MLSE's Better Side
It wasn't a good day for Justin Pogge, the next saviour of the Maple Leafs, and you had to wonder how the math works that gets beer up to $6 a glass and pizza sold at $4.15 a slice.
But 6,800 fans couldn't all be wrong, and that was the number that filled Ricoh Coliseum on Sunday to watch the AHL Marlies play the Albany River Rats. With Pogge having a so-so matinee outing after playing in Hamilton the night before, the Rats won the game, but that didn't really dilute the fun in the building and the sense that the Marlies have something pretty good going on both on and off the ice.
They're a first place team, for starters. But this is a situation in which MLSE actually listened to the public, and have been rewarded for doing so. They chopped ticket prices over the off-season, finally realizing that getting 2,500 or less a night was evidence that they'd overpriced their product.
On Sunday, the building was filled with kids and families, and rather than blasting heavy metal music, there was Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer mascots handing out goodies. Kids could get lunchboxes going in with Pogge bobblehead dolls, and there were actually dads and their children playing mini-sticks in concourses between periods.
The building itself really feels and looks like a hockey rink now. You can park for $11 in the underground lot adjacent to the rink and sit in a terrific seat for $30 or less. There's lots of room for walking around and getting food and drink, although the long lines on Sunday suggested the Marlies might not have been prepared for the big crowd that showed up.
For a long time, its been believed that this isn't a hockey town, but a Leaf town, and junior teams have struggled to establish a foothold despite years of trying. The Marlies may be proving to be an exception, although it could be argued that as a team that is effectively the next rung of the Leaf organization the Marlies are really proving the rule to be true.
But they've got a good team, it's a terrific arena to watch a game and the city's hockey fans, for whatever reason, seem to be responding.