Mississippi Riverkings vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers: Pink In The Rink

This weekend, the Riverkings held their Pink in the Rink game, to support breast cancer awareness and donate to local cancer charities.  They wore pink jerseys that were auctioned off at the end of the game, with proceeds going to charity, and held a raffle to shave player’s heads.  More on that in a bit.

This was a return to the scene of the crime.  The Riverkings faced off against the Pensacola Ice Flyers, who the Riverkings beat 6-2 last week in Mississippi, and 3-1 in Pensacola the night before this game.  The Ice Flyers were 0-6-1 in their last seven coming into the game, and this was the ninth of ten meeting between these teams.  Needless to say, Pensacola wanted this one.

I’ve been to a few pink jersey games.  I even own a pink jersey.  These are the pinkest jerseys I have ever seen.  Ever.

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Wow.  Seriously pink.  I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, simultaneously wanting one of these and never wanting to wear one.  They are quite something.

The fans brought out their pink jerseys from previous games.   As with any photo, click it to get a better look.

But we came for a game, so let’s get to it.  Action!

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Yes, that’s Flemming, from the 6-2 loss last week.  He faired better this time, but he faced a “measly” 26 shots compared to 50 last game.

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Sometimes this is what they mean by paying the price in front of the net.  Just staying there can be a challenge.

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That’s a goal.

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We head to intermission, which featured a youth hockey shootout.  Love this stuff.

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The fans love it too.

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The first intermission also featured a wedding proposal.  Unlike the AHL All Star game I went to in 2005, she said yes.

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Back to the game.

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Bodies everywhere!

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And a fight.

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This eventually went it.

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At the second intermission, the Riverkings led 2-1.  The coach for Pensacola didn’t agree with a face off location and wanted to discuss it with the refs.  He didn’t care for what he heard.

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Second intermission featured a diamond giveaway, which this guy won.

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Third period action!  That’s a goal, and the Ice Pilots tie it up 2-2.

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The Riverkings would get it back shortly, and pull ahead 3-2 with plenty of hockey to play.

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Daniel Sobotka of the Riverkings is listed as 6-6.  He is the tallest guy on the ice.  Remarkably so.

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This didn’t go in.

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The final, the Riverkings beat the Pensacola Ice Pilots for the third time in a row, 3-1.  A more evenly matched affair, Pensacola turned up the effort in the end, but could not get one past the ‘Kings.

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BUT WE ARE NOT DONE!  We still have a jersey auction and a post-game skate.

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Here’s how the Riverkings run their jersey auction.  The bidding would start and the highest bid would win a jersey.  That winner would get their pick of jersey, then the bidding would start again.  The next high bidder got to choose from what was left.  I thought this was a cool way of doing it, so you could pay a little more to get the jersey you wanted, rather than wait for a player’s name to come up and a bitter bidding way to start.  It kept the pace of the auction moving along as well, unlike San Antonio where it took a long time to get though.  If I remember correctly, highest bid was around $700 and lowest was around $250.  The auctioneer wasn’t well prepared and had to be coached along as to what was going on, but once he got on board, things picked up nicely.

While that was happening, there was a skate with the players going on.

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Every so often, they would come off the ice to give up their jersey to the auction.

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If you are a pure NHL fan, I hope this illustrates how close the fans are to the players, both in terms of proximity and of connection.  There are a lot of good reasons this sort of thing doesn’t happen with players earning millions of dollars.  There are many more good reasons it happens at this level.

The players take time to skate with the younger fans.

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Then it was head shaving time.

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Not all the players were so “lucky.”

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And that does it from Mississippi.  One more Riverkings game to go.  Looking forward to it.

Mississippi Riverkings vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers: What Is That Thing?

Sometimes, a game is simply a game.  There isn’t a lot of depth or wackiness to the thing.  You go, you have a good time, you see a hockey game.  Not every game is a transcending experience.  They don’t all have something you have never seen before, or something so remarkable that it requires some long exposition.

This is one of those games.

Rather then make it out to be something it isn’t, let’s simply enjoy the experience of a fun hockey game together.  This coming weekend is the Pink in the Rink game, and I will have more pictures from that.

Welcome to the Landers Center.

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For all the talk I do about cookie cutter arenas, the Landers Center is not that, at least, not on the outside.  It looks like it tries to honor some of the southern Antebellum architecture style (yes, I had to look it up).  There are even some highlights of that in the concourses.

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It looks completely cosmetic, but it’s great to see a building try to be somewhat modern while being stylish as well.

Let’s head inside.

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This was taken at the second intermission, so no snarking on the crowd.  The crowd was great.  They had more life than I’ve seen at some NHL games.  They love their Riverkings.

We got to the game a little late, due to some work scheduling issues (not mine, as I don’t have a job (but if you have one for me, that contact page is here)), so we missed a few goals, and the Riverkings led the game 2-1.  Right after we sat down, the Riverkings made things interesting my maybe scoring.  At least that’s what the goal judge thought.  Not so much the ref.  In the minor leagues, they don’t have the sort of setup as they have in the NHL.  There is no War Room to call, and the ref’s decision is the final say.  That said, a call was made.  To the goal judge, to see what they saw.

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I admit, I had never seen this before.  There was no goal, so play moved on.

Action!
(click any picture to make it bigger)

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Yes, the lighting in the corners does leave a little to be desired.

There are a few photos and sequences I have here that I call, “what is going on there?”  Such as the legs of the player to the left.

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Or what is the goalie doing here?

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I guess that works.  Here is the goalie making a save and batting the puck away.

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The mascot for the Riverkings is a turtle.  Here is the turtle mascot scaring a kid.

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I’m with you kid, I’m with you.

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This goalie looks almost too perfect for a goalie.  He looks like a drawing or a graphic of a goalie you would use on something that you wanted to convey, “this is what a hockey goalie looks like.”  If you made a silhouette of this guy, he would be the perfect hockey goalie clipart.

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Let’s head to the pro shop to get our puck.  And some… hockey socks?

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Yep, those are hockey socks, and I guess they are for sale.  They look new and unused, maybe overstock from previous games. I like it.

Here is the pink jersey they will wear for their game this weekend.

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That could be the most pink jersey I have ever seen.  Wow.

It was military appreciation night, so there were charities set up in the concourse.  The support dogs were the hit of the night.

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Here are a few Riverkings alternate jerseys for you.

Wait, is that last guy on the wrong side of the glass, or am I?  I am, and I will get to that in a moment.

Back to the action!

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Go Kings Go.

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A few nice goalie sequences.

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And on the other end…

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And back…

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And one more time…

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And that ends the second.  Let’s see what the booster club has.

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You don’t see this often at minor league games, an all you can eat option.

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That includes beer.  If this were an NHL game with NHL prices, you would jump at that price.  Here, it’s a little more friendly to your budget (but not that much more), so if you are hungry, it makes total sense.

Back to the third period!

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Backup goalies.

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The final, YOUR Riverkings 6, the Ice Flyers 2.  Shots on goal were 50-29 favoring the Riverkings.

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But we aren’t done yet.  We get to do a post game skate.

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They actually have a pretty good setup for a post game skate.  This is why I was on the ice side of the glass for that autism jersey above.

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The bench.

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Banners.

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And that does it from the Landers Center.  Yes, it was JUST a hockey game.  But just a hockey game is still a hockey game, and I love a hockey game.  I had a good time, and I’m looking forward to doing it again this weekend.  It’s going to be hard to bring you much that is new from the game on Saturday, other than a lot of pinkness, but I will do my best.

Until then, happy hockey.

Soo Eagles vs. Johnstown Tomahawks: Small All Around

The other day, my Avs fan buddy Hersh posted this on twitter:

So I asked him what he meant.

You know I agree with him.  Part of why I love my travels and these travel posts is the variety of venues and experiences the game has.  It’s the same sport, but the rink can change how you see the game, how the game affects you, and how your “fandom” is shaped.  I’ve lamented the cookie-cutter nature of the modern venue, and I’m going to do it again in the next travel post.

There is something about going to the War Memorial for a game that harkens back to “old-time hockey,” even if the game on the ice has moved on.   When you walk into the McMorran Place Arena in Port Huron, MI, you know hockey has been played there, games that meant something to the people on the ice and in the stands, years before you came through.  The quirkiness of Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo or Hara Arena in Dayton add to the game, even if it seems like it would take away from it.

And so does the home of the Soo Eagles, in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  Don’t confuse this with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL.  There are two Sault Ste. Maries, one in Canada and one in the US, facing off across the St. Mary’s River and the Soo Locks.  This one is firmly planted in the USA.

Welcome to Pullar Stadium.

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Let’s be fair.  Calling this a stadium is like calling my old apartment in Denver a luxury suite.  Stadium may be technically accurate, but it isn’t big enough to own that sort of title.  This is a rink.

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And it feels like a rink.  It’s small, but bigger than the arena in Janesville, WI.  It has a lot of character.  There isn’t much in the way of amenities, but that’s not a bad thing, as we will soon see.  No luxury boxes, no video screen, and you get the impression that asking the fans about these omissions would get you laughed at.  It doesn’t need those things.  They would just get in the way of the hockey.

It feels homey.  It’s a place you could come to and feel like it’s your rink, like this is your place.  This is the kind of place I imagine when I hear about Canadian hockey moms taking their kids to the rink at six in the morning.

It feels like hockey.

It’s also very quirky.  For example, entering the stands from below.

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The stairs pop up in the front row of seating.

The hallway under the bleachers lead you around the ice, but you can only walk around one side and the ends of the arena.  The locker rooms take up the bench side of the rink.  You have to go through the stands if you want to get around that side of the rink.

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See the stairs that lead from the seating area to the benches?  The visitors had security guards at their bench, but I can’t imagine anything happening in this rink.  It feels too cozy and nice to have any shenanigans going on.

Also, the benches are separated from each other by the neutral zone.  They start inside the blue line and extend towards the goal line.  You can see how close the face-off circle is to the near end of the bench.  It’s a lot like Dayton in that respect.  The second period long change is very long here.

Tickets were general admission and dirt cheap.  There is one stand for concessions and another for beer sales.  The team merchandise store is practically a closet.

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The angled panels above the benches are the underside of the seating area of the rink.  They look like they were added later.  Why do I say that?

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Oh, no reason.

The lobby.  There are some great pictures in the display cases by the doors.

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Trophies.

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Another weird thing was the penalty boxes.  For the visitors, they simply stepped in the box and sat down.  For the Soo players, they open the door, step in, take a left, walk several steps, then sit down. It’s a little hard to describe.  You can see what I mean.  Look at where the door on the right is versus the players sitting in the penalty box.  It’s even labeled as such.

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The fans can walk down the steps from the stands to the penalty boxes and chat with a player.  I didn’t see it happen, but there is no separation from the players and the stands.  Note what looks like a security guard at the Tomahawk’s box.

Stick around until the end for the last quirky thing about this rink, something I have never seen before.

Enough of this jibber-jabber.  The teams are taking the ice (photo credit to Meg for this one):

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Action!

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Note the guy walking by the action.  The seating is that high.

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The steps down to the penalty box.

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At intermission, they honored the local students of the month.  Note the height of the mascot.

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We moved to the other side for the second and third periods. Action!

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In the second period, Johnstown’s goalie, Ryan Bednard, suffered an equipment issue.  His mask broke and he couldn’t fix it quickly.  He came to the bench and got the backup goalies mask.  That didn’t fit, so he was subbed out until it could be repaired.

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The backup, Andy Lee, got set in net, the puck dropped and the Soo Eagles scored on him.  Shortly after that, Bednard returned to the net.  Looking at the NAHL stats, Lee hasn’t played a game since.

More action! That’s a goal.

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Snack time. Yes, there are deals to be had here. And POUTINE!?!?!?  I missed this before!  What a fool I am!

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Let’s head back to the game.  Yeah, I know, you don’t need to see more stairs, but it’s so weird.

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Action!

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Hey, this doesn’t look very sporting.

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This looks alright.

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The third period got chippy, but there were no fighting majors handed out.

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This game had it all, including a penalty shot.

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Glove save.

We headed to overtime and with 51 seconds left, the Soo Eagles put one away on the power play.  The final, Soo Eagles 2, Johnstown Tomahawks 1.  The game sheet is here.  Had it not been for the equipment issue of the starting goalie, this could have been a 1-0 shutout for the visitors.

The last strange thing about this rink has to do with the Zamboni.  This wasn’t your typical ice scrape.  Everything looks normal until the guy with the shovel comes out and heads to the end of the rink.

Then he opens a little door.

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The Zamboni finishes it’s scrape and heads to the end of the rink.  The scraper is lifted and the back towel is removed.

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The Zamboni drives away, leaving the slush behind, and the guy shovels it into the door in the boards.

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The Zamboni drives back to its entrance and then BACKS IN.  Also, did you notice the doors open towards the rink, and not away?

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Like I said, it’s strange.

I highly recommend heading to the Soo to see a game.  It’s not the first winter vacation destination you could come up with, but Pullar Stadium is the perfect argument for seeing a game outside the NHL stadium system.  It’s hockey at its core, no bells and whistles.  Just a game, right there in front of you.  Nothing to get in the way.

Don’t worry about the lack of amenities.  You won’t miss them.

Green Bay Gamblers vs. Madison Capitols: Home and Home Part 2

This is the second of the back to back games between the Green Bay Gamblers and the Madison Capitols of the NAHL.  If you missed the first part of the series, it’s here.

The Green Bay Gamblers have, oddly enough, been on my list of teams to see for a while.  Why?  I have no idea.  It’s just always been a team that has stuck in the back of my mind ever since I heard of them.

Welcome to the Resch Center. (click any photo to make bigger)

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Is it just me or does this look like the habitat the Mars One people would love to live in?  If the Madison Capitols arena looked like an old Funkadelic space ship, this looks like one Bruno Mars would tour with.  Very sci-fi.

Safety first.

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Frankly, I would like to see more moshing and crowd surfing at hockey games.  Mostly in the beer garden areas, but that’s just me.

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The inside is a lot like an older Boston University arena.  It’s steep, the seats are a similar color, and… and…. let’s just forget I said anything.

Let’s take a look at those seats for a moment.

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Yeah, they are kind of weird, and yet they are super utilitarian, and not uncomfortable.  Note that I did not say they were comfortable.  But they get out of the way when you need them to, and are roomier than you expect.

The name Resch Center comes from Dick Resch, the CEO of KI, an office furniture company.  You can see a picture of Mr. Resch here, as well as read a lot of corporate speak and history about the company. Those seats, I was told by an usher, were made by KI.  They also have a showroom at the arena.  So now you know.

The concourses are rather wide, and we never had to fight the crowds (and there were crowds later).

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I’m not entirely sure what the mascot is.  A gambler?  That is paying off his debts?

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Like the Madison arena, the Resch Center has a beer garden on the end of the rink.

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As far as beer goes, they have a lot of it, for this is Wisconsin, and it is a good deal for arena beer.

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But we have not come to talk about hops, we have come to talk about hockey.  First, we have warmups and a little sizing up to be done.

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Ohhh… Scary….

Action!

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Nice toe save.

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Second period action. Another nice save.

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And back at the other end, a good glove save. DSC_8559_GBG

What the heck is going on here?

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More action.

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Hey goalie, you suck.  Or at least the crowd thinks you do, and would like for you to know it.

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Nice.

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Second intermission featured the main staple of chuck-a-puck, which WE WON!!! Well, us and about forty of our closest friends.  We won a free sandwich from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit… with the purchase of a drink.  I feel like a winner.

Third period action.

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Another save.

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The third period solved nothing, so we went to overtime.

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Nope! For the second night in a row, we went to the shootout.

Nope!

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Nope!

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Nope!

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YEP!!!

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The final, the Madison Capitols win 4-3 over the Green Bay Gamblers in the shootout.  They win both games of the home and home in the shootout.  Here is the game sheet.

A few tips about going to Green Bay for a game.

  • Go when the Green Bay Packers are not in town.  The arena is right next to Lambeau Field, and game days must be crazy.  I hope the league schedules road games for the Gamblers on those weekends.
  • If you are going to eat at Brett Farve’s Steakhouse as a lark, understand that it is an expensive lark.  Also, it isn’t worth it.  We saw a few guys in their hunter’s camo and jeans sit down for dinner, look at the prices, and promptly walk out.  Also, there are Brett Farve name wines on the menu.  We decided against them.

We had a good time, but what we were really looking forward to was the next night, headed to Sault St. Marie, MI for a game.

Soon.  Soon.

Madison Capitols vs. Green Bay Gamblers: Home and Home Part 1

I was lucky enough to take in a home and home weekend between the Madison Capitols and the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL.  Madison played host on a Friday night with the Gamblers hosting on Saturday.

Welcome to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Looks like a spaceship, doesn’t it? The Veterans Memorial Coliseum is on the Alliant Energy Center campus.  Frankly, I don’t entirely understand what that means.  The place looks like a large fairgrounds, much like where they hold the Texas State Fair in Dallas, TX.  I drove in at night, so I didn’t get a great look at it.  But there are livestock barns and agricultural buildings on the grounds.

And they charge $7 for parking.  It’s a pet peeve of mine.

The University of Wisconson – Madison used to play hockey here.  I bet the place was rocking for Badgers games.  Let’s go inside.

First stop, the lobby to buy a ticket.  And… oh my.

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That is some special carpet.  So special, I had to get a few photos of it.

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Wow.

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Don’t you want that for your next 70’s themed party?

The ticket cost me $18.50.  A bottle of water was $3.50.  This isn’t exactly a bargain.

Let’s just hope the arena is better.  Let’s head to the concourse and… oh… my….

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OK, but what about the arena itself?  Well, it’s big.

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It reminds me of the Scope in Norfolk, VA or the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, OR.  It feels gigantic.

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The seats at the ends are covered up, but there is a beer garden at ice level.

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1980 Olympic gold medalist Bob Suter, who passed away recently, played here with the UWM Badgers.

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But it’s just about game time.  Please rise for the singing of our national anthem.

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If you go to a game in Madison, here’s a tip.  Sit in the first few rows of the upper “bowl.”  The lower bowl is very flat, so you wind up sitting up on the edge of your seat a lot to see the action.  But the arena staff doesn’t hold people out of the game when the puck is in play.  And the spacial awareness of the fans is not at its peak.

In other words, when the game is on, they tend to roam around.  They like to stand.

In the aisles…

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At their seats…

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Along the glass…

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Stand stand stand.  And if the rake of the seating area was steeper, it would be fine. But even the ushers get in on the actions.

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Really?

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Come on!

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Fine. Let’s get to the action. Here we… what the heck is going on here?

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Just like coach drew it up.

Alright, well. Let’s move on. And… OH COME ON!!!

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What the…?

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Sure. How about a break in the action. Those are kids shoveling the ice by the players.  Note the discrepancy in height.

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And a little chuck-a-puck.

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OK. Enough of that. Game on.

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AHHHH!!!! YOU ARE STANDING!  WHY ARE YOU STANDING!!! THE GAME IS GOING ON RIGHT THERE!!!

The penalty boxes are a little weird.  Normally the timekeeper’s booth is between the boxes.  These are next to each other and skinny.  The Capitols’ box saw lots of first period action, as Madison took five penalties to Green Bay’s two. There were six total in the second period, two in the third.

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What you can’t see in that photo is the worst DJ at a hockey game I have ever heard.  Playing songs from his computer, there was more gratuitous scratching than a big and hairy flea circus.  I don’t even know what that means, but it was bad.

Hey guys, guess you know you are standing up and people are behind you, right? Yeah, I guess you do.

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That’s a goal.

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This one would go to the shootout.  Only one goal would be scored.  And I’m here to tell you, if you think every hockey fan doesn’t like the shootout, you would be wrong.  They loved it in Madison.

Nope.

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Nope.

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YEP!

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Nope!!!

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Your final, Madison beats Green Bay 4-3 in the shootout.  The game sheet is here.

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An OK game, but obviously I will be sitting a little further back next time.  It was a little hard to get into with all the distractions.  Speaking of distractions, I’ll leave out what the people behind me were talking about during the game.  Some things do not need repeating on the blog.  Ask me in person some time.

The crowd was rocking, and it can’t be easy to get a good crowd in when you live in the shadow of Bucky the Badger.  Wisconsin is all about the college hockey.  But maybe hockey is just hockey here, and they take anything they can get.  Or the Capitols are good at drawing a crowd.  Either way, the fans had a good time.

Time to get ready for the other half of the home and home.

‘Sup, bro.

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Danville Dashers vs. Steel City Warriors: Start Somewhere

When I went to the season opener of the Dayton Demonz, their opponent was the Danville Dashers.  It was a given I was going to stop in for a Dashers game if one was reachable.  It turned out I could get to one when I was on vacation in Chicago.  2 1/2 hours of driving later, it was game time.

Welcome to the David S. Palmer Arena.

(As ever, clicking on the picture makes it bigger. You want bigger, don’t you?)

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Come through the front doors, take a left…

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Walk a little further…

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And you are ready for some hockey.

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Pucks chilling in the ice water.

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There is a certain level of grunge to the arena.  Like the dehumidifiers bolted to the beams over the ice.

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Keep in mind where we are.  We are at a game between the Danville Dashers and the Steel City Warriors of the Federal Hockey League.  This is A level hockey.  It’s three steps below the NHL.  A shiny coat of paint isn’t on tap, and maybe the David S. Palmer could use one, it isn’t coming any time soon.  This is what gives a rink character.  There is an industrial feel to the place.  It isn’t perfect, but it has its charms.  But like Pig Pen from the Peanuts, the charm lies under a layer of grime.  And maybe some of the charm is from that grime.

Coming into this game, the Steel City Warriors were not doing well.  The FHL season started with six teams, including the Southwest PA Magic.  The Magic played one game and promptly folded, not even making it to their home opener.  New ownership has came along and rescued the team, but it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Warriors.  They had yet to win a game.  We will get to the reasons why in a moment.

At one end of the Palmer, they store their ice bumper cars. Yes, ice bumper cars.  I really want to try this.

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The players take the ice, we hear the starting lineups, and then the announcer asks us to rise for the singing of our national anthem.

Then he sings the national anthem.

And he messes up the words.

Just a few, but he got it wrong.  I don’t know, maybe the regular singer wasn’t available on a Wednesday night.  Maybe this is just how they do things in Danville, but if you are going to sing the anthem, get it right.

Action!  Oh, and since neither the home nor away teams are wearing white, the Dashers are wearing orange.

This went in.

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Merch

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Yes, the Zamboni has antlers.  Fairly awesome.

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Back to the game.

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The fight.

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The single fight of the night felt staged and gratuitous, and pointed to what was wrong with the Warriors.  After a few punches were traded, the Warriors’ Nicola Levesque (listed as normally wearing number 25 but in this game wearing 13) shook Danville’s Clinton Atkinson off-balance, and that was the end of the fight.  Levesque signed to a contract with the Dashers earlier in the season, he was cut and wound up with the Warriors.  Maybe that was what prompted the fight.

Still, the fight was characteristic of the play for the Warriors.  After taking a few shots, Levesque seemed to have enough.  He didn’t want to get hit.  Throughout the game, none of the Warriors were willing to take a hit to make a play.  I’m not a fan of being hit either, but I don’t play professional hockey (and at this level, yes, it’s professional hockey).  The Dashers were more than willing to do some hitting.  The Warriors looked shy and weak.  They looked like they had something better to do tomorrow, something they wanted to look good for.  The Dashers were happy to take advantage.

The goalie keeps his eye on the puck.

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That’s a goal.

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What the heck happened here?

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Want a drink?  I’ve seen better bars in the basement of my Aunt’s house.

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When was the last time you saw a goal like that?  Old school.

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I like the older logo for the Dashers more than the new one.  The new one is nice, but there is something about the old one that speaks to me.  It’s perfectly of its time, but would look great on a jersey today. I don’t know why they have Blackhawks Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters.

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These guys stood most of the game.  No one minded.  They had a great time.

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One of the Dashers got injured in the third period.  When he got up off the ice, the trainer simply grabbed him by the waist of his hockey pants and pulled him up off the ice.  Then he went to get bandaged up, but not in the locker room.  Just… you know… over there.

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Nice save.

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Something at the end of the game pissed off the ref.  I have no idea what, but he has some words for the Warriors players.  He even barked at them as they skated off the ice.

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Whatever the issue, the Warriors just got smacked around with a 7-2 loss.  Taking that into consideration, maybe the Warriors don’t need a lot of guff.  He called a decent game, but I don’t think I’ve seen a more flamboyant ref.

So yeah, your final, Danville 7, Steel City 2.  The game sheet is here.

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So what did I think of the Dashers experience?  It was fun, but the crowd was oddly quiet.  It was the quietest game I’ve been to in a long time.  It was less animated than the first period of a Colorado Avalanche home game, and that’s saying something.  I felt the in-game entertainment (music, announcements, etc) could have done a better job of keeping the crowd in it.  I appreciated that the music wasn’t blaring and the announcer wasn’t blasting our ears off (like the Demonz), but the volume was inconsistent, the choices were off, and it made the experience a little flat (they also forgot to mention a misconduct penalty given at the very end of the second period).  We don’t need a call to MAKES SOME NOISE!!! every break, but the crowd didn’t seem engaged in the action.  Or if they were, they didn’t show it.  The Dashers could do a better job of entertaining the fans.  The on-ice product did a fine job.  They could work on the other stuff.

There is a part of me that feels like I should apologize for my criticisms.  Other than screwing up the words for the national anthem, they are doing the best they can.  It is a good very low-budget operation.  There might be a lack of experience, there could simply be not enough in the kitty to pay for everything you want in an organization.  If I felt they didn’t care, I would flat-out say so, but that obviously isn’t the case.  They are trying very hard with limited resources, and it shows.

What they do have is a sense of community.  The crowd knew each other, and they were spending time at the rink together.  I saw many examples of families and friends meeting up to chat, then move on to their seats.  It’s something you don’t experience at a sold-out NHL game.  I mean, come on, there was a table set up with cupcakes on it for a birthday party.  It’s more like a junior high school game on a Saturday afternoon, in a good way.  You only get that when there is space to spread out a bit, when you can have a conversation with the people around you.  You get it when you don’t have to fight the loud music, or battle the announcer for someone’s attention.  So yes, I just said they needed to work on the entertainment, but it’s a balance.

The Dashers could use some support.  They need more sponsorships and advertisers (as far as I can tell, they have one major sponsor, and that’s a real estate person).  They need to clean a few things up about their operation.  I’m sure they are aching for some press, to get the word out about the team.  But they have something else as well.  They have people showing up on a Wednesday night to cheer the boys on, maybe in a reserved way, but they are there.  They have some love for the team.

That’s something to build on.

Hockey Hole

Rockford IceHogs vs. Texas Stars: Trek Into Darkness

Pull the blindfold down
So your eyes can’t see
Now run as fast as you can
Through this field of trees

Editors : Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors

There are all kinds of hockey arenas out there.  Big, small, beautiful, ugly.  Some have character, some have little to no character (I’m looking at you, Ontario, California), and some have so much character, they should have their own sitcom.

The BMO Harris Bank Center….. Wait a minute, wasn’t I just here?

No, the Milwaukee Admirals play in the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  The IceHogs play in the BMO Harris Bank Center.  And what a bank center it is.

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Wow.  That’s a… That’s some… OK, I don’t know what it is.  It’s…. utilitarian looking.  Yeah, it looks like it’s… functional.

I didn’t get much of a look at the outside of the building.  I was here eight years ago when the IceHogs were a part of the UHL, and I don’t remember much about the building then either.  It’s not the prettiest of things, but considering it is a smaller arena in the middle of downtown Rockford, IL, I wasn’t expecting the Sydney Opera House.

What matters is what’s inside.  So let’s head in.

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OK, here we go.  And…. wait…

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Hold on, what….

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Did someone forget to turn the lights on?

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Surely, they can’t mean for it to be this dark in here, right?

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Oh man.  Welcome to what you can see of the BMO Harris Bank Center.  This was the darkest rink I have ever been in.  It was like being in a production of Les Miserable (and I would know).  I felt a major separation from what was happening on the ice and what was happening in the crowd.  It made the far end of the ice seem like it was in another building.  Between myself and the fans, there was us and them, and them was only a section or two over.

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The pregame had players vomited from the mouth of an angry pig.  I am all for players being vomited forth from inflatables.  There was a time when I wasn’t, but I believe I have come around.

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Once the pregame is over, the lights on the ice snap to full brightness, further alienating the crowd from the hockey.  The lights here appeared to be LED fixtures, which looked a lot better than I expected them to.

When I go to a game, I like to sit on the sides, preferably on the penalty box side.  Maybe this is conditioning from watching games on TV, but I feel close to the action at either end.  When I’m in an upper corner, the action on the far end feels very distant, and here I was five rows or so from the top of the arena.  Not where I would normally choose to sit.

The reason I didn’t sit where I usually would was that this was a free game.  Yes, you read that right, every ticket to the game was free.  I had no idea this was happening.  I had never heard of such a thing.  A professional hockey team hosting a free regular season game?  When I showed up to the BMO Harris Bank Center, I was greeted with a sign that said the game was sold out.  My heart sank, but I went to the box office and they handed me a single ticket.  My row, in fact, had only four other people sitting in it.  There were plenty of no-shows for the game.

But as I said, I was far away from the action on the other end.

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But on my end, it was a fun game.

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The most brightly lit area of the arena is the team store.

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What the heck is this?

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Speaking of the Blackhawks, the parent club for the IceHogs, they were hosting the Dallas Stars that evening, parent club to the Texas Stars.  I wonder if it was planned that way.

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Second period action.  That is Antti Raanta in net.

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Framed pictures of some past specialty jerseys.

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Is this taking the pig thing too far?

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Mmmm….. Tasty…

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Around the rink.

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This is a goal.  Good try by Stars goaltender Jack Campbell.

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Twice at breaks in the action, they played Billy Idol’s cover of Mony Mony, to which the crowd would chant “Hey-Guess-What-Your-Goalie-Sucks.”  I guess they really mean it.

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The Stars tried to make it interesting in the end, pulling within one with a few minutes left.

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Your final, the IceHogs beat the Texas Stars 3-2.  Game sheet is here. The one unusual moment was the unsportsmanlike penalty given to IceHog Pierre-Cedric Labrie at the end of the first period, for shooting the puck on net after the horn.  I’m not sure the crowd realized it happened, and there wasn’t an explanation given at the start of the period.  The IceHogs were simply starting the second killing a penalty.

I had a good time at the game.  It was, as I said, the darkest arena I have ever been in, and the hockey felt very textbook at times, but it was a solid game with a crowd that liked their hockey.  Can you ask for much more than that?

Maybe someone turn on a light switch.

How I Shoot Hockey Games

Many times, no one asks me what I use and how I photograph hockey games.  Well, finally, here is the answer to the questions no one asks me.

Before this year, I would take two cameras to a game, a Panasonic point-and-shoot like the Lumix ZS20, and a bridge camera (between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR), such as the Panasonic DMC-FZ28.  I like the Panasonic because their photos looked great for the camera.  They weren’t high-end cameras, but they worked well enough.

Now I have a  DSLR and I love it.  I got the least expensive Nikon, the D3300.  It doesn’t have some of the features of the higher end models, but it does a great job.  It’s 24MP, which is a ton.  Since I am not very close to the action, I use that resolution to crop the photos to a better size and framing.

Professional photographers set up their shots so they don’t need to fix it with cropping later.  They also have big and expensive zoom lenses that are super fast and multiple cameras to put them on.  I don’t have that luxury.  I have four lenses that do the job.

a Nikon 18-200mm VR general purpose zoom

a Nikon 50mm fast fixed lens

a Nikon 35mm fast fixed lens

a Tamron 10-24mm superwide lens

The main lens I use for game action is the 50mm.  The reason is it has an f1.8, which means it can capture a huge amount of light.  That means I can get a really fast shutter speed, which stops the motion of the game.  What I can’t do is control how close the action is.

If I can take two lenses in, it’s the 18-200mm zoom and the 50mm.  If I can get the 10-24mm in, great.  If I could only take one, probably the 35mm.  But the 50mm is the one I take for action.

For camera settings, I use an auto-ISO, set the minimum shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second, and the max ISO to 1600.  That keeps the shot mostly noise-free and the shutter is fast enough to freeze the action.  It also means I don’t have to do as much work to keep the shutter speed fast.  The knob on top is set to P (Program mode).  I use a center point for auto-focus, rather than a multi-point AF setting.  I have burst mode on, and can usually get six pictures off before the buffer fills up.  Also, I shoot in RAW, and not JPG format.

For processing, I haven’t used Photoshop in a little while.  I use DxO OpticsPro 10.  It does all the usual photo processing tricks, but it also corrects for lens distortion (when a lens warps the image).  It’s really neat stuff, and brings the details out of the photos.  What it does to the ice is simply amazing.  It can be hard to get the right exposure of the players on the bright ice.  DxO makes this easy.  Software doesn’t usually make me say wow.  This software does.

Here is an example.  The first image is an unprocessed image converted to JPG from a RAW image format.  The second one was corrected with DxO.  You see a lot more detail in the ice and the colors pop more in the second one.  It also looks a little sharper.  In the upper right corner of the picture, you can see how the distortion was corrected in banners on the wall.

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The last thing is that for game action, I crop photos.  A lot.  I use the 50mm lens for its speed, but that means I can’t get the exact framing I want.  I crop and adjust the framing on a lot of the photos, again in DxO.  I export with the biggest side of an image at 1500px wide at 72pixels per inch (standard non-retina display resolution).  That keeps the file size down, but it still looks good.

For example, this is converted to JPG from RAW with no corrections.

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This is the corrected version:

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Then I cropped it down to get this:

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I almost went with this, but chose the first one instead:

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I like both of the cropped versions.  I just wanted something a little different and wanted to highlight the puck under the pad.

My photos are nowhere near as good as the ones real sports photography pros get.  I don’t have their gear nor their experience.  As my gear shows, you don’t need super expensive gear to get decent results.  My 50mm lens cost $216 new.  That’s dirt cheap.

But also, I’m going for something different.  I’m not looking for the perfect photo.  I’m not going for that one moment.  I like to get a sense of the place, the crowd, and the game.  I want to capture the experience.  I want to take people to the arena.

Hopefully, you enjoy coming along for the ride.

West Bend Bombers vs. Monroe Blues: Somebody Scream

The road to Hell is paved.  It leads up US-45 in Wisconsin, takes exit 68 to Pleasant Drive, then a right on South Main.  There, in a small building set neatly into a hill, lies the Kettle Moraine Ice Center.  It’s gatekeepers dress in Blaze Orange.  They know your weaknesses.

For the Monroe Blues on Saturday night, Hell took the form of 200 feet by 85 feet of ice, and while lasting only sixty minutes of game time, it will likely stick with the players forever.

For the rest of us, it was a jaw-dropping display of domination in hockey.

Welcome to Hell.  I mean, the Kettle Moraine Ice Center.

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The Kettle Moraine IC is home to the West Bend Bombers, of the Great Lakes Hockey League.  Founded in 1937, the GLHL is not a pro league.  Here is how they describe themselves:

All GLHL franchises are non-profit organizations organized by volunteer in their local communities. The teams compete in a 20-30 game regular season schedule starting as early as October and finishing as late as April each year.

The GLHL features players above the age of 18 who have college hockey, junior hockey, and semi-pro experience in other leagues. This provides a unique opportunity for players to continue playing hockey in a meaningful, competitive environment.

The league follows USA Hockey rules, with games featuring three 20 minute stop time periods. It is the ONLY traveling full check adult amateur hockey league in the United States.

So it’s high level beer league hockey?  I wouldn’t say that, but it isn’t a high level pro league.  The players have skills, there is checking involved, but there is also the cautiousness of people who have to be at work on Monday, and the in a few cases, the physiques of people who have desk jobs rather than athletic gigs.

As you would expect from a team that plays in the GLHL, their rink is not an arena.  Much like the Janesville Jets, they play in a rec rink, but this one is a little bigger.

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You still have seating on only one side of the ice, and there are less rows, but the place seems like it can handle a bigger crowd.

(as ever, click any photo to make it bigger)

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Rather than the walkway around the rink running in front of the seating area, here it runs above and behind the fans.  The first row of seats is against the glass, with your feet at the top of the boards.  With the netting protecting the crowd from flying pucks running the length of the ice, it was either sit close and deal with the glass or back and deal with the netting.  I chose close.

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When it came to talking pictures, the glass was a challenge.  The camera wasn’t sure where to focus, on the action on the ice or the reflection on the glass.  Some of these are going to have those reflections.  That’s the way it goes.

The lobby of the Kettle looks like any other rec rink.  The game ticket cost five dollars, unless you wore blaze orange (I call it hunter orange).  Then your ticket was two dollars.

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I saw a list of home games with a promotions schedule.  Other than the first and last home game of the season and veterans appreciation night (where veterans get in free), there was some reason every game that a ticket would be discounted to two dollars.  That means the season could cost you around $30 to attend.

If you are used to four-dollar bottles of water and six-dollar hot dogs, brace yourself.

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The beer was pretty cheap as well, but the line for the concessions was longer than the line for beer.  This is Wisconsin hockey?

The crowd was almost as colorful as the blaze orange that they wore.  This guy ran the goal siren.  He told me it came out of a 1940s fire engine, and that he built the switch box himself.  Yes, those are jumper cables from a car jump-starter.  What could possibly go wrong?

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Tutus seemed to also be the rage here.

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Before we get to the game, a modest proposal.

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I have seen a proposal at a game go horribly wrong.  This one went horribly well.  They actually gave the guy the mic, which I didn’t think was a good idea.  He made a very short speech about making a promise to this woman.  It was almost like a professional wrestler proposing at Summer Slam.  She said yes.

With that out of the way, the players were ready, I was ready, and the ref, he was a little on the fence about it.

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Game on.  Let’s see some action.

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This is a checking league, but the checking is not like what you see in the professional leagues.  Checking in this league does not mean finishing your check.  It’s simply a hit to get the other player off the puck. There were some big hits, but there were also different choices being made about hitting the player or playing the puck.  Guys were still playing the body, but ‘finishing your check’ was less frequent than what is seen at the upper levels.

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While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it was a good balance.  It’s not MMA, it’s not extreme devastation, but it’s still hitting.  And frankly, the West Bend Bombers didn’t need to do a ton of hitting.  All they needed was skating and passing, which they had plenty of.

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The Bombers are also a big team.  They were on average a head taller than the Monroe Blues.  Whoever built this team knew what he was looking for.  They were big and quick.

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That can’t be legal.

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What about fighting?  The league runs off USA Hockey rules, and has USA Hockey refs. Fighting is rare, and carries a heftier penalty than a professional league does.  There was one fight, which was more like a pummeling by Bomber Andy Parrot after he was cross-checked twice in the face by Blues player Alex Landen.  Parrot got a good cross-check in himself, but after he took his second one to the head, he decided to drop the gloves.  It was as one-sided as a fight gets.

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Hell can look like many things.  French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre said in No Exit that hell was other people.  Hell, to the Monroe Blues, is a 16-0 blowout loss.  It doesn’t get much worse than that.

After the first period, the Blues were only down 2-0, but the shots on goal favored the Bombers 24-2.  Nearly all the action happened in the Blues end of the ice.

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After that, things went from bad to worse.  After the fifth goal, something happened that I had never seen before.  The goaltender for the Blues pulled himself.

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I don’t know if, at this level, there is a real coach for these teams, but I had never seen a goalie skate off like this without prompting.  He was done, but math tells us that the Bombers are not.  There are still eleven goals to come.

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It was a long night for the Blues.

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Around the far corner of the rink are the rowdy fans.  You knew there would be rowdy fans in this crowd, right?

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They keep track of the action.  The signs taped to the glass are night words of encouragement, they are hand-made rosters.

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Note number 22, “Paulie the traitor Morris.”  Here he is.

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Morris used to play for the Bombers, but changed teams.  The crowd let him have it early and often.  Of all the demoralized players at the end of the game, number 22 looked the saddest.  The shoulders slumped, he stopped skating.  I wanted to know what was going though his mind.

Back to the action.

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The many goals of the second period.

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Like it or not, sixty minutes of hockey has to be played in some fashion.  The only mercy rules usually have to deal with whether or not the clock is put into run time, where the play may stop but the clock keeps going.  If you are on the losing side of a score like this, you stay out there, do what you can and try to laugh it off later.

If you are the team on top, you still have to play hockey.  You may not celebrate as hard, but you still skate, you still shoot, and if you are the West Bend Bombers, you still score.

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Bombers goalie Billy Sias didn’t have a lot of work, facing only fourteen shots, but he still looked good.

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At the game, I sat next to Anne, who comes from Appleton, WI.  She wanted me to pass on this message to Fox Cities Ice Dogs fans.

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Things were generally friendly after the game.  What can you do?

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There was almost no yelling a the refs.  There was the usual grumbling over a missed call or two, but none of the vitriol you see at a professional game.  Perhaps it’s the lack of stakes in an amateur league, maybe the USA Hockey aspect of it, but it was really nice.  I didn’t miss it.

After the game, it was party time.  For the refs, at least.  They earned it.

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The players came out and signed stuff for the fans.

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Your final 16-0 West Bend Bombers.  The game sheet is here.

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I would come back for more GLHL hockey.  I had a great time here.  The fans were fun, the hockey was solid, and the value is unbeatable.  No, it isn’t the NHL, it isn’t the minors, and it isn’t junior hockey.  But it’s something you can get behind, a team to root for, and if you catch it on the right night, it can be hell on ice.

At least for one team.

Janesville Jets vs Austin Bruins: Close For Comfort

When you go to a minor league hockey game, you are almost guaranteed to be seated in an arena, or some sort of professional facility.  Many are old and decaying, many have a certain character and uniqueness that came from the era they were built in.  But with few exceptions (Danbury comes to mind), you will see your hockey in an arena.

Jump to the American junior leagues and that guarantee goes away.  You still have arenas that are professional buildings – at what scale could be questioned – but you also have teams that play in re-purposed rec rinks.  The Keystone Ice Miners and their cavernous home is one.  The Janesville Jets and the Janesville Ice Arena is another.

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To call it an arena is generous.  It’s a rec rink.  This is not a slam on the practice of hosting a team in a rec rink.  You dance with the one you brought, or maybe, you skate at the one you got.  Junior hockey plays where the rinks and the fans are.  Preferably, the travel is reasonable, but if you have a place to put a team, you plunk it down and go.

The Janesville Ice Arena is on par with a few of the rec rinks I’ve played in.  There isn’t much of a lobby and half of the surrounding area around the ice is off limits to the public, so space is limited.  When you have 453 people in the rink, it becomes difficult to find space to move around it.

453?  Really?  It seemed like more than that.  And here is why.  The place is small.

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More than once, a puck that was cleared high hit the ceiling and play was stopped.

The seating area is small, and the upper seats look a little obstructed.

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Sit too high up and the beams will cut off your line of sight.  So you sit lower, but the angle of the seats to the action is such that you strain to see over the crowd around you.

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For instance, the kids above are participating in a contest on the walkway around the rink.  I’m in the third row, the people in front of the shot are in the second.  You see how weird it is to watch the game here.  Also, see that netting?  It is in front of the entire seating area.  So we were safe from flying pucks, but the clearest view you got was through the glass.  Every seat in the place was a compromise.

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Unfortunately, that also meant that my camera wanted to auto-focus on the partitions rather than the action on the ice.  I corrected this after I realized what was going on, but it caused many shots to look like this:

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Those are some nice looking stanchions.  So getting good shots of the action was a challenge.  Here is what I got that I liked.

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Much of the action to my right was obscured, so most of the shots are to my left.

This is a hefty screen shot.

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You know you are in Wisconsin when they sell cheese curds at the game.

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That kid on the left?  Here he is in the air guitar contest.

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The mascot is either super cute or the stuff of nightmares.

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I’m going with nightmares.

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This was not a goal. (click to make bigger)

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Someone at the rink is an Avalanche fan.

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When it was time for chuck-a-puck, they untied and lowered the netting around the seating area.

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The locker room is right there, next to the concession stand and entrance. RIGHT THERE.

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Speaking of concessions, the bottle of water I bought was $1.50.  I did not see what beer prices were.  The value of junior hockey.

Speaking of value, they had game worn jerseys on sale for $100.  That’s dirt cheap.  I thought of it, but before I could make up my mind, the merch room closed.  Probably for the best.

More action!

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Away fans.

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The quote.

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I encourage you to look at the game sheet for this one.  With 1:36 left in the third period, with the game tied at one, Janesville took two roughing minors to Ausitn’s single roughing minor, giving Austin a power play.  The coach was not pleased at all.

There are times when you see a coach behind a bench and know that he is a hot head.  He’s stalking the bench, yelling at everyone, waiving his arms wildly.  Some coaches know when to rein it in, to get control of themselves.  Some use it as an act.  This was not one of those coaches, at least not tonight.

After one Austin player and two Janesville players sat down in the bench, a third Janesville player joined them.  The official announcement came over the PA, Janesville was called for an Abuse of Official minor.  The coach had done himself in.

Refs take a fair amount of abuse all the time in hockey.  They are yelled at for most calls, even for the most obvious and gratuitous of infractions leading to the call.  Lower level refs take it just as much as upper level refs.  I felt this ref did a good job throughout the game. He was in control of the game in the positive way.  He listened to players, talked to players, and knew when he wasn’t going to listen to any more complaining and got on with the game.  He didn’t call a perfect game, but he called a good and fair game.

I don’t know what was said to the ref.  The benches were on the other side of the ice, and the glass was between myself and the action. After watching the ref all night and seeing the coach’s behavior before the call, my benefit of the doubt goes to the ref.  Whatever was said, it crossed the line.  The five-on-four power play was now a five-on-three.

I don’t need to tell you Austin scored, do I?  I don’t need to tell you the game ended 2-1 Bruins, right?  It was destiny at that point.

The coach was not pleased after the game, and let the ref know it.

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Look at the fan walking by on the right.  The coach is STILL going off after walking to the other bench to shake the hand of the opposing coach, and this fan doesn’t even take notice.  Perhaps this is a regular thing.

I know people like this, who will cut their face off despite their nose when it comes to arguing with a ref.  There is nothing you can do to tell them they are wrong, whether you are the ref or a teammate or someone watching the game.  When they are wronged, they can’t be convinced or calmed down.  I wonder how often this has happened to this coach.  I doubt it’s the first or last.

The final, well, I already said, 2-1 Ausitn.  A fun game with lots of closeup action and an unusual ending.

I had a great time watching a game with 453 of my closest friends.