TORONTO - The Toronto Marlies may have played a home game on Wednesday but the setting was still unfamiliar.
Not only was the pucked dropped at 11:30 a.m., but the stands were full of schoolchildren for Toronto's 3-1 victory over the Rochester Americans. More than 7,300 fans showed up at Ricoh Coliseum and the players certainly took note.
"It's awesome, it's great," said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. "The players love playing in front of fans. Unfortunately, it's not a consisent thing but hopefully it will be.
"They love playing in front of big crowds."
Darryl Boyce scored two goals while Jeremy Williams added his team-leading ninth of the season for Toronto (8-7-0-2), which has won four straight games.
Franklin MacDonald replied for the struggling Americans (2-16-0-1).
The game was tied 1-1 before Boyce scored a short-handed goal midway through the second period. That held up as the winner as Justin Pogge finished with 17 saves in goal for the Marlies.
"It's a big win for us," said Gilbert. "They're a hard-working hockey club."
The Marlies will play another 11:30 a.m. mid-week home game in February. Even though the early start disrupts the team's normal routine, the boost in attendance makes it worthwhile.
The Marlies are averaging just over 3,000 fans per game.
"We had our pre-game skate at 3 o'clock this morning and tried to keep as close to game schedule as possible," Gilbert said with a laugh. "You know what, I think it's a great opportunity for the young kids in school to come watch the team play.
"It was a successful day."