Until recently, the Toronto Marlies had been a failure as a business operation.
This was always somewhat surprising, as one might think the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, playing within minutes of the perpetually sold out Air Canada Centre, would garner fan interest. But it didn’t, and after arriving in 2004, the Marlies consistently languished in the bottom half of the AHL in terms of attendance.
Things didn’t really improve until last spring. With the Leafs out of the NHL playoffs once again, the Marlies went on a run all the way to the Calder Cup finals and average attendance at the 7,800-seat Ricoh Coliseum rose to nearly 7,000, the third highest in the league.
Now the Marlies have another thing going for them – the NHL lockout.
“I love that,” head coach Dallas Eakins told the newspaper. “I love telling people you can’t just walk up to our building like two or three years ago, and grab a ticket on game night. That’s not happening. You might want to call in for the end of October. Because we’re starting to sell out.”
The Marlies aren’t the only AHL franchise that stands to win during the lockout, however long that may last. Other teams in NHL markets include the Chicago Wolves and Abbotsford Heat (Vancouver). In a somewhat odd twist, the Wolves are the affiliate of the Blackhawks’ heated rival, the Canucks, and the Heat is the affiliate of one of the Canucks’ traditional rivals, the Calgary Flames.
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It’s going to be interesting to see if Hammond can replicate the success he had last season, when he came out of nowhere to go 20-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage, and finish seventh in Vezina voting.