Hockey At The Disco: NHL Under the Vegas Lights

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“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.”

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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)

 

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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)

Blizzard hockey in Ottawa

IMG_2305

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.

IMG_2355

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)

 

NHL Veterans Getting TKO’d on PTOs

If you’re looking for feel-good stories of redemption from NHL veterans on professional tryout contracts, it’ll be a small chapter.

Only nine players on PTOs signed NHL contracts as of Monday, according to General Fanager:

  • Scotty Upshall (St. Louis)
  • Jonas Gustavsson (Boston)
  • Corey Potter (Arizona)
  • Michal Rozsival (Chicago)
  • Tomas Fleischmann (Montreal)
  • Lee Stempniak (New Jersey)
  • Steve Bernier (New York Islanders)
  • Brad Boyes (Toronto)

Let’s look at some of the notable names of the more than 85 players signed to a PTO during this offseason, according to a comprehensive list from The Hockey Writers. If those numbers are true, only 10 percent of players on a PTO signed a contract.

That number could be bumped up as Martin Havlat is working on a contract with the Florida Panthers, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards and Scott Gomez could get something done with the St. Louis Blues, according to Andy Strickland.

[Update: Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Tuesday afternoon that Havlat will not sign with the Panthers, while Sirius XM NHL reports that Jack Skille signed with Colorado and Setoguchi, below, is signing with a Swiss league team.]

Actually, let’s construct a 23-man roster from the list because there are so damn many guys cut. We’ll leave off Havlat and Gomez giving them the benefit out the doubt.

Forwards

Curtis Glencross-Derek Roy-Devan Setoguchi

Sergei Kostitsyn- David Booth-Patrick Kaleta

Daniel Paille-Tyler Kennedy-Kirill Kabanov

Patrick Dwyer-Jack Skille-Tomas Kopecky-James Sheppard

Extra Forward: Joey Crabb

Defense

Lubomir Visnovsky-Jan Hejda

Andrej Meszaros-Sergei Gonchar

Douglas Murray-Vitaly Vishnevski

Extra D: Ryan Wilson

Goal

Ray Emery

Peter Budaj

What I see is that serviceable third-line and fourth-line shutdown forwards are being shown the door. There are plenty of younger guys available to take those spots, and some that are stuck in the bottom three because the team’s depth won’t allow them to get in the top six.

A few of those players are former snipers whose luster has worn off, some explained like Setoguchi who went through rehab to get his career on track. Others like Glencross who fell off a cliff when traded to Washington from Calgary and plummeted so much that he was released from two PTOs in this pre-season.

Overall, you’ll have a team full of checkers and grinders, doing a good job of wearing down the other team and allowing few goals.

On defense, it’s old and slow. Guys like Gonchar and Visnovsky can make your power play pretty, but keeping goals out of the net will be an issue. As much as the forwards can do, it’s a five-man unit, and the back-end is thinking offense too much.

Glance at the ages and length of time in the league, and you wonder if these guys know that they’re supposed to retire before injury makes them retire. Gonchar is 41; Visnovsky is 39; Hejda is 37 and Murray and Vishnevski are both 35. Meszaros is 29 but plays like he’s 35.

In goal, Ray Emery takes the reigns while Peter Budaj continues his career back-up role. Razor, cut from the Lightning camp after Tampa’s own goalies were coming back from injuries, would be best with a team like the Lightning where he can be sheltered by a good defense as opposed to the lineup above.

Looking at who’s available this year, you could imagine there would be a similar crop come  2017-18 when the NHL could expand to Las Vegas, or even to Quebec City.

Remember, these are just the guys who would accept a PTO.

Look at some of the other UFAs who are without a team and didn’t sign a tryout:

Dainius Zubrus, Eric Brewer, Sean Bergenheim, Olli Jokinen, Stephen Weiss, Michael Ryder and Brenden Morrow. Out of that list, Morrow showed he should be ready to sign retirement papers. Zubrus is getting there at 37 years old and 10 points in 72 games last season in New Jersey.

With the European leagues already underway, can any of these guys still find jobs playing?

A Unicorn NHL TV Market and Why NHL Network Is Blacked Out in Frostburg

NHL Network LogoUpdate 2: I realized I never provided an additional update. Sorry.

The technician visited and explained that as I originally thought, the NHL Network is not available to Frostburg area customers.

However, the tech added that if I was in the Garrett County side of Frostburg instead of Allegany County, I would have access to the NHL Network, and many more channels in general. Of course that doesn’t make a lot of sense because Garrett County is as rural as you can get. It has more than 76,000 acres of public lands and lakes, which I believe is the most in the state.

 

Update: After asking NHL Network via Twitter to help fix this issue, another agent from @ComcastCares reached out and he believes the station is actually available in the Frostburg market.

After testing a different package not shown on the website, the channel didn’t appear, so they are sending a technician on Friday.

The technician will examine if they have my box on the right program guide (I don’t know why there are two different channel line-ups for one ZIP code), examine signal flux and my box.

This ought to demonstrate to the NHL Network to barter a bit better to be included in a lower tier of sports channels to have more viewers because other people would give up at this point to subscribe.

Original: Trying to watch hockey on TV shouldn’t be all that hard.

Given the battles to make it easier to watch games online, you’d think the TV end would be mainly issue free.

Not in Frostburg, Maryland, where territories of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins converge in the mountains.

Frostburg is a unique National Hockey League television market where you can watch both the Washington Capitals on ComcastSportsNet Mid-Atlantic and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Root Sports. It’s a swing county when it comes to hockey allegiances for these bitter rivals, to be honest.

I decided that this year I was going to go without a NHL GameCenter Live subscription. It didn’t make any sense to me anymore despite the new single-team packages being offered thanks to a class-action lawsuit. Broadstreet Hockey exceptionally covered the problems with GCL’s new set-up that’s supposed to be consumer friendly.

When I moved to Florida four years ago, I watched both Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals games, and while I enjoyed the idea, it didn’t quite work out for me, outside of the constant video buffering.

The Lightning and Caps would often play on the same nights and start a half-hour apart. And when they didn’t, one of the two teams were blacked out (typically the Caps) for being on national TV. And the Lightning would mainly be blacked out for being on the NHL Network.

And nothing ticked me off more than being blacked out for a “national” game on the NHL Network, considering it’s not in standard sports channel packages. It’s included on DirecTV (which if they had broadband Internet and not DSL here, I’d be there in a heartbeat).

So, I opted to dive in an extra $9.99 a month to get NHL Network with my current Xfinity package along with some other sports channels like NBA TV (that I’d never watch) and Encore that are included. I figured the NHL Network should be a better deal this year with a new operator taking over, new talent and better programming.

What comes next is five hours of hopelessness between three Comcast agents, one in an online chat, another on the phone and a third via the @ComcastCares Twitter account. And oh yeah, the NHL Network’s website.

Let’s cut to the chase first: The NHL Network is not available on Comcast Xfinity in the Frostburg market. The channel is advertised as part of a Digital Preferred Package when ordering on the Comcast website and three agents fist believed that I should have the channel until they dug deeper to find out that it isn’t available after all.

Now, look at this map of NHL TV territories made in 2013 by Mile High Hockey. Do you think this same issue would lead the NHL not to provide the NHL Network in Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and New York City where other teams share TV territories? Nope.

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

This is a Direct Message from a @ComcastCares rep “DB” who spent several hours trying to fix my issue, including resetting my box for a signal flux issue:

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn't available after several hours thinking it was.

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn’t available after several hours thinking it was.

If you can’t read the picture, it says:

“Sorry for the delayed response, I just got confirmation that the NHL isn’t available in your region. I wasn’t able to confirm this earlier. I do suggest still sending a tech out to resolve the signal flux so you don’t experience any issues in the future. ~DB @ComcastCares

“Was there a reason given why it is not available”—@ImYourChuck

“Just that there hasn’t been an agreement reached yet to provide it in your area. Requesting it thru the feedback link will let your region know that it is in demand. Which could make it possibly available later. ~DB @ComcastCares”

Why did I deal with three reps? The first one tried to resolve the issue and couldn’t find the channel. Because I grew tired, I called to speak to someone so I could remove the service. That was relatively quick. The rep, a hockey fan, tried to help but figured out that it’s not available because the NHL decided it shouldn’t be. I spent from 5 to after 11 p.m. going through all of this.

I vented on Twitter and a @ComcastCares manager decided to reach out to me and figure this out in DMs.

Worse, is that when I enter my ZIP on the NHL Network website, it says I should have it. See below:

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The passive way to resolve this, as suggested by Comcast is that I need more people in the Frostburg area to request the NHL Network be made available through both the NHL’s website and Comcast Xfinity feedback. However, that’s a daunting task considering the small population in this region.The FSU student population from Central Maryland helps, but those students are opting for either GameCenterLive, Center Ice or going to the bar.

This isn’t the first delivery issue I’ve had with NHL games in Frostburg. I’m looking forward to the Oct. 31 Caps vs. Panthers game on CSN+ to check to see if I don’t have another channel I’m supposed to have.

I wonder how much of all of this has to deal with this unique territory where rival NHL teams from two markets are shown on local TV channels. And how much has to deal with Xfinity not being able to separate this tiny market from its Pennsylvania customers because its local office is based in Meyersdale, Pa., after shutting down its Frostburg office last year.

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I want to know.

But really knowing why not is not as important as knowing when I will get the NHL Network.

Fantasy Hockey Broadcast Talent for MLBAM’s NHL Network

When news spread that MLBTV will oversee the NHLNetwork in the U.S., faithful viewers (and former ones) felt like this war of attrition of trying to find watchable programming was over.

MLBTV managed to pluck some of the best from ESPN, NBC and other properties whether full-time or part-time. Here’s a sampling of the major personalities from MLBTV:

  • Peter Gammons
  • Bob Costas
  • Harold Reynolds
  • Brian Kenny

And plenty of impressive former major leaguers including Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, recent retiree Ryan Dempster and rising regional media stars including Kelly Nash, who covered the Tampa Bay Lightning for Fox’s Sun Sports.

The NFL Network, though managed by that league, has a solid talent line-up, too, including a local D.C. favorite of mine Dan Hellie.

The NHL Network’s line-up, at least what is officially listed, is small. That’s to be expected when you essentially have two shows. NHL Live, a simulcast radio show, and On The Fly, or whatever they decided to call the running highlights show.

Most of them are part-time and appear on other networks probably more than they do here. Former NHL2Night host Bill Pidto does work for MSG; Kathryn Tappen does plenty of work for NBCSN; Barry Melrose still has some ties to ESPN but has a much larger role at NHL.com and NHL Network and Kevin Weekes is always on.

Keep those guys and gals and build upon that.

After TSN lost the majority of its NHL games we see Craig Button on here a lot more, and more guest appearances by Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.

It might be a little challenging now that NBCSN is plucking both TSN and ComcastSportsNet talent like Brian Boucher. And don’t bet on Jay and Dan leaving FoxSports1 so soon—or at all.

Whether full-time or part-time, who would else I like to see on the new NHL Network?

John Buccigross. Hockey fans have clamored to unleash Bucci’s Overtime Challenge but without the salary budget and production values, it was a pipe dream for the old variations of NHL Network to do this. Would he leave the Worldwide Leader like Rich Eisen, Peter Gammons, Brian Kelly, Dan Patrick and others?

We can only hope. His hockey contributions have lessened on ESPN.com over the years and his column shifted more to Cawlidge Hawkey than the pros—necessary to grow the sport more in the U.S., but it would help if ESPN broadcast more than the Frozen Four.

My gut on this one tells me he won’t come. He writes about his youngest boy Jack often as he shares his empathy and sympathy for all the sacrifices hockey parents make and unless Jack is ready for a billet home and make hockey is dream, I don’t see Bucci making the move unless he feels it will be nothing but a positive for his family—especially one with a teenager. (His oldest, Brett, has graduated from Miami University of Ohio.)

And if you ever read his column he wrote for USA Hockey magazine in 2010, you’d understand he takes pride in being more than the hockey guy. (And don’t call him the hockey guy.):

You see, I have always viewed hockey as an equal part of the ENTIRE American sports family. As a child, I hummed the music of NFL Films in my head while playing football next to my house and dreaming of becoming an NFL running back. I shot my Nerf basketball in the house with the CBS basketball theme in my head (“You’ll see the best of basketball on CBS.”), and I played whiffle ball every day the weather permitted.

There’s a lot more to that column, and you should read every word.

—Pierre LeBrun. Another ESPN guy (kinda), he’s all on the digital side only at ESPN.com and otherwise puts his time in at TSN where he’s kind of in no-man’s land with the rest of the hockey guys.

He’s a great scribe and a great TV personality and is in the upper halos of hockey journalists with scoops and breaking news. Just be sure that the network has a one Pierre only rule and don’t let McGuire in.

—Bob McKenzie. This would have to be in a part-time to featured correspondent role unless he’s really ready for a change. Not only is his insider information well sought after for pro hockey, his junior hockey knowledge is just as incredible. Unless the U.S. NHL Network bleeds over to Canada with the same production, I don’t see McKenzie heading South of the Border full-time.

You could argue it’s like stealing a Canadian institution, but when your network doesn’t have NHL rights anymore, you have to keep your options open. And he’s done that so far with regular NBCSN appearances.

—James Duthie. He brings wit, knows how to balance being newsy and humorous and is more loose than Bucci on-air. He likes to free wheel and improv a bit, to the point where you’re not sure if that’s Duthie or Ed Helms.

—Daryl Reaugh. A gem in Dallas who wants to transition to play-by-play, he deserves the national spotlightRazor is the best at turning phrases on-air. To me, he is the best color commentator out there, especially his early work on NHL ’99.

—Randy Hahn. When the San Jose Sharks needed change in the organization, they should have toyed with the roster more. Instead the broadcasting partners decided not to re-up another video game voice. He’s doing Edmonton Oilers broadcasts, but this guy. Oh this guy is an honest one.

—Alan May. Alan May has been the strongest addition to CSN Washington’s revamped pre-game and post-game talent, even filling in as a man between the benches during broadcasts. He’s honest, he’s quick and has great analysis of how the game’s played. When GM George McPhee was fired from the Caps, May pretty much let the door hit his ass on the way out.[Scrub to 1:00]

—Rick DiPietro. DP made the wise choice to retire after his comeback bid wasn’t meant to be, and through his unlucky streak of injuries he kept his sense of humor. That served him well when he became a radio host on ESPN New York’s “Hahn & Humpty.” Hopefully the network’s internal censors aren’t too harsh and let him spin a yarn on air, like this doozie about Bill Guerin scolding him for pissing in a shower.

Bill Lindsay. When Fox Sports Florida brought back Denis Potvin, it displaced Bill Lindsay to a smaller role either in studio more or when they could, place him between the benches where he was more valuable than ever. Bill both thinks and speaks clearly—both in his choice of words and his sound. That voice of his can self project like no other.

Greg Wyshynski. There’s no way he would give up Puck Daddy on Yahoo for the NHL Network because you’d likely face more editorial restrictions. But as a contributor with a regular segment or his own 30-minute off-beat show would do wonders for the network. He can continue to promote his Yahoo role and give us a different flavor of hockey news without working entirely for “the man.” Hey, if DC 101’s Elliott Segal can tone it down for segments for Capitals Red Line, Wyshynski would have no problem. He’s been nowhere near the lovable absurdity of Elliott In The Morning, but for hockey’s vanilla atmosphere it’s edgy in those circles.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Chris Osgood
  • Ray Ferraro

If you notice, there’s a challenge in finding former star forwards not named Jeremy Roenick who want to work in TV for hockey. A lot of the dynamic personalities make their home with Sportsnet and CBC (Don Cherry, Glenn Healey) that could create great TV.

But this list building upon the existing NHL Network staff would at least be a good start.

Leafs were sick and tired of Steve Simmons

I’m sure everyone would agree that this piece by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun was, uh, harsh on Phil Kessel. You would have thought that the guy got caught with prescription drugs at the border or something, but instead it’s fat shaming for a guy who’s a hell of lot fitter than any of us and a guy whining why can’t you score 60 goals! But it’s a much enjoyable read when you replace every Phil Kessel reference with Steve Simmons’ name (and a couple minor adjustments for player to writer references). h/t to Japers Rink for the link to the hit piece of the year.

And here we go:

Leafs were sick and tired of Steve Simmons

By Steve Simmons

The hot dog vendor who parks daily at Front and John Sts. just lost his most reliable customer.

Almost every afternoon at 2:30 p.m., often wearing a toque, Steve Simmons would wander from his neighbourhood condominium to consume his daily snack.

And now he’s gone. Just like that. The Maple Leafs could no longer stomach having Simmons around, the first player to be both punished and rewarded for the saddest Leafs season in history. The Leafs held their breath, plugged their noses, and ostensibly gave Simmons to The Onion because they couldn’t stand having him around anymore.

Really, this was as much about illness and insomnia as anything else: The Leafs were sick and tired of Simmons.

Sick of his act. Tired of his lack of responsibility. Unwilling to begin any reset or rebuild with their highest-paid, most talented, least-dedicated player. He didn’t eat right, train right, play right. This had to happen for Brendan Shanahan to begin his rebuilding of the Leafs. Separation between the Leafs and Simmons became necessary when it grew more and more apparent with time that everything Shanahan values was upended by Simmons’ singular, laissez-faire, flippant, mostly uncoachable ways.

It doesn’t matter that the Leafs didn’t get much for Simmons. It doesn’t matter that the writers they received for Simmons are probably named “if” and “but,” and the interns won’t translate into anything before 2019. None of that matters as coach Mike Babcock begins his new era of hope in September.

What matters is that Simmons is gone. That who he is, what he represents, what he isn’t, had to be removed from the ice, from the dressing room, from the road, from the restaurants — from everywhere. They couldn’t have him around anymore and be honest about the direction they intend to pursue. Everything they believe in for the future is almost everything Simmons has proven to be lacking in.

A Leafs front-office voice recently spoke about the two largest influences on any player. One comes from the coach. The other comes from the player who sits beside you on the bench. Those are the voices you hear most often.

For Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, that voice belonged to Simmons.

If the voice is negative, critical, disruptive, condescending of players, critical of coaches, critical of fans, then that impacts more than just the player doing the talking. It poisons the environment. It brings players down. It cuts into their effectiveness. It establishes the kind of mood no team wants.

The right kind of leadership can make a team greater. The wrong kind can destroy it.

The second-half Leafs were the most destroyed team in Toronto history. The flag carrier of despair was Simmons. He wrote like he didn’t care, insulted the jersey, the paying public, the people watching at home, the interim coaching staff. He wasn’t alone.

But he was the only one making $80,000 a year. He was the only one truly entrusted to make an offensive difference. He was the only one who seemed to take people down with him.

When Dave Nonis was fired, when the Leafs scouting staff was fired, when the coaches were fired, it finally turned to the players. Simmons was the first to go. He won’t be the last. But sending him packing first was necessary. The message was necessary. The tone was necessary. This won’t be tolerated any longer.

Even if this is a Vince Carter-type of trade — the kind that may bring next to nothing in return. Carter quit on the Raptors. In a different kind of way, Simmons quit on the Leafs before they quit on him.

Kasperi Kapanen is a Leaf now. His stock has been dropping since Pittsburgh used a first-round pick to select him. Some people consider him a future third-liner, if he has a future in the NHL at all.

Scott Harrington is a Leaf now. He played four years for Mark Hunter’s London Knights. When they couldn’t come away with one of the Penguins’ better defensive prospects, they settled on the competitive Harrington. He is an AHL skater, scouts tell me. Maybe he’ll play in the NHL. Maybe not.

The best part of the deal is the lottery-protected first-round pick for next June’s draft. It’s nice to have that kind of pick going forward. But expect a choice between 20 and 30. That’s a long shot. Maybe three years away. Maybe more.

And you have to figure Simmons is good to write 40 inches or more reporting alongside either Bob Errey or Rob Rossi in Pittsburgh. And, still, this is a deal the Leafs had to make. A deal that was necessary.

They had to move Simmons out. They had to have him off the roster by the time Babcock begins training camp in September. You can’t have him half-assing skating drills with a team trying to learn how to work. You can’t have him being first off the ice with a team pushing to reach Babcock’s lofty goals. When you have an illness, you must get rid of the poison.

The Leafs did that on Wednesday. They treated their own infection — the Penguins playing the part of antibiotic. It doesn’t matter what they got for Simmons. What matters is he’s gone.