Toronto: Hockey Town (?)


Neither of these teams will exist in a couple of months. Also, that’s Wojtek Wolski for Brampton. Retro!

We know the line of argument. Toronto, according to Torontonians, is the capital of the hockey world. However, Toronto, according to non-Torontonians, is the capital of Leafs town — in the heart of Loser Region — and if it disappeared off the map tomorrow nobody would be sad. Sound extreme? Sure, a little, but this is muted in comparison to some of the opinions I’ve received from friends who are Alberta or BC natives.

The non-hockey town line of thought is pretty defensible actually. Ever been to a non-Leafs game in Toronto? Crickets. You could fire off a cannon in most rinks under those circumstances and not even worry about killing someone. And now, with another Greater Toronto Area OHL team relocating, it looks as though the Toronto as hockey capital argument has been dealt a crippling blow.

I watched a lot of junior hockey growing up in the GTA. I was nine years old when Don Cherry invented the Mississauga IceDogs and they played their first games. If you think your team is bad, you’ve seen nothing. They won 27 games through their first four seasons. TOTAL. Meanwhile, just around the corner in Brampton, Stan Butler was assembling a good little Battalion team built around blue chippers like Raffi Torres (true story) and Rostislav Klesla (Brampton allowed Europeans on their team, unlike Cherry’s IceDogs).

The team got better though, and I kept going. We were essentially season ticket holders without season tickets. Our household even held off ditching a certain cable provider that owns the Blue Jays so we could watch away games on our local station. It was all quite riveting.

It was apparent, however, that we were squarely in the minority. Very few people cared at all — let alone to the degree we did. This of course has also led to a life of consistent frustration every time the World Juniors or Memorial Cup roll around and certain highly paid television pundits have interns do mass amounts of research for them in an effort to feign knowledge. I may need to provisionally check myself into a hospital this year for stress when those tourneys roll around as the only hockey on television. It is going to be sickening. However, I digress.

With news coming out in the last week that the Battalion will be relocating to North Bay, I was quite sad. For a large chunk of my life I hated that team with youthful vigor and now they will be gone. The proverbial Nordiques have left my proverbial Habs flapping in the wind, completely and utterly alone. Over at The Hockey News, THN.com web guru Rory Boylen weighed in on the move, arguing that it confirmed Toronto as a big league town, not a hockey town.

As for Toronto? It should be a sad day for hockey fans in Ontario’s capital who want to exclaim their home as Canada’s most immersed puck town.

The fact is, Toronto is a big-league town and these recent events around its minor teams in the junior circuit prove that beyond a doubt.

The fact is, most won’t even notice the Battalion are gone.

He’s right. He’s absolutely right.

The comment section — to be read at your own risk, mind you — has of course spurred lots of vitriol in his direction. “How dare you slight Toronto! I’m so mad that I could log in to Facebook to comment on this and make ad hominem arguments against your column!” is an example of typically how that sort of thing devolves.

The numbers don’t lie though. The Marlies don’t draw well in Toronto in comparison to the rest of the AHL, even after an early season spike. The St. Mike’s Majors had to leave Toronto proper after not filling Maple Leaf Gardens and not earning enough revenue from the ancient St. Michael’s Arena (Woot! Shiverdome!), knocking the IceDogs to Niagara in the process. Now the Battalion are gone. All of these teams have had prolonged stretches of success, and all of them have been shown roadblock after roadblock in an effort to build a following.

There, of course, will be plenty of arguments in defense of their inability to draw. The Marlies are still new to town, sort of. St. Mike’s played in a shack. Mississauga and Brampton aren’t even TORONTO.

It’s all nonsense.

The self-anointed hockey Mecca ought to be filling these places regardless of longevity (new = honeymoon period, by the way), building (small = easier to sell out), or distance (Mississauga and Brampton are huge cities in their own right). The fact there is any debate over this whatsoever underscores how ludicrous the thought is. If Toronto cared, the proof would be self-evident.

Plenty of Torontonians are happy to sit at the border after the hour long drive on the QEW to see their Leafs play in Buffalo where they will surely lose because they always lose in Buffalo. But yes, you’re right, the half hour drive to Mississauga or Brampton where solid NHL prospects play (Leafs first rounder Stuart Percy is the bloody captain of Mississauga! And fellow Leafs prospect Sam Carrick was captain of the Battalion last year!) for playoff teams is a stretch.

Oh, and before we go on that road, just because you take your kids to hockey practice doesn’t prove that you’re a hockey fan. Plenty of parents take their kids to soccer practice and couldn’t pick Lionel Messi out of a police lineup, and he’s the biggest athlete on the planet.

I firmly believe that Toronto could and would gladly support a second NHL team. Not because the Leafs need competition and not because Toronto is a hockey town. Because it’s an NHL ticket. Mr. Boylen nailed it right on the head when he said Toronto is a big league town — not a hockey town.

Don’t believe me? Go to Minnesota and experience the atmosphere at a high school game. Those are hockey towns.

It’s Day 58 of the lockout. If you feel anxious and depressed, it’s not because you miss “hockey”; you miss the NHL. I’m getting concerned many people don’t know the difference and you can be sure nine out of 10 people in Toronto do not.

Comments (44)

  1. I won’t disagree on your points regarding the Marlies or St. Mikes or even that Toronto is a big-league and not a ‘true’ hockey town.

    But come-on.Brampton is not f*&^ing Toronto.

    By your logic the Islanders should be selling out because it is approximately the same distance between Madison Square Garden and the Naseau Colliseum and I presume you would put New York into the “big-league” and not a “hockey town”

    • To address your New York analogy: Since when are the New York Islanders big league anything? (Zing. But, actually. Think about it.)

      Brampton is a 40 minute drive from the foot of the CN Tower and considerably less from other well populated portions of the city. Even if it is not Toronto proper, I fail to see why there should be such a divergence in consciousness. A town with a population as large as Brampton (500K) should be able to fill a 5000 seat rink if the level of hockey fandom the GTA claims to possess truly existed.

      I’m know plenty of Brampton natives make the trek for every single Leafs game. There should be enough attending Battalion games to justify the team’s existence.

      • I didn’t think ANYTHING was 40 minutes from the Tower any more with Toronto traffic :-)

      • More people are willing to travel into the city to go see a Leafs game because it is that ‘big ticket’. Coming into Toronto for a Leafs game makes more sense (well- not financially) then leaving the city to go to see a minor league team.

        I agree with the premise of your article (Toronto is not the hockey capital), but looping in the Brampton argument doesn’t cut it for me(if the Marlies or St. Mikes would be forced to move because of lack of attendance that would be relevant).

        Missisauga and Oshawa both have teams that are relatively the same distance from Toronto as Brampton.

        Yes Brampton is part of the magical GTA, but so are areas like Georgina, Stoufville etc which all have multiple teams comepting at different levels (junior A, C, Rep etc). MArket saturation plays a part of it. One team failing out of (I couldn’t even ball park the figure -60? 80? 100?) in the GTA is not a credible source.

        Winnipeg couldn’t even hold onto their NHL team, Edmonton was in dire finances, as have been multiple other cities.

  2. I don’t miss the NHL. I miss the caliber of play the NHL players provide. But I have the SF Bulls to help me out a bit. It’s a bit chaotic, but it will do.

    • You get to watch Theo Peckham and Ryan Clowe play for the Bulls, so some of the calibre is there – especially when Alaska comes to town with Dubinsky, Gomez, Crabb, and Thompson.

  3. Arizona State University is number 1 in the ACHA so that is my hockey fix. I do miss the NHL though, and I can’t wait for it to come back.

  4. I’m getting by watching ECHL games on America One Sports. Would I prefer the NHL? Yeah, but I’m a hockey fan and the ECHL is entertaining hockey.

  5. I was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Toronto and London for most of my life. I have now lived in Vancouver for two years. There are extremely different fans between the two cities. Toronto is a more educated city on the game of hockey. They know the team, they know the league and they know the game. Vancouver just knows the Canucks. They aren’t hockey fans as they are fans of their city, and the Canucks are a representative of their city.

    Also I am done being a fan of the NHL. Two lockouts in the last 8 years?!? Good bye.

    • Tyler,

      As a BC native I can assure you that we know plenty about hockey and have no problem carrying a conversation about the league writ large. We just don’t invite London natives to our discussions.

    • I have to agree with Kevin though that people in Vancouver know their hockey. I have a friend from Vancouver and he understands the game better than most people in Toronto. I am sorry to say but I think that TORONTO is the city that has the most amount of fans that know nothing about hockey. More than half the people that go to the games either a) go because its a hot ticket in town and they don’t know a single thing about the game. B) are there because they are a CEO trying to impress the client. Toronto games are famous for having half the seats empty during the first 10 mins of each period (in the lower bowls) because they are all CEO’s who don’t care about the game. Don’t get mad, cause there are the fans who know a hell of a lot about hockey and you are probably one Tyler but there are still a hell of a lot that don’t know anything that go to the games. So Vancouver isn’t one of the citys that cause the problems.

      • There are millions of people in each of these cities. It’s tough to distinguish between how well people know their teams.

        Are we really trying to base the best hockey town/city solely on how much the ‘stereotypical’ citizen of that city knows their team. This argument is kind of irrelevant if you ask me.

    • Vancouver can also get more than 5000 fans to a junior rink.

      I attended Memorial Cups in both Vancouver and Mississauga. One was a packed house with screaming fans that cared, and one had empty seats scattered, even for the final.

      • This is true. The Vancouver Giants are a big draw, for example. Granted, the stadium is only about 15mins outside of downtown Vancouver by car.

    • I don’t understand where your sentiment is coming from. Maybe it’s your circle of friends? In every fan base there are different levels of fandom. I don’t find Vancouver to be a less literate hockey town than other Canadian cities. We do have a very large fanbase like Toronto though, so you’re bound to come across more bandwagoners amongst the die-hards than in a smaller fanbase, perhaps. ALOT of people here adore hockey and the Canucks, and there are also many that are just casual fans.

      And anyways, it’s impossible to make that kind your statement believable unless you actually polled fans here on their knowledge. Talking to friends and co-wrokers about hockey is too small of a sample sixe to portray an entire city/fanbase.

  6. AMEN… You hit the nail on the head my friend. I am from Brampton and have been going to the games since I was little. My family is season ticket holders and it is sad to see the Battalion leave Brampton. If you look at both cities (Mississauga and Brampton) you will see that their minor hockey programs flourish and have a huge amount of support. However, as you said just because the parents sign a kid up for hockey doesn’t meant that they are a hockey parent. It’s sad that these cities have so many kids wanting to play hockey and enjoying the game, yet in a couple years time who is to say that they will be able to watch OHL hockey anywhere around the GTA. If you go to anywhere else in the OHL you will find that 9 out of 10 teams will sell out their games EVERY GAME. I would much rather support an OHL franchise than an NHL franchise. In the OHL and junior hockey your getting to watch player make a name for themselves instead of players that are more worried about money. (You don’t see the OHL players locking out because “they don’t get a share in revenue”) These kids are out their because they love the game and play their heart out every game just to be recognized. THESE are the teams we should be supporting and I personally am disappointed in Brampton and Mississauga people for not doing this.

  7. chris, don’t be shy to follow your ice dogs down to niagara! we have a few STH’s who live in mississauga. and we’re at almost a sellout everynight, not caring about the terribleness of the rink.

    Great article. i’ve been saying this fir years. you can probably make the same article about montreal, the gma has gone trough dozens of mildly supported qmjhl teams.

  8. Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton all have NHL franchises and were top 10 in major junior attendance last season (while the NHL was on). Hockey towns for sure.
    http://thepipelineshow.blogspot.ca/2012/04/whl-dominates-chl-attendance-numbers.html

    • Interesting.

      Of the top 20 in attendance:
      “Three teams from the QMJHL, six from the OHL and eleven from the WHL.”

    • That’s the sound of a thousand narratives shattering. As a Vancouver resident, I’m a bit surprised to find our enthusiasm for non-NHL hockey well outstrips Toronto.

      Proud!

  9. I am an Ottawa native and Habs fan, but I have to say… it’s not just Toronto.

    Ottawa is pretty good; despite having 1/5th the population of the GTA (in a similar overall area), we do manage to support both the Senators and 67s, though neither is perfect. The Sens are way out there (Kanata is similar to Brampton for us) and relatively new, while the 67s aren’t the big leagues and play in an ancient crumbling arena – well, they did, now it’s under construction so they play in… Kanata… great…

    Anyway, we can ignore Ottawa for the above reasons. But the NHL team closest to my heart is a 2-3 hour drive away in another big city that can’t support junior teams.

    Let’s look at the teams in question:
    -Rosemont National (founded in 1969), moved to Laval in 1971 and (eventually) became the Titan, but them moved to Acadie-Bathurst in 1998.
    -Verdun Maple-Leafs (founded in 1920s), joined QMJHL in 1969, folded in 1972.
    -Laval Saints (founded in 1967), folded in 1970.
    -Montreal Jr Canadiens (founded in 1933), joined QMJHL in 1972, moved to Verdun in 1982, then Saint-Hyacinthe in 1989, then Rouyn-Noranda in 1996.
    -Montreal Rocket (founded in 1999), moved to P.E.I. in 2003.
    -Montreal Juniors (founded in 2005), moved to Montreal from St. Johns in 2008, then to Boisbriand (northwest of downtown Montreal, not on the islands) in 2011.

    So ultimately there is no QMJHL team in Montreal, with the closest being in Boisbriand. All 6 franchises that played in Montreal/Laval have either moved off the Islands or folded since the league began play in 1969.

    • Montreal doesn’t support teams not named the Habs unless they’re winning titles every year. Watch where the Als are in 5 years after Calvillo and co. are gone. Shit, they’ve already folded once. I won’t even get into the Expos..

      • The Expos didn’t fold because they were losing, they folded because they had a great team scrapped by the lockout/strike, the best players traded away for peanuts, and eventually the owner decided he’d rather own the Florida Marlins, so he gave up the Expos to the league, which moved them.
        I think someone could bring back the Expos and be successful, though it’s tough to say because of the condition of the Big O (i.e. awful) and whether the fans would be willing to go back to the league that screwed them.

        As for the Als, I’m sure they’ll be fine.

        • The Yankees had a great team in 94 too. So did the Reds, Astros. The Braves were in the middle of a dynasty. If the fans had kept the hope after the post-strike fire sale, ownership probably would’ve held onto Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez etc. Attendance plunged because the people of Montreal got bored, plain and simple. Also, those other teams got gov’t funds for new ballparks. Loria couldn’t get any from Quebec. What else was there to do? He couldn’t spike attendance by trying to compete, he couldn’t get help for a new park. The Expos didn’t make sense anymore, plain and simple.

          I hold out hope Montreal could one day get an MLB franchise back. I do think the desire is still there, and a few struggling franchises (Tampa, Oakland) looking for ballparks and a fanbase would be tempted.

          • Pretty sure the Expos having a great team scrapped has nothing to do with the Yankees, Reds, Astros and Braves. It doesn’t matter if the Expos might not have won, they still had a great team that was leading the league sold off for peanuts.

            Why would you hold to hope afterward? Your team has never won anything in the 25 years they’ve been around, then you finally get this great team put together, best in the league, when the season is cut short and the players sold off. Why would you stay around?

            Loria didn’t need funds for a new ballpark, he was just greedy. See Miami for details…

  10. “But yes, you’re right, the half hour drive to Mississauga or Brampton…”

    On what planet? Brampton’s next game is at 7:35 pm tomorrow. If I live in a central part of Toronto, and assuming I miraculously get home from work at 5 pm (fact: NOBODY DOES), I would have to eat, shower, meet up with whoever i’m going to the game with/get my kid(s) ready, and drive to Brampton during the continent’s worst rush hour, which may be the worst on the 410. I wouldn’t walk into the arena until 8 at the earliest. Similar argument can be made for Oshawa or ‘Sauga.

    I’m not going to make a similar argument for the Marlies, because frankly, who the fuck wants to watch the AHL in an NHL city? It’s absurd. But the ACC works because you can take transit there, and traffic into/out of the core is actually not that bad compared to the suburbs. The local populations of Brampton and Mississauga are so diverse that you’re finding as many hockey fans in that population as you are cricket fans. More cricket fans, maybe. So you’re left with the few likely hockey fans who may or may not give a shit about MJ hockey, and fans from other parts of the GTA who may want to attend an OHL game but simply cannot get there. Logistics is your primary reason for poor attendance, not the GTA’s lack of love for the game in all its forms. Without checking, i’m going to guess that attendance spikes on weekends.

    • AHL in an NHL city doesn’t seem so absurd this year. Sigh.

    • “who the fuck wants to watch the AHL in an NHL city? It’s absurd. ”

      I attend both NHL (Canucks) and WHL (Vancouver Giants) games each year. Even at a junior level it’s still great hockey and super in-expensive.

      • Good call. Guess there’s a difference between an NHL fan and a hockey fan. Us hockey fans like hockey no matter the level. Plus, NHL tickets are expensive.

        • Don’t talk to me about expensive NHL tickets. I live in Toronto.

          I disparaged the AHL because it is inferior to the NHL by nature of it’s very existence. I didn’t say anything negative about junior hockey, and I actually went to the Mem Cup final in ‘Sauga last year and rather enjoyed myself. My point is pointing to the Marlies as proof that Toronto isn’t a hockey town isn’t fair, and pointing to people’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for driving half an hour to an OHL game is flat-out wrong based on the realities of the transportation issues facing the Greater Toronto Area.

          • Hey, I’m in Vancouver. Our tickets aren’t far behind yours, pricewise.

            I also don’t think there’s anything inferior about people that simply prefer to just watch their NHL team, and not the lower leagues. It’s not for everyone, and frankly there’s no way the AHL or juniors can replicate the feeling of a big league game.

            I don’t think being an NHL-only fan makes someone less of a hockey fan.

  11. Well you seem to have forgotten the very brief stop the Toronto Roadrunners (Edmonton Oilers affiliate I believe) made prior to the Marlies move into the Ricoh Coliseum.

    As for those that mention not wanting to see AHL hockey in an NHL city (specifically Toronto)? When was the last time the Make Me Laughs made the play-offs? Yeah I can’t remember either. The Marlies lost in the Calder Cup FINALS and this year they have basically the same team plus the added NHL talents that are biding their time in the AHL.

    I am a hockey fan. I’ve travelled to Hamilton to watch the Toronto Roadrunners play the Bulldogs, I’ve gone to many Marlies games, I used to watch youth games when I was a coach & occasionally ,when I get the chance to get a ticket, I go to watch the Leafs.

    The rest of you whining about no hockey are NHL tools.

    • Sorry, Toronto isn’t a city that stops supporting a team because they are completely inept sporting-wise. Shit, the Jays haven’t made the playoffs in 20 years and only one year did attendance drop down to scary levels, despite playing in a cavern that is as much a ballpark as Copps is an NHL arena. Your excuse that because the Leafs suck people should watch the Marlies is absurd. I’d like the Marlies to go back to St. John’s where people actually appreciated them. I’m fine with my Leafs, win or lose.

  12. There is nothing wrong with being an NHL hockey fan. I don’t get why so many articles and comments these days seem to try to shame people who aren’t into junior/minor pro. I fell in love with the game through my NHL team and I have a hard time replicating that emotion in other leagues (especially in juniors where the rosters change as much as my underwear). If you only like rock music you’re still a music-fan, you just have a preference.

    • You know, if you go and make reasonable statements like that, you’re liable to get banned from most sports comment sections.

  13. This entire thing makes me roll my eyes. Whenever it’s a slow news day in the hockey world, poke Toronto.

    Brampton is not worth the trek. It’s the shithole of the GTA. The ACC (and Marlies at Ricoh) are a $3 transit ride for me. Brampton? $3 plus go fare plus however the hell I get to the Powerade Centre. Then I have to pay $20 to get in? Not a chance. Have you ever driven to Brampton in rush hour traffic on the 410? It’s fucking awful, and a Battalion game is not nearly worth that pain. Also, CHL is not as good as AHL and NHL hockey. And yes, I watched the OHL for a good four years of my life. I’ll occasionally watch for prospects, but why would I be interested in trekking out to Brampton or ‘Sauga all the time when I can watch someone like Phil Kessel?

    Secondly, yes, Brampton has a population of 500k, but it’s a huge immigrant population. The CHL is majorly white, and new Canadian kids have far more significant athletic role models & traditions in other sports – cricket, soccer, etc. Don’t discount the language barrier either – my neighbours never went to a Battalion game, but sure as hell watched Hockey Night in Canada religiously…in Punjabi.

    Why are high school hockey games in Minnesota crazy? Because they’re the only hockey available. If Minnesota is so much better at being a ~hockey town~, why aren’t the Wild in the top ten in league revenue? Why does supporting high school hockey instead of NHL make them better, when the reverse makes Toronto not as good? You know what makes a good atmosphere – winning. When the Leafs start winning again, the ACC will be better.

    The Leafs have been around for almost 100 goddamn years; there’s a hell of a lot of tradition. They were here before the Battalion, and the Leafs will be here long after. I don’t understand why that suddenly means we’re not a hockey town. Detroit can’t even keep the lights on in its city, but they get to proudly paint ~hockey town~ on their ice. How many minor league teams do they support?

    Just because I prefer a goddamn Monet to a kindergarten fingerpainting doesn’t mean I’m a bad art patron. I have priorities and a limited income. I’m going to spend it where I choose to, and I’d rather commiserate in a bar with fellow Leafs fans about them losing than see the Battalion win.

    (sidebar: i truly believe the leafs are the monets of the hockey world. from far away, really pretty and expensive; get up close and they’re just a big old mess)

    • “I have priorities and a limited income.”

      This is a poor argument when arguing Jr. hockey culture vs pro.

      • How? I could spend $50 busting my ass to Brampton/Missisauga or $20 to sit at the glass at Ricoh, or in the bar with local leafs fans. As of right now I have no inclination to see more than a few games at the ACC a year, until the Leafs start winning.

    • As far as your Minnesota argument, you seem to have forgotten about a certain sellout streak that lasted almost 10 years. Minnesotans come out for high school, college, and pro games in very high numbers.

  14. Hockeytown’s like Grand Forks, ND where the Fighting Sioux average 11,341 fans/home game. They’re also the #1 ticket when they go to any other College, having drawn 419,981 fans last year to their 42 games. It’s funny because University of Minnesota averages about 800+ fans less a game then UND does, and University of Wisconsin averages about 720 less fans than UND.. Also noting that when UND comes to town they fill somewhere around 97% of capacity, their Alaska trips are the only places they don’t sell out, through out the year.. I think that surpases most NHL teams as far as Fan base travel??

    So realisticaly in North America NHL Teams average the most fans at all their games, then it would be:
    2.) Quebec Remparts (11,724) CHL
    3.) UND Fighting Sioux (11,341) (all games: 10,000) WCHA
    4.) Hershey Bears (9,872) AHL
    5.) UofMinnesota (9,272) WCHA
    6.) Uof Wisconsin (9,174) WCHA
    7.) Calgary Hitmen (8,973) CHL
    8.) London Knights (8,953) CHL
    9.) Boston College (8,268) HE

    Those are the facts jack… AHL and CHL are pretty weak when it comes to filling buildings.. NCAA seems to have some big crowds outside of the NHL..

    http://collegehockeystats.net/1112/nationald/d1m
    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2012/05/01/Research-and-Ratings/AHL-gate.aspx

  15. So how many of these not-actually-in-Toronto teams do I have to support before I get to call myself a true hockey fan, since apparently being in Toronto I’m not one? If Brampton is essential, then Mississauga must be, surely. Oshawa? Guelph? Peterborough? I’m probably off the hook for London, but Barrie or Kitchener, maybe? Oh, and I can’t forget all the university games I’m now required to attend. This is on top of the Leafs games I already watch on TV (well, usually), and the Marlies and Furies I catch live, when I can.

    Yeah. Sure. No problem. If that’s what it takes to be a “real” hockey fan.

    Man, I miss baseball.

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