I’m not saying this to brag, but I’ve been to a lot of hockey games. I’ve been to 20 NHL arenas, as well as two that no longer exist and one that had a team moved from it. I’ve seen all the teams on the west coast of the United States. I took a road trip to every team in the 14-team UHL. AHL, ECHL, SPHL, OHL, yadda yadda yadda. Compared to some, it’s not much, but for a guy on a limited budget, it’s not bad. One league I had never witnessed was the Federal Hockey League.
The FHL started about five years ago in the upper northeast of the US. It’s the lowest level of professional hockey in America, below the ECHL and the SPHL. Expectations should be low when you go to an FHL game.
If you don’t follow minor league hockey, you may still have heard of the Federal Hockey League as the fictional league in Slap Shot. As I understood it, the real FHL shared some of the rougher traits of the movie version, but my only evidence was stories and one severely distorted knuckle I saw on a guy who claimed to play there.
So it was off to Dayton, OH to find out what the FHL was like. Dayton has a solid history of minor league hockey. The Dayton Bombers were the most prominent of that history, playing in the ECHL for 18 years. Before and after that, the Dayton Gems played in various incarnations. The Gems name was reincarnated for the Central Hockey League / New IHL, but was short-lived. All of those teams played at least some of their existence in the Hara Arena.
Hara Arena was built in 1964. It’s part of a sprawling complex of arenas and convention space, and the upkeep has been less than stellar. This is what greats you as you pull in to the parking lot.
No, D Ton is not the nickname of Dayton. The parking lot is crumbling and the buildings are a mess. That won’t stop them from charging five dollars for parking (the ticket is only $10.50). And yes, charging for parking when you are in the middle of nowhere is a pet peeve of mine.
Let’s all go to the lobby….
And have ourselves a drink. The Hara Pub is right off the lobby, and it is exactly what you want and expect from an older hockey rink bar.
You can click on any of these photos to make them larger.
Let’s head inside the rink.
The Hara could use more than a little paint and Spackle, but it has its charms. For instance, seating starts above the boards. The feet of the people in the first row is around shoulder-high with the players.
The side glass is just a little higher than the head of the person sitting in the first row of seats as well. We will get back to that in a bit. The corners of the rink needed some filling in to make it safe for patrons.
But to me, the most interesting feature of the rink were the benches. I really think you are going to want to click that to see it full-sized.
The benches start in the defensive zones, where the benches in any other rink would end. The are outside the bluelines, separated by seating for the fans. That means that every change happens inside the attacking or defensive zone. Also, the second period line changes are brutal. I noticed the refs gave the teams a bit of latitude when making changes, but that could have been the quality of the refs, which we will get to shortly.
Here is one of the benches.
Note the small stash of sticks at the top. The FHL doesn’t have the budgets of the NHL, where a player might come off the ice and decide which of his three hundred dollar sticks feels better to him. No, you are lucky to have a backup on the bench.
Last season, the Demonz won the FHL championship. Since this was their opening night, I was expecting a banner raising or a ceremony or some pomp and circumstance. There was none. No banner, no big deal, just opening night player introductions and a game. They were wearing jerseys commemorating the victory, which they auctioned off at the end of the game.
In the movie Goon, Liev Schreiber’s character, Ross Rhea, is retiring, and at his last home game, they hand him the mic to say a few words. That was the scene at the Demonz game as one of their players retired. Thankfully, the speech was short.
Penalty box, empty and full.
Yes, the penalty box is open to the ice. I was told that made things very entertaining at times. This being the FHL, I can only imagine what that means.
Let’s get to some action. This is not where you should be defensively.
Meet Bonez, the lovable mascot. Is it just me, or is he looking at me? I’m a little scared.
Let’s talk about the refs. I thought the referee was pretty good. He called a fair game, and had a good relationship with the players. He missed one or two things, but any ref, especially in a single-ref system, is going to miss things. And at this level, if you don’t turn a blind eye here or there, the entire game would be played at less than full strength.
The linesmen flat-out stank. They were the worst linesmen I have ever seen. They called the lines well enough, but they couldn’t do anything else worth a damn. Several times, players lost or broke sticks and the linesmen would start play leaving them on the ice. They seemed generally unaware of what was happening around them.
Then came the first fight they had to break up. This is 101 on how NOT to break up a hockey fight.
This was just the beginning of the fight. Notice the stick still being held by one of the players, trapped between them. These two are going to fight, but the linesmen jump it and won’t back out.
This is a huge mistake. Never, EVER, grab a fighting player from behind. All you do is give the other player an advantage. Get with the other linesman and push your way between the players, preferably after they have exhausted each other.
The Danville player has a free hand to pummel the Dayton player, thanks to the linesmen. And as if the hockey gods were wanting to let them know they did a poor job breaking this up…
There were four fights, two at a time. Were there any more, I’m not sure the linesmen would have survived many more.
This is the ref letting the Dayton ice crew know that the spotlight operator is being a jerk, and if he shines his light in the goalie or the refs face again, there will be issues.
Take a look at the ice behind the net where the Zamboni doors open. See that little gap?
That’s just big enough for a puck to slip under. It happened three times.
Yes, I asked, that is supposedly his real hair.
The brand new dance crew. They danced during the first intermission, and it took so long, the Zamboni left the ice with 1:06 left in the break (yes, I looked). The ice was still wet when the teams took the ice, so they waited for it to set.
Your final, Dayton wins it 4-2.
As soon as the final buzzer went off, the fans rushed down to the short glass I mentioned earlier. The team skated to center ice, did the now-standard salute to the crowd, then started skating toward their bench, turned up ice, and skated along the boards and GAVE EVERYONE A FIST BUMP.
Do I need to tell you how awesome this is? I have never seen anything like it. I wish it happened everywhere. Could you imagine this happening at an NHL game?
At the game auction, I got these pictures of the goalie. He reminded me of Denis Lemieux, the goalie from Slap Shot, the way he moved and jumped around in the game. Very animated
That sums up my first FHL experience. The level of play was better than I expected, and I saw some things I had never seen before. Like the emperor in Gladiator, was entertained. Unlike said emperor, I give it a thumbs up. I’ll be back.