Toledo Walleye vs. Cincinnati Cyclones: Stark Contrasts

SignCroppedFriday night, I was in Dayton, OH for my first Federal Hockey League game.  The arena, the game, the fans, it was what they refer to in Slap Shot as old-time hockey.  There were a few fights.  Arguments with refs took precedence over face-offs.  The tickets were cheap.  In short, it was everything you want in a minor league hockey game.

150 miles away in Toledo, OH, the feeling was completely different.  This wasn’t your beer-swilling, fist-pumping, stained-ceiling-tile hockey game.  This was the other end of the spectrum.

Toledo is home to one of the most famous minor league sports franchises in America, aside from maybe the Durham Bulls.  The Toledo Mud Hens became part of the American fabric thanks to Jamie Farr and Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger from the TV show M*A*S*H*.  Farr, and therefore Kinger, were from Toledo, and the Mud Hens were mentioned on several occasions.  Bring up the Mud Hens to people who watched the series and you tend to get a knowing nod.

The same organization that owns the Mud Hens own the Toledo Walleye, so it’s no surprise that they run things in a professional manner.  The presentation is tight, the arena is clean, the lights are bright and everything the Dayton arena lacks is here, down to the club level bar and luxury boxes.

Welcome to the Huntington Center.

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There is no reaching over the glass.  The food options have more than one type of burger or hot dog.  There are signed photos for auction.  There is no Chuck-A-Puck.  And there is a gigantic, flying Walleye.

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There are no scary skeleton mascots coming to take your soul.  There are two hens, a cat and a fish.

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There is no announcer with questionable hair choices, nor dancing girls with questionable hair choices.  There are inflatable fish heads and yellow and blue flame-shooting machines.

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They have a goal horn that came off a cargo ship.

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They have a craft beer bar.

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They have bins and bins of pucks to sell.

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And they have jerseys.  So many jerseys.

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Here is a rack of game-worn jerseys for sale in the main gift shop.  That’s a lot of gamers.

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How about a Christmas sweater jersey?

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And yes, they had hockey.

This is a save.

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Fight face.

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Your final, the Walleye fall to the Cincinnati Cyclones, 4-1.  Cincy had two empty-netters, and even though they were  outshot 15-4 in the second period, they Cyclones owned this game, using the same forecheking game they played in Wheeling the week before.

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Which one do I prefer?  I liked the Dayton Demonz experience over the Toledo Walleye, but what I’m looking for in a game is a little different from what I would want if I were a season ticket holder.  I’ve been all over the US watching games, and some of the best times have been in places you wouldn’t expect them.  Just like the best food can come from a hole-in-the-wall joint and not the big name chef, the best hockey can turn up where you least expect it, where they don’t have to dress it up, and make it something it doesn’t need to be.

 

Dayton Demonz vs. Danville Dashers: FHL Indeed

DaytonDemonz2014012I’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.

Until now.

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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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You can click on any of these photos to make them larger.

Let’s head inside the rink.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Penalty box, empty and full.

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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.

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Meet Bonez, the lovable mascot.  Is it just me, or is he looking at me?  I’m a little scared.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Take a look at the ice behind the net where the Zamboni doors open.  See that little gap?

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That’s just big enough for a puck to slip under.  It happened three times.

Yes, I asked, that is supposedly his real hair.

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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.

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Your final, Dayton wins it 4-2.

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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.

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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

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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.

Swag Report: Keystone Ice Miners and Wheeling Nailers

Every time I see a hockey game in a new venue, I commemorate it by purchasing a puck.  I’ve gotten some cool ones and a few rather lame.  These are the ones I got this time.

SwagReport

The Keystone Ice Miners one is an “Inaugural Season” puck.  Meg said it would be worth something some day.  I said, yeah, like my Roanoke Valley Vipers puck.  Which made us laugh, because who?

The Nailers one is a puck from past season.  That was all they had for sale.  They are getting new ones in on Wednesday.  Considering how much I liked the Nailers jerseys, I would have preferred one in those colors.  Oh well.  Next time.

Wheeling Nailers vs. Cincinatti Cyclones (preseason): The Bridge

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Welcome to WheelingThe way I travel to hockey games is somewhat flawed.  Too often, I pull in to town only an hour or two before a game, which doesn’t give much time to get the real feel of a city.  I roam around, looking at what I can look at, maybe grab a meal rather than being subjected to arena food, then head to the game before warm-ups.

Wheeling, WV was the same way, which is too bad.  There has to be more to Wheeling than the downtown area, where the WesBanco Arena resides, would lead you to believe.

The Wheeling Nailers have the distinction of being the longest-serving team in the ECHL, now starting their 23rd season.  This puts them past the Johnstown Chiefs who moved to Greenville, SC a few years ago.  Wikipedia adds to that record:

The Nailers are the oldest surviving minor league franchise below the level of the American Hockey League, with unbroken continuity of franchise and never having missed a season of play.

As you pull in to Wheeling, you might wonder if anything like a hockey team exists in the downtown area.  Wheeling looks like an old school industrial New England town, and much like the small towns you see built on industry along a river, it’s seen better times.  Is it fair to say this, when I only got an hour or so before the game to walk around?  I think so. Obviously, there is a lot more to the city, but here is what I saw.

One of the things you notice first about Wheeling is the buildings.  These are buildings that wouldn’t look out-of-place in Chicago and Denver.  If they were in downtown Denver, they would fetch a nice price on the market.  But the next thing you notice is the plywood over the windows and doors.

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Walking around, I wondered if these places should be saved, or if they could be saved.  What could Wheeling do with these spaces?  Can they even be used anymore?

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I don’t know what to make of these two.  Are they even in use?

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All over town, you see for sale and for lease signs.  But somehow, they still have a hockey team that has survived 23 years.

In the middle of the Ohio River, across from WesBanco Arena is Wheeling Island, where the football stadium and the casino is.

Wheeling Island WheelingIsland

What is interesting about Wheeling Island is how you get there, across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.

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As the sign says, it was built as part of the National Road. You can read more about that here.  It’s one of the most defining things about the city.

The Victoria Theater, West Virginia’s oldest theater and longest running show.

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One more thing about Wheeling.  I saw this sign in a few places.

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So at least something is happening in town.  I hope they can make a difference.

Let’s go to the game. Welcome to the WesBanco Arena.

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The house I lived in until I was six in Burnsville, MN had a design you don’t see that often, certainly not in houses built today.  You walked up steps to a front door that was between the upper and lower levels.  Upstairs was the main living areas, downstairs was the basement. That is what the WesBanco Arena is like.  You walk up the main steps to the concourse then up to the seating or down to the ice surface.  It’s sounds rather unremarkable, until experience it.

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As it was my first time at a Nailers home game, I was a little confused as to where to go.  They couldn’t possibly want me to go up there, right?  I kept looking at the doors along the concourse that were on the ice side.  I almost asked someone where the seats were when I finally recognized the sign section numbers for what it was.

Finally, I found the ice.

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The arena is lit by florescent lights.  They take a bit to warm up, but nothing like how long it take some smaller arenas.  Still, it casts an interesting glow to the ice.

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Before we get to the game, we need to talk about the concourse. If the buildings around Wheeling harken back to a better time for the city, the arena celebrates those times in sport history for the city.  The arena is home to the  Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Sports Museum and the OVAC Hall of Fame.  In larger arenas like the XCEL Energy Center in Minnesota, you will see some celebration of local sports.  They have nothing on the WesBanco Arena.

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Everywhere you turn, there is some plaque or photo or banner honoring someone who did something years ago.

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The other thing of note is prints of paintings celebrating some of the history surrounding Wheeling, such as this one, titled French Expansion Of The Ohio Valley.

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You really get a sense of being there, eh?  Not everyone in the painting is all that happy about what is going on.

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This seems like a good time to move back inside to the game.

There were three things that defined this game for me: The absolute craziness that happened in the slot on both ends, the casualness of Wheeling’s goaltending, and the forechecking of Cincinnati, which eventually led to Wheeling boosting their forechecking game.

Let’s see some of that craziness.

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And a bit of the casualness.

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What is he looking at?

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Two injuries of note.  The ref took a pass that deflected off a stick to the side of his head.  He was OK and stayed in the game.  And Shayne Taker of the Cyclones had the most awkward fall I have ever seen.

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More action!  You can click on any of the photos to embiggen. Embiggen is totally a word.

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The in-game / in-crowd announcer is very excited.

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Glass banger.

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The Nailers have two mascots, a beaver named Buck and a dog named Spike.  One is the stuff of nightmares, but I will let you decide which.

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More action.

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No fights, but plenty of scrums.

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Your final, Your Wheeling Nailers fall to Your Cincinnati Cyclones, 5-3.  Game sheet is here.  The crowd for this game was sparse, but it was a preseason game, and they announced that the home opener has already sold four thousand tickets.

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One last thing to note.  Meg and I decided to drive across the bridge after the game, to see what was on the other side.  It was fairly dark, so we didn’t get much of a feel of what Wheeling Island was like, aside from not-well-lit.  We saw some darker residential areas, then suddenly the casino with its surrounding wall.  As we were leaving, we stopped at a coffee shop that said it was open until two AM for something to drink on the way home.  The front door of the coffee shop had a buzzer to be let in, much like what you might see at a check cashing place.  To get out, we had to push a button to unlock the door.  It’s something I had never seen before on a place like that. We left an got in the car, the neighborhood looking a little more dangerous than when we went in.  To the east, the bridge, downtown Wheeling, and reminders of better times.

Thin Air: Welcome Back, NHL

Some hockey notes after the first day of the NHL regular season:

– Well, that was fun.

– Tommy Wingels got two goals last night, and nary a mention of his efforts.  His second goal was quite nice.  But he’s Tommy Wingels, so he won’t get the credit he deserves.  Still, the Sharks got their “revenge” last night, if you can call one game, even if it is a shutout, revenge.

– If you watched NBC Sports Net for both games last night, the Bruins – Flyers game was crisp and tight compared to the Kings – Sharks game.  Neither west coast team could complete a pass to save their life.  I’m sure this will clean up soon enough.

– During a commercial break, NBCSN ran an ad for (insert forgotten sponsor here) that was 30 seconds of explaining hockey.  It was hockey 101, and as awful as it was for those of us who get what icing and offsides are, it must have been soul-crushing for Mike Milbury.  I’m not a fan of his blustering, but even he doesn’t deserve that kind of punishment.  Explaining hockey to the masses isn’t his job, and yes, I know he is a media guy explaining hockey to the masses.  We, as fans, don’t deserve this either.  Please, turn it off. Frog. Fraud.

– Milbury also said there needs to be an end to fighting.  Of all the things you wouldn’t have expected from opening night, this was maybe top of the list.  He said the injuries are too much, that too many guys are getting concussions.  I wonder, given his previous comments, if this opinion sticks.  I think it’s great that he has changed his mind.  It shows he’s thinking about things.  Malcolm Gladwell would be proud.

Greg Wyshynski wrote a post addressing what is seen as a conflict of interest in the “Chris Pronger to the NHL Player Safety Department” rumor.  According to Greg, it’s not a conflict of interest because Pronger isn’t really a player, even though he is still paid as a player.  He doesn’t play, so no problem.  Also, this:

Q. OK, so let me proffer this: What if I don’t want Chris Pronger in Player Safety because I think he’s an insufferable [expletive]?

Now you’re making sense.

OK, that might be a wee bit of a factor shaping opinions on this.  Wysh make a few arguments that make sense and one involving Marc Savard that makes no sense.  There is some other stuff thrown in as well of little consequence.

All of this is cheap window dressing to state my own opinion.  Simply put, taking a paycheck from a team and the league simultaneously is wrong.  It is a conflict of interest to take a paycheck from both sides of a collective bargaining agreement.  Pick a side of the table.  Change sides of the table.  But you can’t sit on both sides.  No matter how I feel about Pronger, this is a situation that shouldn’t happen.  There are other people who could do the job.  If he wants to when he is off the Flyer’s payroll, great. Until then, no.

– I’m off to Wheeling, WV for a Wheeling Nailers game.  The Nailers just surpassed the Johnstown Chiefs, who moved out of Johnstown a few years ago, as the longest operating ECHL franchise with 23 years.  In the business of minor league hockey, that’s a good run.  Also on the docket this month, Dayton, OH, Toledo, OH, and maybe some Ft. Wayne Comets.  If you are in the area, let me know.

Keystone Ice Miners vs. Michigan Warriors: What Just Happened?

Sometimes a team just has to get out-of-town, and that team often seems to come from Port Huron, MI.  When saw my first game in Port Huron, they were the Flags of the UHL.  They were the Beacons, until the team moved to Roanoke, VA for one season before folding (There was also a Port Huron Flags of the IHL in the 60s and 70s).  There was the Port Huron Ice Hawks of the short-lived NEW IHL, which was what the UHL rebranded itself as to stay alive.  That didn’t work and the Ice Hawks folded.  There was also the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the NAHL, which is where we pick up the story.

This season, the Fighting Falcons moved to Connellsville, PA.  They are now known as the Keystone Ice Miners, the team name being the same as the youth hockey organization that resides at their rink, The Ice Mine.  That rink… well, you should see for yourself.

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That doesn’t look bad, right? That doesn’t look like a rec league rink, right?

Then you step into the lobby, and the first thing you think is, this is a rec league rink.

Oh no, where am I?  Do I have to rent skates for these guys?

When you walk in the front doors, to your left is the rink entrance.  Everything else looks normal for a rec rink.  Concessions, video games, skate rental.  But there’s this little dark corner to the right, directly behind where I was standing when I took this picture.  It looks spooky, like this is where you enter the surprise House of Terror that doesn’t happen to be marked with a sign and no one talks about or acknowledges exists.  Or a storage area that everyone knows to stay away from except for Bobby Jenkins, the kid down the street, who wandered in there one day and has never been the same since.  To this day, the only words he says are “cattle” and “orange-fish.”

What horrors lie beyond the corirdor of doom? Let's find out!

So you know I’m going down there.

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Yep, a full-scale roller skating rink.  None of this says much for what I should expect on the other half of the building.  Hockey lies beyond, though, so I must see what it has in store.

Let’s go in, shall we?  First we must get our hand stamped by a rather creepy security guard, and go through what it looks like to enter an actual ice mine.

Lights!

Can someone turn on the lights?  Oh, they are on?  Oh.  Well, can I get a flash light?

What I am about to show you might scare you, especially if you only watch NHL hockey and NHL rinks.  Those with weak hearts should keep reading.  It will do you some good.  You have been warned.

Yes, Virginia, they do play hockey here.

Oh. My.

I think it’s important to point out that this is a general admission game, which is good since there are no seats.  There are benches, and some of them had cards taped to them, reserving them for season ticket holders.

You must be in the back row. Lucky you. No, really.

There is also no installed sound system, so on the penalty box side of the rink, they have four plastic, self-amplified speakers set up.

LOUDER!!!

And the only way for them to be heard across the ice was to make them REALLY LOUD!!! No one sat in front of them.  The national anthem was heard in the next county.

After the jump, the thing that made me laugh the most at a hockey game ever.

[Read more...]

#CupcakeStrong

The other night, the Colorado Avalanche were losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Down 2-0, I sent out this tweet:

And the Colorado Avalanche’s official twitter account retweeted it, and people started retweeting and favoriting it.

And the Avalanche scored.  And then they scored again.

And then they won it in overtime.

Sunday, I was at the last regular season home game, and the Avalanche were losing, 2-0.  At the second intermission, I went to the cupcake stand on the club level (yes, I know, fancy), and got a Red Velvet cupcake.  My podcasting partner, Jay Vean, put out this tweet:

Eighteen seconds into the third period, Ryan O’Reilly scored.  Then they scored again.  The Avs would eventually lose in the shootout.  But still, a cupcake and a comeback.  I’ll take it.

So if you want to have a little fun (and contrary to what the internet will tell you, hockey should be fun) and it’s in your wheelhouse, come along for #CupcakeStrong.  Get a cupcake, ready it up, and eat it when the team is down.  Who knows, we could make some magic happen.

Note: I’m biased towards Red Velvet cupcakes, and will be having mini-cupcakes.  You can do what you want.

 

 

 

Thin Air – Coaches Comma

A few thoughts from around the league.

– There’s a lot of hand wringing over the Vancouver Canucks and John Tortorella. The question is whether or not he is the right coach for the Canucks considering their current slide and doubtfulness of making the playoffs. Frankly, Tortorella is one of many problems the team has, which started after game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Note that I did not say game six. The slide of the Canucks started with the mishandling of the Luongo situation, and only got worse as time went on.

I’m not sure Tortorella is the right coach for most teams. You had better have the right mix and type of player to deal with him. He might be a brilliant hockey mind, but he brings his baggage with him, and expects everyone to be his bell hop. I don’t believe that his antics behind the bench, in the press conferences, or near the Calgary Flames locker room helped his cause at all.

– One of the things that works against Tortorella is something I think every coach at the NHL level fights: every coach that has come before in the player’s lives. By the time a player has reached the NHL, how many coaches have they had? If they were lucky enough to crack an NHL roster in the early stages of their career, they might not have the lineup of minor league coaches that most of your lower draft picks have had. Still, no matter the player, they have had a bunch.

Kids are coached in hockey starting around age five, and I believe that most coaches, systems, and even parents would start earlier if they could. Every aspect of their game has been criticized, refinded, taped, played back, discussed, evaluated, and most likely shoved down their throats. It’s like that guy at the office who has been there for twenty years, and some new manager comes in to really shake things us. And all that guy is thinking is, you’re just the next guy who is going to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m going to still be here after you are long gone.

The player’s know how to play hockey. They also know when a coach is full of it, and when they actually know what they are doing. I’m not so sure it’s a matter of a coach losing the room. I think coaches in general are losing the room, because there is way too much coaching. They have practically lost the room as soon as they gained it.

Maybe it’s time to have a three coach rotation. One a hard ass, one a player’s coach, and one in the middle. Rotate them every few weeks. You know, a Coaching-Go-Round. When players tire of one, bring in the next type.

– Can we talk about two rules everyone hates, but I think are absolutely necessary? The first is Intent to Blow. You know, that maddening moment when a puck crosses the line, and the ref says the play ended moments before? I think it’s a generally good rule, even while I understand why it pisses people off.

The two issues with the rule is that it is only used in circumstances when something is going to be waived off like a goal. The other is it brings into question the integrity of the ref. Only they really know when they decided to blow the play dead.

Perhaps we can solve this issue with a sort of video replay. When Intent to Blow is the ruling, play a video of the scene for the ref to watch, and ask him specifically when the play was blown dead. If the puck is in the net after he says the play is dead, you have a goal. Also, the apparent grey line of exactly when the intent was is eliminated. I’m sure it isn’t as simple as this, but why not give it a shot?

– The other one is the delay of game penalty for the puck over the glass. From a pure safety standpoint, I like this rule. I don’t know if a single puck has not gone into the stands because of this rule, but it stands to reason that players think a little more about not putting it over the glass.

I don’t like games being decided on this penalty, but I don’t think anyone enjoys a game ending on a power play of any sort. The rule here to stay. The refs tend to get the call right, and that’s the important thing.

I talked about the #ImagineAvs video already. But the tl;dr version is this: I would not compare it favorably to the fashion show in Slap Shot. But at least they are trying something.

– Elliotte Freidman, in his 30 Thoughts column, mentioned that Ryan Kesler penciled Colorado as one of six destinations he would have allowed a trade to. So let me get this straight. Kesler wanted to go to a Patrick Roy coached team from a John Tortorella coached team. I think that says a lot right there, about both coaches.

But actually, what surprised me was that he thought there was a place on the roster he would fit. The Avalanche are carrying enough centers, so many that they had to move Nathan MacKinnon to wing. Where would he have gone? Fourth line? I’m guessing the only thing the Avs would have been willing to give up would be Paul Stastny, which did not happen, and wouldn’t be enough to land Kesler anyways.

– How much depth do the Avalanche have? How about this: Paul Carey was called up from Lake Erie. Who is Paul Carey? Beats me. Lake Erie have been to the playoffs once since the team was formed, and didn’t make it out of the first round. The depth issue needs to be addressed soon. You can’t carry just enough forwards forever.

Imagine This Happened

After a game of rec hockey, I decided I needed to sit down with the new Avalanche video, #ImagineAvs, and see what I thought.  Responses online are mixed, and about as partisan as congress these days.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

My thoughts?  I thought it sucked.  But we need to go into why I thought that, and why it doesn’t matter (either that it sucked, or that I thought it sucks).

Why it sucked:

OK, let’s start with the simplest and most obvious issue: lip-syncing.  Why are the Avs lip syncing?  Why do we need Paul Stastny lip-syncing “whoa oh?”  It’s fairly obvious that the Avs players did not suddenly form some ****-rock band and put out a video.  If you are going to do lip-syncing, it should be fun.  Moody, brooding, I’m-sad-on-the-inside-and-buff-on-the-outside lip-syncing isn’t interesting.

And I called it ***-rock above because I don’t know what to call this.  I wasn’t a fan of the song, and I don’t want to compare it to Creed (because that’s some seriously low hanging fruit, like almost touching the ground).  But what is this?  Wikipedia says they are an “alternative rock band” but I don’t see it.  Alternative to… good?

What the hell is an Imagine Dragon?  Know what? I’m going to let that one go.  Naming things is hard.

The song, Radioactive, doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  I understand you don’t want a lot of depth when you are looking for music to backup a sports franchise, but when you pair it with moody images of players trying to be intense, you are creating (or trying to create) depth.  The two things don’t mesh.  The closest thing to a message the song has is “Welcome to the new age,” which is an appropriate comment on the change in culture the Avalanche have experienced.  Beyond that, the song never seems to go anywhere.

Jay and I discussed songs that talk about being “ready to rock you” like this one does, but never actually get to the rocking, at the end of episode 84 of the Avs Hockey Podcast. This is a classic example.  They are ready to rock us, but haven’t started, and I doubt their ability to do so.

Who the hell is that guy with the homie jazz hands and the bass drum?  Is that an Imagine Dragon?  Is that John Mitchell?  Has there been anyone since Limp Bizkit that looked cool doing this?  I’m pretty sure Smashmouth tried this once and someone got hurt.

Firefox

 

Hey, why so moody, Avalanche players?  Landeskog, you look sad.  And why so angry, Matt Duchene?  You are playing well, the fans are into the games, you are in a playoff position.  What’s with the gloom and doom?  You don’t need to get all “Friendship is magic” on us, but come on.  Lighten up.

What worked for me:

Hockey highlights.  They didn’t do their usual photoshop filter job and screw up the highlights to make them look cool and hip.  Hockey looks cool enough, don’t screw with it.  They didn’t here.

The shots of Denver.

High production values.  The Avalanche media team did a good job with the quality of the video.  It looked excellent, which is what it has to do, because you know they will be showing this on their huge HD jumbotron in the Pepsi Center.

What really matters:

Did you catch what the issue here is?  Did you notice why my opinion of the video doesn’t matter in the long run?

What did I like about the video?  The hockey, because I am a hockey fan.  This isn’t aimed at people who are already hockey fans.

Does the average Avs fan need moody players?  No.

Do they need the cheesecake shots?  I can think of a few, but put out a calendar.

Do we need stalking and beating drums?  Nope.

We need winning to bring back the fans to the ice.  And the Avalanche have been winning.  And the fans are starting to come back.  The 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues game needed standing room only ticket sales to meet the demand.  It’s been a while since that has been the case.

No, this isn’t for me, and that’s just fine.

The real question is how it will play with the people whom it is for, namely people who are not yet Avalanche fans.  That’s something that’s harder to measure.  They say you throw away half your advertising budget, but you never know which half.  Even if it’s less true in the  online market, it’s true with traditional media.  It is going to be hard to tie this video directly with any increase in ticket or merchandise sales.  Or Imagine Dragon album sales.  Or sales of imaginary dragons.

What is good is that the Avalanche are finally making things like this.  They are starting to embrace using their players as the best advertisement of the game.  They are making things that move and flow, not just stills with funky filters and photoshop images in TV ads.  For years, the sighting of a billboard with the Avalanche on it was like spotting a rare majestic bird.  The Avs haven’t pushed their presence to the public in a long time, and they have paid the price.

Being critical of this video should be separated from being happy they put it out there.  It’s been a long time since the Avalanche seemed to care enough to put their message out, and they finally have product on the ice that is worth advertising about.  This sort of effort has been a long time coming.

My overall concern is whether the Avalanche put out the story they want to tell.  All marketing is storytelling, and the Avs can shape and tell the story about their team they want to have.  For years, the story the Boston Bruins have told is the hard-working, lunch pail gang going to do their job.  The Montreal Canadiens story is the elite history of the game, the dynasty years and the hockey glory that has been handed to the next generation of players.  The Toronto Maple Leafs trade on the traditions of the game.  The Flyers build their story out of toughness.

What story are the Avalanche telling with this video?  What story are the Avalanche trying to tell in general?  Those are the questions I have after watching this.  It’s not the story I would want told about this team.

Thin Air: MacKinAgain

Some hockey thoughts from the Southwest of America:

– I haven’t watched an ounce of Olympic hockey.  Let’s get this out of the way now: I’ve been busy.  No, really.  I probably could have, but I truly have another thing that is keeping me full time busy, and hockey is just going to have to take a back seat for the moment.  I don’t even know who plays or played today.  Seriously.

– Last Olympics, I watched the final game with my buddy Jay Kumar, then we recorded some podcasts after (his and mine).  It’s going to be hard to trump that experience.  Jay is awesome, and a treat to watch a game with.  In fact, I seem to have luck with people named Jay.

– Should the NHL participate in the Olympics?  I have mixed feelings on it.  I would like to see the amateur players get back in the game, and if there are going to be so many restrictions on other Olympians, they should apply to the hockey players as well.  But the cat is out of the bag, and the only way to remain relevant and not wind up with an asterisk on the Olympic records is to keep the NHL in.  No one cared about the World Cup of Hockey (except me), and few care about the World Juniors and World Championships.  Everything else is also ran.  I think they stay, and the IOC makes a few more concessions to the NHL, which is not their usual MO.

– I took a few skills classes in Tempe, AZ these past two weeks.  Our coach was great.  At 9:00PM, he holds a rookie class, where people who can sort of propel themselves while skating on their ankles do a few things with a puck, then slam into the end boards because they can’t stop.  The entire time they are doing drills, the coach is yelling at them.  “Butt on the boards! BUTT ON THE BOARDS!!!”  I watched this before my first class and thought, I hope this guy is our coach.  This is awesome.

Sure enough, he was, but the yelling was not there.  We had a neutral zone passing drill, and he was encouraging and firm.  After a few drills, he explained the point of what we were doing, then told us to have a good scrimmage.  What an absolute blast.  I got home at close to three in the morning (scrimmage until just past midnight, change, gas up the car, drive to Tucson), and was pumped to do it again the next week.  Hockey is alive in the desert.

– Adrian Dater says, via twitter, that Ryan O’Reilly will not be traded from the Avs (stick tap to Lyle Richardson for the pointer).  Proof there is a new attitude in Colorado?  In the old regime, money and being butt-hurt would have trumped any stats.  In the old regime, O’Reilly would be gone this month, or the end of the season, and we would never see the GM poke out from his hole, see his shadow, and blow six more weeks of BS up our backsides.  Let’s get this straight: something considered a ‘cancer to the locker room,’ or a ‘business issue’ can be worked out.  And winning, just like it brings back the fans, brings the players together.  A lot more than losing will.

– Next trip, Vegas, baby.  Or more specifically, I finally get to see my first Las Vegas Wranglers home game, at Orleans Arena.  And this is going to be their last season there (unless they work out a lease deal, which it sounds like they won’t), so I have to get there while the getting is good.  But also, this is their annual Midnight Circus, which means they will play the game at midnight, and they will have circus performers. I’m not kidding.  The Wranglers have the best promotions.  It also helps that the opposing team is the Colorado Eagles, and I just so happen to have an Eagles jersey with me.  Want more Vegas?  Check out this great oral history of the movie Swingers.  If you’ve ever dreamed big and thought there was no way you could do it, read this and remember that this is the guy who directed Iron Man.

– We play this little game on Twitter every Avalanche game called #AvsTwitterPsychic.  All you do is guess who scores the first goal for the Avs, and you get a retweet.  So far, Nathan MacKinnon has a team-leading 9 first goals.  He has a team leading 22 goals.  He’s fourth on assists and third in points.  The kid is good, and playing like an NHLer much earlier than a lot of rookies.  Matt Duchene took several years to break out of his junior habits.  As much as I would love to see Kevin Shattenkirk still playing for the Avs, he took some time to break out of his college style (but he has, and it didn’t take that long).  MacKinnon doesn’t stand out as a rookie, and I mean that in the best possible way.

– Quick survey time. Do you skate?