Last night, I had the privilege of covering the Toronto Marlies/Abbotsford Heat AHL Western Conference semifinal's Game 2 as a member of the press, representing the Maple Leaf Hot Stove. It was surreal.
In lieu of commenting on the game itself (a solid 5-1 victory by the Marlies, very physical contest, perhaps a little penalty-heavy on their part, Scrivens was a rock wall), I'd like to provide a few quick notes and insights here about the experience.
I don't have anything cool like a 'behind the scenes photo blog' to share with you - and wouldn't if I could. There's something of a proverbial 'curtain' over what the media does for readers behind the scenes, and I believe strongly in maintaining that separation out of respect for their work. Plus, I
didn't want to look like a tourist snapping pictures all night was too busy actually covering the game to take any photos.
Full admission, I'd never been inside Ricoh Coliseum prior to last night. And that's my own fault.
Ricoh's a terrific facility and the Marlies game experience is as entertaining and engaging (for fans) as any other pro sporting event I've been to in the city. Aside from offering fans an early look at players they will most certainly worship one day as full-blown Toronto Maple Leafs, I was surprised by the intimacy of the experience.
I took one photo of the pregame skate, from what seemed like the farthest possible point you can sit from the ice at the top of the lower bowl. I'm not sure there's a seat in Ricoh you can actually complain about.
The Marlies players walk through the main first level corridor to get to and from the ice surface and the dressing room. Minutes after grabbing my press pass from will call, I shared an elevator to the media level with Cliff Fletcher. Hovering around the media area were any number of familiar faces (both media and organization-based) from the world of hockey that I was, admittedly, a bit shocked to be standing amidst.
Intimidated as I may have been being the press box rookie of the evening, I can't say enough about how helpful and welcoming the rest of the writers and reporters were. Lost in the vague connotation the phrase "Toronto media" seems to carry with it, especially around the Leafs, is the fact that they're a group of passionate professionals who are committed to covering an often controversial product. My naive, rookie colours are really showing through when I say this - but as someone who was amazed by every second of an experience that's likely old hat to them, everyone left nothing but the best impression.
Not a bad view for a hockey game, either.
Ricoh's not a large arena by any measure, but I was gutted when I looked around midway through the second period and noticed the abundance of empty seats. As I mention below in the Live Blog transcript, it's a terrific hockey experience for fans in a city that has been deprived of exactly that in recent years - a show put on by the same players they'll find themselves cheering for on the NHL club very soon. Announced attendance was 6,244 - and I can't believe it wasn't full.
I'm not going to pretend Toronto doesn't have a right to feel jaded by Leafs hockey, or that they should have to care about the AHL affiliate - but I think we can do much, much better job at supporting these kids.
Oh, yeah. There was a Live Blog at MLHS. Really only because I couldn't think of anything more creative to do with the experience, and I knew I wouldn't feel like writing a summary/analysis piece at the end of the night. It probably recounts the night as well as anything, so - here's the transcript:
Toronto Marlies vs Abbotsford Heat, Game 2: MLHS “Live Blog”.
6:59 pm: Nothing interesting has happened yet. Petrielli’s still not here.
7:06pm: Marlies take the ice. Starters: Gardiner, Blacker, Mueller, Dupuis, and Deschamps.
7:07pm: Oh, and Scrivens. Should of course, probably, mention Scrivens.
7:11pm: First scrum is 33 seconds into the game. This might be a slightly Heated affair. (Last pun, I promise). (I can’t promise that).
7:14pm: These are going to get far less frequent. Early notes: Mark Fraser with a big hit in the offensive zone (strange, he plays D!), but the Marlies aren’t afraid to hammer Abbotsford bodies around in their own end either.
7:16pm: Gardiner got caught a little flat-footed on that last backcheck. Wasn’t moving and had to sprint to cover for Blacker when his partner fell.
7:17pm: Kadri draws an early penalty in the corner, because he’s faster than a defender. Frattin, Kadri, Zigomanis, Hamilton, and Gardiner the first PP unit.
7:21pm: Ricoh’s playing a stirring rendition of “The Imperial March” while running down AHL team penalty killing success rates. I don’t quite get the connection, but I feel like someone should scream “it’s a trap!”
7:23pm: Scrivens with a Gustavsson-level misplay of the puck that nearly trickles in. Puzzling was how long he took to collapse on it – I thought part of Allaire’s teachings were to do that instantly and without hesitation if you lose track of the puck. Ah, well. It stayed out.
7:28pm: Abbotsford scores first, but here in the press box we were talking about the odds of Bobby Lou finding his way to Toronto this summer, so I didn’t see it.
7:32pm: Petrielli claims he’s here and sitting nearby, but I haven’t seen him yet, so I don’t believe a word of it.
7:32pm: 8:54 left in the first and Scrivens keeps it 1-0 with a ten-beller of a glove high save. “Wait, Allaire goalies can’t do that!” – People.
7:40pm: Marlies tie it, 1-1. Ryan Hamilton? (Long pause, waits for replay) Yeah, Ryan Hamilton. Wow. Grabovski-like spin move.
7:47pm: Frattin delivers a huge hit, and then seconds later, puts the Marlies up 2-1. Having a strong game. (UTTERLY UNRELATED: Carter Ashton’s standing here in the press box, and he bears a striking resemblance to someone I know in “real” life.)
8:08pm: First intermission’s over, I found Petrielli, and discovered an outlet for my power cord. Everything’s comin’ up Millhouse!
8:11pm: Marlies only need 2:03 to make it 3-1 Toronto in the second period. Jerry D’Amigo. Who’s not only much bigger and faster than the last time I saw him live in Kitchener, but also rocking facial hair that could challenge Mike Brown’s to a mountaintop knife fight for galactic supremacy.
8:15pm: Now Korbinian Holzer adds one. 4-1 Marlies. Game 2 on their part is what we’d call a “response”.
8:19pm: Play is stopped so the Ricoh crew can fix a pane of broken glass. Nicknaming it “Colby” was, I think, just purely unnecessary.
8:22pm: Scrivens stonewalls Abbotsford’s Paul Byron on a breakaway, who was so busy trying a quadruple deke that he apparently forgot he was on a breakaway.
8:25pm: Petrielli and I are fairly certain that all of Burke, Pulin, Dudley, and Fletcher are watching this game live in that executive suite across the way.
8:28pm: Some friendly guy in a suit just walked through the press area and informed us all tonight’s attendance is 6,244 at Ricoh Coliseum tonight. The people here are extraordinarily nice.
8:29pm: Abbotsford somehow goes on a quick rush to start their penalty kill, Scrivens answers with two big saves. Also having a strong game tonight. Echoing Petrielli here, but it’s not tough to see which of these players is trying to leave an impression for next September.
8:34pm: I don’t have all the heights and weights handy in front of me, but it’s hard to mistake live just how sizeable the Marlies’ defence corps is. They aren’t the sort of crew who’s going to get shoved around in their own end. AKA, “longterm sigh of relief” for the Leafs’ NHL club.
8:37pm: Leafs are down 5 on 3, and Scrivens just kept Abbotsford off the board with a huge…uh…”left elbow save” off a one-timer from the faceoff dot. Be afraid, Steven Stamkos. Be afraid.
8:38pm: I wasn’t going to get into this, but – cheap tickets, playoff hockey in Toronto, and these kids are playing a physical, entertaining game with every ounce of available effort. Tonight’s crowd at Ricoh is great, but shame on the rest of Toronto for there being this many empty seats.
8:41pm: Blacker just delivered a punishing hit to Dustin Sylvester behind Scrivens’ net. One of those ones you really “hear”.
8:43pm: “New Disqus” seems to be slowing down. Ah, we had a good 40-minute run. Find and follow @TOTruculent via Twitter if you want discussion that’s up to the minute! #shamelessplug
8:50pm: If you tune into Rogers TV right now, the intermission hosts are talking. Rick Dudley is about five feet offscreen to their right. I’m about ten feet offscreen to their left. His suit is shiny.
8:57pm: If Dudley was just slightly closer and slightly-less-talking-to-people, I might try and get a quote on the record about the MTL rumours I referred to in this morning’s Mashup. Stay tuned. (DISCLAIMER: Nothing will likely come of this).
9:04pm: Third period underway. I was kidding before, but I’m legitimately going to blog this period a bit less and watch the game with two eyes instead of one. I could say the Marlies have it locked up at 4-1, but this is Toronto, so…I won’t.
9:07pm: Greg Scott’s a Marlie who’s really impressed me tonight. Not afraid to play a rough game in the corners and – if memory serve – wired a bullet of a shot off the far post in the second period. Not a name you’d otherwise hear much about.
9:15pm: And as soon as I post that, he earns a 5 minute major for a hit in the neutral zone that – I have to admit – I didn’t clearly see. Word around the booth is that it didn’t seem intentional.
9:21pm: I was booing along with the Ricoh crowd when Holzer took a questionable penalty for being near a dive “tripping”, but the refs issue a makeup call post-haste. [Contented sigh] Ahhhh….hockey.
9:24pm: Abbotsford pulls their netminder to generate a 5 on 3. Ben Scrivens’ and the Marlies’ successful penalty kill reply, “We don’t care,” and score. 5 – 1.
9:31pm: 4:34 left in the third, shots 34-27 Abbotsford, the Marlies killed that five minute major, and Stuart Percy just walked by me. #realtimeupdates
9:39pm: Along with D’Amigo’s improved size and beard, his skating appears drastically better – especially over short distances and in the corners.
9:43pm: 5-1 Marlies with 1:20 left and Will Acton is hauled down on a breakaway. Penalty shot. Stopped.
9:46pm: Scrivens shuts the door and the Marlies come away with well-earned 5-1 victory. That concludes tonight’s live blog, folks. Thanks for following! Keep an eye on MLHS for additional coverage tomorrow (I assume). Heading downstairs for the post-game media scrums.
The truly surreal stuff only started once the game ended. Dallas Eakins conducted his usual media scrum downstairs, of which I managed to capture glare-y video containing mostly a floodlight positioned opposite me and the back of Mike Augello's head. Journalism fail, on my part.
Shortly afterward, we were granted access to the Marlies' dressing room. I swallowed my gum, unintentionally. Popped another piece solely because I was afraid I might otherwise bite my own tongue off.
Without getting too specific and boring you any more than I already have, to be standing in the Marlies' dressing room and participating in player media scrums was amazingly cool. I founded The Toronto Truculent eighteen months ago never imagining it would lead to that kind of experience, to actually be participating in the interviews I'd religiously watched every day. To call it an 'existential' moment would be an understatement.
As soon as I figure out how to convert .3ga files to .mp3, I'll gladly post the Scrivens and Gardiner audio I recorded. You could also just visit the Leafs' or Marlies' websites and watch the video in HD, but hey, muffled audio that starts halfway through the interview because the reporter was nervously trying to start the sound recorder on his phone is much more unique and hilarious!
All in all, my first experience covering a professional sports event in Toronto as a card-carrying member of the press could not have gone better. I promise, this is the last self-promoting and narcissistic piece you'll see from me on the subject - but first, I owe Alec Brownscombe of MLHS a huge amount of thanks for the opportunity.
For lots of reasons, I won't soon forget that night. And some of them completely accidental...