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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens - TMU Bold Basketball

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Coca-Cola Court @ Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens 60 Carlton St Toronto, ON M5B 1J2

Year Opened: 1949

Capacity: 1,000

Basketball in a Hockey Holy Grail

Editor's Note: Ryerson University changed its name to Toronto Metropolitan University. This review was written before the rebranding, and will reflect the team's previous name as the Ryerson Rams.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs director, the legendary Conn Smythe, pushed for a new arena and for the opportunity for the Leafs to get out of the smallish Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. In 1931, Smythe was rewarded with the opening of the now legendary Maple Leaf Gardens. For more than 60 years, the Gardens was the pre-eminent entertainment venue in all of Canada. The Maple Leafs shared the ice with major concerts including The Beatles and Elvis Presley, Maple Leaf Wrestling, junior hockey’s Toronto Marlboros and a host of other sports teams. The Maple Leafs would play their final game at the Gardens in 1999 before heading to the Air Canada Centre to join the Toronto Raptors. The final sporting event at Maple Leaf Gardens would be the National Lacrosse League championship game in 2000 where the Toronto Rock were victorious. Then the Gardens went dark for a decade.

The future of Maple Leaf Gardens would be questioned for years. Not surprisingly, Ontario declared it a Heritage Site in 1991 and Canada would do the same in 2007. Options for the property were limited. Eventually, the Gardens would be sold to the Loblaw Company, parent company of a huge chain of grocery stores, and they would partner with Ryerson University. It was the financial aid of Mattamy Homes Ltd founder, Peter Gilgan, that would help transform the former Maple Leaf Gardens into what it is today, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens. The main floor on Carlton Street is a Loblaw’s grocery store. The top level retains much of the design of the old Maple Leaf Gardens and houses Mattamy Home Ice, the home of Ryerson Rams hockey. The middle floor serves as the recreation facilities of Ryerson along with Coca-Cola Court, the home for Ryerson basketball and volleyball.

Ryerson University was established in Toronto in 1948. Today, Ryerson has grown to a university with over 40,000 students and has produced many members of the Canadian media. Participating in the OUA, the Ontario conference of USports, Canada’s university sport governing body, the Ryerson Rams have been fielding a basketball team since 1949. Usually considered an “also-ran” in the OUA, Ryerson’s move to the MAC has coincided with its best showings on the court. It is no coincidence that Ryerson has taken home the Wilson Cup as OUA champions in both 2016 and 2017.

Food & Beverage 3

A variety of concessions are available on the second floor of the Mattamy Athletic Centre. The Rams Café services fans attending Rams basketball games as well as students using the recreation facilities. The selection of food at Rams Café is decent but not spectacular. Pizza, sandwiches, popcorn, protein bars, chips, chocolate bars and candy are all available. Coke is obviously the soda selection to be had. Vitamin water and other soft drinks are also available. Coffee, a selection of teas, cappuccino, slushies and smoothies round out the soft drinks available. Beer is also available at Rams Café for those who are of legal age. There is a decent seating area in Rams Café which also serves as a great place to meet friends and relax before the game begins.

Atmosphere 5

Mattamy Athletic Centre is possibly the best example of repurposing a classic sporting venue that there is on the planet. The Heritage designation required Ryerson and Loblaw to maintain much of the exterior. Carlton Street boasts the main entrance and the cream coloured brick, iconic domed roof and traditional Maple Leaf Gardens marquee remain. The building still fits the neighbourhood perfectly.

Upon entering the MAC at the main level, fans are struck with the sleek, modern, Loblaw Atrium. Smartly lit and promoting a variety of Ryerson athletes, the Atrium welcomes fans and nicely transitions to the historic aspects of the MAC. Throughout the entire building fans can see a ton of old pictures from some of the biggest events ever held at Maple Leaf Gardens. The row of red seats along the south wall on the second level might just be the ones that Conn Smythe had put in when he infamously replaced the portrait of the Queen.

Up the escalator to the second level is where fans will find Ryerson’s recreation facilities, a small team shop and Coca-Cola Court. The court is located at the west side of the building. Coca-Cola Court is a small, intimate basketball facility, perfect for OUA basketball. The court runs from north to south with two sets of eight row, moulded plastic bleachers on the east and west sides. Fans who wish for the perfect picture of the centre court logo should head for the west side. The court is full of white, blue and yellow with huge painted logos on the north and south walls. The north side proudly proclaims for all to see that “This Is Our House Now.” The north and south walls each have simple scoreboards with the north featuring individual player scores as well. There is also a simple scoreboard on the floor on the east side of the court. To the left of the north scoreboard are the OUA and USports championship banners, including the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Wilson Cup banners as conference champions.

The game day production at a Rams basketball game is about what you expect from an OUA basketball venue. There is an in house DJ who plays music during down times and adds sound effects to made free-throws. The PA announcer does a solid job and does not blow away the fans in attendance with too much show or too much volume. Sometimes the Ryerson mascot Eggy the Ram can be found in attendance.

Neighbourhood 5

The Mattamy Athletic Centre is located in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood of downtown Toronto. It is very close to Queen’s Park and the Ontario Legislature as Toronto is also the capital city of the province. There is an abundance of opportunities for fans around the MAC and although it is not Harbourfront, fans will not be left wanting. There are a plethora of restaurants and bars within walking distance of the MAC. Some spots that may be of interest would include Mick E Fynn’s, Fran’s Restaurant and Carlton Restaurant.

Toronto is a city where a weekend will not cut it, a whole week is probably necessary to get what may be close to the full experience. For fans hoping for other sporting experiences to pair with a Ryerson Rams basketball game there are a number available. A good place to start would be by going upstairs to Mattamy Home Ice to catch the Ryerson Rams play hockey. A twenty minute walk will bring fans to Ryerson’s main rival, the University of Toronto. The Varsity Blues play football at Varsity Stadium, hockey at Varsity Arena and basketball at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. As far as the professional ranks go, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Rock all call Scotiabank Arena home. The Rogers Centre is home for the Toronto Blue Jays and BMO Field is home for the Toronto Argonauts and Toronto FC. Across the parking lot from BMO is the Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the Toronto Marlies. Finally, at the north side of Toronto is York University, home of the Lions. Football is played at York Stadium, basketball is played at the Tait McKenzie Centre and hockey is played at Canlan Ice Sports York. There are also a plethora of other tourist options near the MAC.

Casa Loma is to the north and offers a unique experience in the city. The CF Eaton Centre is probably the most recognizable shopping experience in Toronto and is also close by. The theatre district in Toronto is probably second only to New York and that doesn’t even cover the CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame and other tourist spots closer to Harbourfront.

For fans needing to stay close by, the Holiday Inn is right next door to the MAC. The Courtyard by Marriott is also close by.

Fans 2

It is so difficult to assess OUA basketball fans. In many cases the attendance is not reported with the official score. It is reported that fan support for Rams basketball games hovers between 300 and 800 fans, which is pretty good, but probably on the high side. Ryerson is also pretty much a commuter school, with students coming from all across Toronto, rather than just the Ryerson campus. The fans that are in attendance can be pretty laid back as most OUA basketball fans are. The game that was reviewed was a significant mismatch which could account for the small and quiet crowd.

Access 4

There are a couple of different ways to get to the Gardens. It is located in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood of downtown Toronto. It is north of the Gardiner Expressway and west of the Don Valley Parkway. It is also significantly south of highway 401. For fans coming to the Gardens by car, be prepared to do some significant driving through the city. There are a number of paid surface lots around the Gardens. There is also parking beneath which is controlled by Loblaws. The parking around the neighbourhood usually goes for around $10-$15, but the Loblaws parking is quite significant and can go to $40.

The best way to get to the Mattamy Athletic Centre may be the subway. The College Station for the TTC is less than a block away. There are also buses and streetcars in the neighbourhood. Fans can check out the Toronto Transit Commission website for fares, schedules and maps.

The ticketing window is immediately on the left when entering the MAC off of Carleton Street on the main floor. There are usually not much in the way of lineups. Fans should be aware that at least one window will be a cash only affair.

Getting around the MAC is not too difficult at all. Fans must travel to the second level by escalator to reach the Coca-Cola Court. There are elevators for those who are unable to take escalators. The washrooms on the second level are clean and new. There is more than enough space to accommodate the number of fans that are normally in attendance for Ryerson Rams games.

Return on Investment 5

As with most USports experiences there is tremendous value in Ryerson Rams basketball games. USports basketball is a hidden gem and the Rams program is currently one of the strongest in the country. Tickets for Ryerson games are $13 for adults, $9 for alumni and Ryerson students and children under 12 are free. The level of basketball is great and it is easy to have a great time on a very small investment. Concession prices are not too bad either. There will be a bit of a cost getting to the MAC but that is offset by the ability to check out a truly iconic venue.

Extras 4

Two extra marks for Ryerson maintaining the history of Maple Leaf Gardens. The exterior façade sets the tone and fans of the Maple Leafs and Toronto sports history can spend hours perusing old photos and artifacts.

An extra mark for the budding rivalry with the Toronto Varsity Blues. Games against Varsity are now becoming popular and very well attended. Something that USports desperately needs.

An extra mark for the unique flexibility that Ryerson has. Coca-Cola Court is a small, intimate venue for basketball. For games that will draw a larger crowd, it is not that difficult to set up a basketball court on Mattamy Home Ice.

Final Thoughts

Ryerson Rams basketball offers sports fans the opportunity to see a great sports property and a significantly low price in a truly iconic venue. Even Leafs fans who are not into OUA sports need to take the pilgrimage to the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens to see how well Ryerson has done in preserving this heritage site. Coca-Cola Court screams, go for the Gardens, stay for the Rams.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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