Only a year after relocating to Hamilton, the Toronto Rock are moving once again. But this time, it has nothing to do with the usual reasons an NLL team moves: high arena cost or low attendance. The Rock were informed last week that a huge renovation project at the First Ontario Centre will prevent the team from playing there in the 2023-2024 season and some or possibly all of the 2024-2025 season. The upcoming 2022-2023 season is unaffected.
From the sounds of things, the Rock knew about this project and were being kept up-to-date with the design, but were under the impression that games could continue during the renovations. It would be a bit inconvenient, but not that big a deal. But the news came last week that the arena would be unavailable for up to two years.
Just to clarify, this is:
Unless Jamie Dawick is willing to shell out more big money to go back to Scotiabank Arena, it’s likely the Rock will be moving to a smaller venue. One possibility is Coca-Cola Coliseum (formerly Ricoh Coliseum), on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. This is where the Toronto Marlies (the Maple Leafs’ AHL farm team) play, and it would mean the team is back within the city of Toronto. The CCC (I have no idea if it’s called that; everyone still calls it “Ricoh”) is easily accessible via the GO Train, though I think nearby parking is fairly sparse and while it’s not far from downtown Toronto, it’s not walking distance. But the arena holds fewer than 9,000 people (8,100 for hockey, 8,500 for basketball). Each of the Rock’s last three regular season home games in 2022 had more than 8,500 fans in attendance.
Other possibilities include:
- Maple Leaf Gardens. Well, it’s not really a thing anymore; the building is still there but the actual arena is now a grocery store. However there is the “Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens”, an ice rink on the third floor of the building. It’s even held lacrosse games: the Toronto Shooting Stars of CLax played there in 2013. But it holds fewer than 4,000 people.
- CAA Centre (formerly Powerade Centre) in Brampton, where the Excelsiors play. Only holds about 5,000.
- The Paramount Fine Foods Centre (formerly Hershey Centre) in Mississauga. The first Heritage Cup game was held here in 2002. Holds between 5,000 and 6,000.
- The Sleeman Centre in Guelph, also seats about 5,000.
- The University of Guelph has an arena with an NHL-sized hockey rink. The website does not list how many spectators it holds, but judging by the picture it’s a thousand or two, tops.
- Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, home of the Kitchener Rangers. Some WILC games were held here in 2003. Capacity is a little higher than most of the others, at a little over 7,000.
- There’s also the TRAC, where the Rock hold practices and pre-season games, but I believe it only holds about 1,500 people. And there are no seats, only benches, so selling tickets that aren’t general admission would be difficult.
- The Iroquois Lacrosse Arena is about 30 minutes west of Hamilton. Several bazillion lacrosse games have been held here but it only seats about 3,000.
- Budweiser Gardens in London is home to the London Knights OHL team and holds a little over 9,000. Good sized arena but London is an hour and a half southwest of Hamilton and about two and a half from Toronto.
If I had to guess, I’d say the Coca-Cola Centre is probably the most likely choice.
But this whole thing just sucks. The Rock have done a lot of work in the community since moving to Hamilton, and there are Rock banners and logos all around downtown, even in the off-season. Did you ever see those around the arena in Toronto, even back in the early days when the team was winning Championship after Championship and filling the building? No, you did not. They appear at local community events, and attendance was getting pretty good near the end of the 2022 season. Then a year from now they’ll vanish again for two years? New fans in Hamilton may not want to travel into Toronto for games, and once the team returns after two years (on the assumption that they do return), they’ll have to start re-integrating themselves into the community all over again.
Of course fans in Toronto (and even more so, those east of Toronto) are less than sympathetic about unhappy Hamilton fans. They might be glad to get their team back into Toronto, but it’s only for two years and then they get their team and their hearts ripped out all over again. And if it’s not back to Toronto, then it’s similar to Hamilton: new team shows up, hopefully picks up new local fans, then leaves two years later. Nobody wins.