Toronto, the Leafs and the Marlies

This trip began where the last one left off…with snow! For those living in the Northeast, there’s nothing worse than having a prolonged taste of Spring (more like Summer) and then see the snow fall. Expectedly, it didn’t stick to the roads, but it foreshadowed a chilly weekend in Toronto. After picking up my brother in Rochester, we made the three hour trek Saturday Morning and stayed in the suburb of Oakville, opting to take mass transit and using the GO train to Union Station. Emerging downtown is a treat as this is one of the nicest cities in North America. Clean, tons to do and very diverse, which aids in the terrific restaurant scene. Right in the middle of it all in a historic building is the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now I’ve been here before and though not too much changed from what I remember, this is still a worthy Hall of Fame and you can’t beat the Great Hall. This is where all the famous trophies are, along with each inductee. And of course, shining front and center is the Stanley Cup. Of all the sports things one can do, putting your hands on the Stanley Cup is certainly up there.

After grabbing dinner, it was off to the Air Canada Centre for a game between the Leafs and Sabres. When I got to the arena, I was blown away at what was in front of the building. When I was in the CN Tower eight years ago, I had an unobstructed view looking down at the ACC as there was nothing much immediately in front. Now there are many towering skyscrapers as the mixed-use Maple Leaf Square was built with condos, restaurants and other entertainment facilities. Crazy the difference between Canada and US in terms of city projects as most have halted here in the States; meanwhile, Toronto (and Vancouver for that matter) is filled with cranes and under-construction buildings. Anyway, inside the ACC is a really nice building with a good design for hockey. Though the concourses are inviting with some cool spaces, I was disappointed though in the lack of history and/or displays on the walls. A franchise with that much of a storied past should do much more with displaying it. Though I’m not keen on the overhanging gondolas obstructing views in the upper sections, I very much enjoyed the layout of the seating bowl. Our seats in the middle portion of Section 317, right near the wall were actually pretty decent (I like walls and goofy corners breaking up a standard  ring of seating). Of course, they cost an arm and a leg as the ticket prices here are an absolute joke. The Leafs are one of the highest priced experiences in all of the four major sports. This usually makes for more of a corporate, quieter feel inside…but I didn’t really notice that at our game. Maybe because the Leafs were winding down the season with their longest home losing streak (11) in franchise history, so maybe a lot of season-ticket holders sold their tickets. This led to a good chunk of Sabres fans in attendance (Buffalo is only a couple hours away), but it was not a good day for us as the team dropped a 5-3 game to the home Leafs. It was a brief reprieve for Toronto fans from what has been an awful season as their shocking run of no playoffs (since 2004) continues. Fans were cool to us in Sabre jerseys with just some relatively pleasant verbal jabbing and nothing too harsh.

On Sunday, we saw an afternoon matinee at RICOH Coliseum, home to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. RICOH is a very strange, but refreshingly different arena as the building is old and historic, built in 1921. Walking in, you’re expecting an old-style rink, but instead the place is relatively new. That’s because there were no sports held here until they essentially built a hockey arena inside during 2003 renovations. Prior to that, agricultural events and playing host to the many exhibitions held during the Canadian National Exhibition (a huge fair) was the purpose of the facility. In fact, the whole area that the arena sits in, Exhibition Place, is primarily the home of the CNE and throughout the grounds are buildings and other housing areas, designed for the CNE and other special events. Exhibition Place also includes BMO Field, where the MLS Toronto FC team plays. They had a game the day before and the train we were on was filled with many dressed in red scarves heading to the game.

RICOH was a pretty good AHL home and unlike the ACC nearby, the walls had many old pictures and stories, detailing the history of the facility, and the Toronto farm team relationship. Inside is a single level seating area with a lot of standing room behind the bowl. There was a pretty good crowd on hand, mostly consisting of kids and groups, though they were able to generate some good noise after goals and a decent atmosphere. Unlike their parent team, the Marlies are pretty good as they completed a three-game streak this weekend (the first two over my hometown Amerks). It was a great game as Grand Rapids took a 2-0 lead and Toronto was able to tie it up in the third. Then with less than a minute left, future star Nazem Kadri crashed the net and gave the Marlies the lead and the win.

I’ll have both reviews up probably within the week or so. In the meantime, check out the excellent summaries for the Leafs and Marlies written over at Stadium Journey by Dave Cottenie. Special thanks to Wayne Young on this trip. Had a terrific time up in Canada and there are two more Toronto venues left for me: the Rexall Centre for the ATP Tour event in Toronto and BMO Field for Toronto FC. Hopefully that can be done in the future with a Summer Trip. Otherwise, enjoy an awesome sports week with the NHL/NBA getting ready for playoffs, Baseball Opening Day and of course the Masters. Happy Holidays this weekend!

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