Johnstown, PA: Life After Slap Shot

DSC_3722jtnJohnstown, Pennsylvania is known for a few things.  One was the Great Flood of 1899, when the South Fork Dam fourteen miles away broke and water as high as twenty one feet filled the valley town, killing 2,209 people.

Another significant event that happened in Johnstown was the filming of the movie Slap Shot in 1976.  It sounds almost callous to mention the two events, the making of a movie and the flood that killed over two thousand people, in the same way, but both left their marks on the city.

Slap Shot is thought of as the greatest hockey movie of all time.  The dialog is funny, the characters are memorable, and it harkens back to what hockey was then, when the Broad Street Bullies were winning Stanley Cups with their fists.  As comical as it was, there was a part of it that was still “real life” for these players.

Slap Shot was released in 1977 to mediocre reviews and didn’t do well at the box office.  1977 was also the last year of the Johnstown Jets, the team the Charlestown Chiefs were based on.  They folded along with the NAHL, the league they played in (no relation to the current NAHL, a juniors league).  In July of ’77, Johnstown flooded again, with eight and a half feet of water taking over downtown.

Markers on the City Hall building show how high the water was.

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The city itself is a beautiful place with lovely people, and it’s slowly falling to ruin.  Looking beyond what we see in the movie, let’s take a walk around town.

(Click on any photo to see it larger)

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Johnstown has one of the steepest vehicular incline planes in the US (they claim the steepest in the world).  It caries cars and people up the hill, connecting it to the city of Westmont, sitting above Johnstown.  We will talk about Westmont later.

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The top of the inclined plane. Overlooking the city.

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The War Memorial lies to the far right, the downtown business district above that, and straight ahead, the mills that made Johnstown what it was.

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To the left is Point Stadium, where local school sports teams play, and behind it more industry.

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Near the stadium is the Johnstown Flood Museum.  After the local hospitals, it’s one of the nicest buildings in town.

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But after the stadium, the flood museum, and the many health centers and hospitals, Johnstown shows it’s wear and tear.

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Most of the pictures are of houses no longer occupied.  No trespassing signs are stapled to plywood windows to limit liability for houses that are crumbling.

This was going on around 8 pm.  Some late night demolition.

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Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be enough of this going on.  I got up early to walk around town.

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The lights are not on in these buildings. The windows are reflecting the sun.

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This place still looks like it’s in business.  The building looked so interesting.

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Johnstown is full of churches, but this one, and it’s associated school building, don’t look like they have been in operation for some time.

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While these homes and buildings sit empty, nature is trying to reclaim its space.  Ivy grows over so many of the dead buildings.

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One of the mills runs the length of Clinton St. This was the old entrance to the mill.

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There is still work going on in this mill, but I’m not sure what, and it seems to be concentrated in one end.

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Continuing up Clinton St and across the river, a garage “For Rent.”  Maybe the telephone pole is for rent, because the garage does not look ready.

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More homes.

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Coming back to town, the guard shack at the mill truck entrance had a message of inspiration.

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At some point, there was a building here.

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Inside the old stores next to it.

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This was the old candy shop by the War Memorial, the one with hockey memorabilia I popped in to when I was here in 2008.  It’s gone.

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I asked someone who worked at the sub shop downtown what had happened to the candy store.  He said it just closed up, like most businesses around town.

The woman who runs A Piece of Cake downtown (which had one of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had) told me she was proud to have been there two and a half years.  “Most places don’t make it two and a half months,” she said.  “By the third month, you are being evicted because you can’t pay the rent.”

Across the street from my hotel was Sheer Magic, a local barber shop.  This sign was on the front of their door.

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More mills and industry as I headed to the Heritage Discovery Center.

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The Heritage Discovery Center is a fairly skipable museum dedicated to Johnstown’s past that wasn’t centered on flooding.  It mostly covers industry and immigration.  It was low on exhibits, although the photography exhibit from inside working and closed steel mills was interesting.

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But as soon as you walk out of the building, this is across the street.

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Headed back to town, I ran into a local who bought a house and building from the local Knights of Columbus.  He took me around inside.  His plan is to refurbish it into a bed and breakfast, event room, and restore the six lane manual bowling alley in the basement.

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He has his work cut out for him.

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More from Johnstown.

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At the Hey Day Diner – a most proper name for the downtown restaurant – sits a mini shrine to the Johnstown Jets.

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There was a hockey tournament while I was in town, the Slapshot Cup.  Hockey bags and hockey players were all over downtown.

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Earlier, I mentioned Westmont, the city at the top of the incline, a place not likely to see any flooding.  What does it look like?

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Quite a bit different from the city that sits below.  No plywood, no ivy growing into the bones of buildings.  No condemned houses and rubble.

And outside of downtown, several miles away, there are your standard retail areas that cities like this need to survive.  There is a mall, but it looks like it is dying.  There is an outdoor shopping plaza with Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and of course, a Walmart.  Cities like this don’t exist without a Walmart.

Johnstown is a city that is still figuring out its future.  The loss of industry hurt the town deeply.  The few days I spent there didn’t make the future look promising, although I know efforts are being made to turn things around.

Hopefully, like Slap Shot, there is still some fight left in the city.

 

Johnstown Tomahawks vs. Keystone Ice Miners: The Past Is The Past

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You may not realize it, but you know the Cambria County War Memorial.  You’ve seen it before, in the film Slap Shot.  The Charlestown Chiefs were based on the Johnstown Jets of the NAHL, and the War Memorial was their home.  The year Slap Shot was released, 1977, the Jets folded and the city of Johnstown flooded.

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(Clicky make biggy)

The last time I was in Johnstown, PA was February of 2008.  The financial crisis was still the apple of some Wall Street investor’s eye, and the team at the time was the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL.  You can see the posts from that trip here and here.  Inside the arena, a few things have changed since then.  Let’s go inside.

Wait, what’s this?  A hockey tournament?

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This was the fifth anniversary of the Slapshot Cup.  I took most of my arena pictures during the tournament.  That’s why the arena is so empty.

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Players bench.

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The red light at the bar seating area used to be a red Budweiser sign.  They decided to go with something more traditional.

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Ice level from the Zamboni entrance.

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The replacement glass tucked in the corner.

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This was something new, the Slap Shot Gallery.

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Click on anything to make it bigger.  Some of it is really worth it.

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Yes, the twins signed it as well.

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DSC_5314batchLet’s get to the game.

The lobby.

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The hallways.  Good crowd.

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It was the home opener, so there was the player introductions.  The turnover as players move on or age out of the juniors is tremendous, so introductions are more than a formality, they are necessary.

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What isn’t necessary is flaming steel on the ice and sparks shooting out of hockey sticks.  That’s just a special bonus.

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The away team still has to step down onto the ice at the start of the period.  Looks treacherous.

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The reason for this is the players have to cross the concourse and enter the arena the same way the fans do.  They bring out gates to keep the fans away from the players, but you can still get pretty close.  If you think the fans don’t heckle the opposing players (and especially the goalies), you would be wrong.

These guys are fired up.

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Pink jersey.

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Let’s do this.

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I included this one because I love the flex of the stick, even though this is simply a pass to the guy in the corner.  Players are so good at handling and controlling fast pucks.  I’m constantly amazed at how quickly they can control a puck and do something with it.  When you sit this close to the action at a minor league or junior game, you hear how loud the puck smacks their sticks.  It’s something you don’t get a sense of in the cavernous NHL barns.

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This was a goal, tipped in off the Tomahawks player’s stick.

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Moving on.

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What the hell happened here?

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This was a three on two that you could sense was going to lead to a goal.

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Near the end of the game, with Johnstown down two goals, a delayed penalty was called on the Ice Miners, and the puck slipped past the goaltender, which the ref waived off.  I’m guessing it was either goalie interference, or a Miner had control of the puck before it went across the line.  No explanation was given.  In the last second of play, the Tomahawks scored a goal, putting Johnstown within one.  Had the waived off goal counted, this would have tied the game.  It made for a surreal ending.

Speaking of surreal.

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Here was something I had never seen before.  The start of the third period was delayed because the drill bit used for the goal post pegs got stuck in the ice.  It took a while to get it out.  Next time, have a blowtorch handy to heat the thing up, eh?

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The final, the Johnstown Tomahawks fall to the Keystone Ice Miners, 5-4 (game sheet is here).  It was the first of a back-to-back home-and-home weekend, so the bus was leaving early for a 1:00pm  start in Connellsville. Which the Tomahawks won in the shootout, by the way.

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Compared to last time I was here (a mid-season ECHL game with a team that wasn’t doing so hot), this was a different atmosphere.  Hardly any of the “old-time hockey” feel that you would expect from a team that plays at the War Memorial.

It’s easy to build the game and the place into something it’s not.  It isn’t a movie that was filmed almost 40 years ago.  It isn’t a throwback to the old times.  It isn’t goons and characters.  It isn’t fists and cheap shots.  It isn’t line brawls and blood on the ice. It’s what hockey is now, not what it was. It’s kids looking for a chance at the big time and behaving accordingly.  This is junior hockey.

Johnstown itself is still old-time hockey.  It’s plywood windows and people who are hopeful.  It’s a downtown with small businesses and For Lease signs. It’s condemned houses in the shadows of mills that barely function.

It’s easy to write something into Johnstown that may not be there.  You can simply walk in with Slap Shot on your mind and leave with something else.  I’m an outsider, and I can only tell you what I see.  Slap Shot is what hockey may have been in Johnstown, but the hockey itself has moved on.  Johnstown itself?  I’m not so sure.

Swag Report: Dayton and Toledo

Make friends at hockey games.  That’s my word of advice for today.

In my post about the Dayton Demonz game, there is a picture of the FHL logo from one of the off-ice official’s jackets.  You can see her hand holding it straight for me.  After the game, I met up with her in the pub, and she handed me the puck on the right.

 

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The puck on the left was one I bought in the gift shop.  The one on the right was one of the three that slipped under the Zamboni doors during play.  She grabbed it for me.  Awesome, right? You can tell which one is which pretty easily in the next photo.  That’s tape and wax residue on the side of the puck.

 

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Make friends, folks.

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I bought a Toledo Walleye puck before the game, but it wasn’t as though they were going to run out of pucks to sell. They have vats of them.  This puck is very much like the Walleye experience. The graphics on the puck are gritty and flawless. Like pre-stressed jeans, they haven’t been earned. It’s manufactured.

 

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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.

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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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NailersCyclones2014111  NailersCyclones2014108

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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.

ingameannouncer

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.

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.

Ice Mine Exterior

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.

Oh, that's it?  Well, that was anti-climatcic.

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...]

Cedar Rapids Roughriders vs. Tri City Storm: Death to Cowbell

Somewhere in the depths of my storage unit, there is a cowbell.  That cowbell has the logo of the Cedar Rapids Roughriders on it.  It is black, with a white strap on it, bought at the Roughriders store many years ago.  I haven’t seen that cowbell in years. 

When I find that thing, I am going to mangle it into an unrecognizable shape that would not make noise unless you split it’s atoms apart.  It’s parents will weep openly at the destruction of their little baby cowbell.  There will be outcry from activists and anger from the media at what I do to that cowbell.  It will be amazing.

I hadn’t been to a game in Cedar Rapids in a very long time.  I could have – and hindsight tells me should have – gone to a game in Dubuque tonight, but I chose to go back to the City of Five Smells (no kidding, this is what they call it, and the smells are not of the pleasant variety).  It is a mistake my left ear might live to regret.  

If you haven’t guessed, the Roughriders and their fans are obsessed with cowbells.  They ring them at every opportunity.  They ring them whenever the guy singing their country theme song, Ridertown USA (again, I wish I were kidding), says the name of the song. Imagine you are watching a Vancouver Canucks game, and every time Luongo made a save, instead of the annoying “LOOOUUUUUU” the crowd bellows, they ring their cowbells.  Or a pass is completed, or a check of even the slightest intensity was delivered.  Ring ring ring.  

And it’s the guy behind you, ringing it right next to your ear (who finally figured it out after I looked back a few times and started ringing it in slightly-the-other-direction).  And the guy across the aisle.  And hundreds and hundreds of other people.  All the time. 

Then I found out you can get earplugs for free.  Who knew? 

So I guess I’m that guy.

I have talked about this before, but I love the way hockey sounds.  The skates as they dig in for a hockey stop, the way a puck smacks on a stick as a pass is caught, the crashing into the boards.  Take away the sounds and it’s a surreal feeling.  You don’t even feel like you are there.  You feel like there is something going on, but it’s unfamiliar.  You’re floating above the action, a casual observer.  The sounds of hockey are why we tolerate Pierre McGuire or half of the awful Versus/OLN/NBCSC calls we have heard over the years.  We want that sound.  We love that sound.  Tonight, I really missed that sound. 

Also, this guy?  The one in the hat?

CRJerk

Yes, I am not feeling very charitable.  Screw this guy.  He needs to get his prostate checked.  He pees more than a drunk 19 year old girl. Also, don’t stop to go back once someone has stood up to let you by (repeatedly) to see if your buddy needs a beer.  And the dude in front of him with the chops in the jersey?  Yeah, him as well.  Prostate checks, boys.  And about the tenth time you squeeze past someone, say something at least hallway apologetic.  Otherwise, you’re a jerk.  Or maybe you’re a jerk anyways.  Seriously, screw hat guy.  Such a jerk. 

ALSO – can you tell I’m pissed off tonight? – every hockey fan knows you wait for a stoppage in play to take your seat.  And if you don’t know where your seat is, figure it out before going down the stairs.  Two groups of people who can’t figure out their tickets, standing in the way while play is going on, are two to many.  The Roughriders could have done something about this, had they had ushers.  But there don’t seem to be any, which seems insane.  Don’t get me wrong, ushers aren’t the absolute solution, but you wouldn’t have had people figuring out how to count to row 7 if there were ushers.  

Cedar Rapids beat the Tri City Storm 3-2, but I wish they had lost 7-0. I wanted to see these fans suffer, even if only a few deserved it.  I was not in a good mood, and it was the game that turned me sour.  I was tired before the game, and I am ready to head home, but from the start of the game, it was hard to find anything positive about this experience.  

To the photos:

Welcome to The Stable, the most annoying arena known to mankind (OK, I’ll try to give it a rest for a bit).  

The Stable

There are two ice surfaces here, a practice / public rink and the Roughriders rink.  This is the practice rink.

Practice Rink

Go up the stairs, with RR logos…

Sorry it's blurry

Through the doors…

Doors

And you get to the rink.

Rink

Seems kind of dark, doesn’t it?  It’s like that most of the time.  Unless the game is on, the lights are out.  You can mostly see where you are going, if you are by the concession stands, which are on the left side of that photo.  If you are on the penalty box side, you won’t see what you just stepped in.  Considering the name of the place is The Stable, perhaps that is a good thing.

It seems you can’t go to a hockey game without some guy in a body suit.  It was barely cute after the fifth time the guys in Vancouver did it.  Now it’s just stupid.  At least have a gimmick, or show a sense of humor.  Just walking around in a body suit?  Who cares? 

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This turned into a goal.

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The third goal, in fact, which led to a change in goal.

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Which was a good move, because this guy stopped every shot he saw.  

That change in goal led to a fight, which led to a wrestling match. 

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The Roughriders must not be hurting for cash.  They sell pretty well, but they also have sponsorships and advertising everywhere.  It is so ubiquitous, they even have signage on their shovels. 

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How much do you think that costs?  

Let’s say you score a goal, and you are a Roughrider.  The horn sounds, the cowbells ring, and at some point, something like this plays:

This did NOT play tonight. No, they had some longer version before the game.  After the Ridertown USA song had played.  I don’t get it.  I’m sure there is some hockey history at work here, some sort of tradition started with guys wearing horned helmets and uncomfortably revealing shorts that led to whatever this is.  But I’ve been to some of the most shameless minor league arenas (other than the Las Vegas Wranglers) and have NEVER seen anything like that.  Never.  

I need an adult.

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Action!

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Part of why I wanted to go to the RR game?  I have this guy’s jersey.

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I don’t think he was any great shakes, but his photo is on the wall.  As far as I can tell, every former RR’s photo is on the wall.  

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Ladies….

Ladies...

If you aren’t familiar with the juniors, this might look odd to you.  At least one linesman is out on the ice for warmups in the USHL.  I think it’s a good idea, and I wish every league did that.  I believe that is linesman Brent Hooks.  I know you don’t care, I just wanted to say his name, because it is an awesome name for a linesman.  Hooks. 

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Rather than a jumbotron with video, they have two video projectors at either end.  It’s a good way to get around an expensive video scoreboard, but it isn’t the best looking thing.  Also, no replays of goals, for or against.  Explain that one to me.  

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OK, enough of this.  I’m obviously in a mood, and I don’t want to prolong the pain for either of us.  Here’s hoping tomorrow’s game in Lincoln is better.  I mean, it has to be, right?  Riders win it 3-2.  They were up 3-0 going into the third, but decided to make a game of it.  Also, the TC player Moore?  Kind of a punk.  

My only regret was everything.

From the Travel Blog:

Period 1 

Period 2 

Period 3 

Boxscore

Admirals Torpedo Wolves 4-3

There was a part of me that didn’t want to go to tonight’s game.  It was a small part, the part that was a little tired and knew there was a new book on my kindle to read (The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin, and I can’t wait to get to it).  Also, the part that was a little bit lonely.  I admit, it does get a little tiresome with no one to talk to on the road, and while I enjoy having my time to myself, driving for hours between cities does take it’s toll.  These games would be a lot more fun to share with people. 

So I share them with you here.  And when I look at the stats of the travel blog, I don’t see hits or traffic, I see people who come along for the ride.  I see hockey fans I get to share the games with, and the places I get to see that they aren’t able to (yet, I hope).  So if you are one of the people who go to the travel blog while I’m on this journey, thanks.  You make a difference in my enjoyment of this trip.

I didn’t want to go to the game, but I’m glad I did.  It wasn’t the most amazing game.  There wasn’t a lot of aggression, and it was one of the cleaner games I’ve seen in a while.  What it had was a serious tone.  You could sense it immediately in warmups.  Perhaps it was my perspective from only seeing CHL hockey live this year, rather than the NHL.  Perhaps the difference in play from the CHL to the AHL is really that stark, or maybe it’s that there are enough fourth line NHLers in the A right now that it makes that big a difference.  But the tone was completely different.  It had a professionalism I haven’t seen in a while.  

First things first: the arena.  The Admirals play in an NBA arena.  It was built for an NBA team, and it feels like it.  Arena

When you sit in the seats, you sink an inch or two lower than you think you should.  It reminds me of sitting down at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, home of the Islanders.  You wonder when you are going to stop.  For some reason, this screams of “basketball first” design.  The boards in hockey are closer than the floor of a basketball court.  You could see everything a basketball game had to offer, but for hockey, you will be looking past the heads of the patrons in front of you.  

Jay Vean of the Avs Hockey Podcast made the comment on the travel blog that there were “Plenty of good seats still available.”  And he is right, but that’s just how it goes.  You aren’t going to fill up the home of the Milwaukee Bucks when the Admirals take the ice.  No minor league team would, unless it was the finals, and even then, good luck.  Sellouts are a rare enough thing in minor league hockey.  This smacks of impossibility.  

That is a big scoreboard. I wonder how players who call smaller and less fortified places like Rockford or Peoria home feel when they come to a place like Milwaukee, which plays in a major league arena.  Is it intimidating?  Does jealousy set in?

Scoreboard

This is a special seating area.  Other than that, I have no idea what it means.  Anyone? 

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Refs pre-game post-huddle. 

Refs

Action!  And let’s go to our first goal.  Look at the left of the net, that’s the puck in there.

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No doubt about it, that’s a goal. 

GOOOOAAALLLLL!!!!!!

The fans tell the Wolves goalie that he sucks.  It’s not entirely true, but there were times they had a point. 

Hey, you suck!

Random action photos.  Click to embiggen.

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Thinking about face offs deep into the future.  

The Future looks Face-Offy

Intermission antics:

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OK, enough of that, back to the game. 

 

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This is the game winning goal, with 1:33 left in the game.  A shot on goal is stopped by the goalie’s stick, but it hops up in the air a bit.  See it in front of his blocker?

Hop

Bounce

And the Admirals crash the net. Chaos ensues. 

Chaos Ensuing.

And number 51 who you see right there swats the puck in.

GOOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!!

And there was much rejoicing. 

That's a lot of rejoicing.

The Wolves did what they could, but to no avail. 

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And that’s the game.  Admirals win 4-3.  

Updates from the travel blog:

Period 1 (somehow didn’t upload)

Period 2

Period 3

Boxscore from the AHL website

With that, I’m off to bed.  I’m exhausted, and I’m going to try to make it to stick and puck time tomorrow before heading to Cedar Rapids.  See you on the road.