What the heck, Verizon Center?

IMG_2239I was able to get back to Maryland for a weekend recently and as part of my Winter Classic package I had a pair of tickets to catch the Bolts in D.C.

It’s been a couple of years since I caught the Caps in D.C. It’s been such a long 12 months that I don’t even think I caught a game when I was last home in December 2013. I’m pretty sure it was a Hershey Bears game instead.

I didn’t like what I found when I returned and made me realized how spoiled I am with the Tampa Bay Lightning as my Florida home team.

My sister Wendy decided to use the cool upgrade feature and get us into the lower bowl instead of sitting up in the 400s. Ah, I miss that wonderful view from the corner seeing everything down low and seeing the fortress-like concrete above the lodge seating where paper banners hang.

The in-game presentation and intro was top notch, something I always use as a measuring stick when attending games at Amalie Arena. The use of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “The Lion The Beast The Beat” was phenomenal.

Now, Verizon Center’s always been loud but man, I felt like I was at a rock concert. It got a little overwhelming after awhile and I had to remember, was it always this loud? And this constant? There was never a let-up of music or something going on during breaks. I struggled to hear my sister right beside me sometimes.

But you know what? The crowd was into it, Sam the Horn Guy and Goat were in their element and the music was way better even though it was deafening. I just want a little less buttoned-up gee-golly presentation in Tampa. Greg Wolf does a great job, he just needs more from the arena and the presentation to help match the energy he wants.

What I was actually upset about was a bit of douchiness to the crowd that I don’t remember. There’s always an air of pretentiousness when you see guys coming in their suits from K Street or Capitol Hill roll in, but this was on the other side of the spectrum. So one drunk guy kept going “Hoooolltttbbyyyy! Youuuu’rrreee the man!!!” And every time the Lighting had the puck in the Caps’ defensive zone he kept pleading, loudly, “Geeeettt iiitttt oouuuttt! Cooommmeee on!”

Then some guy trade seats from the upper bowl with his brother directly behind me and the frat bro continues to chat up a conversation during play all during the second period about anything but hockey. Just kept going and going and going. When both of them were at it, I just shook my head and said “I don’t understand what is going on behind us right now.” The guy to my right understood and just laughed.

Then, during Backstrom’s hat trick goal, drunky mcdrunkerson spills his beer on the floor, all over my sister’s purse and another lady’s bag. Also, my throwing of my hat was futile and didn’t make it all the way and some guy just threw it again a few rows down. It wasn’t worth retrieving.

Combine all of that with the ride to and from. I used to not mind driving 50 minutes to the Shady Grove Metro station and then taking another 45-55 minutes to get to the Gallery Place stop. It’s about $9.30 for the fare and then another $8 for parking unless it’s a Saturday (as it was). Driving straight into DC isn’t bad on a Saturday night, about 90 minutes from Hagerstown, it’s just that parking is a pain in the ass in D.C., and starts out at $20 for event parking and up.

Back in Tampa, it takes me 60 to 70 minutes to drive from Sarasota and I park for $3 to $5 for a very short walk to the arena. And I’m home before midnight.

I don’t know if I’ll be moving back to Maryland but if I do, I’m sure as hell going to miss Amalie Arena. How that neighborhood is now won’t be like that for long. That cheap parking will soon be going anyway once Vinikville gets started on those sandlots. On-street parking may still be possible but probably not as close. Instead, there will be more parking garages to overpay at.

The yearning to be at a ton of Caps games that I had when I was in my twenties isn’t there between the expense and the toll to get there. I don’t think I’ll ever live inside the Beltway to make it ideal. At the same time, it makes Hershey Bears games that much more appealing as an alternative.

All of this will be moot in 12 days when I’ll see the Caps play outdoors at the Winter Classic. Save for a longer, more crowded Metro ride. And perhaps, a hangover.

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My love and hate of Martin Brodeur

In the last few years I’ve came to appreciate Martin Brodeur, his style and play.

I had a lot of anger toward him and the Devils from the mid-1990s when they were dominating and putting the sleeper hold on the Capitals and every other team. When they didn’t make the playoffs the season after their 1995 championship my schadenfreude¬†kicked in.

When I started playing goal, Brodeur was the popular choice who goalies wanted to be like. They wanted to handle the puck like Brodeur, wanted to pass like Brodeur and wanted to score a goal like Brodeur.

Well really, despite the hefty curve on the stick, nobody in my league could really make the puck sail. At this time, the more advanced goalies were being led to more butterfly movements.

My head coach in midget hockey was from Quebec, he was a goalie and he had lesson plans and drills laid out for me. It was really the first time (and only time) I’d receive full organized instruction to play goal from a coach. The manager of the rink would also put me through drills when I was younger for the very, very basics.

I have the list somewhere around here, but he taught me a list of drills and movements from the University of Wisconsin. The Set of 18 warmup would go through all the basic movements I would need to make saves.

The only thing that would transfer to today’s goalies you see in the NHL would be the butterfly slide going from post to the middle or from the middle to the post. There was no such thing as the inverted VH.

This was paddle-down, single leg saves, two-pad stacks, standing saves and poke checks, baby.

These were the days when seeing Curtis Joseph, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Eddie Belfour and Marty Brodeur roamed the rinks. It was a great time in goaltending history. I modeled myself after Curtis Joseph–an underdog.

As the years went on, blocking butterfly grew, ultra-flexible goalies like Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price and Jonathan Quick took over.

It was only Brodeur and Tim Thomas left. And looking at the younger kids across the rink in net, I was more like Marty and Timmy than Price and Fleury.

The marked-up calf wraps from squeeze the puck between my pads, pads not totally rotating and an affinity for kick-out leg saves in a fluid motion or dazzling glove saves would remain in my repertoire, favoring reaction and athleticism over positioned-based blocking butterfly. My arms are up high while these new goalies would go low with their arms.

Marty still showed as recently as 2011-2012 that his way could backstop a way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure he lost in a 4-2 tough series. He went through another old school goalie Jose Theodore, butterfly nutcase Bryzgalov and butterfly boy Henrik Lundqvist to get to the finals.

If you want some appreciation for how long he remained old school, take a read through this lengthy article by InGoal Magazine. He went years without adopting knee stacks to rotate his pads correctly, wore a really old chesty and his equipment was undersized for years.

No thanks to CCM/Heaton/Reebok he had to get rid of his trademark opposite red/black pads with the Devils flame on it going to stock graphics until his one year paying homage to the pads with SherWood in 2011-12 before switching again.

His mask has maintained pretty much unchanged and in St. Louis, it will be a recoloring of his Devils mask with a fresh Blues note. Some fans don’t like it but I’m OK with it because he’s earned it as a legend. Marty never had a nickname like the Eagle, CuJo or the Cat like Belfour, Joseph and Potvin. They took their masks to each team and did an updated coloring even if an eagle didn’t make sense on the Sharks or the cat mask (and pads) with the Bruins.

Whether Brodeur is back just for one year or two, appreciate what the Hall of Famer can still do despite so much that people say about him is so wrong.