Although the realities of economics mean most hockey clubs today don't play in their original old 'barns,' fans of the game often feel a strong connection to the grand old arenas of a century ago, and for these fans, there is no better city than Toronto. Past temples of the game still host regular hockey here; Maple Leaf Gardens and Varsity Arena are two great examples, but no arena manages to retain its historical flair and combine it with modern conveniences quite like Ricoh Coliseum, the home of the legendary Toronto Marborough Hockey Club, now commonly known as the Marlies.
The Marlies have a long and complex history beginning in the late-1800s when the athletic club was founded by local businessman Mr. John Earls. The club was named after a popular English noble family, the Dukes of Marlborough. Interestingly enough, the dukes had the family surname Churchill, and the famous Winston Churchill was a descendant! With this family connection, the team became nicknamed the 'Dukes,' a nickname now carried on by team mascot, Duke the Dog.
By 1902, the hockey side were competing in the fairly prestigious OHA league and won the championship in their first year. It is worth noting for hockey historians that the championship trophy for the OHA in those years was the Stanley Cup, now contested in the NHL!
Jumping ahead to 1927, Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe saw the importance of having a good development system for his big club and purchased the Marlboros, making them the premier ‘farm team’ for the hockey programme. Over the next decades, the Marlboros jumped between different leagues but eventually, in 1989, the Maple Leafs discontinued their partnership as the modern NHL’s expansion to non-traditional hockey markets and adoption of the draft made internal player development obsolete. Meanwhile, the Leafs maintained a loose partnership with the New Brunswick Hawks for player development. The Marlboros eventually became known only for their junior and youth hockey programmes, the renowned teams who have been dominant in youth hockey since the 1930s.
All the while, the Hawks moved around and took on a greater role in developing Leafs draft picks, eventually moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland where they took on a major role developing young players drafted by the Leafs. Finally, in 2005, the Maple Leafs decided to move their farm team closer to home and brought back the Marlboro name (using Marlies to avoid association with the Marlboro cigarette brand), bringing them to play at recently renovated Ricoh Coliseum.
The Coliseum’s history is no less spectacular, having been the centre of the popular Royal Agricultural Winter Fair since its opening in 1922. In the early 2000s, various hockey teams came and went, unable to firmly establish themselves in the market, but in 2005, with the resumption of the Marlboro franchise, stability has returned and hockey at Ricoh Coliseum should continue for years to come.
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".
In many older venues, one may only expect to find typical foods that can be heated quickly or sold in packages. The Coliseum goes far beyond hot dogs and pizza as it has been outfitted with a top-quality kitchen and perfect catering infrastructure. Stadium staples include local favourites Pizza Pizza and Tim Horton's, as well as Smoke's Poutinerie, where one can try Canada's best-loved dish of French fries, cheese curds, and excellent, meaty gravy - perfect for a winter meal. Special stand Duke's Dog House (section 113) serves all kinds of takes on hot dogs and sausages including barbeque, southern, and yes - poutine. Also worth trying is the Porchetta cart for some unique Italian sandwiches in section 115. Gourmet burger chain Hero serves up great Angus burgers and shakes. The main beer offering is Molson Canadian, which is served all over the concourses and especially at its own mini-pubs spread around the arena where fans can linger and talk hockey.
Even better than the selection is the price. Though food at sporting venues is never cheap, Ricoh Coliseum's options are relatively affordable. The large burgers at Hero are only $8 to $9 while a tall can of Canadian beer is only $10, certainly better than other arenas and definitely the Air Canada Centre nearby.
The Marlies have really made Ricoh Coliseum their home and upon entering, it is impossible to ignore the team history on display everywhere; old sweaters and memorabilia abound. But it is above the seating bowl where the team is best shown off; every graduate of the Marlies to the Leafs since 1927 is honoured with a leaf around the seating bowl. Each leaf shows the year the player went up to the Leafs and is fashioned to represent the particular shape of the Maple Leafs logo of that year; it underwent many small changes up until the 1980s.
The history of the arena itself is also excellently displayed and antique fittings and spectacular windows have been restored lovingly throughout; this is a real classic barn. Old photos from the Leafs and Marlies fill the concourse.
For young fans, Marlies Alley off the concourse has interactive games and fun for families, while Duke the Dog is one of the most active mascots at the arena and in the local hockey community.
The scoreboard is the old board from the Air Canada Centre and while that is a good idea, the projection system renders it very dim and it can be difficult to enjoy at some points in the game, but the sound system works well and the seating bowl is modern and comfortable. It was announced in June, 2015 that the Ricoh Coliseum will be upgraded with the modern scoreboard from the Air Canada Centre in summer 2015, improving the one low point of the atmosphere experience.
It should be noted that a two week stretch of November, there is no hockey at Ricoh Coliseum as the arena is turned into a horse ring for the Royal Winter Fair, as it has for decades. Also, for one week in January, the rink is turned into an artificial lake for the International Boat Show - plan road trips around these dates!
Ricoh Coliseum is located in the Exhibition area, at the west part of downtown Toronto. Within this precinct is BMO Field, home of Toronto FC and soon the CFL side Argonauts. There are also large convention and event spaces, and the CNE, Canada's yearly national exhibition and fair, and the annual Honda Indy race.. Theme park Ontario Place is nearby, but is currently closed for wholesale renovations. The area is at the west end of Queen's Quay, Toronto's ceremonial waterfront boulevard, where it ends under the beautiful Princes' Gates. There is construction on new residential and hotel complexes including the trendy Hotel X currently being built.
The Exhibition can easily be reached on foot from major points downtown, but walking may be a little difficult if you decide to check out Toronto's oldest pub, the nearby Wheat Sheaf Tavern just north at King and Bathurst Streets.
The Marlies have come a long, long way for fan support in Toronto. Originally the outcasts of the hockey market, there is now loyal support for the team and the Marlies are embraced by fans and families alike. The best metric of this is sales of team sweaters. Where once only Leaf jerseys could be seen at Marlies games, now it is common to see Marlies jerseys even at Leaf games! Fans have reacted well to the accessible pricing and lasting success on-ice, and the team presents a happy alternative to the Leafs.
Marlies fans are very familiar with the game, like most Canadian hockey fans, and are passionate. Chanting and atmosphere is generated well by the unofficial supporter's group Duke's Dog Pound, found in section 116. It is possible to sit in this section - just ask for it when ordering tickets in-person or by phone. Note that these fans are up standing, chanting, and waving flags and banners, so if you just want to sit and watch the game, this is not the place to be, but for the most passionate experience, definitely try it out. Members take road trips together, enjoy the pub before and after the match, and create banners together.
Many fans at the Marlies also turn up to watch players who will soon be with the Leafs, and there can be real interesting tidbits of information and opinion on these young players to be gleaned from fans at the game.
Aside from Duke's Dog Pound, the fan base is generally younger and consists of families and hockey teams who buy group tickets. They are loud and make for a fun atmosphere but it is a different experience than at, say Toronto FC. And while attendance is toward the top of the AHL, it is still easy enough to secure a seat at most games for the time being.
Getting to the Coliseum by public transportation is easy as can be. Frequent streetcars leave from Union Station or from Bathurst Station, closer to midtown Toronto, and pull right up outside the arena. As well, intercity GO Trains stop at Exhibition station also just outside the arena. There are currently planned upgrades to turn GO railways into fast, electric services and this will only improve service from Union or suburban points.
As well, and quite uniquely for Toronto sporting venues, there is still surface parking outside the arena. While this is not likely to survive neighbourhood development in the next decade, it can still be had for $13 usually, which is fairly standard for parking in this area.
Washrooms are adequate and lineups do not take too much time.
Tickets can be had for as low as $10 in the Fan Zone, at one end of the arena and platinum seats go as high as $49. These seats are some of the most expensive in the AHL, but for a generally expensive city like Toronto, the $10 seats are a good deal. The arena itself is spectacular and the on-ice product is very good with the team frequently making deep playoff runs and being exciting to watch year after year.
Two extra stars for the amazing history of the arena and of the team, adorning every nook and cranny of the arena.
Another star for the youth entertainment, Marlies Alley is a great venue for families and the Marlies do a good job of keeping everyone entertained.
Hockey is a huge part of the cultural fabric of Toronto and while the Leafs are the iconic, almost deified players, they are inaccessible to the average fan and frequently disappoint. The Marlies, meanwhile, provide affordable and exciting hockey at a classic venue that is well worth a visit even without the hockey being played there. Anyone visiting Toronto, especially hockey fans, should definitely visit the Marlies. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and it won't drain your wallet, but it is excellent hockey in an incredible venue.
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.
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.
If the Leafs are out of town or their prices are too high, check out the Marlies.
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