Without the NHL around, the Toronto Marlies have done a decent job of grabbing more of the hockey attention in a city that traditionally only supports the Leafs.
Attendance is up about 15 per cent to 6,239 fans per game. They are once again one of the top teams in their conference at 9-5-1.
And now the Marlies are making more positive headlines for joining the You Can Play project, founded by Patrick Burke – Leafs GM Brian Burke's son – to promote LGBT equality in sports.
By now, you've likely seen the You Can Play videos, which have been produced by plenty of high profile athletes and teams. The Marlies own was released on Monday and involves every member of the team as well as head coach Dallas Eakins.
In addition to creating the video, the team also signed a pledge banner that is going up prominently in both the Ricoh Coliseum and dressing room. (See the full text of the pledge at the bottom.)
Originally, the Marlies were going to simply produce a video like other organizations, but Patrick Burke said the players indicated they wanted to do even more.
"At the end of the meeting, a few guys asked us what else they could do to get involved with YCP," Burke said. "So for the first time we drafted a pledge... The Marlies had it made into two big signs – one for the concourse/fans, one for the locker room – and had every player and coach sign it."
Burke said the push to create the video and pledge initially came from Eakins, who he called "a big supporter" of You Can Play, and not his famous father, who has obvious ties to the Marlies through the Leafs.
"I know he has a few LGBT friends, but I believe his interest in largely from a coaching perspective," Burke said of Eakins. "He wants impact players, and he wants a tight-knit locker room. I think he sees the value that You Can Play's mission [of equality and respect] adds to that.
"My father wasn't aware any of this was happening until the Marlies showed him the final cut of the video. I was there when he saw it, actually."
The You Can Play project has grown remarkably quickly since it was founded in remembrance of Brendan Burke, Patrick's younger brother who was killed in a car accident in February, 2010, a few months after coming out publicly in an interview with ESPN.
In addition to Brian Burke, the organization has two NHL/AHL players (Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele) on its advisory board, along with other athletes and executives in other sports.
A scout with the Philadelphia Flyers, Patrick Burke is also completing law school, but has found the time to give speeches at college, universities and high schools throughout North America.
"We're talking to other AHL teams about expanding the pledge," he said this week. "In addition, we are continuing our talks with other professional leagues to find the right ways to expand there."
Here's the You Can Play pledge the Marlies signed and hung up in their arena and dressing room this week:
The Toronto Marlies pledge to support all of our teammates, coaches, and fans - gay or straight. We stand for the idea that athletes should be judged by their character, work ethic, and talent. Not their sexual orientation. Racist, sexist, and homophobic comments have no place in our arena. Everyone contributes. Everyone is valued. Everyone matters. We pledge to make our locker room a place of unity. We pledge to support and encourage each other, on and off the ice. We pledge to make Toronto proud to have us represent them. On behalf of the Toronto Marlies, we pledge: If you can cheer, you can cheer. If you can coach, you can coach. If you can play, You Can Play.