I've only lived in Toronto for three months.
I've never had a poutine, I don't own hockey skates, and I still pronounce the last 'T' in the city's name. In short, I'm still a foreigner in these here parts.
So why, in a hockey city of five million people, am I one of only a few who seem to appreciate the Toronto Marlies?
It's the fault of the Maple Leafs.
Let's look at the facts:
- The Marlies are currently sitting at fourth out of seven in the AHL North Division, eight points shy of the division leaders.
- They won their division and came second in their conference last season.
- They're 19-14-0-3 in the season, and 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 games.
- Their goalie was called up to start for the Leafs a couple of weeks ago and pulled out a more convincing performance than either Vesa Toskala or Curtis Joseph had managed in months.
- You can watch them play for 10 bucks.
In contrast, here's how the Leafs are doing:
- They are currently fourth out of five in the Northeast Division, 24 points away from the Eastern Conference leaders, Boston Bruins.
- They are five points shy of a playoff spot.
- They last won their division in 2000, and haven't made the playoffs since 2004.
- They're 16-17-8 this season, and 5-5-0 in their 10 most recent games
- They have two goalies both over 30, one of whom is over 40, and who can't produce a consistent run between them.
- You have to shell out $100 and sell your soul to a broker to get tickets.
Despite this, the Maple Leafs' average attendance is fifth best out of 30 NHL teams, while the Marlies' average sits only two places from bottom in a 29-team league.
So why the hell are the Leafs selling out the 18,000-seat ACC while Ricoh Coliseum sits half-full every weekend?
My buddy suggested to me that Torontonians are just spoiled for sport.
Between the Jays, the Leafs, the Raptors, the Argonauts, and the glory of HNIC, people can't be bothered to sit freezing in the Ricoh watching lower league hockey.
My own situation makes me think there's a lot of truth in this.
Having been a hockey fan for 16 years, and lived in a country where the vast majority of people don't even know the sport exists within their borders for all that time, I jump at the chance to watch live games whenever my bank account allows.
I am amazed that I can see the Marlies play at the level closest to the NHL for half the price of a Elite League ticket back home—a league where ex-NHLers are scarce and infamous, despite the fact that they're clearly past their best (Theo Fleury made quite a splash in the lockout season).
But maybe its not just the prevalence of the Leafs that has left the Marlies out in the cold.
Has the relentless frustration of supporting NHL's most valuable franchise made Torontonians cautious and mistrusting of potential success?
Has the craving for disappointment become the curse of Leafs Nation?
If that's the case with you, here's the cure:
Buy a Marlies ticket instead of a Leafs one, and with the money you've saved buy a beer, once every period, at the Ricoh Coliseum once a weekend.
That'll perk you, and the Marlies, right up.