After a night running around in Toronto last weekend, I was feeling tired but more than a little proud of my adopted city and home country: what better way to celebrate this sudden patriotism than to take in that most Canadian of sports – ice hockey?
Hockey runs in the blood of all Canadians: they live and breathe it. Many of them would sell their own souls for a ticket to a National Hockey League game, and for the price of them you’d think they’d have to! However, the next best thing to a NHL game is watching an affiliate, so this weekend I headed for the Ricoh Coliseum to watch the Toronto Marlies take on the American Grand Rapid Griffins team.
We arrived at the stadium among hundreds of other fans dressed in their blue Marlies jerseys, carrying flags, pointers, clappers and even drum sets (though thankfully no vuvuzelas) to show their support for the team. The vibe in the crowd was incredible – everyone was in high spirits and there were a huge number of families there which gave it a really inclusive feeling.
While waiting outside for my other friends to arrive, we missed being in the stadium for the national anthems, but the noise from inside was immense enough that we could hear everything perfectly clearly anyway!
Once my friends arrived we rushed inside to take our seats, finding that our affordable $20 tickets had actually bought us great seats. From the moment we sat down, the next three hours seemed almost a blur as we watched the hockey players shoot to and fro at terrifying speeds!
The first score was made by the home team and the crowd’s reaction was incredible. Every Marlies’ fan in the place seemed to be trying to make as much noise as possible: banging the ground, jumping up and screaming, playing their drums and chanting. The speed of the game means you have to keep your eyes on the puck at pretty much all times which meant I became quite oblivious to my surroundings – all I could hear was the chantings of the crowd around me: “Let’s go Marlies”, as they clapped in unison.
Throughout the whole game I was so gripped by the action I felt like I was about to fall off my seat: my knuckles were white from gripping the chair and my heart was pounding in my chest. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life and I knew the fans around me felt the same – with the cheerleaders busting out their routine with every score and the crowd holding their breath at every attempt at the goal, I knew in that moment that hockey was a sport I could really follow!
Once in a while a team member would be slammed against the thick protection glass wall, causing arguments and from time to time this would escalate into a full blown fight. This wound the crowd up even more, though I hope some of the kids in the audience covered their eyes!
Come half time, the Marlies mascot made his way out onto the ice, entertaining anyone and everyone who was willing to give him attention. He did little dances, pulling in dancing partners from the crowd and banging drums to keep the vibe going, while the Marlies cheerleaders kept spirits up.
In between the three 20 minute playing sections, there was a 15 minute rest time during which the kids could interact with the mascot and take part in fun activities, such as the ice cart race and dance off, while the adults stretched their legs and headed for the food court. We grabbed a hotdog with the works (ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut etc.), and two Canadian Poutines, one an original and one with pulled pork, which were both extremely filling indeed. The smell of this Canuck favoured dish all around me really added to the truly Canadian experience of it all!
By the end of the game the Toronto Marlies was on “thin ice”: it was a tie! The game continued to overtime, with no results, followed by shoot-outs when, sadly for the Marlies, the Grand Rapid Griffins took home the victory.
All in all it was a great game and definitely a great Canadian experience!
Where: Ricoh Coliseum (for this event, other events may vary location)
Website: Marlies website
Public Transport : Streetcar 511 (depending on location)