TORONTO, ON – Something strange happened on the way to the hockey rink. We went past the Powerade Centre and kept on going to the Ricoh Coliseum, where many Beast players were up in the AHL playing the Toronto Marlies. This is one fan’s journey.
March 14: Laval Rocket vs Toronto Marlies
In seasons past I have attended Marlies games as a stout Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I saw people like Connor Brown and Zach Hyman play when the blue they wore was for the Baby Buds. It was easy to decide who to cheer for – I would cheer for the future of the Leafs. I watched them grow and improve both as individuals and as a team. I saw them go deep into the playoffs, and I finally gave my daughter the chance to see a hockey game on her birthday (end of May) like my son gets to do every year (early April). Two seasons ago, it was entirely easy to cheer for the Marlies as when I attended to four playoff games, with the Marlies winning all four. This included going to their only winning game in the third series, which they eventually lost to the Hershey Bears.
Something strange happened on this night. I got to the rink and I saw the familiar names on the jerseys like Clune, Smith and Sparks, just to name a few. But in the other end, I saw names I knew too – Fucale, McNiven, Corrin, Ebbing, Rychel and Blain. Though Kerby Rychel was never a Beast player, he was on the Marlies just a short time ago. I counted and there were six players in the red and white that either were Beast players who had been called up, or Rocket players which had spent some time down in Brampton.
I have to be honest for a moment. Luc-Olivier Blain is a special guy to our family, so special that he was allowed to be the first to date my daughter. Granted, it was for a Beast event, and my wife was there with them (my daughter was 12 at the time). He also always has time to say hello or throw a puck over the glass for my son. We’ve had the opportunity to watch him not just play at home, but also at the Air Canada Centre, the Ricoh Coliseum, the Wings Event Center, the Germain Arena and the Santander Arena for a playoff game. We wish Blain well with as much time in the AHL as he gets, even though we wish he was still in the black and white of the Beast.
On this night, there was reason enough to cheer for the visiting Rocket who were fighting to try and get into a playoff position. With their magic number being over 40 and only 13 games left in their season, this fight is already pretty much over. On the other end of the ice were my hometown heroes, who werethe first to clinch a Calder Cup playoff position, and they had Garret Sparks, the most winningest goalie in the history of the franchise.
Time for honesty again. I had on a Marlies t-shirt under a Marlies jersey, so there was no doubt who I was really cheering for. My ideal scenario was that the Marlies would win and Blain would get a goal for the Rocket. Due to outstanding teamwork and a fantastic goalie, the Marlies won the game and Sparks got the shutout.
The Brampton Beast often have a contest called #LightTheLamp. Before the game starts, fans are encouraged to enter by tweeting who they think will score the first goal for the home team. Then, a name is chosen from the correct entries and they win a prize (varies by game). The Marlies have recently started to do their version of this as well.
My first attempt did not net me anything, although my guy I had chosen scored – just not first. On this night I selected Colin Greening since my first choice had got the NHL call-up earlier in the day. 16 seconds into the game, Greening got the first goal, which turned out to be the game-winning goal as well.
While the game was won that quickly, there was still a heck of a lot of cheering and excitement to go. Though most of the time I chanted along with the “Let’s Go Marlies” chants from Duke’s Dog Pound, I would occasionally change it up to “Let’s Go Luco” for our guy Blain. It was good for a laugh for my kids, but I know Blain never heard me. At the end of the game, we gathered with other Laval fans to see our favourite player and had a chance to chat for a little while and to get that puck signed. While it was not Blain’s best AHL game, it was a lot better than the first time we saw him in the AHL (I believe he played three or four minutes that game).
In the end, the Toronto Marlies won their league-leading 43rd game of the season. The Laval Rocket’s loss meant that the Syracuse Crunch clinched Calder Cup spot number two. The Marlies will get ready for their next game, which will be down the 401 in Belleville, while the Rocket will travel tomorrow to Utica to see if they can win a few more games for their faithful fans back home before their season ends in Toronto.
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