When you've got a night off from the rink, what better way to spend it than by going to the rink.
Well, the above scenario isn't that strange at all if you're part of a "hockey obsessed" family. With two lads playing minor hockey, one at the "Select" level, the on-ice schedule gets pretty crazy around our house - something a lot of people can relate to. Counting games, practices, public skating and fun "shinny" on the outdoor rinks, we're at some form of an arena at least 4 or 5 nights a week.
So, what do you do when you get a rare night off?
You got it....."Hey dad, can we go to the Marlies game tonight?"
Before the kids were old enough to sign up for hockey, the various rinks around our hometown of Toronto made for excellent babysitters. We'd bundle up our two lads and take them to AHL Marlies games, visit the old barn at St. Michael's Arena to watch the Jr. A Buzzers, or make the short drive to Oshawa to catch the OHL Generals. Heck! Stir-crazy from too many winter nights holed up indoors, we'd even pack up the car for OHL road trips to cities such as Kingston, Kitchener and Guelph.
Nowadays, most of our game-watching is confined to sitting up in the stands and watching our boys do their thing. However, when we have an opening on our schedule, it's still a ton of fun to head out for a night on the town and watch the "big guys" play.
The Toronto Marlies are definitely having a "big-time" season, sitting in top spot in the American Hockey League. Last Wednesday, my 8 year old and I watched the Marlies knock off the Syracuse Crunch 5-4 in overtime.
What a hockey game!
In fact, other than watching my lads play, it was the most entertaining evening I've spent in a rink all year. Back and forth action, plenty of great goals, and the Marlies finally scoring the winner in an exciting "3 on 3" extra session. The Maple Leafs, of course, are still the top dogs in Toronto. But they're not very good (what else is new?) and the fresh, young Marlies represent a much brighter future for the blue and white. The ticket price for a Marlies tilt is also good news - $14 bucks for the cheapest seat in the house. But on a weeknight when the crowd is pretty thin, and if you don't push your luck too much, you can basically sit wherever you want and the Ricoh Colesium ushers won't give you any hassle.
Last Thursday, right after my little guy's practice, we got an even better bargain. The Ryerson University Rams were home at Matttamy Athletic Centre (old Maple Leaf Gardens) taking on the Brock Badgers from St. Catharines. Check this out - adults get in for only $12 bucks, with kids completely free; a price you can't beat and it's also tough to beat the atmosphere. They've done a masterful job sprucing up the old Gardens and if you've never taken a tour of Ryerson's new digs, you won't believe it. Great old photos preserving the history of the place are mixed in with a very impressive second floor basketball court (home to the top-ranked men's basketball team in Canada) and on the penthouse floor, underneath the grand old original roof that Conn Smythe erected, sits a gorgeous new rink with awesome sight lines, lots of rowdy students and plenty of noise. We were there on "Country and Western Night" featuring about fifteen hundred frenzied fans, many of them in cowboy and cowgirl duds, with a live country band adding to the flavor of the evening.
And, oh yeah.
The Rams came out on top, beating the Badgers 3-0; a nice way to cap a really fun night.
Especially for kids playing "Select" or "Rep" hockey, there's a lot of pressure during the course of a season to make sure they play well enough to keep their spot on the team. Hockey season is a busy time, for both parents and kids, and sometimes it's nice to enjoy one of your rare night's off by simply sitting on the sofa and doing some channel surfing. But a lot of those busy kids fell in love with the game by soaking up the sights and sounds of hockey inside an actual arena watching some of their on-ice heroes strut their stuff.
So, the next time your little one says "Dad, can we go to the game tonight?", fire up the family sedan and take off.
It doesn't have to cost you a fortune, and there's no way to put a price tag on the memories it creates.
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