Monday, April 30, 2012

Hockey Night in Toronto

It is a routine I go through with each ride on the train. If no seat is available, I firmly plant my feet, and hope it is going to be a smooth ride. Getting a seat is a luxury, not to mention a welcome opportunity to do more than stare at advertisements for business schools and radio stations.

 The benefit of plobbing down on a padded surface allows time for some relaxing reading time. Once submerged in the text, a biography or crime novel becomes the main focus.

One night last week, my concentration was broken by a conversation between two men. Their voices were just loud enough to distract me from a biography I was reading on goalie Bruce Gamble. They were babbling on about the Stanley Cup playoffs, and breaking down each series.

All of sudden, their discussion switched to the Maple Leafs. As Toronto is the centre of the hockey universe, this detour didn't come as a surprise, nor did the tone of their yakking.

Hockey's post-season in Toronto, for folks who follow the home town team, takes on an entirely different meaning. Fans in New York and Philadelphia cheer on their teams, living and dying with each win or defeat in a best-of-seven series.

The difference in Toronto? We bitch and moan about our beloved hockey squad. After missing the playoffs for so many years, it seems the natural thing to do. It is a form of collective therapy. As though the good doctor is advising us not to hold it in, rather to talk about it. Holding emotions close to the vest will only result in additional stress.

Very quickly, the train chatter evolved into a total bitch-fest, I mean counselling session. Both players and management were thrown under the train.

One pointed out how much Brian Burke sucked at his job. His pal, nodding his head up and down in agreement, took on the appearance of a Dion Phaneuf bobblehead. Then, they turned on the players. "Reimer is a bum," stated the Phaneuf bobblehead. Ignoring his opinion, his friend wondered aloud as to why Kessel couldn't score 50-goals.

My stop couldn't come fast enough!

Instead of paying so much attention on a team failing to produce positive results, couldn't these two shut-up and take note of another hockey team in town? - the Toronto Marlies.

It is vital for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to take full advantage of the success their American Hockey League team is experiencing.

In the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, Toronto swept the Rochester Americans in three games. Their line-up is sprinkled with potential future starters  for the parent club. Names like Joe Colburne, Cater Ashton and Korbinian Holzer are on the roster.

For fans unable to see the Leafs perform in-person, here is a chance to watch some Marlies, who also played a portion of the 2011-12 campaign with the big-club. In particular, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. Right-winger Jerry D'Amigo is having a break-out playoff, scoring five goals in the three games against Rochester.

Players and the coaching staff are doing their jobs, now it is up to MLS&E to support the cause.

How about moving games to the Air Canada Centre, which is easier to get to than the Ricoh Coliseum? Attendance for the first two dates at the Ricoh - 6,244 and 7,816 - has been impressive. Most likely though, people who gave a second thought to attending and passed, were concerned about travelling down to the Exhibition grounds. The Ricoh is located in an isolated district, making it an undesirable trip for the very young and very old.

With the Raptors joining their hockey counterparts on the golf course (is this bitching?), why can't the Marlies jump on their bus and head uptown to the Air Canada Centre? When the AHL affiliate played in the big-house on December 26, 2011, the joint was rocking with 13,238 spectators.

A check of the ACC website, reveals there are four bookings during the merry month of May. These are public concerts, so private events may not be listed. If dates are available and coincide with the AHL playoff schedule, there should be no hesitation in transferring them to Bay Street.

Every corporate asset should be engaged and put in motion, from marketing to in-house promotion. Ticket pricing should be inviting, not discouraging. Now is the time for MLS&E to plant the seed and watch the Marlies franchise grow.

For hockey-starved fans in the city, it is an opportunity to support a winner and watch exciting action.

It beats sitting around bitching and moaning.

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