Although the realities of economics mean most hockey clubs today don't play in their original old 'barns,' fans of the game often feel a strong connection to the grand old arenas of a century ago, and for these fans, there is no better city than Toronto. Past temples of the game still host regular hockey here; Maple Leaf Gardens and Varsity Arena are two great examples, but no arena manages to retain its historical flair and combine it with modern conveniences quite like Ricoh Coliseum, the home of the legendary Toronto Marlborough Hockey Club, later known as the Marlboros, then the Marlies.
The Marlies have a long and complex history beginning in the late-1800s when the athletic club was founded by local businessman Mr. John Earls. The club was named after a popular English noble family, the Dukes of Marlborough. Interestingly enough, the dukes had the family surname Churchill, and the famous Winston Churchill was a descendant! With this family connection, the team became nicknamed the 'Dukes,' a nickname now carried on by team mascot, Duke the Dog. In 1902, the team became champions of the Ontario Hockey Association. Fascinatingly, the trophy awarded in that league at the time was the Stanley Cup, the famous NHL trophy of today!
By 1927, legendary Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe purchased the Marlboros, seeing the need for a development side for the big club. The Marlboros jumped between different leagues for decades but in 1989, following the implementation of the NHL draft, internal player development became obsolete. The Leafs were forced to terminate their partnership with the Marlboros, who eventually became solely focused on junior and youth hockey. To this day, the Marlboro youth hockey programmes consistently churn out NHL players.
Finally, in 2005, the Maple Leafs decided to move their AHL affiliate team back to town, relocating from St. John's, Newfoundland. In doing so, the Leafs reclaimed the Marlboro name (though using Marlies to avoid association with the Marlboro cigarette brand), and brought them to play at the newly-reconstructed Ricoh Coliseum. Recently, the club went back to their storied 'Leaf and Crown' crest, and the long history has come full circle.
The Coliseum's history is no less spectacular, having been the centre of the popular Royal Agricultural Winter Fair since its opening in 1922. Extensively renovated in the early 2000s, various hockey teams came and went, unable to firmly establish themselves in the market. Finally in 2005, with the resumption of the Marlboro franchise, stability has returned and hockey at Ricoh Coliseum should continue for years to come.
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