Toronto Maple Leafs: What Would a Marlies Calder Cup Mean to Leafs Fans?
In 1998, a sold-out Corestates Spectrum set an American Hockey League attendance record by witnessing the completion of Philadelphia’s first professional sports championship in 18 years. Occupying the former home of the parent Flyers, the Phantoms capped their second season of existence with a six-game Calder Cup Finals victory over the Saint John Flames.
One year later, barely a one-hour train ride south of Boston, an equally packed and pumped Providence Civic Center cheered the Bruins' AHL affiliate to a historic playoff title. At the time, it was the closest New England fans could get to a major professional championship, dating back 13 years to the Celtics' last NBA title.
For those two American sports regions deprived of glory by more than a decade, a Triple-A hockey title was enough to assuage everyone's appetite for a time.
Eventually, three years after the P-Bruins won the Calder Cup, New Englanders indulged in their first Patriots Super Bowl. And in 2008, three years after the Phantoms claimed another title, the Phillies ended their 28-year World Series drought.
But for Flyers and Bruins fans, the end of the last century saw their first pro hockey championship in 23 and 27 years, respectively, dating back to the last time their NHL teams won the Stanley Cup.
Imagine, then, the kind of impact the Toronto Marlies could have on their city if they prevail in their upcoming best-of-seven bout with the Norfolk Admirals.
Other than a few Grey Cups for the CFL's Argonauts in 1996, 1997 and 2004, Toronto has not had any professional championships since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series two decades ago.
And Toronto, being Canada's largest city and the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame, is an unconditional puck-crazed community. This despite the fact that the Leafs are not only nursing the longest-active Stanley Cup championship drought at 45 years and going on 46 but they also have gone the longest of any NHL team without a single playoff appearance.
But this past Friday night, a dense smattering of Leafs prospects drew an audience of 7,515 to the 7,779-seat Ricoh Coliseum, barely a 10-minute drive from the Air Canada Centre. There, the likes of goaltender Ben Scrivens and forward Matt Frattin piloted a 3-1 victory over the Oklahoma City Barons, clinching the Western Conference.
The last time a Toronto hockey team was vying for the Western Conference crown—well, let's not go there. And since transferring to the Eastern Conference, the Leafs have lost in five games to Buffalo in the 1999 conference final and in six games to Carolina in the same series in 2002.
The Marlies, whose playoff roster also includes Philippe Dupuis, Nazem Kadri and Colton Orr, will visit the regular-season champions in Norfolk for Game 1 on June 1. The scene will shuffle back to Toronto for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) beginning a week from Thursday.
The only downside in all of that is the resultant 13-day gap between home games. But if the Marlies pull this off, especially within five games, what's another week-plus of waiting?
"The whole city has been buzzing, a big change from a couple of years ago here," Colborne told the Toronto Sun.
A couple of years ago? Try a handful of decades ago. The Maple Leafs have not so much as played in a Stanley Cup Final since before the NHL began to expand beyond six teams.
Naturally, there is no equal for the one they call Hockey's Holy Grail. But if there is any substitute, it is the Calder Cup.
In the late 1990s, Philadelphians and New Englanders alike showed an appreciation for that. There is no reason to think southern Ontarians will not assent to that as well.
Would defeat hurt? Absolutely, at least to some extent.
But Toronto is already guaranteed to partake in a professional hockey championship series for the first time since 1967, and it’s going to involve those who still aspire to do the same basic thing with the Leafs.
There is nothing left to ruin in this saga, but there is still something that can be sweetened.
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