Milwaukee Admirals vs. Iowa Wild: You Shall Not Pass

Last night I returned to an unlikely arena, the Milwaukee Admirals home, the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Not because it has such and unwieldy name, but because the last time I was here, I didn’t expect to return.  One change of lifestyle later (traveling all the time – ALL THE TIME), and here I am.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center (there has to be something better to call it) is also the home of the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA team that no one has heard of.  The owners of the Bucks want a new arena, and they want the fans to pay for it, because that’s the way things work when it comes to arenas and sports teams.  The building is 26 years old, and it isn’t the prettiest thing ever, but it’s not bad.  Of course, that depends on who you ask.  From the Milwaukee Business Journal:

For years, officials from the Milwaukee Bucks, team owner Herb Kohl and other city leaders have claimed that the city’s downtown basketball arena is outdated and not fit for an NBA team. On Wednesday, a top NBA official, soon to be the league’s top executive, made the case clear.

“One obvious issue we all have to deal with is we need a new arena in Milwaukee,” said Adam Silver, deputy National Basketball Association commissioner, speaking of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

For more, check out the coverage on Field of Schemes.

I’ve already stated I do not care for the NBA, so it’s hard to say what I think of the arena as a basketball venue.  As a minor league hockey arena, it’s gigantic and has much more capacity and amenities than the team needs, or they are willing to use.

For instance, there are eight box office windows, four inside and four outside.  Of the four inside, one was open for will call tickets.

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Outside, there were four windows, two of which were open and selling tickets.  It was a slow and cold process.

One person in line said that at the new arena, this wouldn’t  be a problem.  I told him know it was a staffing problem, not a building problem.  When you have only half your box office open, a multimillion dollar building isn’t going to fix what a $15 an hour (but probably less) job would solve.

I’ve already been to an Admirals game, so you can read up a bit more on my first experience here.  I mostly want to share photos.

Welcome (back) to BMO Harris Bradley Center.

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Let’s just get to the action, shall we?

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This was a goal.

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This was not.

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Goalie action. This was a goal.  (Look under his pad)

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This was not.

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Could this be the best jersey in the AHL?  Maybe, but I would prefer a color I could wear more often.  That logo is awesome.

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The hallways of the arena.

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Most of the amenities were closed for the game, but the big bars were open.

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This is not the Zamboni.

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Team store.

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The Admirals lost to the Wild, 3-2.  Milwaukee gave up a goal in the first thirty seconds of the game, and struggled to gain control of the puck throughout.  They played dump-and-chase hockey most of the game, and kept dumping out of their own zone straight to the Iowa players.  It wasn’t pretty hockey.

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While I had a good time at the game, there was nothing transcendent about it.  Nothing special.  But I go to a lot of new places, and this being a repeat, there wasn’t the sense of discovery I usually have at a game.

This weekend will be different.

Lake Erie Monsters vs. Texas Stars: Cleveland Rocks

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I am not a basketball fan.  I don’t have any connection to the sport.  To me, the fact LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers is little more than trivia and something to spout uneducated opinions on.  It makes little to no difference in my life.

Were I a hockey fan that lived in Cleveland, it would mean a heck of a lot to me.  The Lake Erie Monsters are an AHL team that plays in the house that LeBron built – or more accurately, the house that LeBron wildly improved.  The team is owned by Dan Gilbert, who happens to own the NBA’s Cavaliers.

That means that the Quicken Loans Arena – thankfully and after this.known as The Q – is the beneficiary of the return of LeBron.  Some of those benefits can be seen in similar marketing efforts.  Some of those can be seen inside the stadium itself.  To say that LeBron a big deal in Cleveland is an understatement.

As a hockey fan, it’s not something I see very often.  Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby, Washington has Alex Ovechkin, Chicago has Toews and Kane, there are a  few others around the league.  None of them have the hype that LeBron carries.  Even after his first year back with the team, I doubt that hype will die down.  The Monsters, a minor league team playing in a major league city, are nearly invisible by comparison.

This is not a bad thing.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  If people come to the Cavs games, they will see more about the Monsters, and hopefully buy tickets.  How much crossover between basketball and hockey has been debated to death.  But anything that brings fans to the arena is a good thing.

Let’s take a walk around The Q.

(click any photo to make bigger)

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The Q is, without a doubt, a major league arena.  It was built in 1994 and looks good.  It has wide concourses, plenty of food options, and all the modern conveniences you expect from a modern building.

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Some Monsters signage.

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But don’t be fooled.  Everything else is LeBron and Cavs.  Here are a few of the banners around downtown.

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Speaking of downtown, the cities I’ve been in lately (Johnstown and Wheeling) have been falling apart.  Cleveland, for all the grief it gets, has a solid downtown.  The area around the arena is full of sports bars and restaurants.

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Some of this is due to the Cleveland Indians playing next door to The Q at Progressive Field.  Rather than just a single arena or sport to fill the area, there is something year round downtown.

Here’s one way you know you aren’t in a small town that’s falling apart and trying to rebuild: they don’t have gigantic chandeliers over their streets.  This is in Playhouse Square, the Cleveland theater district.

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Another place near the arena is the block at 4th Ave.  Plenty of restaurants and bars here, and even a bowling alley.

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The Return of LeBron brought improvements to the arena.  For instance, this gigantic HD scoreboard. The Monsters are still adapting to it.  Much of the pregame video was in standard def and looked pixellated.  Most of the graphics throughout the game looked good in HD.

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The team store is neat, if lacking in Monsters gear.  Another one is on the concourse with more hockey stuff.

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Concourses.

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How basketball-centric is The Q?  I don’t believe women are required to have a basketball when going to the bathroom, but…

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The team takes the ice through a big inflatable monster head.

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It’s probably hard to tell, but the glass in the arena is brand new.  The only hockey glass I’ve seen that was cleaner was at the Denver Coliseum before the Denver Cutthroats started their season, or even practicing there.

Action!

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Here is something I’ve never seen before.  Security guards in the penalty box.  I guess they do this all the time.  I wonder if there is a story behind why.

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The Monsters scored the first two goals of the game on their first two shots.  Good thing, because after this, the Stars called their time out, settled down, and dominated the play for the rest of the game.  The Monsters were outshot 36-24, took six minor penalties to the Stars’ two, and gave up the tying goal in the last minute of play.  It was an ugly game for Lake Erie.

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Look at the flex on that stick.

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The game went to overtime, where Michael Schumacher (24) won with a nice backhand goal.

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Monsters win!!!

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The game sheet can be found here.

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After the game, the players came to the concourse for autographs.  The line was phenomenal.

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The mascot.

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Here is the ice crew, the Mullets.

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Unlike some of the games I’ve seen lately (Keystone, Dayton), this was the most professional presentation for a minor league game I can remember seeing.  It was like being at an NHL game, which shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s run by a major league team ownership.

That ownership, and the major presence of the Cavaliers, made this an interesting experience.  Many of the places I’ve been this season have been dominated by hockey.  Here, the team did their best to make everything feel like they were just as big as the NBA team, while still looking like all the hockey was simply going to be wheeled away into storage until the next game.

None of that is a complaint.  This is an AHL team living in the shadow of an NBA star and his team.  Knowing their place in the world seems to suit them fine.

Thanks to @MetalTodd for providing me with a ticket and hanging out .  I think the best way of putting it is that he sponsored me being there.  It was great to meet him and hang out.  He is also taller than Jay, my partner at the Avs Hockey Podcast.


If you’ve read this far, you are hopefully enjoying these reports from the minor league world.  Thanks for that.  These are fun to make, but they do cost a bit of money to do (gas, ticket, the occasional hotel).

@ScottPantall suggested two things.  One was a book of the places I’ve been, perhaps a photobook or coffee table book.  The other was something like Patreon, where you, the readers, could help sponsor my journeys.  Scott said he found my blog because of these trips a few years ago, and I know others have as well.  So far, it’s been a labor of love, but it’s also something I wouldn’t mind paying for itself.

So what say you?  What sounds right or wrong about those ideas?  With Patreon, there are possibilities to scale what I made and do something different and special for sponsors.  A book would be interesting as well, or even something smaller and lighter, like something magazine sized.  I have more photos that don’t fit into blog posts, and there are potential ways to do more.  The comments are open, and you can tweet me as well.

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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Catdxo

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I found the ice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see some of that craziness.

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And a bit of the casualness.

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What is he looking at?

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

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

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

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Glass banger.

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

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More action.

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No fights, but plenty of scrums.

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

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

Thin Air: Welcome Back, NHL

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

– Well, that was fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now you’re making sense.

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

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

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