Sweet 17: Spreading My Wings at American Airlines Center

img_20200127_224325_709An excuse for visiting friends made a perfect opportunity to visit my 17th NHL city.

The problem was, all of them were three hours south in Austin. Thankfully, a former coworker and current Lightning fan agreed to drive me up to Dallas to see what the American Airlines Center had in store on January 27.

Alex was skeptical after attending the Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl. Fans constantly standing up, not sure about the calls on the ice and just belligerent. I countered that honestly, it’s like that at every outdoor game no matter the fan base. People get amped up and super drunk for the outdoor games. So, let’s see what a regular, regular season game turned out to be.

Getting There

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A concession and bar area inside American Airlines Center.

 

Alex took the wheel and drove to the parking garage without a hold-up in traffic and even better, they opened the doors 90 minutes before face-off so we didn’t have to wait at the door. Once at the door, be prepared because in Dallas, they scan your ticket before the metal detectors. Threw me off because I haven’t had the experience at any other arena.

Depending where you’re coming from in Dallas, you can easily take the DART light rail line to the Victory station and walk to the arena.

Arena Amenities

The concourses are beautifully decorated with different themes, making it feel like neighborhoods or districts. The AtHome sponsored area with furniture on the ceiling felt like it fit in. Plenty of space to move around without feeling stuck, which is key. How are you helping move people through the arena?

And one smart aspect of that is the restroom placement. They’re off to almost their own area without busy concessions that could create lines running into lines. The men’s room had two different sections of urinals, giving plenty of room for guys to line up. Seriously, it’s the little things that matter.

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Avocados!

As for the food, Dallas definitely has some unique offerings. I had a Dallas Chicken Sandwich in this self-contained bar area. It was pretty good, kind of like a Hooters buffalo chicken sandwich. Out on the course, there was an Avocados by Mexico stand with Avocado Toast, and even an Avocado drink. Hard pass. I was more impressed that there was a 7-Eleven Slurpee stand. They are based in Dallas, after all.

The View & Feel

Alex and I took our seats in the fourth row behind where the Lightning would shoot twice. Looking up, it’s evident the ceiling has an arch and curved structure.

With a square footprint and those arches, it felt like we were in a giant airplane hangar — apropos for a place named American Airlines Center. Outside, that same hangar effect came off with the all-brick building. One of the more classic looking arenas in the league. Except for the giant discoball hanging over the visitor goal.

What hits you in the face is all of the GREEN inside. It definitely sets the tone unlike any other arena. Once warmups started, it felt like Christmas. The Stars wore Texas Rangers warmup hockey jerseys … because … we are … several weeks away from spring training? During player intros, the giant star and strobe lights make it feel like I’m either at a big-time rodeo, WWE match or just an overall spectacle.

A nice touch before the game, the organization changed the lights on the star to purple and gold for a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash the day before.

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Notice the arched support behind the banners.

Seating 18,532 for hockey, it’s just above the midpoint for capacity in the NHL but yet feels intimate with how the club level and upper bowl is distributed. The upper bowl looks super tiny considering how many seats are here. The arena seats more than Capital One Arena in D.C., but feels a fraction of the size. Very deceiving, especially considering that this game had the highest indoor attendance for me since a pre-season(!!) Canadiens/Capitals game in 2017 and a 2016 Lightning/Pens regular season game in Pittsburgh.

The only gripe is a first-world problem and I don’t know if it’s an actual gripe. We were in the fourth row and had a great view of the ice but I’m not sure if the pitch of the seats cut off the view behind the net or if it was just us. The big screen helped in a pinch.

As for the fans — a complete reversal of Alex’s experience at the Winter Classic from what I could tell. They were polite, not too much ragging. They were actually pretty entertaining, like the guy with the giant mullet who would find a way to dance and entertain the crowd three sections over. Wish I got a photo of him as we understood that he is a regular at the games.

The game itself was pretty tight. I was afraid after a 0-0 first that this was turning into a another tense Lightning road game. Three years ago I witnessed the Bolts squeak out a 2-1 OT win against Ottawa in the middle of a blizzard. This game also went to overtime thanks to a killer Stamkos one-timer in the third, but the Bolts fell in overtime against former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop and associate coach Rick Bowness. Captain Jamie Benn potted a turnover behind Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 3-2 OT win.

I enjoyed by brief time in Dallas. If you need some BBQ, head to Pecan Lodge on an empty stomach. The two pork ribs and beef brisket lasted me for a good 9 hours. The Sixth-Floor Museum was an interesting historical visit. It’s entirely an audio tour and I learned a few things I didn’t know before about the assassination of JFK.

More than anything — if you visit Dallas, package it with a trip to Austin. You won’t regret it.

Right now, I am 14 teams away — soon to be 15 once Seattle comes on board. I’m feeling good at the halfway point. Despite all of these arenas I’ve been to, I have not closed out a single division. That might change by season’s end.

 

Arena Total: 20

Individual Home Teams Visited: 17

 

American Airlines Center — Jan. 27, 2020 (Stars 3, Lightning 2 OT). Dallas clogged the neutral zone, keeping the score 0-0 after the first. A floater found its way behind Ben Bishop from Nikita Kucherov at the point. After the Stars evened it up, Jamie Benn converting on a breakaway from a bad Lightning turnover. After what seemed like 5 consecutive one-time attempts, Stamkos finally scored with 1:26 to go to send it to OT but Benn ends the game in the extra session after what else? A horrible Lightning turnover. Attendance: 18,345

Madison Square Garden — Nov. 10, 2019 (Panthers 6, Rangers 5 SO) With a thin roster, the Rangers were fortunate to get a point in an offense-filled game despite the Panthers coming off playing the Islanders the previous day. Henrik Lundqvist made some key saves despite giving up 5 goals to keep the Rangers in it. Rookie Ryan Lindgren scored his first career NHL goal. Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar left the game after being struck in the head with a slapshot. Vincent Trocheck scored the shootout winner. Attendance: 17,464

NYCB Live (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum) – Feb. 28, 2019 (Islanders 6, Maple Leafs 1) — In a six-goal feast, nobody really remembers who scored in this game beyond Captain Anders Lee. The fans were the real star of this game with the epic trolling of former Islanders captain John Tavares returning home to the Coliseum for the first time as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Tavares got owned both on and off the ice in a game that will be remembered for years to come. Side note: Johnny Boychuk had a scary incident taking a skate to the throat, rushing off the ice grabbing his throat. The cut wasn’t serious and he was able to return to the game. Attendance: 13,917

Prudential Center — Jan. 12, 2019 (Devils 3, Flyers 2) Long removed from the days of Brodeur vs Hextall, two rookie goalies faced off in this rivalry game. One, the much heralded Carter Hart for Philly, and the other, MacKenzie Blackwood, who is working to earn respect on the goalie depth chart. Dana Severson buried a one-time feed from Drew Stafford at the bottom left circle to open the scoring. Later, Nico Hischier went five hole on a breakaway in the second period then feeds Miles Wood for the final goal.  James van Riemsdyk shoveled a puck top shelf in the second to get the Flyers on the board. Philly’s second goal game with 2 seconds left in the game when Sean Couturier received a stretch pass to break in and get the puck past Blackwood. Attendance: 16,514

Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and  Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena) Attendance: 10,904

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4) [Pre-season] Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist. Attendance: 21,288

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.) Attendance: 16,894.

Consol Energy Center (Now PPG Paints Arena) – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.(Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.) Attendance: 18,643

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime. Attendance: 17,170

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.) Attendance: 17,779

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.) Attendance: 17,754  (A visit on Jan. 18, 2014 that had Marty St. Louis score 4 goals in a 5-4 loss against the Sharks featured a 19,204 attendance. Joe Pavelski netted a natural hattrick in the same game.)

RBC Center (Now PNC Arena) – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.) Attendance: 16,483 (A 2019 revisit had a 18,680 sellout)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center/CapitalOne Arena – Pretty much every year since 1998. 2018 Stanley Cup Finals! (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers) 2018 capacity: 18,056

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

Revisiting Raleigh & PNC Arena As A Caps Fan

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A more excitable PNC Arena on Dec. 28, 2019.

When I first visited the home of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, I wasn’t documenting my experience beyond posting photos on Facebook.

As the years continued, my memories of the game faded. I can piece together some details below, but there was nothing super memorable about my experience down there. It simply marked my seventh NHL arena.

What I remember was flying to Raleigh, renting a car, which ended up being a Dodge Avenger with a really bad blind spot. Then, heading to a Red Roof Inn Plus and being pleasantly surprised there were Red Roof Inns that had indoor rooms. This was during my peak Red Roof Inn phase.

And at some point, I went to the game at the then-RBC Arena to see the defending Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins take on the Hurricanes. I had 300-level seats in the end zone. Great view from above. The Canes wore their third jerseys (that they have since corrected to actually be a Hurricane Warning flag and not a Storm Warning).

From the box score summary that I paste at the end of each new arena visit, on Oct. 12, 2011 the Hurricanes won 3-2. Tomas Kaberle had an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins just four months before the game.

I really have no recollection of the goals scored by Anthony Stewart, Tyler Seguin, Jiri Tlusty or Brad Marchand. Or any saves by Tim Thomas and Cam Ward.

I don’t really remember the atmosphere. I remember the black and white floors that reminded me of a checkered flag and that the upper concourse felt roomy. I remember the crowd being OK given that Boston fans travel.

Here’s the gist of my view with a shitty camera:

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Hurricanes players come out to get ready for the start of the game against the Bruins on Oct. 12, 2011.

And here’s the 2019 view with a Samsung Galaxy S9+:

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A sellout crowd cheers before the Hurricanes take on the Capitals on Dec. 28, 2019.

The game event sheet said 16,483 showed up back in 2011. Not bad for a venue that seats 18,680 for hockey and for a team that was three seasons removed from a playoff appearance where they were swept in the Conference Final.

The 2011-12 season would end up being Season Three of nine consecutive playoff-less seasons.

So, why did I come back to what is now PNC Arena?

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Hamilton The Pig wrapping up his tailgating experience.

Basically, my friends twisted my arm to join them.

I’m not a fan of seeing the Washington Capitals on the road because I want to get the home crowd experience. Seeing how I did that once, I figured, I can go all root for the Caps on the road for this one.

We grabbed three tickets from the Caps Road Crew and made our way down. As we drove through Raleigh Saturday morning, the memories of why I loved the city returned.

Oct. 12, 2011, ended up being 1 month before I moved to Sarasota, Fla., for a new job. Out of my requirements of getting out of Maryland included being within an hour’s drive of an NHL team. Raleigh was at the top of my list below the Tampa Bay area. (Sarasota was close enough!) Raleigh is a beautiful city with a small town feel. Gorgeous homes. Traditional mixed in with modern. The downtown isn’t huge but it provides enough entertainment.

Maybe there will be something significant about Dec. 28, 2019, as a point in time one day.

For now, it’s about enjoying the moment. Throughout our time, we hit up a dozen breweries over three days in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Since you’re wondering:

Other stops included Transfer Food Hall for lunch (Dank Burrito bruh), Whiskey Kitchen for dinner and Boxcar Bar + Arcade for funsies.

After my return flight home, my friends found a couple more breweries to sample in Durham. It’s great making memories with friends and finding just one way to experience a region. (And I did get myself some BBQ, naturally.)

This time I experienced the tailgating atmosphere. It was a chill, relaxing vibe for our parking area near the front of the arena, jamming to a small Bluetooth speaker to get some pre-game vibes going. We didn’t interact with other Caps or Canes fans around other than a simple hello. The Road Crew was located in a different lot partying it up and after a full day of walking, I felt content staying in one place for a bit.

I’ve seen tailgating before at NHL games and nothing will ever come close to the anarchy at Nassau Coliseum before John Tavares making his return to Long Island.

This felt more like sipping tea on your front porch and just watching the neighbors drive by. There was a touch of class to it. And I even got to meet Hamilton the Pig!

Inside, the atmosphere is quite different. Everyone is amped up. The fans are quite cocky now, almost an annoyance equal to that of Penguins fans. It’s almost as if they’re … A Bunch of Jerks.

You win one playoff round against the Capitals in the first-ever postseason meeting between the franchises, and all of a sudden you own the league. Meh. I’ll just fill the Caps’ Stanley Cup win with my tears.

A new, giant, video scoreboard, better HD video ribbon boards and overall game presentation was top notch. They don’t overdo it with in-your-face games and promotions or in-game hosts cutting in with something else to show.

The game was back-and-forth and ultimately the Caps failed, but this meant I got to watch the Storm Surge. (And Ovechkin scoring a PP goal to pass Teemu Selanne for third in all-time PP goals.)

The Storm Surge for this game was pretty basic. Skol clap, then Brock McGinn throws his helmet and slams the butt end of his stick on the center ice dot, setting off thunder and a lightning bolt graphic across the ice. The Tampa Bay Lightning essentially does this every  pre-game introduction with a kid skating out with a rope of LED lights on a stick, as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” carries the energy. Then at a key moment in the song, the kid pumps his stick into the air, setting off Tesla coils and thunder.

See, now the Canes are relevant. Last year, they had a new majority owner come in, and really shook things up. He embraced the Hartford Whalers history as a cash grab for the merchandise. (It worked.) The players implemented the creative Storm Surge post-game celebrations that are common in Europe. They were in playoff position. And Don Cherry ordaining the players as  “A Bunch of Jerks” and that just took off, embraced by the fan base, galvanizing a non-traditional market that had won a Cup in 2006. And then, they won two playoff rounds and went to the Conference Final and got swept by the Bruins.

Despite the sweep, the fans have not lost their swagger. There was a line to get into the main merchandise shop before the game, so they’re hungry to support their team.

In 2011, I managed to buy their old CCM white jersey for $60. They couldn’t get rid of their merch.

They were engaged. They shit-talked. They cheered. And they were everywhere in the sold-out arena.

We were in the top row, XX, in Section 110 with a great view to watch everything unfold without any obstruction or fear of leaners. Actually, if you wanted, you could stand up without blocking anyone’s view because of how the top row is configured.

I also like how the concessions are configured, mainly out of the way from the concourse traffic flow. Personally, I made it a point to walk down to the PDQ stand and order a chicken sandwich with a honey buttered bun. I haven’t had PDQ since I left Florida and miss it so freaking bad. Hope they open in Maryland soon. Bojangles is already in D.C. at Union Station and has 5 locations in Prince George’s County. They’re growing their presence so much in the Capitals market that they are now sponsoring Big Bo Moments of the game on NBC Sports Washington.20191228_180918

I did have Bojangles for dinner in Union Station before I made my way to the VRE train to get to Springfield to be picked up. And I finally had a piece of a Bo-Berry Biscuit that a friend ordered on the trip. Sadly, I didn’t take advantage of the Canes scoring on a PP promotion. Have you lived if you haven’t visited a Bojangles and said “I’m a Caniac and it’s Bo Time!”? That gets you a free Bo-Berry Biscuit.

The only thought I have to improve the Game Day experience is that with this being a venue that also serves NC State basketball, it still feels like a really nice college arena and not a next-gen pro sports arena. That’s not a bad thing. There is an opportunity here to be creative and embrace a collegiate atmosphere.

Why not cut out a section in the upper bowl,  a la Tampa, and create a bleacher bar section. Have space for a band to make it feel like a college hockey game. Or at least, a place for fans to party a little and get a different feel for the game?

Call it The Storm Center. Or Cat-5 Crazies. Or Hurricane Alley.

 

Thank you Raleigh for rediscovering your team now that it’s winning again. Thank you for the experience inside and outside of the arena. Thank you for the beer. And thanks for the Storm Surge, ya jerks.

 

 

Taking In The World’s Most Famous Arena

74624103_10107353555902028_2798762588865822720_n.jpgI didn’t really know what to expect at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Yes, it’s historic. At a capacity around 18,000 for Rangers games, it’s yuuuuuge. It’s filled with tradition and a passionate fanbase. But the recent renovations mask the arena’s 51-year-old age. The only hint of age is the exterior and the roof.

From the clean, bright concourses to the food options that make most arenas look minor league, The Garden really felt like a Palace. And that can be both a great and not-so-great attribute. It feels stately and luxurious, and almost to the point of “you can look but don’t touch.” Compared to visiting the Coliseum, which also had an extensive renovation, MSG doesn’t have an old hockey barn character. You’re coming here for a show. A Manhattan Matinee.

Embrace it, as we did. I took my sister Spring to check it out. When we were getting into hockey, she was a Rangers fan. She wore her old #24 Sundstrom jersey to the game, a nod to a generation ago. Today’s #24 with the Blueshirts is highly touted rookie Kaapo Kakko, who notched a goal in a back-and-forth 6-5 shootout loss. Spring has since converted to being a Caps fan years ago, but it was a great trip down memory lane for her.

Getting into the arena is a headscratcher at streetlevel. We entered down through Penn Station, hoping to figure out where to go, and it popped up out onto an alley with part of the building above us, snaking back into the complex. It’s easier to figure out how to get in if you’re coming from the Subway or train as it were. That’s the great thing about MSG is you can get there from anywhere. NJ Transit, NY Subway, LIRR, Amtrak all roll into Penn Station.

74693264_10107353554709418_4026137905599610880_n.jpgAfter going through MSG security, the concourse really begins with the team shop and merch stands, which is a nice touch before actually getting in. It’s better than TD Garden in Boston where I stood outside the building door, only to get into what was basically the train station until we were let up another level to wait even longer before tickets were scanned … and continued to climb steps and escalators just to get to the lower bowl.

At that point, you choose which end you’re going to stand in line to have your ticket stand. There’s no actual lining up, everyone is in this wide swath being funneled and it takes care of itself. It was the most organized disorganized way of getting people in and everyone was cool with it. There would be cities where people would lose their shit if one person tried to slide their way around.

We checked out the lower level concourse when we first got in, and I was impressed with all of the history dotted along the ceiling. And the Hulk Hogan outfit honoring the first-ever WrestleMania. Every worker at the concessions who waited to be of service, smiled and said, “Hello! Welcome to The Garden!” It was a great touch of customer service and class. Even the janitor in the men’s room was entertaining.

Eventually, we made our way up six levels to the Chase Bridge. This is a new section built that puts us close to the roof, but closer to the action. The bridge is closer to the ice than most of the upper bowl. It is an amazing vantage point. I could read the jersey names clearly despite being up above the scoreboard. You could hear all the hockey sounds bounce off the ceiling. The position reminded me a lot of the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. I sat in an end zone that was essentially a balcony, where I had to climb up into my seat. 75407781_10107353556306218_1998847014707658752_n.jpg

I definitely recommend doing a game on the Chase Bridge, but only if you’re in the first row. I’ve noticed some people in the first row decided to stand up during play like it was their own area, blocking the view from the people along the barstool seats on the concourse or even the row behind them. The two rows on the bridge are each divided by thick, tall panes of glass to prevent you from falling to your death.

Being a small section, the restroom lines were short, as well as the concessions. We bought cheeseburgers and they’re probably the best arena burgers we’ve had. They’re actual beef, thick and juicy (maybe a tad greasy) with a little pink inside.

The game itself was entertaining with plenty of goals, but the emotion wasn’t there with this matchup. The Rangers and Panthers aren’t rivals and I was hoping a storyline of Bobrovsky vs Panarin would play out, but Bob got the start against the Islanders the day before.

Despite losing 75 percent of faceoffs, and missing Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers were still able to put up 5 goals.

76963868_10107353556855118_3624092493831733248_n.jpgSo, if I had to rank the NY/NJ area arenas, I would have to say the Coliseum and Prudential Center rank above MSG in terms of atmosphere and feeling like a hockey game. The distance between MSG as third and Barclays in fourth is huge. A rebuilding Rangers team on a Sunday afternoon against a team they don’t care about was still a virtual sellout while the playoff Islanders last year faced off against a Canucks team on a weeknight that had more empty seats than people. The only question remains is where will the Belmont Park arena rank when it opens?

I’ll find out soon. The Islanders and Red Wings are making it difficult to fully knockout the East as it were. At least I saw the Red Wings at the Joe when they were out West.

At this point, I need to see the Flyers, Sabres and Leafs to finish up all Eastern Conference teams at home. I’m changing things up a bit and setting out to Dallas in January, though maybe I should have waited for them if the Yotes move to Houston in a couple years.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Arena Total: 19

Individual Home Teams Visited: 16

Madison Square Garden — Nov. 10, 2019 (Panthers 6, Rangers 5 SO) With a thin roster, the Rangers were fortunate to get a point in an offense-filled game despite the Panthers coming off playing the Islanders the previous day. Henrik Lundqvist made some key saves despite giving up 5 goals to keep the Rangers in it. Rookie Ryan Lindgren scored his first career NHL goal. Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar left the game after being struck in the head with a slapshot. Vincent Trocheck scored the shootout winner. Attendance: 17,464

NYCB Live (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum) – Feb. 28, 2019 (Islanders 6, Maple Leafs 1) — In a six-goal feast, nobody really remembers who scored in this game beyond Captain Anders Lee. The fans were the real star of this game with the epic trolling of former Islanders captain John Tavares returning home to the Coliseum for the first time as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Tavares got owned both on and off the ice in a game that will be remembered for years to come. Side note: Johnny Boychuk had a scary incident taking a skate to the throat, rushing off the ice grabbing his throat. The cut wasn’t serious and he was able to return to the game. Attendance: 13,917

Prudential Center — Jan. 12, 2019 (Devils 3, Flyers 2) Long removed from the days of Brodeur vs Hextall, two rookie goalies faced off in this rivalry game. One, the much heralded Carter Hart for Philly, and the other, MacKenzie Blackwood, who is working to earn respect on the goalie depth chart. Dana Severson buried a one-time feed from Drew Stafford at the bottom left circle to open the scoring. Later, Nico Hischier went five hole on a breakaway in the second period then feeds Miles Wood for the final goal.  James van Riemsdyk shoveled a puck top shelf in the second to get the Flyers on the board. Philly’s second goal game with 2 seconds left in the game when Sean Couturier received a stretch pass to break in and get the puck past Blackwood. Attendance: 16,514

Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and  Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center (Now PPG Paints Arena) – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

(Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center (Now PNC Arena) – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center/CapitalOne Arena – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

Plenty of Life Left in Nassau Coliseum

20190228_175109Double-dipping: Bad for chip eaters. Great for hockey fans.

Two days before I landed on Long Island, I realized that the New York Islanders were scheduled to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at home.

When I bought my ticket for the Caps game last summer, it never occurred to me to check the Islanders schedule for before that day. Back-to-back nights of home games are rare in the NHL. You’re more likely to see a back-to-back with a team traveling for one of those games.

I’m in the middle of watching the Caps in person drubbing the Ottawa Senators and I immediately search for tickets.  This Islanders vs Leafs game was the return of John Tavares to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (or NYCB Live at Nassau Coliseum). I couldn’t say no. I was booked to stay at the Long Island Marriott, so the place was guaranteed to be rowdy that night. The price of drinking at the hotel for the night would have easily been the price of a ticket (about $180).

Islanders fans don’t let things go. Especially betrayal. The last regular season NHL game I can ever remember of this much hate and build-up to would be…you know what? I really can’t think of one during my time of following hockey since I was 11. There have been instances of hated for players like Sean Avery, Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Marchment and Claude Lemieux. I can’t remember a fan base — during the regular season — being on a player at this intensity from warm-ups to post-game. Hell, even during the post-game media scrum, you could hear on TV highlights a fan yelling in the background: “John! You suck!”

It felt like WrestleMania. It felt like a European soccer match, short of a riot. It was a Roman Coliseum, really, with every spectator thirsty for carnage. When I sat out to see a game in every NHL arena in my lifetime, my hope was to go as a home fan as much as possible, experiencing the passion of the local crowd. This visit exceed expectations.

20190228_213547Constant chanting. From “We Don’t Need You” to “Where’s Your Jammies” to “That’s Our Captain” when Anders Lee scored a goal, the Nassau faithful were savage. They really put in complete effort on shaming and exerting revenge the best a fan could — without fighting a player.

The intensity was so strong that when an Islanders fan wanted to give a standing ovation with less than 2 minutes to go in the game, the fellow Islanders fan behind him yelled at him to sit down. When he didn’t comply and said something the large man when to shove him and there was a little back and forth but no fists thrown. 

Back at the hotel, a bartender told customers how that night was the busiest, and probably highest grossing for sales at the hotel bar/restaurant in 18 years. He estimated it to be $42,000, which is really crazy. I worked at a small town department store where a $27,000 day left you out of breath, even if you just worked a five-hour shift.

I was most impressed by the people who went to professional sign shops to make slick signs to degrade Tavares. Or, spend money to embroider “Traitor” or stick “Palffy” upside down on the nameplate above 91. (Turn it upside down and it’s a 16—Ziggy’s number as an Isle.) Or wearing Islander pajamas.

By far the most entertaining regular season game I’ve attended from what I can recall. The following night, I was very tense, uneasy. Instead of a 6-1 drubbing while rooting for the Islanders, I cheered for my Caps with the Caps Road Crew. Somehow, we survived a tight-checking game with two teams playing similar styles and system and won 3-1.

So, what about the arena itself and its environs?

Getting There

I don’t think I’ve written this much about transportation to and from an arena/nearby accommodations. If you don’t care about this, skip ahead.

If you have a car, it’s better if you can somehow survive the hell of driving through congestion on I-95 from Baltimore to New York in all the usual places. From Baltimore, it’s almost four hours of driving if you’re lucky to avoid construction zones and crashes. 

One-way tolls cost about $37 and $20 in gas each way, brings you to $114 total. A round-trip flight costs about the same from BWI to JFK, which is what I opted for thanks to an airline voucher that covered the cost of the flight.

As much as I hate driving through congestion, here’s why I would use a car over flying and transit:

I stayed at the Long Island Marriott, which is basically in the parking lot of the arena. The arena is the only walkable destination from the hotel. Actually, the hotel is the only walkable hotel to the arena for that matter

There is nowhere to safely walk to in a short distance to grab food outside of the hotel. The restaurant’s prices are OK, but breakfast can run you $20. We’re talking $5 for a muffin, OK? The convenience store is at arena concession prices. Cliff Bar and an OJ? $10 thank you.

There’s a McDonald’s and Chipotle that you could walk 10 minutes to if you cut straight across the parking lot. A raised crosswalk at Hofstra University can take you over the Hempstead Turnpike. By that time, I think you burned the calories needed for a Happy Meal.

Getting from a Long Island Rail Road train station to the hotel/arena can be confusing for those not familiar with the area and want to avoid paying another $10 or so for a Lyft. Google Maps by default point you to the Mineola or Westbury stops if coming from JFK. The hotel only lists Westbury, which is 2.5 miles from the hotel. The problem with Mineola, Westbury and even Carle Place, which drops off in a residential area, is that taking a bus is a chore from those areas, so you’re stuck calling for a cab or ride share. It would take nearly an hour by bus, including having to switch bus lines, or walking across a college campus for a mile, and catching a bus there. (I really could have used a Bird or Lime scooter here.)

Here’s what I recommend: Walk south from the hotel to the corner of James Doolittle and Hempstead Turnpike. It takes maybe three or four minutes to walk across the lot, or down the street, and you find yourself at the local NICE bus line for n70 or n71. In about 15-20 minutes, that bus will take you to the Hempstead Bus Terminal. Across the street is the Hempstead LIRR station, which takes you to Jamaica, where you can catch the AirTrain to JFK. 

Alternatively, this line will take you to Atlantic Terminal and you can change in Jamaica to Penn Station, too.

I just wish the hotel/arena landlord would build a sidewalk from the hotel south to the turnpike to make the walk safer, especially on a snowy day.

The only downside to Hempstead is that the service isn’t as frequent to get you to Jamaica, or into Brooklyn and Manhattan if you’re looking to visit there. Mineola has the most lines that stops for stations east of Jamaica, so you’re not going to wait long if you’re looking to get there or go into the city. At Hempstead, it’s about once an hour except evening rush hour service sends more frequent trains. It’s worth taking a look at.

What’s the point of all of this? 

Let’s all hope that the new arena at Belmont gets a full-time LIRR stop when the new arena opens with a sufficient number of trains. There’s a part-time stop there, but any arena in the 21st century needs mass transit, especially some sort of rail service, serving the arena directly or at least in a short walk. 

The New Old Barn

IMG_20190228_215921_169I’ve watched games of the Coliseum on TV for years from afar and amazed at the well-worn seats and place was still standing with its prison facade and dim on-ice lighting. The place wasn’t high on my list because I figured it would be here forever because the team’s ownership, area’s political will (and a huge ask of tax dollars during the Great Recession) kept a new arena from proceeding.

The new aluminum fin treatment on the exterior is a smart move, making the arena look modern with how the design swoops around like a wave. The developers did one of the better jobs of renovating an old property with an uncertain future.

Inside, the concourses, lighting, restrooms, seats — everything is brand new. I would genuinely enjoy watching a game here any day of the year. The Upper Bowl is really like Club Level in most arenas. Reminds me of the old Pittsburgh Igloo with how the lower bowl just continues on up forever. 

I sat in 240 Row 11 on Thursday, positioned where the Isles shoot twice between the blue line and circles without any issue. On Friday, I was behind the Isles’ goal in 212 Row 10 and the overhang from the suites block the view of the banners and the top of the scoreboard. A TV is placed on your left to make up for the obstruction. This type of obstruction I could deal with if it’s just blocking the banners. I could see the entire ice surface, which is not something you have an easy time doing in Brooklyn.

The pitch of the upper bowl is PERFECT. There is no need to lean and the only times fans would lean is when the action heated up and you were halfway standing up for another goal in that 6-1 route. (However, on Friday, a group of 10 teens at the game felt the need to stand up during play constantly and just come and go as they pleased. They are the worst kind of people and should never come to a hockey game again.)

The new capacity of the coliseum is 13,917 for hockey, down from 16,170 before the re-do. The reason why you have fewer seats is mainly for comfort. The seats are an inch wider and there is 34 inches of legroom with the new seats, according to Newsday. I’m a bigger guy and I never felt cramped between my seat mates.

Speaking of suites —not that I could afford one — but with suites and boxes being moneymakers for pro teams, it’s cool seeing an arena with only a handful of them leaving more room for seats for the rest of us. The suites are the highest seats in the venue, tucked above the Islanders end zone. A team can’t make the money its peers do without more suites and boxes, which is one of the main drivers why the team needed a new arena 20 years ago…

How small is this place? There’s only one concourse, and it felt more than adequate. I felt more frustrated walking through the upper concourse in D.C. and at some other arenas than navigating the single concourse on Long Island. The men’s room wait was actually somewhat brief for as long as the line was during a sell-out—better than in D.C. 

It turns out that the renovation made the concourse a foot wider by pushing back concession stands and doubled the total of toilets/urinals/sinks overall, according to Newsday. With all the flashy, money-grabbing features of state-of-the-art arenas, the Coliseum serves as a great reminder that if you make it a comfortable place to watch a game and get through the restroom line quick, fans will notice.

Bottom line: If you haven’t watched a game at the Coliseum, take advantage and do it now in the next two seasons before the Islanders really do stop playing here. (At least, I think they’ll stop playing there one day, right?) 

If you have watched a game here before the renovations, come back because chances are it’ll be a more pleasant experience.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Arena Total: 18

Individual Home Teams Visited: 15

NYCB Live (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum) – Feb. 28, 2019 (Islanders 6, Maple Leafs 1) — In a six-goal feast, nobody really remembers who scored in this game beyond Captain Anders Lee. The fans were the real star of this game with the epic trolling of former Islanders captain John Tavares returning home to the Coliseum for the first time as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Tavares got owned both on and off the ice in a game that will be remembered for years to come. Side note: Johnny Boychuk had a scary incident taking a skate to the throat, rushing off the ice grabbing his throat. The cut wasn’t serious and he was able to return to the game.

Prudential Center — Jan. 12, 2019 (Devils 3, Flyers 2) Long removed from the days of Brodeur vs Hextall, two rookie goalies faced off in this rivalry game. One, the much heralded Carter Hart for Philly, and the other, MacKenzie Blackwood, who is working to earn respect on the goalie depth chart. Dana Severson buried a one-time feed from Drew Stafford at the bottom left circle to open the scoring. Later, Nico Hischier went five hole on a breakaway in the second period then feeds Miles Wood for the final goal.  James van Riemsdyk shoveled a puck top shelf in the second to get the Flyers on the board. Philly’s second goal game with 2 seconds left in the game when Sean Couturier received a stretch pass to break in and get the puck past Blackwood. Attendance: 16,514

Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and  Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center (Now PPG Paints Arena) – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

(Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center (Now PNC Arena) – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center/CapitalOne Arena – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

A Glorious Day in New Jersey’s Prudential Center

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I’ve been wrong about more than a few things during the course of my life, and one of those generalizations is about New Jersey.

That’s thanks to my first memories of it being the industrial heavy areas of the New Jersey Turnpike. This past year I’ve come to appreciate New Jersey with an overnight stay outside of Moorestown after a concert at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden in July, seeing that it’s actually pretty normal.

A train ride to Newark Penn Station exposed me to some other beautiful parts of the state before I arrived at the station, as the Amtrak line cut through Trenton to shoot  up to Edison and Elizabeth. Newark’s has had a reputation through the years, too. I’m just here for the hockey arena, man. The district around the arena feels like a nice New York City neighborhood that hasn’t outgrown itself yet. Nothing too flashy, but everything you need to enjoy yourself before and after the game is there, as well as a short walk to Newark Penn to hop onto Amtrak, NJ Path commuter rail or the Newark Light Rail.

I love arenas that are both accessible by rail/subway and in the middle of a city and Prudential Center really blends in with the neighborhood by the Investors Bank Tower entrance, tucked behind a brick building housing bars.

The guards were happy and friendly, and everybody genuinely seemed to be in a good mood for a rivalry game against the Philadelphia Flyers, given that the stakes for this match was last place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Walkaround

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Prudential Center is one of the few arenas that involve walking up a level after entering the building to get to the lower concourse. (Like PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, the upper concourse is at the top with fans walking down the section into their seats toward the first row.) Once I hit the lower concourse, the natural light shines through the massive windows for the afternoon match. Keep walking and you’ll see the Manhattan skyline.

Once the concourse filled up closer to the game, I didn’t have any issues trying to get by people to where I needed to go. For handling a full house, I didn’t have any complaints, even with restroom lines. Officially, attendance was 16,514 for the matinee. Official capacity? Well, it could be 17,625 according to some reports and it could be 16,514 to other reports. Visually, you can’t tell because every seat appeared to be filled. The discrepancy, according to reports through the years, could either be not counting certain club/suite seats, or removing obstructed view seats or not counting standing room only totals. Who knows!

There seems to be a couple of straightaways where concessions are concentrated, with a nice layout of carts of mainly snack food on one side and fuller options on the other. Looking for something that wasn’t a burger or chicken tenders, I found a prime rib sandwich cart. They don’t skimp on filling up that sub roll! That sandwich carried me into the evening when I arrived home near a snowy Baltimore.

Aside from the massive windows, the walls feature massive hand painted murals of New Jersey sports history. There’s Martin Brodeur! And a bunch of Seton Hall basketball players that I have no clue about, and female tennis player I don’t recognize. But, Brodeur! (If you really want to know who’s on this, here’s a description.)20190112_115825

Eventually, I stumbled into the William Hill Sports Lounge where I could place a bet now that sports betting is legal in New Jersey. I regret I didn’t put something down. (I didn’t in Vegas, either.) I didn’t have an American Express card either, or I could have got a picture and autograph from former Devil Colin White around the same stretch of concourse.

Actually, my only regret about my visit is that because I didn’t schedule an evening return, I wasn’t able to visit the Grammy Experience at the arena. It’s a Grammy Award museum with its own entrance at the arena, and sounds like it would have been worth it.

During the second intermission, I walked up a set of stairs by Section 3 to check out this new Goal Bar area. There’s an area roped off for the premium folks getting their food, but this is a must visit area if you want to avoid a crowd. Nobody was crowding the bar, and the area has its own restroom and there was no line at all.

The Experience

Thanks to SeatGeeek, I found a seat in Section 5, Row 2 became available for a little over $100 (and another $20 in fees from Fanxchange) and hopped on it. Good luck getting a second row seat for that much in D.C., or most top markets. It’s been awhile since I’ve enjoyed a lower bowl experience, being able to flinch when the puck hits the glass and see the boards sway from big hits. I’m a season-ticket holder in the 400s at CapitalOne Arena, so while I have a nice perch to view all the action, you don’t get the same experience.20190112_122935

To my left, four middle aged Flyers fans who oozed self deprecation for their lowly team and were just happy to be there. To my right, four senior citizen Devils fans who enjoyed every moment, and didn’t chat much. To my front, a mix of fathers and sons enjoying the game with the college-age boy enjoying too much that he could complete the “Rangers Suck…Flyers Swallow” chant. It felt right.

On the big screen — no, make that, gigantic screen — the in-game entertainment felt like, you know, a hockey game. Sometimes corny, but always pulling at the heart strings, and plenty of moments to get fans their 5 seconds of fame. Did I enjoy it more than a Caps game? Yes. The music mix was spot on, with the crowd continuing to finish songs long after they stopped playing. The organ player using Bruce Springsteen/Jersey God’s “Glory Days” to introduce the Three Stars, the highlight reel of Rick Flair being Rick Flair to get the crowd to “woo!” — the presentation matched the audience and it felt fun. Some arenas are making games too serious or too programmed like they’re trying to do a TV show with a hockey game interrupting. Just let the fans have fun, man. At the Prudential Center, everyone’s having a good time. (And shout out to the fan two rows behind me doing the “Here We Go Galaxy, Here We Go” chant in the style of Joe Lo Truglio in “I Love You Man.”)

The moment that defined New Jersey fun more than anything? A pre-game music video featuring the team’s organist Pete Cannarozzi doing a parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as “Let’s Go Play The Flyers.” As the song goes, “they tried to beat us, but they can’t defeat us.” It has a “they hateus cuz they ainus” vibe to it.

On top of it all, the Devils snapped out of a funk and won 3-2 to break a three-game losing streak with the return of former Capital Marcus Johansson to the New Jersey lineup and Nico Hischier potting a goal and an assist. The real star was goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, making 32 saves in his first game since leaving a Jan. 4 game due to injury.

Weird stat about the game from NHL.com: “The game marked the first time since March 11, 1987, that the Devils (Craig Billington) and Flyers (Ron Hextall) played a game with two rookie goalies.” (Carter Hart was in goal for the Flyers.)

There’s an air of Capitals games where everyone is trying to impress someone with facts, news, analysis, or taking the game way too seriously. It’s nice that in New Jersey, they’re capturing the spirit of the thing. It’s entertainment. It’s a game. And it feels nice when your team wins.

Updated List of NHL Arenas Where I’ve Attended a Game

Arena Total: 17

Individual Home Teams Visited: 15

 

Prudential Center — Jan. 12, 2019 (Devils 3, Flyers 2) Long removed from the days of Brodeur vs Hextall, two rookie goalies faced off in this rivalry game. One, the much heralded Carter Hart for Philly, and the other, MacKenzie Blackwood, who is working to earn respect on the goalie depth chart. Dana Severson buried a one-time feed from Drew Stafford at the bottom left circle to open the scoring. Later, Nico Hischier went five hole on a breakaway in the second period then feeds Miles Wood for the final goal.  James van Riemsdyk shoveled a puck top shelf in the second to get the Flyers on the board. Philly’s second goal game with 2 seconds left in the game when Sean Couturier received a stretch pass to break in and get the puck past Blackwood. Attendance: 16,514

Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and  Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center (Now PPG Paints Arena) – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

(Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center (Now PNC Arena) – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center/CapitalOne Arena – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

Brooklyn Beatdown: Islanders Take Down Canucks

20181113_175216.jpgHalf the fun of these trips is the travel experience getting to the game.

It’s not quite the long drive through the desert to Glendale from Las Vegas with a pit stop at the Hoover Dam. It was just more involved than anticipated.

When I arrived at my gate inside BWI, the airline agent announced there was a mechanical issue with the plane and the flight was likely going to be canceled. I give them credit because I haven’t seen gate agents that proactive. Even before a single delay was registered in the system, they told people come up for assistance to be routed to a different flight.

Some people were lucky and stayed at BWI and were provided other routes to get them where they needed to be and some of us — including me — were given a ground transportation voucher for a cab ride down to DCA to get me to JFK by 4 p.m.

The most important thing that people did their jobs and I got there safe. On the downside, I spent probably four hours trying to just get on an hour flight. New York is only a three-hour drive from where I live. But whenever you don’t have to drive to New York, it’s a good day.

The driver, a native of Ukraine, and I had a great conversation during the hour ride about hockey and the cuisine of Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. Turns out, I really need to check out a place called Supra in D.C., for great Georgian (the country, not the state) cuisine.

He told me how he was young, in the training academy for the USSR soccer team and then how much with hockey he loved the old Summit Series in the ’70s. He was a huge fan of Spartak Moscow in the old Soviet league and hated how the national team was essentially the rival CSKA team but took Spartak’s best players to play and hated to see them in a rival sweater or even on the same team. That put me in a great mood just to talk hockey with someone, even nuanced details about Soviet league rosters. I love hockey history and could talk about it for hours.

But I had a flight to catch, and got to JFK without any delays on the second flight. I keep looking at my watch wondering if I’m going to make it in time for the 7 p.m. game. Now, to get to my hotel in Brooklyn from JFK without spending a fortune on a cab, I have to take the AirTrain, to get to the subway. But to even get to the AirTrain, I walk for what seems like forever until I get to the damn train. To save money, it’s worth it. It’s only $5 for the AirTrain, and then a discounted fare for the Subway when you purchase it with the MTA card. If I had planned more, I would have spent a few extra dollars to check the Long Island Rail Road schedule and take that to the Atlantic Terminal and get to the hotel faster.

Didn’t matter. Got on the A train easily to my stop, just steps away from the Holiday Inn. Made it to the game just minutes after doors opened.

Location, Amenities, Atmosphere

20181113_185110.jpgAirline delay withstanding, actually getting to Barclays Center is super easy. The Atlantic Terminal entrance faces the arena doors, serving several subway lines and the Long Island Railroad.

From my hotel, the arena was only a six-minute walk with plenty of restaurants on your way to pop in for some pre-gaming. I didn’t have the luxury of that much time in comparison, playing it safe with Shake Shack across from the arena.

But here’s just one of the many problems as has been told since before the Islanders announced they would move to Brooklyn: the arena is away from the core of the Islanders fan base and the players’ homes — the people who really matter in this situation.

For a one-off trip for an out-of-town fan, this is as good as it’s going to get for the Islanders. When the Islanders move to Belmont Park, it will still take about an hour from the airport by AirTrain and commuter rail, but the team has to build a retail/restaurant complex around the arena because the horse track is surrounded by homes. Getting out to Nassau takes longer, with having to take a bus for the final leg. Once you’re at the arena, there are zero walkable options other than the giant Long Island Marriott in the parking lot.

As a season ticket holder for the Caps, I know how much of a challenge it is just to get to games when you live/work an hour out, even with transit options. Of course, there is a book full of functional issues with the arena itself that I’ll get into later.

It’s no wonder that my ticket in Section 222 was only $12 on StubHub. Tuesday night against a Western Conference team anticipated at the start of the season to be in the basement. It’s one of the reasons I targeted this game: cheap ticket. Turns out, the Vancouver Canucks are a surprise with sensation Elias Pettersson filling the scoresheet and sit in second place in the Pacific Division.

Getting inside the arena on an empty night wasn’t an issue. I missed the initial rush of people lined up to get in, so when I got there a few minutes later there was nobody in line. Even if there was a full house, I like their logistics with the open plaza, using a fence to corral people into an orderly line.

Once I got through the doors, the arena didn’t hide it at all that this is a Brooklyn Nets arena and the Islanders should be happy to be there. After all, the place was exclusively built for basketball without any plans for hockey.

Going through the concourse, I couldn’t get a good feel for how it would function with a full house. Some concessions were closed, which I found strange. Maybe they just know they don’t need all of them open because of the lack of ticket sales.

20181113_182013It’s actually easy to get lost, or at least, feel like you’re getting lost. Once you walk past the areas with concessions, the concourse drastically shrinks making it feel like you’re navigating a faceless hallway in an office complex. The signage for the most part blends in with the wood grain treatment, too, in certain areas.

Even getting to the main concourse was a headache from the upper bowl. It was hard to tell where the down escalators were, so taking the stairs meant taking a risk where you weren’t sure if you were going to make it out. Each floor was coded on the door. Does this random two-letter code mean I’m in the 100 section or not?

Down by the glass, watching warmups is a unique experience here. Partially because at one time, you couldn’t even watch warm-ups because of a money-grabbing business strategy. Now, they don’t care. I didn’t need to be part of any 91 Club, especially since No. 91 doesn’t play here anymore.

The space between the stands and where the players come on for warm-up is pretty wide open. There isn’t much separating spectators from the pros. Doesn’t seem to be a concern for the coaches. Assistant coach Lane Lambert and another coach just walked right up through the stands uninterrupted heading somewhere. Later, goalie coach Mitch Korn spots a friend and comes up into the rows and talks to him during warmups without any fan interference.20181113_182916

It’s a laid back feel and even the players seem more relaxed and more apt to interact with fans during warmups. Matthew Barzel kept flipping puck after puck to fans, not caring how much he was giving away. Some teams you’re lucky if one or two pucks total make their way out for fans. He put at least seven over the glass intentionally.

The crowd felt and looked mainly in their 20s and 30s with the look of a young Brooklynite. They were there for a night out, kind of into the game and maybe as an ironic thing to do for this hipster haven. It’s hard to judge what this place would feel like as a full barn.

The in-game entertainment was more old school and traditional without too many gimmicks, really. But I couldn’t get over how the arena announcer sounded like a throwback basketball announcer in that everything was kept to one level of volume with minimal play on announcing names, power plays, etc., with a smooth, warm, crisp and clear voice. Polar opposite of Wes Johnson.

Can You See Me Now?

At ice level for warmups, the House of Obstructed Views takes shape.

Behind the home goal, the upper bowl hangs right over the lower bowl, causing weird gaps of space. Infamously, Honda has taken up a prime space for advertising in the corner, inspired by European arenas. I counted 10 sections in this area without a single fan in by game time. That speaks volumes to the issues here. (I thought I read  somewhere that the team finally stopped selling tickets behind that goal because of the obstructed views but I could be wrong.)

Looking up, even the retired numbers and championship banners are obstructed by lights, curtains and whatever else is up in the rafters.20181113_182759

Once I plopped down in my seat up in Section 222 Row 4, I found myself in the middle of a row thinking I’d have an unobstructed view. Why would I be that stupid thinking it would be perfect?

Well, there things you just can’t predict when getting a ticket despite the technology provided to preview your seats.

Two glass barriers that prevent people tumbling down over the ledge interfere with your view a little along with a railing. The pitch of the bowl isn’t made for hockey either. The lower corner behind the home goal was slightly cut off from my view. A man’s head in the row below me blocked my view more than normal down on that end.

Look, sure he might have had a larger head, but he wasn’t a leaner. Instead I had to wiggle around to see, especially around his daughter who didn’t understand that seats are for sitting. I didn’t feel like telling people to sit down or whatever that night. For $12, I couldn’t complain, really. If I was a season ticket holder or ponied up for playoff tickets I’d be cranky.

The empty seats and cheap tickets turned it into a minor league night. People would gather their friends together to sit in their own row, others wouldn’t be bothered because they’d move down. It didn’t matter where you sat really, and nobody made a big deal of trying to get someone out of their seat. They just moved somewhere else.

The history of articles and hot takes on this arena’s design is at this point an anthology.

• One fan sued saying the pitch of the seats were dangerous causing drunk fans to tumble. (For me, the issue wasn’t as much of the pitch as that the cupholders are on the back of the seats, which places them at your feet as you walk by. I kept hitting them with my foot and thought I was going to fall on the folks below.)

• This 2015 Puck Daddy visit sums up all the small things about this arena, with dispatches from fans from the Isles first season there. You’ll get a good feeling of what exactly you can’t see.

• Oh and the floor piping isn’t up to standards for ice making either.

Actually watching the game itself, everything felt super bright. I don’t think I’ve seen ice that white in any arena, aided by the amped up wattage from on high.

The sound system was among the best I’ve encountered, too. The goal horn though … I didn’t expect an actual train horn blaring from the rafters behind me. Startling for sure.20181113_193430.jpg

Bittersweet Memories

The Isles ended up putting on a good show, winning 5-2 with an amazing fluke goal by Thomas Khunackl in the first period, squeaking by Jacob Markstrom’s leg that didn’t quite hug the ice and post.

Shamelessly, it was fun to participate in the “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants after a goal.

Still felt odd seeing Barry Trotz behind the bench after winning the Cup just six months ago with the Caps.

Trotz being behind the bench of a division rival after contract problems is really a summation of the Isles arena issues. They couldn’t stay but they are somehow making it work somewhere else.

So, Barclays, I love you for being you. Elegant, new, complex yet simple, satisfying but frustratingly perplexing. Your time is soon coming to an end as a hockey arena, leaving all of us to wonder if things could have been different if the arena could properly host a hockey game.

In March, I’ll visit NYCB Live at Nassau Coliseum, the rebranded and renovated former home of the Islanders. Fortunately, the mess of the arena situation meant that the organization is able to play half of its home games in its old barn.

However, I’ll be attending as a Caps fan, which means I’m going to have to be prepared to be soaked with beer.

Souvenir of the Game: Military Appreciation Night themed Mystery Puck. Puck ended up being autographed by No. 15, Cal Clutterbuck.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Arena Total: 16.

Individual Home Teams Visited: 14

Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and  Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

Hockey At The Disco: NHL Under the Vegas Lights

IMG_4214

“If you only knew what we’ve been up to, I’d guarantee you’d keep a secret.”

Whenever you walk down the Vegas Strip, or even on Fremont Street downtown, you feel like you’re experiencing something that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

The same can be said inside and outside of T-Mobile Arena leading up to a Vegas Golden Knights game. In toe with two friends and over 100 other Capitals fans from the Caps Road Crew, invading this house wasn’t easy. The building is sold out with a majority of Golden Knights fans, who are riding a high on an unprecedented success for a modern NHL expansion team.

The restaurants and bars around the arena has embraced the team, too. Of course, you’d expect so since all of the adjacent casinos are owned by MGM Resorts, which helped develop T-Mobile Arena along with VGK owner Bill Foley and AEG. Knights-themed bar games are all around, with plenty of specials. The Shake Shake around the corner from the arena even has a hat trick special. After the game, you can head into the Monte Carlo (soon to be Park MGM) for a free drink with your game ticket. It pays to be a hockey fan.

Show up early to hang out on Toshiba Plaza, where there’s always someone running a promotion or game. Hey, it’s an open container city, so pre-game a bit outside before heading in. It felt a little like Amalie Arena’s Thunder Alley, where you can party a bit before the game in the sun before heading inside, but with much more room to spread out.

Once we got inside, everything felt brand new, as it should. Riding up the escalator takes you to the main concourse to access both the lower concourse and some upper sections — maybe club? — had stairs leading down to the lower concourse for convenience. Walk enough around the concourse, and it will split and open up into an even wider concourse, similar to the upper deck concourse at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., which once hosted hockey. It felt a little busy with the sold out crowd, but you didn’t have to push through bodies to move.

Another Tampa reminder was the outdoor deck you could overlook Toshiba Plaza as a way to get out of the building and chill for a bit. Now, don’t go out seeking fresh air. All the smokers are taking advantage of it like the Heineken Rooftop at Amalie Arena but with the approximate dimensions of the Bud Light Party Deck.

The hottest night club in Vegas? The Armory. It has everything: Pucks, T-shirts, and those things that you put on when you play hockey. Jerseys? No. Cups.

Seriously though, there was a well managed line to get into the store. Tell the nice bouncer how many in your party and he’d get you in as others would leave. As much as we all hate lines, more team stores should think about doing this. One, it prevents from being squished against other people in the store not being able to get from one end to another. Two, it deters shoplifting since employees can better see what people are doing with their hands.

“In the Vegas lights! Where villains spend the weekend. The deep end. We’re swimming with the sharks until we drown.”

IMG_4216

Riding high in the Western Conference, the fans have quickly taken to talking trash.

Once we settled in our seats, we’ve heard it from the fans about the Golden Knights being in first place and how the Caps can’t get past the second round. Ah, yes. And sir, who is your general manager who put you in first place? George McPhee. Obviously you know how that worked out for the Caps  in the playoffs after being in first place during the regular season. Best wishes to Vegas on its second-round playoff exit this season.

The city is so fortunate they haven’t had to languish through a struggle of mediocrity for a first-year expansion team. Nashville Predators lost 47 games in its first year. Atlanta Thrashers lost 57 games in its first year. Minnesota Wild lost 39 games. Columbus Blue Jackets lost 47 games. Going further back, you’d see that the Ottawa Senators lost 70 (!!!) games in 1992-93.  The Lightning lost 54 games. The Mighty Ducks? 46 losses, but won as many as the Florida Panthers (33), which is a shared record for wins by a first-year expansion team. The Florida Panthers only had 34 losses and holds the record for most points by a first-year expansion team with 83.

About a week after the Caps game, the Golden Knights are 25-9-2 with 52 points and are on a six-game winning streak and are first in the Western Conference. Fans have the right to cheer that kind of performance in their home building.

We were doomed from the start.

Your hockey dinner theater starts out with a high-tech ice projection show, finishing up with a man in black waving a Capitals fans being defeated by a Golden Knight by taking a sword from the stone. High up above our section, a castle stands guard with a bunch of drummers to make it feel like a college atmosphere.

At the same time it felt like Vegas with the many cheesy comedy videos and acts. Did I laugh? Of course. It took all of my being to not laugh at the Carrot Top segments. Yes, we had a marriage proposal on the big screen masked through a word jumble game. Best of all is the nice rotation of Vegas bands being used throughout the game. They’re quite heavy on Panic at the Disco, Imagine Dragons and The Killers.

My favorite part? The in-game host who was dancing down the aisle during a commercial break doing like a strip tease and EVERY LAYER WAS A GOLDEN KNIGHTS JERSEY HE WAS THROWING OUT TO THE AUDIENCE. Free Chipotle doesn’t feel the same anymore. He had to of thrown out at least six jerseys.

“The Vegas lights. The lies and affectations. Sensation. We’re winning ’til the curtain’s coming down.”

IMG_4262As for the game itself, it was a dud. The Vegas touch. The magic. Whatever you want to call it, it was in full effect. The speed, pressure and execution of this team reminds me of last year’s Columbus Blue Jackets during its ridiculous win streak. Or the Tampa Bay Lightning on its best days. Or with Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, like a loaded Penguins team still putting the puck in the net without needing Malkin and Crosby.

Before you knew it, the Caps were down 3-0 within the first 15 minutes of the first period. The Caps had little life closing out a three-game road swing and a back-to-back. 3-0 would remain the final score, preventing the hundreds of Caps fans in all at the game from cheering.

It’s prophetic that the Golden Knights’ goal song is Panic At The Disco’s “Vegas Lights” because somehow, they’re winning ’til the curtain’s coming down. That’s all they do.

And what happens when they do win? The King honors his Knights with “Viva Las Vegas” over the speaker system.

No win, no goals and no dice for me but hot damn, was it ever an entertaining experience. I had no complaints or suggestions on presentation, arena layout, service, fans or anything. I’ll take the loss.

Elvis has left the building.

Souvenir of the Game: Retro Brand baby blue Golden Knights T-shirt purchased for my sister.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Arena Total: 15.

Individual Home Teams Visited: 13

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

Hockey Tripping Through The Desert

DSC08404Thank God, or at least the NHL, for hockey in Las Vegas. Without it, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to see hockey in Arizona, let alone Nevada.

I was able to double up on rink visits for an incredible trip with friends even though the Capitals lost. When I sat out to make it a goal to see a game in every NHL arena in my life, there was no Vegas Golden Knights. And for several years, I kept worrying there might not be the Phoenix Coyotes. And then when they changed their name, I kept worrying there wouldn’t be the Arizona Coyotes.

If your schedule and budget allows, make sure to pencil in to visit Phoenix and Vegas on the same trip. Look for back-to-backs or even better, two games in three nights. This entry is just going to focus on the Gila River Arena visit to give each venue room to breathe.

I’ve never seen canyons, the rigid cliffs and chiseled bluffs of the west other than from an airplane on my way to somewhere else. To drive through the valleys along US 93 is something you have to do at least once. Hoover Dam is on the way, which was time well spent seeing natural and manmade beauties collide.

Every hour of the four-hour-plus drive changes features new scenery. Canyons, mountains, desert, Joshua Trees and larger than life cacti, a nice old western town thrown in between and finally, an oasis for hockey.

DSC08374I arrived in Glendale just after the purple skies over the mountains gave way to nightfall.    Approaching from the northwest, the location felt more remote than trekking across Alligator Alley to get to BB&T Center to watch the Florida Panthers. You think Florida feels like the final frontier? Go to Arizona.

Suddenly, five streets from the Westgate Entertainment District entrance, you’re quickly in a metropolis. Traffic comes out of nowhere as cars jam to get into the shopping center three days before Christmas that happens to house an arena and football stadium. (Pro tip: Follow the signs to 93rd Avenue and avoid all the congestion trying to get down 99th Avenue.)

Walking to the arena, you’re suddenly in a well designed arena district with plenty of bars and restaurants. It reminded me of Channelside Plaza in Tampa, if there was an arena where the Carnival ships were docked. It opens up perfectly to the entrance of the arena with anything you want to inhale just steps away.

Even the furthest parking spot doesn’t seem so far. Despite the signage posted, there is free parking for the game at the shopping center. Study the online parking map to figure out where to go.

DSC08390I managed to get inside in enough time before warmups after hauling ass from the Hoover Dam and the arena is impressive. The seating design and features don’t feel like a cookie cutter arena. There’s a puck with a crescent moon hanging down above the glass during warmups that lights up red.  Four corners of the arena have a tower design with two of them featuring extra levels of suites. Keep looking up and you start to see the struggles of this franchise.

DSC08392One seemingly undersized Pacific Division Champions banner. An older center-hung scoreboard with the dot matrix screens above the jumbo video screen made this feel like a throwback arena. Perhaps to compensate for empty seats, what appears to be the largest American and Canadian flags in the NHL.

The concourse felt somewhat dark thanks to the low ceilings, but it also felt more comfortable and roomy to walk around. Sure, the building was half full, too. That helps. My ticket has suite level club access, which while it sucked it didn’t come with food, it was clutch for having a bathroom with zero lines and zero people inside. No worries because the carving station selling thick, hot turkey BLTs was one of the better arena sandwiches I’ve chowed on. Wash it down with a SanTan Brewing Yotes Pale Ale. Yes, it’s a beer made especially for the Coyotes. Yes, it’s delicious. And who knew Hibiscus flowers  tasted great as a beer ingredient?

DSC08450

The game itself was a bit of a drag for the first period. The Caps couldn’t score and only had two shots on goal for a better portion of the frame. Eventually, the Caps woke up and made it an exciting game, eventually losing the lead, seeing the Coyotes head to overtime, where Clayton Keller scored the winner.

It was disheartening to see so many empty seats, especially in the lower bowl. I’m not going to rehash 20 years of playoff futility, the move from downtown to Glendale, bankruptcy and constant relocation concerns. All of those factor in to why there were so few fans at a Friday game before Christmas against Alexander Ovechkin and company. Also, the team only won 7 games up to that point. The announced attendance was 10,904. I’m sure several of those paid tickets didn’t show up either. The arena holds 17,125 for hockey.

Let me give you some prospective here, too, on people attending the game. The Capitals Road Crew advertised for tickets to bring out a group to both the Coyotes and Golden Knights games. The Golden Knights game brought in over 100 Caps fans from the Road Crew ticket sales. In addition to the non-Road Crew fans, the Caps had a clear and large presence in the stands. Glendale was a different story. You could spot Caps fans there, but  there was significantly less. I think there was an attempt to chant once but you couldn’t hear very well from across the arena.

The Coyotes ought to be taking advantage of the Golden Knights success and market and advertise to visiting fans going to Vegas to come down and see a game in Glendale. The arena experience is wonderful—nice ice projection system, wonderful concourse and amenities.  The tickets are extremely affordable on the secondary market (especially with a SeatGeek promo code). And did I mention free parking if you show up early enough?? It’s an incredible deal.

Now, there are a handful of things I would change. The in-game entertainment needs to be beefed up, even a little bit, to get fans engaged. Make Mites on Ice a regular feature like several rinks, to get kids to come to the game with their parents and play on the ice during intermission. Tout your youth hockey initiatives and encourage parents and kids to sign up to play. The grassroots programming needs to be robust to keep growing the game. Let’s say the team is able to find a home on the other side of the valley. You still need to grow the game in Glendale because you will still have fans playing and making the drive to go to the game.

At this point, it’s hard to commit dollars and all to that when the team is adamant about not playing in Gila River Arena any longer than they have to in order to be closer to their original Arizona fanbase. And if that doesn’t happen, they might not be in Arizona any longer, which would be a damn shame. Every hockey fan should take that drive down U.S. 93 for the most scenic drive for hockey you’ve ever seen. (OK, the drive from Seattle to Vancouver is also pretty but on most days fog ruins the view.)

Souvenir of the Game: Arizona Coyotes ugly Christmas sweater.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

Closing in on the Atlantic Division, With Work To Do on the Metropolitan Division

Something about seeing the New York City skyline unexpectedly was comforting last week.

As my plane descended from the clouds toward LaGuardia, the first thing I see at dawn is the Chrysler Building at a distance behind trees upon trees. Everyone fixates on the Empire State Building, but the art deco tower is what tells me that I’m in New York.

We flew past the skyline, seeing taillights pile up on the Queensboro Bridge as we skirt past neighborhoods on the way to touchdown. New York is romanticized ad nauseam and I’ve never been one to gush over the city or felt the urge to take those random trips to the Big Apple.

I wanted to get off the plane and take a different vacation instead on my way to Montreal after landing in New York. “Oh, I should be here. It looks pretty nice in the morning. Am I here for some sort of 30 Rock episode? Is that Kimmy Schmidt’s neighborhood?”

So, I’m kind of itching to get some of the New York area arenas out of the way next despite my brain telling me I should get Toronto and Buffalo done first.

I had an incredible time in Montreal – a beautiful city with an unexpected heatwave that gave me a feeling of being in Europe. The food, the beer, the art, the people and the nice officer who honked at me for jaywalking in front of his car all made Montreal magnifique. The experience is why I’m excited to continue my journey to other cities when I can.

What I have left in the Eastern Conference is mainly the Metropolitan Division, with NYR, NYI, NJD and PHI on the manifest. Buffalo and Toronto are my lone Atlantic Division cities left, unless you count Detroit. More on that in a minute.

My NHL arena tour hasn’t made any stops in the New York metro area and now I have the urge to just drive up there in the next year and see a game — not necessarily at Madison Square Garden. I want to torture myself by experiencing not-made-for-hockey Barclays Center in Brooklyn before the Islanders head out to another arena. Or even the Prudential Center in Newark, where fans rave about the sightlines in the arena but run as fast as they can to get out of Newark.

My last visit to New York in 2011 for orientation with one of my former employers didn’t leave much time for me to get out to the city and do the things I had on my list for awhile: pay respects at the 9/11 Memorial, visit One World Trade Center, get to the NHL Store NYC and maybe see a show on Broadway because isn’t everyone supposed to?

That’s the great part about this journey I’m taking. Every city has something to offer and a reason to come back. I’ve been to New York City, what two or three times? And I still have to go back for three hockey games.

I’m going to have to go back to Detroit — when I saw them in 2009 they were in Joe Louis Arena and in the Western Conference. So it’s the one city I’m going to have to visit twice due to conference swaps. (Fortunately, Columbus was accomplished two seasons ago when they came east.) By the looks of Little Caesars Arena, the return to Detroit will absolutely be worth it.

The Western Conference is another challenge all in itself. I managed to cross off one way back in 2005 seeing the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild coming out of the lockout. (Damn you Detroit for moving conferences!) I have Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on the docket for December. After that, I’m not sure of my plan  of attack for the west.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to in each remaining Eastern Conference city, outside of the game and arena itself:

Buffalo: Buffalo is the top U.S. market for Labatt beer and the company is opening The John Labatt House downtown to be a restaurant and pilot brewery. I’m not a wings guy, but I’m sure a stop to the Anchor Bar is in order. Player to watch: Jack Eichel

Toronto: On the journey between Buffalo and Toronto is the all-new Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The building and rink look beautiful. This has to be a winter stop for me. Once I get to The Six, I can head back to Gretzky’s restaurant and the Hockey Hall of Fame for the first time since 2001—my only visit to the city. Player to watch: Auston Matthews

Manhattan (New York Rangers): Allllll the pizza! I’ll just walk in any direction and find something that’ll strike my fancy because that’s New York. Player to watch: Tony DeAngelo

Brooklyn (New York Islanders): Bagels? Hipsters? A bridge? Brooklyn is just too cool for itself. Maybe I’ll go over to the more pretentious Williamsburg and have a coffee at a shop shown in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  Player to watch: Josh Ho-Sang

Newark: It might actually be easier to get to a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty from here. Not sure. Also, maybe Newark is not a place to romanticize. There are bridges to New York, after all. Player to watch: Nico Hischier

Philadelphia: Somehow, I haven’t been able to make it out to Geno’s or Pat’s for a cheesesteak in my visits to Philly. That’s a ludacris sin I committed considering how much I love cheesesteaks. Afterward, I’ll wash all that shame way at Paddy’s Pub. Also, I bought a heavily discounted Flyers jersey for this occasion to avoid being pelted by batteries. Player to watch: Nolan Patrick

Detroit: OK, this is the one trip where I’m really looking forward to the arena experience itself. My jaw dropped watching the video tours of Little Caesars Arena. The LED lighting on the freaking ceiling feels more Vegas than Detroit, but also almost like you walked into a church with all that mosaic lighting. The innovative concourse design with a glass roof is something to behold. If I can afford it, I really want to be in the lounge on the visitor’s side to watch the team walk by during the intermission and warm-ups. It’s been eight years since seeing experiencing Joe Louis Arena and Detroit. How soon can I go back to the Motor City? Player to watch: Mike Green

 

Summer Hockey In September: A Montreal Affair

IMG_3665Usually when hockey teams say they want to play in the summer, they mean June and the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s OK to overlook September, where pre-season games are played out in equally as muggy temperatures. My trip to the Bell Centre, with my sister Wendy as my guest, felt more like a Florida game. It was in the mid-80s, it was humid and I questioned whether I should wear a jersey to the game in these conditions.

It didn’t matter because what actually made me uncomfortable were the seats inside. I’m not a massive guy but I’ve put on a few pounds over the last two years. Basically, I was sitting in an airplane seat watching a hockey game, unable to pop out of my seat without making an ass out of myself to celebrate a goal. So, I sat and politely applauded the Caps as they marched to a pre-season victory.

You’re going to have to fit in 20,000 seats somehow, and that means having seats for the trimmer Canadian crowd. Everyone is so healthy up north! Not all seats are like that.

As we looked to our right from Section 107 Row F, we noticed that two end seats on the next section were double the size! One even looked like a love seat compared to regular arena seats. It’s a good tip to keep in mind when I return for another game one day.

Looking up in the nosebleeds, the configuration reminded me of the old HersheyPark Arena, where metal bars would be placed in front of each row to avoid hockey fans from tumbling to their death. HersheyPark Arena, still in use for youth hockey, has about 7,000 seats. So, seeing the barriers in a 20,000-seat arena was something to behold.

And you know what? Nearly every one of those 20,000 seats were filled for a weekday pre-season hockey game. (Of note: The official capacity is 21,288. The announced attendance, which includes tickets sold and given away despite not showing up, was 21,288.)

IMG_3719.JPGYou’d expect that dedication in Montreal but it’s another thing to see it. And hear it. The crowd was dedicated to every hit, every missed check, every bounce and of course, every goal. Shit, they even went wild on the 50/50, bringing the total up to like $16,000. It was a hockey symphony that is just a tease of what it could feel like in the regular season and playoffs.

I love quirks in arenas, especially newer ones, that make places stand apart in what’s been deemed the cookie cutter arena age. (Each arena I visit makes me realize how basic Verizon Center Capital One Arena is.) Bell Centre has a few.

The lower concourse is split into two levels with concessions both on the top and lower floors, making it easier to get around. You have Hall of Fame Canadiens Ring of Honor where plaques of 44 integral Habs players are enshrined, really drilling in the history. The history is apparent outside as well with statues on a plaza. Back indoors, on a lower level of the concourse, there is Youpiville! where even a grown ass man like myself had to tour and act like a kid for a ginger Yeti…or whatever Youpi is.

The washrooms deserve an entry here for the long walk down a corridor where you’re not sure if you’re going into the Canadiens dressing room before you see urinals and stalls. It’s a smart design, getting people out of the way and off the concourse, queued up in line. It also gives you time to contemplate why you spent $12 on a can of Molson beer, but more so, why is a can of Molson beer $12 in the city where Molson is headquartered?

The atmosphere was worth it despite the overpriced beer. (And strangely, the overpriced Reebok jerseys that were still only marked down half-off. I picked up a 2016 Winter Classic sweater anyway.)

In so many ways, it was a more enjoyable experience than in Ottawa where my back gave out, I had to sludge through a blizzard to drive back to my hotel, the game was relatively sleepy and front-row seats were more inconvenient than they’re worth.

IMG_3700So, cheers, Montreal! You’ve lived up to your reputation and are a shining hallmark of what hockey games are made of. Even when the visiting team wins 😉

Next arenas on my list: Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.


Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4. Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4. Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO. Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.)

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)