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)

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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?

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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)

An Update For A Lack Of Updates

I don’t know how much of an audience I really have, if not just to entertain myself.

The posts have dropped off considerably, in part, because there hasn’t been enough to share.

It’s been a weird year, friends. It’s been a trying year.

Hockey is not something you can simply put down or walk away from. Whether it’s as a fan, a player at any level or someone who wants to build a rink.

I had to re-examine a few things, and I’m not sure if I have the answers. Enough of the cryptic, flowery language. Here’s what happened:

• My back wasn’t feeling the greatest and I knew I should have gone to the chiropractor but I couldn’t make time. I was overextending myself.

This season I was placed with a team I never played with and was asked to be a skater because there weren’t any slots left for goaltenders. I was asked to fill in goal with our goalie out, and I literally overextended myself. I really threw my back out for a number and it didn’t get better for two months. We won but it wasn’t worth it. Between work and the injury, I missed at least six straight games in the adult league I played in.

I tried to come back early, not feeling 100 percent, back to my spot playing sparingly on the wing. I hadn’t skated out for a league game in at least eight years. I was rusty and I knew it. I wasn’t awful, but with my back not cooperating it wasn’t pretty.

Our asshole-in-chief decided to call me out after a shutout loss, blaming it on me being fat, awful and that I should never play in the league again. Here’s the thing: I have gained weight from injuries and have been working to get back to form and it hasn’t happened. I would love to just drop the weight, but it doesn’t happen like that overnight. There was no respect, let alone no one rushing to my defense. Should I have clocked the guy, who ran the rink’s hockey programs? Sure, but it wouldn’t have helped my employment.

It was the most immature display I’ve ever been a part of in hockey. It was embarrassing. I knew I wasn’t at my best either.

I withdrew as much as I could from the thought of playing hockey. I was done with the team. I was done with the league, and it hurt that I felt I was done from ever stepping foot in the rink where I learned how to play.

After my Ottawa vacation where my back was still bad, I switched chiropractors and it was fixed for the most part on the first visit. It still feels great for now. Still, I couldn’t stomach playing. I didn’t touch the ice for over four months. I’ve still only hit the ice twice, in part because I work a part-time job.

I can’t exactly visit rinks if I’m not playing. I will say that for those two visits, I was pleased to see the boards and kickplate replaced at Galactic Ice in Altoona, Pa. Also, it was cool to go back to the Rockville Ice Arena in Maryland to see how much it’s grown and improved since I played a couple road games there as a teenager.

I’d love to play more but I don’t see that happening with working two jobs right now. It’ll probably be another year before I can play twice a week again, let alone more than twice in four months. My goal is to pay off all my bills before I can quit the part-time job. That could have happened this year but I needed a break from the grind by using the job for a couple of trips I’ve been waiting to take.

So that’s the first reason: injury, humiliation and depression.

The second is my efforts trying to bring any kind of ice rink to Frostburg hit a snag.

It was clear that the student group I was working with couldn’t make this an exclusively student or FSU venture. Too many barriers exist to bring one to campus and there is only so much students with a full course load can do. It was also disheartening to see so many people sign up in support and of interest working on it, but only three students committed to show up to every meeting. Even though the 40 or so people said they were interested didn’t show, those people do represent opportunity. Those are people who would come to the rink for activities and would bring a friend.

I received messages over the summer from a couple of people wondering what’s happening. I wanted to give up on it, but I decided to give it one more go by focusing on other entities that could host the rink. I have a person in the community that seems committed to helping make this happen somewhere in the area. Let’s see what we can accomplish.

I needed the mental break from working on it even though I wish I would have continued doing research on my own because even August can be too late to get things going for this year.

Those are the two big reasons you’ve seen little here, along with working two jobs. Thanks on indulging me on this pity party.

I’ll be crossing off two NHL arena visits off my list in the coming months, too. Montreal and Vegas, here I come!

 

Blizzard hockey in Ottawa

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Canadian Tire Centre on March 14, 2017, right before a blizzard would batter the arena and region.

Last week, I marked off my first visit to a Canadian NHL arena, and why not do it during Canada’s 150th anniversary, during the week of the Stanley Cup’s 125th birthday, in the country’s capital?

I was a bit brave decided to go to a Ottawa Senators vs Tampa Bay Lightning game alone as a Bolts fan … on the glass. I figured it would be harmless because there would probably 10 people wearing Bolts jerseys in the Canadian Tire Centre (or the CTC as the locals call it).

I was right there’d be no harm, but I didn’t expect people to not engage with me. In any fashion. More on that in a few minutes.

The CTC is nearing the end of its life with the organization eyeing construction of a downtown arena in the LeBreton Flats neighborhood, hoping it to open in 2021. So, it was good for once to see an arena on its way out before it’s gone. I’ve been able to do so with Joe Louis Arena eight years ago, Mellon Arena around the same time frame but haven’t been so lucky with Nassau Coliseum, Rexall Place, Meadowlands and if you’re being picky include Philips Arena  (RIP Atlanta Thrashers).

Cosmetically, it looks fine. Large seating bowl, good sight lines, interesting choices for restaurants and smart construction of said restaurants considering the layout of the narrow concourse. The five-year-old HD scoreboard looked great when it worked (it crashed during the game intro) but that’s where the compliments stop.

Let’s start with getting to the arena. I’ve heard and read that the parking lot can be a nightmare to get into and out of with the game-day traffic, so get there early. I decided on a fantastic option instead, of going to Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata. You buy a meal, you get a ticket for a free shuttle to and from the game. That eliminates the headache of parking, paying for parking and battling traffic. The food and atmosphere is fantastic and feels authentically “Grapes.” Note that because of Grapes’ history with Budweiser, he only offers those beers on draft but you can get just about anything in a bottle.

IMG_2298.JPG

Inside Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata, Ontario.

I should note that on this day of the game, March 14, a nor’easter was blowing in dumping a foot of snow on the region. Just another reason to take the shuttle. Despite missing the warm-ups for the game, the shuttle’s advantages of avoiding traffic and the parking lots outweigh your desire to settle in to the arena early.

IMG_2321

A view from my seat in Section 102 Row A

(It still took me over an hour to get back to my hotel in Gatineau after the game. That’s after the bus dropped us off at the bar. Walls of snow blowed across the slushy, snowy highway. It’s normally a 20-minute drive but you had no option than to take it slow if you wanted to live.)

Walking toward the arena, a covered walkway partially exposed to the elements provided protection from the wind, but with all the snow blowing in, it felt like walking across a beach trying to see a hockey game. The final 10 meters when the walkway ended was a gauntlet as the wind pushed against you, really testing your strength to see a game. However, kudos to those people I saw make a 2 kilometer walk from the Fairfield Inn to the arena in that brutal storm to watch the Senators.

Getting through security and the line for the ticket to be scanned was a breeze. However, it looked like that once you enter your concourse, you can’t leave and go elsewhere in the arena to explore. I should have asked during intermission but didn’t want to risk it. Unlike other arenas, there aren’t connections past the gate to the upper concourses from the lower concourse.

Instead, the escalators are in the lobby area. The design makes the lower concourse feel claustrophobic before the game when a lot of people pack into a tight area–you don’t have much room wall-to-wall. Want to walk the whole way around? Not unless you’re a member of Club Bell. The arena has a 100-level club section that prevents access. I’ve been in other arenas like Consol Energy Center and BB&T Center (which is only two years younger and also seen renovations) that’s designed its 100-level club sections in a way where you can still walk a full circle around the arena but has the club section pushed back where the seats are. I imagine wider concourses and a better club area solution will be in the offering for the new arena.

When I made it to my seat, I settled in for the game. Right on the glass where the Bolts shoot twice. Say, a fellow wearing a white Lightning jersey should get some ribbing, right?

Nope. While nobody poured beer down my back, nobody gave me a hard time, or even joked. Actually, nobody spoke to me at all. It was very, very weird not to be engaged. Even attending as  Bolts fan at a Pittsburgh game people talked to me and asked questions. I just got weird stares.

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Sitting in the first row in the corner means the ref gets in the way.

To my left, a teenager was there with his dad. Clearly the kid was embarrassed by his dad, who was on his cell phone for a good portion of the game. Then come the third period, did the unspeakable. He was one of those guys who while talking on his phone, waved his hand frantically  as play came to our end, just for his friend to see him–or his arm–on TV. This went on for half the period until his son finally told him to stop. I’m sure the guys behind him were pissed. It was distracting for me and he was to my left. See, there are people in Canada who can’t act like they’ve been there before.

Despite the silence toward me, it was neat eavesdropping on people speaking both French and English in this bi-lingual capital as well as the in-game announcements being made in both languages. Yet the presentation lacked in engagement. No chants to get the crowd going or anything. The fans finally took to themselves to get a small chant going in the third but it was too little too late.

The game itself was a sleeper for the most part with Mike Condon making some terrific and lucky saves for the Sens. It wasn’t until halfway through the third when the pace and hitting really picked up in the 1-1 game, then heading into overtime when Victor Hedman sealed the win for the Bolts.

If I would go again, I would definitely sit in a higher row. Do not buy seats on the glass at the CTC, at least in the corners. I decided to grab one because they are a tremendous deal compared to other arenas on the resale market. A front-row seat was only $30 more than what I’d pay in the upper bowl at Verizon Center. But the inconvenience got to be a little much. The first row sets back about a foot from the glass, so in between each whistle people walk in front of you to go in between sections. That got old when this family who was split up across two sections kept swapping seats and any other person wanting to cut across to this cut-out section in 101 for drinks. Plus, the distance from the glass didn’t make being in the front row as special. The best arenas have your knees pressed against the boards and your face can kiss the glass at your own risk.

Would I return to the CTC? Yes, but I’d sit in a different section and row plus choose a game with an opponent people would get riled up over. I would still take in a pre-game meal and take the Don Cherry shuttle. Plus, I’d convince friends to come with me to make it a social affair.

IMG_2371Whether it’s the CTC or the new arena, I definitely need to get back to Ottawa for a game. The city is beautiful and I couldn’t fit everything in during my stay. Part of that I blame on my back that gave out right before vacation. That didn’t make it fun or easy to walk around the city or during the tour of Parliament. It also prevented me from finding an outdoor rink to skate around. The weather from the previous weeks also thawed out the Rideau Canal and a nearby skating trail, melting my vacation plans.

Basically, I have to schedule for the dead of winter at the end of January/beginning of February to try to avoid a freak thaw like this year’s. See you next year, Ottawa?


NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

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)

 

A Return Visit to The Ice Mine

Sunday began with the intentions to play some pond hockey  but with the wind chill at -10 F, I realized that there is such a thing as too cold for hockey.

As a last minute decision, I decided to take a buddy up to The Ice Mine for some stick time. I haven’t been there in months and haven’t been there since new ownership came in.

The rink that reminded me of where “Slap Shot” could have been staged, is getting some much needed attention.

Some very basic and others grandiose. I’ve only been on the ice rink side of the building, so I don’t know what the roller rink and other space have going on.

(And it turns out it can also be too cold to think. I forgot to take photos.)

Other than a fresh coat of deep purple paint that makes the curb appeal more attractive, you can’t miss the big project once you see the ice rink and stands.

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Look behind the players in the photo above and you see a section of the stands being enclosed. When I arrived, there was blue siding in front of the wood, and the main area had windows installed. The main enclosure was pretty much finished.

I don’t know what the full plan is,but I like it. Just enclosing a space with more comfortable seating could make this place more enjoyable watching your kids practice. On a day like today, where it was still bitter ass cold inside the rink, a hockey dad told me that it didn’t feel like hot air was coming off the heaters above the bleachers because it was so cold.

Other than that, improvements are small for now. Just simple things like putting in a functional faucet in the restroom is a huge upgrade. I was happy to see that plus soap and paper towels in there. Before, it just had a motion detection faucet that dribbled water.

There’s still a ton to do to make it comfortable. (Doors instead of plastic shower curtains in the bathroom stalls, new shower flooring, rubber flooring in the locker rooms, working water fountain near locker room.) It isn’t cheap just keeping up with maintenance for a regular rink, and it’s certainly not going to be cheap bringing the rink up to expectations, but it’s great to see progress being made.

Once it gets there, a hockey dad and I said as these changes occur, it’s important to instill respect for the facility into the kids skating and playing hockey. Once you make it nice, make sure the kids keep it nice and don’t destroy the place.

Now that my schedule has freed up a bit more, I hope to be back soon.