Photo by alexindigo from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
The leaves are falling; the days are getting colder and the nights longer. All this can only mean one thing. It’s hockey season.
In Toronto, hockey is virtually synonymous with the Maple Leafs. Which is fine if you’re into teams with questionable goaltending, aging stars and $45 nosebleed seats.
Luckily for us, the Leafs aren’t the only game in town. Quality hockey, pleasantly free of suits in corporate boxes, can be found in and around Toronto.
The Toronto Marlies
As their American Hockey League farm team, the Marlies are sort of an extension of the Leafs. That said, the Ricoh Coliseum could not be more different than the ACC.
Where the ACC is permanently packed to the gills, the Ricoh regularly has a few empty seats, which is a bummer in terms of creating that crazy, Slapshot-esque hockey arena ambiance, but means you will never have trouble getting in the building.
The best thing about the Marlies is the chance to see future NHL stars before they hit the big time, making a game at the Ricoh Coliseum the sporting equivalent of going to see Slayer in 1982. Admittedly, there are a lot of small-time journeymen in the mix, and most of those future stars won’t be wearing the Marlies’ blue and white, but getting the opportunity to say “I saw them when” is almost too good to pass up.
Can’t miss games: October 27, against the defending AHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs; November 18, against the Rockford Ice Hogs, owners of the dumbest logo ever, December 2, against the Philadelphia Phantoms, where you can hope that renowned cheap shot artist Steve Downie gets his clock cleaned.
The OHL in the 905
For those of you who have access to a car, or aren’t afraid of a little GO train ride, our neighbours to north and west have quality hockey to burn.
For the uninitiated, the Ontario Hockey League is the home to the potential stars of tommorrow. It’s where boys become men, where men become stars, and where stars get pasted to the boards by hungry young goons. The play in the OHL isn’t as polished as in the NHL, but the players more than make up for it with raw grit.
The Brampton Battalion has graduated such NHL up-and-comers as Wojtek Wolski, Jason Spezza and Raffi Torres. While they didn’t exactly look like world-beaters last season, posting a 27-36-1 record, the Battalion has five NHL draftees on the roster as well as Thomas Stajan, cousin of Leaf bright spot Matt Stajan.
Slightly to south the St. Michael’s Majors will be plying their trade in for the first time in Mississauga, after an under attended nine year stint in Toronto. If the Battalion were bad last season, the Majors were even worse, going 20-41-4. That said, with 10 players aged 16 or younger on the roster, compared to the Battalion’s seven, they could be seen as a team of the future.
Can’t miss games: The two teams clash for Peel Region supremacy multiple times throughout the season, but check out the first two battles, October 12 in Mississauga and November 11 in Brampton. The reigning OHL champion Plymouth Whalers come to visit the Majors on November 4 and the Battalion on January 27. Finally, the Niagara Ice Dogs, formerly of Mississauga, visit their old stomping ground for the first time since relocating on November 2. Come on by and watch the home fans get confused.
The Buffalo Sabres
Okay, so Buffalo is a good two hours away from Toronto and probably way outside of Torontoist’s traditional zone of interest, but if you absolutely must have NHL hockey, a trip down the QEW and across the border may be your best bet.
The Sabres had a fantastic year last year, finishing the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Sadly, it doesn’t look like this season will be as promising after team leaders Chris Drury and Daniel Briere jumped ship during the off-season.
That said, Sabres tickets are considerably less expensive than tickets for the Leafs at the ACC. Plus, even without Drury and Briere the Sabres are probably still more likely to see post-season action than the Maple Leafs.
Can’t miss games: As division rivals, the Maple Leafs and Eastern Conference champion Ottawa Senators each visit Buffalo eight times during the season. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins drop by for an already-sold-out visit on January 1, then come back for more on February 17.
The Ricoh Coliseum is at 100 Princes’ Boulevard. The Brampton Battallion play at the Powerade Centre, 7575 Kennedy Road South, Brampton. The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors play at the Hershey Centre, 5500 Rose Cherry Place, Mississauga. The Buffalo Sabres play out at 1 Seymour Knox III Plaza, Buffalo, NY.
Marlies photo by mattclare. OHL photo by Canon Fodder XT. Sabres photo by dgroth.