Photo Credit: Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com
My first ever game in the Marlies press box was on Boxing Day 2011. Up until that point, I had spent a year and a half at the rink for every game, using my laptop atop section 104 at Ricoh Coliseum; where the strongest guest WiFi was. But suddenly, my plans hit a hurdle; the Marlies decided to play the post-Christmas game against Hamilton at the Air Canada Centre.
It was a first for the team, who had played at the rink before during an emergency rescheduling, but never with intent. This was to be different, though; it was a chance to give the little guys a taste of the big show. I was included in this taste; after much insistence that there was no spot in the seats for me to type away, I managed to secure credentials.
It was an interesting experience, much like it still is today. What I love about watching a game at the ACC is the view that you get from the press box; it’s way up at the top of the rink, so you get to see the plays forming from any and all angles; a stark contrast from Ricoh’s box, which is at the top of the arena’s only bowl, and towards the Toronto shoots twice blue line. If the puck goes into the far corner, its a bit trickier to figure out what’s happening.
The other cool thing? I got to sit in on a presser, and it was one that involved the always outspoken Brian Burke. Knowing I was in it for the chairs, I didn’t say anything during the actual conference, though on the way back upstairs, Burkie and I got stuck waiting in line for the Hamilton Players to go back to the ice. Trying to make conversation, I asked him if there was a possibility for more games in the future.
“I don’t know.”
Good job, Jeff. At least he didn’t kill you.
Fast forward to 2015. The Marlies went back to the ACC again, again, and again. They weren’t always successful; in fact, the pucks seemed to go in for the other team in these games more frequently than they did for the home team away from home.
But playing in the NHL rink was never a matter of trying to gain an advantage. It goes back to the idea of “giving a taste” that I mentioned before.
It’s an opportunity for the players to see where they could be playing. Playing on the same ice, looking up to the same mega scoreboard, using the same dressing rooms, taking the same elevators. Sure, the Leafs organization does a great job in constantly renovating and refreshing Ricoh to make it the envy of the AHL, but nothing compares to playing in the rink of one of the most prestigious teams in the sport.
It’s an opportunity for the fans to get a similar experience. As we all know, Leafs games aren’t cheap; the most expensive in all of hockey by a considerable margin, as a matter of fact. The Marlies, on the other hand, are a team that you can easily pick up tickets in the $10-40 range for. This way, the fans get to watch hockey in a building that has effectively priced them out at a fraction of a cost.
Not just that, but the hockey is quality, and relevant to them. The Marlies are full of future NHLers that are working their way up Toronto’s hierarchy; their 15-4-1 record is the second best in the AHL by points percentage, despite the team being the league’s youngest. It’s a glimpse into the crystal ball in the very venue that the players aspire to be in. You can’t really beat that.
Unfortunately, today was an imperfect version of that vision. The players didn’t quite get the full experience; with the Leafs playing a home game at 7 PM, the team used the secondary dressing rooms built for the World Juniors. As for the game itself, they’ve certainly had better. They took on the St. John’s IceCaps, and while it was a high scoring affair, it didn’t go their way like the 9-8 goal fest of a few weeks ago.
In fact, it was the worst loss that the team has suffered at home this year. While Brendan Leipsic and Matt Frattin ensured that the IceCaps’ first couple of pushes at taking over were short lived, St. John’s took over in the back half of the game. Stefan Fournier put his team up 3-2 with eight minutes to go, and opposition didn’t look back from there. While Marlies fans focused in on the Scott Harrington, who made his debut with the team today, Habs prospect Charles Hudon was the star defenceman of the second half, scoring a point shot and a close-quarters deke to put the game out of reach. Dave Carr added an empty-netter in the game’s final seconds to create the 6-2 final.
So, things could have gone better. But ultimately, it’s a learning process, and there will be plenty of opportunities to find better conclusions; the Marlies return to Ricoh Coliseum tomorrow to rematch the IceCaps, and have four more games at the Air Canada Centre before the year closes.