Thin Air: Round And Round

Just some hockey and other thoughts on this overcast day in Denver:

– Jagr to the Devils.  Who does that sit right with? I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks it’s a good fit.  But if there is a team on the verge of an identity change, it’s New Jersey.  Martin Brodeur is on his last legs, Kovalchuk is gone, money is suddenly a real thing, and the future is uncertain.  Perhaps Jagr is a great fit.  I thought he would be a great fit in Ottawa, though. Maybe next year.

– I’m attempting to read Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon for what feels like the hundredth time, and right now I’m reminded of the hardest hockey town I’ve ever been in, Danbury, Connecticut.  I’ve never seen a crowd so loud and angry, enough to make the players want to jump in the stands.  The invisible line between spectator and participant was the only think keeping things from becoming violent the time I saw the Danbury Trashers play in the ‘old’ UHL. It wasn’t the glass that kept them apart. I had never seen anything like it, and I haven’t since.

I was wearing my Kazen Ak Bars jersey, and a woman who worked at the rinks, obviously in some sort of custodial capacity, asked me if I was from there.  I said no, I just liked the Russian jerseys.  She said that was her home, and for a brief and awkward moment, I tried to talk to her, but there was a bit of a language barrier, and she had to get back to work.  I wonder if she is still in Danbury.  I would love to find out what her life is like there.

– Michigan just approved a new arena for Detroit, which will be partially funded with tax dollars.  Joe Louis Arena is well past it’s prime, but if there is a city that doesn’t need to spend it’s money on a new arena, it’s Detroit.  I’m sure there will be more details coming soon.  But can you imagine worse timing?

– The minor leagues are in for a bit of change.  There are always teams folding and moving around, new teams sprout up in the ashes of the previous ones.  But rarely do you see what the Central Hockey League did.  The league was sold to the owners of some of the teams.  It’s been hard to find out exactly which teams are involved in the new ownership group, but it’s an interesting development.  Perhaps the dying gasp of a league that has seen vast turmoil over the last several years?  From losing the majority of their core Texas teams to the junior leagues, to absorbing the UHL/IHL  and losing most if it shortly after, this latest development could go either way, but I’m leaning towards disaster.  Time will tell.

– It’s late July, so things are slow in the hockey world.  So I guess that’s it for the moment.  Keep your ears out for a new Avs Hockey Podcast coming soon.  Yes, it’s been a while.  Life happens, just as it goes on.

Flocked Up: Quad City Mallards vs. Wichita Thunder

As you can probably tell, things did not go well for the boys from QC tonight.  

Other possible titles for this post: 

Mallards Mallase
Molting Mallards
Bird of a Feather Lose Together
What The Hell Was That?

I kid, but really, what was that?  The Mallards had a rough go of it tonight, in a game that could have gone their way.  Had they played the entire game like they played the first few minutes of the first two periods, they would have dominated.  But a few bounces, a few strange plays, and a glove hand that just wasn’t enough at times, and this game was out of hand quickly.  The Thunder take it 5-1.  

I am usually not one to dog on the refs, but there was an obvious point in this game where things could quickly get out of hand.  While looking right at the play, the ref didn’t call a boarding call that shouldn’t have gone gotten by him.  I thought things were going to turn into a circus, but that thankfully didn’t happen.  I can’t credit the officiating crew for keeping things calm, but I will say they could have done a much better job.

To the photos.  Hey, who’s that? Why, it’s my old pal Aaron Boogaard.  I seem to see him everywhere.  In fact, he scored his first goal of the season tonight.  I would like to think that I’m his good luck charm, but if I told him that, he would probably beat me up.  Better just keep that to myself.

 

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The Mallards have a giant inflatable duck head wearing a helmet that vomits players onto the ice. That is the only way I can describe it.

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The I Wireless Arena (formerly known by it’s better name, the MARK) is a nice place, big and comfortable.  Too big, it turns out, so they black out some of the seats with curtains.  You might be familiar with the Florida Panthers doing the same thing.  Also the Hartford Wolfpack Connecticut Whale.  Giant pillowy curtains really make for an intimate setting. Or something.

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Did I mention spacious and comfortable?  Yeah, this is the polar opposite of the Des Moines Buccaneers arena, as you can see here, and here. 

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Nice knob. 

Knobby

OK, a little action.  

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I have to admit, I didn’t get a lot of photos from this game.  The glass put some warp into the images, and I got kind of fed up with it.  In fact, it’s some of the tallest glass I’ve ever seen on the sides of a rink.  Tall and crappy.  Kind of like (insert player from your hated rival here).  Yeah, good one. 

Here is the chuck-a-puck aftermath.  And while six of those are mine, on’y one of mine won a free sub. That’s right, I’m a winner.  Mad skills. 

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I kind of like this one.  It’s like artistic chuck-a-puck photography.  I don’t think I should start of business around it, though.  Niche audience for sure. 

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A half salute for a half effort.  Actually, that isn’t fair. The Mallards put effort into it tonight.  They just didn’t hold on to any momentum they earned early in the periods.  

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Swag report – I picked up this puck.  

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How do you like that key card for my room? ‘Merica.

And then I got the mascot to hold it for a photo. 

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Rocking.  

Recaps from the travel blog:

Period 1
Period 2
Period 3

Boxscore

 You can follow along on the travel blog.  Lots of smaller posts, with some real gems along the way. 

Texas Brahmas vs. Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees: You Cannot Unsee

First, a warning.  I am going to have a photo or two in this post which probably is Safe For Work, but I don’t 100% guarantee it.  And I don’t know if you are going to like it or not.  But damn it, I was there, and I will share with you the sights I have seen, whether you like it or not.  “Enjoy.”

Tonight was a strange night for Fort Worth hockey for two reasons.  First, it was Star Wars Night.  We will get to that in a moment.  The other reason it was strange was that the game was played at the old home of the Brahmas, the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The Fort Worth Brahmas used to play at the FWCC until the 2006-07 season, when they couldn’t work out a lease agreement with the Convention Center.  They suspended operations for the next season, and came back in the 2008-09 season as the Texas Brahmas, playing at a rink in the suburbs that isn’t much more than a rec rink with more seating.

The first Brahmas game I went to was in the 2005-06 season at the FWCC, and I’ve seen one at their new home.  The Convention Center is a bit big for the Brahmas, but the new location, the NYNEX Sports Center is too small.  The Brahmas are popular.  They are very popular for a minor league team, in a way that the Dallas Stars probably wish they were.  They have fans who have been around for a long time, and will continue to be for a long time.  They could use the space the FWCC has to offer, but a lease can make or break a minor league hockey team.  So in a small venue they will stay.

Let’s go to the game!

Walking up to the FWCC:

I mentioned that it was Star Wars night, and that conjures up images of awful rebel themed jerseys, wacky sound effects, and in-game promotions centered around using the force, right?  No, it just means Stormtroopers in the lobby.

Stormtroopers that liked to point their guns at you:

 

Yeah.  Oh, and there was a ZZ Top cover band in the lobby as well, which just goes perfectly with the Star Wars theme, right?

The lobby isn’t all that interesting.  But the inside of the venue is… not all that interesting either.

There is a certain symmetry to the place, but that weird ceiling makes it feel  open and cavernous, like you could yell at the ref all night and it would just bounce around up there.  Come to think of it, I didn’t hear nearly as much abuse of the officials from the crowd as I usually do.  I wonder why?  No, really, I wonder why.

Thirty-four seconds into the first period, we had our first fight.  The weird part about the fight was it featured a very familiar name, Aaron Boogaard.

It was startling to realize who we were watching, and for the most part, the fight looked like a hugging match.  But look a the next picture, even though it’s out of focus.  Someone was bleeding.

Boogaard had to leave his jersey at the bench to get cleaned up (you can’t use a jersey with blood all over it), and when he was released from the box, we got a look at his pads.  NHLers have all the latest and greatest gear, all light and fresh.  It probably even smells halfway respectable.  But not in the minors.

Those are old school.

How about some more game action:

I mentioned in the Odessa Jackalopes post that they throw rubber carrots on the ice after goals, and in Laredo, they throw rubber corn.  Here they throw rubber purple Brahmas.  That’s a bull for the rest of you.

There’s another tradition after goals with the Brahmas fans.  I don’t know when they do it, but tonight, after the third goal, some of the fans take off their shirts and twirl them over their heads.  Not a big deal, right?  We’ve seen this happen before at games, it’s nothing special.  But lets just say that this isn’t the demographic that normally does this sort of thing.

Remember that warning I gave at the top?  This is why.

You can not unsee that.  But if you’re going to be a fan, be a fan and don’t apologize for anything.  I was smiling and laughing the whole time, and so was everyone else.  And if you ever go to a Texas Brahmas game and they score a few goals, I hope you do to.

In other news, you can’t go to a damn arena without some tool putting on a body suit.  We get it, enough already.

I tweeted earlier that with all the Stormtroopers around, this was the most dangerous hockey game ever.  It was true for one fan who slipped on the concrete steps and broke her ankle.  I’m no doctor, but when the ankle swells up and turns purple that fast, it’s broke.

Mascot:

Another fight, leading to some game misconducts.  When a guy is down, don’t keep beating on him.

It was a bad night for the officials tonight.  The ref got tangled up in a check and may have a few bruised ribs.  And a linesman took a full slap shot in the back.  They don’t wear that much padding, and it stung him pretty good.   Also, one of the Brahmas took a puck in the Galiardis.  He skated it off, but I know it hurt.  It was also one of the better called games in the minors I have ever seen.

This game was titled the Fort Worth Faceoff, since it was a special two-nighter with the Brahmas playing in their old stomping grounds.  Maybe next time, they can play the crosstown Allen Americans.  The Brahmas wore special jerseys that were auctioned off after the game.  I did not stick around for that.

Your final, Brahmas 4, RGV Killer Bees 1.  You tell who won from the photo alone.

Tomorrow I’m off to Austin and Houston, and then six weeks in New Orleans.  Not a hockey-centric existence for a while, but it was nice to see some of the best the other side of hockey has to offer.  And there are more venues out there to find, more games to see, and more unusual history to be searched out.

Boxscore.

One and Done: A Tale of Two Opposite Playoff Teams

In one moment, I was happy.  Elated.  The Bruins won game seven to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.  A team that I like mostly, I’ll admit, because of Tim Thomas.  If ever there was a goalie I could describe as ‘plucky,’ it’s Thomas.  For me, he’s been the comeback story of the year.  Last season was a bust for Thomas, and the Bruins fans I talked to last season (and there were plenty) thought he was washed up.  Done.  The Burins had made the mistake of the century.   One hip surgery later, and Thomas has been a beast.  If he doesn’t win the Vezina (again), something is rotten in Denmark.  I was psyched for the Finals.

Then I saw this:

Mudbugs Win

F.

There was another game seven played tonight, and this one was for all the marbles.  Hardly anyone noticed, just a drop in the bucket when the NHL is playing a game 7 for the chance to win the greatest trophy in sports, and the Memorial Cup is going on.   This is nothing, unless you are paying attention.  Unless you are a fan.

FFFFFFFFFF.

The Eagles and the Mudbugs own one of the more unlikely rivalries in the minors.  Usually, you find that neighbors make for the worst bedfellows.  And while I may be mixing my metaphors, I can’t help but think of the cross-Pennsylvania rivalries, the Spokane – Tri-Cities WHL rivalry, and the hate across Edmonton. This is a rivalry born in blood and losses.  These are the rivalries that fans chew on, spit out, and run over with a car.  Twice.  And when you lose to your rival, it never feels good. Never.

The future for the Mudbugs is uncertain.  There are rumors that the team will be moving to a less expensive league, perhaps the NAHL (US juniors) or the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League).  This was a season of massive changes for the Central Hockey League, incorporating several of the teams from the flailing IHL (formerly the UHL), and expanding to the North and East in places they have never been.  There was a time, not that long ago, that the Colorado Eagles were the most remote team in the CHL.  The league then expanded to Youngstown, and fans of the Central wondered what the league was thinking, putting a team on the far side of Ohio, when their main concentration lived in Texas.  It didn’t last.  This season, with the league taking on teams in Ft. Wayne, IN, Dayton, OH, and two in Illinois, the league stretched itself wider, while already losing teams in it’s base (Amarillo following this season, and Corpus Christi and Lubbock, TX in previous seasons). The Mudbugs are on uncertain footing, but hopefully, a trophy will buy them some time.  They are a good team, with a great fan base.  And although I would like nothing more than for the Eagles to have crushed them, I hope they return next season.  That is what great rivals do sometimes, make you want them back.

So thanks for a great season, Colorado Eagles.  Even if you move to the ECHL (as rumored), you have been one of the best things the Central has had in many years.  And your fans love you for it.

Thunder vs. RiverKings: One Bounce

In the 2005-06 season, I took a road trip through half of the Central Hockey League and the entire 14 team (at the time) United Hockey League.  One of my early stops was in Wichita, Kansas, to see the Thunder take on the Oklahoma City Blazers.  The third period was the longest period of hockey I had ever witnessed. According to the gamesheet, the first minute featured 3 1/2 fights (third man in), or as the highly classy CHL likes to call it, Fisticuffs.  The Unsportsmanlike penalty to the goalie was the result of him squirting the player who charged him in the first place as that player was skating by the goal crease while being ejected.

This Sunday’s match between the Thunder and the Mississippi RiverKings was a tamer affair.  In the five and a half years since my last tour of Wichita, the city built a new arena downtown, and they brought the fancy along with the schmancy.

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Nice digs, eh?  Take a look inside:

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The interior:

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This game was a tale of two different battles.  Not to give it away, but the first was the RiverKings goalie battle with the puck.  No matter how Zen Master he may look here, he wasn’t that way after the game started:

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The other battle was between the rest of the RiverKings and Thunder goalie Marty Magers.

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In fact, I’m just going to go ahead and say it.  Tonight, Magers put on a show.  At times, he was helped by his teammates, but every goalie has those moments.  Magers made the medium shots look easy, and the hard ones look like he was Tim Thomas in his finest form.  It was pure entertainment, and I loved every minute of it.

Can I just say that Wichita has a better center ice scoreboard than the New York Islanders?

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It’s sad. The Islanders should haul the city council down to Wichita and make them feel shame.

Hey, what the hell is with the guys in body suits?  Why can you not go anywhere without seeing one of them?  Get off my lawn! Or at least, get some waffles:

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After an eternity of special sponsored puck drops, end of season awards (this was the last game of the regular season), and everything else to delay the start of the game, the puck finally dropped.

 

Action!

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No, really, this is action.

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Grrrr!!!! Goalie Mad!!!!

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Overall, this guy did a pretty good job, which can be saying something for a minor league ref.  He missed a few things, but when you are dealing with a one ref system, that’s going to happen.  Mostly, he got it right.

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OK, back to the hockey.

 

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With 3:40 left in the game, the Thunder were called for a double minor high sticking.  You could argue a high stick call, but because it was a double minor, I will assume blood, and it was the right call.  The crowd was savvy enough to boo the initial call, but when it was announced as four minutes, reluctantly accepted reality.  Unfortunately, the only goal for the RiverKings came on the first half of that double minor, with 2:53 left in the game.  The shutout bid for Magers was ruined, and he was visibly upset by it, but the crowd gave him a standing ovation after the RiverKings goal, which he had certainly earned.  He was the unquestioned first star of the game.

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Magers made 44 saves in the 8-1 victory, while Alexander Pechurskiy at the other end only made 22, and the Thunder had two shothanded goals.

But wait, there’s more.

The last time I was in Wichita, I won the intermission Chuck-A-Puck. If you don’t know what Chuck-A-Puck is, you need to go to a minor league game.  Essentially, you throw foam pucks on the ice at the second intermission, and try to get it in a bucket or helmet, or near a target, and you win a price.  In 2005, I got the puck in a bucket at center ice (pro tip: one bounce).  Two other people did as well that night, and we wound up splitting the cash prize. I have never repeated the feat since.

Until tonight.

I don’t know what it is about Wichita, but I won again, this time as one of several winners as there were multiple targets laid on the ice.  And what did I win?  What prize would be perfect for someone from Colorado, a traveling man, one who moves around a lot for work, and hasn’t been to Wichita in 5 1/2 years?

Two tickets to a Thunder game next season.

……   …….

So, who’s up for a game?

 

Allen Americans vs. Rapid City Rush: Who’s The Home Team?

When I’m on the road, and I am seeing two teams where I don’t care who wins, I try to pull for the home team. It’s fun to cheer with the fans, and live and die, for one night, with a team you don’t know much about.

But I found it hard to get behind the Allen Americans, and it took me a little but to figure out why. It was the jerseys.

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If you were to take the style of the Phoenix Coyotes jersey, and combine it with the colors of the Red Wings, you have the Allen Americans. Just look at the font for the names and numbers on the backs of the Americans’ jerseys. It’s the leftovers from the Coyotes.

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Yeah, I had a problem rooting for the home team. I wasn’t openly cheering on the Rush, but I did find myself a little more excited by their play.

The Allen Event Center is a nice, new building, but after you get inside, you could be in any new building. There isn’t anything to distinguish it from any other new arena out there.

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I realize there is still some fascination with that Sacco kid that did the speech from Miracle, but this is getting a little ridiculous. He’s doing it for the Allen Americans in their pregame video? This kid has officially jumped the shark. Or jumped on a shark, or a shark jumped on him.

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Look at the players in the background. Yeah, they are really feeling it.

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Moving on, hey, where have I seen this before?

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Oh, yeah, it was the at the Colorado Eagles vs. Laredo Bucks game, where the ref handed out two unsportsmanlike minors for abuse of the official. And look, it’s the same ref, and he handed one out in the first period of this game. A pattern? Maybe. Hey look, the ref does suck:

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Slurp.

OK, on to the game pics. As ever, clicking on a picture makes it bigger, saving you the bandwidth and loading time of pictures you may not be as interested in. You are welcome.

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It almost looks like this guy took a stick in the no-nos.

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Moving on, the defense for the Americans weren’t doing their goaltender any favors. They weren’t clearing pucks when the goalie would make an initial save, and after the second or third whack at the puck, the Rapid City Rush would end up with a goal.

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Even though there were no fights in the game, it got a little rough:

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At the end of the second period, the puck took a strange bounce and got past the Americans goalie, prompting a change in net. It wasn’t his fault, but at that point, something had to be done.

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It didn’t help. Take a look at the upper left side of the net. Yep, that’s the puck, and that puppies in there:

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Everyone is looking to the right of the picture, except the goalie. OK.

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The Rapid City Rush won the game, 6-1. Not much of a shock, considering how the defense was playing. After the game, I hung out with Ben Ellis from Big D Hockey, and talked some Texas hockey with him. You’ll hear that on an episode of The Rink Podcast soon enough.

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I’m all caught up on games, but I still have one more Texas game to go to.

Colorado Eagles vs. Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees: Wait For It…

This is a little out of order, and certainly overdue (as is the 2nd Christmas jersey post, which I promise is coming). It’s the Eagles vs Killer Bees.

Welcome to Dodge Arena:

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Dodge Arena is in the middle of nowhere, or at least, the only thing near the arena is the nicest Best Western hotel I have ever stayed in (and I have stayed in my share).

The Eagles came out with a strong start, but the Killer Bees goalie was on fire all night. The second period was all Eagles though, and they ended the period up 2-0. Unfortunately, that lead didn’t last, and the Bees came back to win the game 3-2, scoring the go ahead goal with half the final period left.

On to the pictures. Click on any images for bigger versions.

I love those new Eagles jerseys. I want one, bad.

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The Bees mascot was nice..

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For a moment:

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Back to the game.

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There’s your final. It looks like the Eagles can’t win when I’m around. Next time, maybe.

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Central Hockey League All Star Game

I’m going a little out of order here, but I wanted to post the pictures from the CHL All Star Game from Laredo, TX. It was certainly an interesting game, or at least, the hoopla around the game was interesting (yes, I said hoopla). At the very least, I had a great time. Let’s go to the photos:

click on any photo to make it bigger.

Hey everyone, it’s my good friend, Lord Stanley’s Cup:

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This is kind of a surreal picture, maybe because the background is a little more in focus than I am, or the Cup for that matter.

And for all you Avs fans:

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The way that 2000-01 Avalanche ring looks a little weird, like it was compressed a little in transit? It doesn’t look like the same ring as the one I saw in Cleveland a few years back.
Still, it’s a thing of beauty.
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And I got my picture with another keeper of the Cup.

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This is the second Keeper of the Cup I’ve had my picture taken with, and oddly enough, I was wearing the same jersey.

I am here to tell you, you have not heard the Canadian National Anthem until you have heard a mariachi band do it (OK, yes, you have, but you still have to hear it to believe it). Hopefully, the video I took on my iPhone worked out, and I can share it with you later.

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When you set off fireworks inside a closed arena, you should have a sufficient ventilation system to get rid of the sulfurous smoke that is left behind. I am here to tell you, they do not have such a system at the Laredo Event Center.

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Hey, you know who doesn’t know how to do the Y.M.C.A.? These women.
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OK, on to the game:

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Surreal image of the night:

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Yep, still hazy:
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OK, back to the game:

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One penalty was handed out, to this guy:
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Yep.

The goals picked up in the third period, and it was looking like an All Star Game:

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The South Texas All Stars (made up of players from the Laredo Bucks, Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, and Corpus Christi Rayz) beat the CHL All Stars (all the rest of the teams) 9-4. Final SOG was 62-37.

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Team MVPs get win really small HDTVs.
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This guy deserved the CHL team MVP.
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All that was left was the player salutes:

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The Killer Bees salute their fans:

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That does it for the All Star Game. I still owe you pictures from the Colorado Eagles vs. RGV Killer Bees game. Oh, they are coming.

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Colorado Eagles vs. Laredo Bucks: Away Games

I have only a little time before I have to get on the road to Hidalgo, TX for the Colorado Eagles vs the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees game, so this is mostly going to be a photo essay. I’m cooking up something else later.

Click on any photos you want to see bigger.

The sky over Laredo before the game was full of color.

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The arena itself had a little more character than most new buildings, but was still new enough to be modern. It reminded me of where the Grand Rapids Griffins play, or where the Ft. Worth Brahmas played, due to the big wall at one end.

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I really like this picture.
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This was the guy who let in 3 goals on 5 shots and got pulled.
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I have to say, I like these jerseys a lot. They are right in all the ways the new Avs third jersey is wrong. I think I may have to get one.

Action!

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This led to repercussions later. The ref wasn’t taking any crap from anyone. The eagles took a few extra penalties for mouthing off to the ref early in the game. In fact, 7 total penalties, including both the 5 on 3 and a 4 minute stint in the box were directly thanks to players or coaches mouthing off to the ref.

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Hey, those pictures? They almost didn’t let me in with my camera. They said it was a pro camera (it doesn’t have a removable lens, and I told them to bring a supervisor over to discuss the matter, which they then said it was OK). I don’t understand the policy. I get that you don’t want pro photographers bringing tripods and huge lenses into the building, but what harm does a good photograph of a game do? I’m posting my photos online, and you get to see hockey in a new building. It’s promoting the sport, and their team. What is the problem? People with teams, especially in the minors, need to realize that free promotion is their best tool, and the fans are the ones who will provide that.

Can you imagine an arena up north with the Mexican national flag hanging? But here they do Canada the honor of hanging their national flag. Good job, Laredo.

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After each goal scored by the Bucks, the fans would throw plastic corn on the ice, which would stop the game, and have to be cleaned up. It took forever to do, but it was the local tradition. As it was explained to me, it was deer corn. They were feeding the deer. The Bucks?

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Fans!
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Hecklers! Yes, I was heckled at the game. They get the small photo.
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The Eagles tied the game up in the last few seconds (18 to be close to exact), and the game wound up going to the shootout, where the Eagles were fairly awful. In the CHL, like most of the minor leagues, shootouts go five shooters deep, rather than the three in the NHL. I have no idea why the NHL went with three shooters, but they did.

Hey look, the pucks in the back of the net. Go figure.

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Taunting the shooter:

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Weirdest save ever? No, but still…

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You should have seen it in person.

Losers have to skate off past the winners? That sucks.
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That’s your final. The Bucks had a post game skate after the game, but I only had my iPhone with me, so the pictures aren’t as good. Still, I will post them. Just a little later.

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I had a great time at the game, and will talk a little later about what it was like as an away fan, and talking with the fans at the game. For now, it’s on to Laredo.

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Post Game Skate

Lucky me, the Riverkings are having a post game skate.

Unlucky for me, the Eagles lost 6-2. Plenty of photos to share later.