ample time to check the place out.
Give a star for the side entertainment - the ice dancers and the mascot add a lot to the game experience, yet aren't over the top or corny, still giving homage to the dignity of the game.
And one more star for the poutine. This food concoction is pretty much becoming a staple in Canadian venues outside Quebec, but in a perfect world poutine would be de rigeur across the globe. They sell it here. The line at the poutinerie in the concourse is a long one. For good reason.
Toronto is a world class city - one of the greatest on the planet, and the sport of hockey is such a part of the culture and the fabric of the people here. No wonder the Hockey Hall of Fame is located here, the biggest hockey events are centered here, and the Maple Leafs thump their chests as the greatest franchise anywhere despite not having won a championship in almost half a century, when the NHL had but six teams.
Attending an AHL game at Ricoh Coliseum in its own way captures a bit of that spark and energy of the game of hockey. It is a cool communal experience, for the most part affordable, and a must visit as part of the Toronto sports experience.
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 ½ 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.
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.
Its not a bad building, but it does have its moments when it shows its age. When I was there, the fire alarm went off for at least a solid 10 minutes before they ended it. Most of the people in the stands were families as it was family day in Canada. taking the Rapid transit to and from the game was very easy. I would go back.
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