Coca-Cola Coliseum – Toronto Marlies
The Coliseum of Champions
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 Coca-Cola Coliseum, the home of the legendary Toronto Marlborough Hockey Club, later known as the Marlboros, then 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. In 1902, the team became champions of the Ontario Hockey Association. Fascinatingly, the trophy awarded in that league at the time was the Stanley Cup, the famous NHL trophy of today!
By 1927, legendary Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe purchased the Marlboros, seeing the need for a development side for the big club. The Marlboros jumped between different leagues for decades but in 1989, following the implementation of the NHL draft, internal player development became obsolete. The Leafs were forced to terminate their partnership with the Marlboros, who eventually became solely focused on junior and youth hockey. To this day, the Marlboro youth hockey programmes consistently churn out NHL players.
Finally, in 2005, the Maple Leafs decided to move their AHL affiliate team back to town, relocating from St. John’s, Newfoundland. In doing so, the Leafs reclaimed the Marlboro name (though using Marlies to avoid association with the Marlboro cigarette brand), and brought them to play at the newly-reconstructed Coca-ColaColiseum. Recently, the club went back to their storied ‘Leaf and Crown’ crest, and the long history has come full circle. Now, the Marlies have claimed their first Calder Cup as champions of the American Hockey League, after a near-flawless 2017-2018 season that electrified fans in Toronto and around the hockey world, shattered attendance records, and brought new life into the hockey club.
The Coliseum’s history is no less spectacular, having been the centre of the popular Royal Agricultural Winter Fair since its opening in 1922. Extensively renovated in the early 2000s, various hockey teams came and went, unable to firmly establish themselves in the market. Finally in 2005, with the resumption of the Marlboro franchise, stability and success have returned and hockey at Coca-Cola Coliseum should continue for years to come.
Food & Beverage 4
The Coliseum goes far beyond the expected offerings for an arena at this level of hockey. The staples are present; Pizza Pizza stands with more interesting options like chicken nuggets or sausages, coffee stands, Smoke’s Poutinerie, sweet stands, and hot dogs. More unique items include freshly shaved corned beef sandwiches at The Deli, porchetta, and gourmet burgers at St. Patties, which riffs on the former name of the Maple Leafs.
Drinks selection is also above average for this size of the arena, though pricey. Domestic tallboys start at $9.75. Draught Molson Canadian starts at $10 for a small. The more ‘premium’ option of Rickards on draught is only fifty cents more, and a larger pint is $14.25. Tallboy cans of Caesars from Mott’s are offered for $10 as are Vodka drinks, Strongbow cider, and wine and liquors (for varying prices). The Molson Canadian Hockey House concept is brought here, with the micropub area called Lord Stanley’s Mug, which has standing tables and lots of TVs.
Concessions aren’t particularly cheap, but a food item for $8-$10 will at least be of very good quality and interesting to try, more so than at many arenas.
The Marlies have really made the historic but beautifully-redone Coca-ColaColiseum 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 crest of that year; from the vintage veined Leafs to the modernist pointed leaf, and now to the historic crest adopted again by the parent club.
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 alongside vintage Canadian National Exhibition photographs.
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.
Over centre ice, a crisp, clear, and attractive modern video board is very well utilised. Replays are frequent and the screens remain untouched by intrusive advertising or gimmickry. The presentation is enhanced by very professional and attractive graphic design and interesting club history and trivia. The seating bowl itself is laid out smartly to maximize sight lines and circulation. The main concourse is U-shaped, but atop the bowl is a full and open mezzanine with some food and drink kiosks, along with a convenient mid-level ring above the platinum for circulation between sections. Downstairs, the main concourse is bisected by the walkway from the change rooms, allowing fans to see the players up close as they hit the ice.
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 – a sight that must be seen to be believed!
Coca-Cola Coliseum is located in the Exhibition area, immediately west of downtown Toronto. Within this precinct is BMO Field, home of Toronto FC and the Canadian Football League’s Argonauts. There are also large convention and event spaces, the CNE (Canada’s yearly national exhibition and fair), and the Indycar street circuit. The Ontario Place theme park is nearby but is currently closed for reconstruction.
The neighbourhood is at the west end of Queen’s Quay, Toronto’s ceremonial waterfront boulevard, where it ends under the beautiful Princes’ Gates. There is lots of nearby construction of condominiums and hotels, including the newly opened and trendy Hotel X.
The Exhibition can easily be reached on foot from major points downtown, but walking may be a little difficult if you become waylaid by the numerous pubs on the way, including the Wheat Sheaf, reputed to be the oldest in the city.
Immediately to the north of the rink is the Liberty Village neighbourhood, whose pubs and bars fill up before Toronto FC games. The neighbourhood is also home to the Toronto Wolfpack rugby league squad, who play at Lamport Stadium. Alternatively, stroll eastward along Toronto’s lively Harbourfront or take a ferry to the Islands in nice weather.
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 upstanding, 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.
Aside from Duke’s Dog Pound, the fan base is generally younger and consists of families and hockey teams who buy group tickets. The atmosphere is, especially compared to the restraint of the Leafs, fun and loud. The ‘viking clap’ that has become popular at neighbouring BMO Field has worked its way indoors, as have drums and cowbells. Attendance is in the upper half of the AHL, but the availability of empty seats at nearly every regular season game means there is still work to be done in getting fans out. With the Marlies successful Calder Cup run this 2017 – 2018 season, sellouts became more common, including attendance records being set in the playoffs.
It could not be easier to get to Coca-Cola Coliseum by public transportation, with the arena right next to the Exhibition transit hub. The station has frequent GO Train commuter service on the Lakeshore West line, and the ride to central Union Station and the rest of the region’s transport network is five minutes. The GO Trains are very comfortable and the best way for fans from suburban areas or nearby cities to get to the game.
Streetcars also pull up to a loop right outside the north doors of the Coliseum, Local services run along Queen’s Quay, to Union, and up Bathurst Street to the major east-west subway line. Further, local buses branch out and run to nearby neighbourhoods like Parkdale, Roncesvalles, and Ossington.
Uniquely for Toronto sporting venues, surface parking still exists outside the arena, due to the demands of the yearly National Exhibition for open space. $13 will cover a car for most games, which is typical for the area. Also unique for Toronto, the proximity to the Gardiner Expressway means no navigating clogged urban streets to get to the rink.
Within the rink, washrooms are adequately large and the redundant concourses ensure easy circulation, even with the u-shape of the lower concourse.
Return on Investment 4
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 great deal. The arena itself is spectacular, with not a bad seat in the house, and the on-ice product is very good with the team frequently making deep playoff runs and being exciting to watch year after year, including winning the championship this 2017 – 2018 season!
An extra point for the incredible reuse of the old barn and historic displays throughout it; truly it must be seen to be believed.
An extra point for keeping the young fans involved, with Marlies Alley, the tremendous mascot, Duke, and partnerships with local hockey organizations.
A final extra point for the resurrection of the Marlies name, and now the crest, which have been a part of local hockey history for a very long time.
An extra point is deserved for the Calder Cup win and overall spectacular season.
Hockey is deeply woven into the cultural fabric of Toronto and while the Leafs are iconic – even deified – tickets are inaccessible to the average fan and the atmosphere is thusly lacking at Air Canada Centre. 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. Throw in the fact that the Marlies are now defending their championship, and the on-ice product matches the beautiful surrounds. Anyone visiting Toronto, especially hockey fans, should definitely visit the Marlies. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and it won’t drain your wallet. And Ricoh Coliseum itself will leave no one disappointed.
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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 Marlborough Hockey Club, later known as the Marlboros, then the Marlies.