Finally, A Team I Like Wins!!!

After all the disappointment the hockey season, along with a few other sports this year, have brought, it’s about time someone I wanted to win a championship came through for me.

The Cincinnati Cyclones beat the Las Vegas Wranglers 3-1 last night to win the ECHL Kelly Cup four games to two. The Cyclones are a great story, shutting down for a few years, then coming back after the AHL abandoned the city for good. The Cyclones were barely drawing over a thousand fans a game, but this year, they had the best record in the ECHL, and stormed through the league (55-12-1-4 for 115 points). Last night, they won in front of 12,722 fans, the largest crowd in ECHL playoff history.

Cincinnati has it’s own bit of minor league hockey history:

It is the first time in 35 years that a Cincinnati pro hockey team has competed in its league finals. The last team to compete for a championship was the 1973 Cincinnati Swords, which captured the AHL’s Calder Cup in five games over Nova Scotia. It was the first time since April 3, 1955—that a champion from the Queen City was crowned in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Mohawks won a seventh game against the Troy Bruins for the IHL’s Turner Cup championship.

And of course, Cincinnati was home to the WHA Cincinnati Stingers. You still see some of the old jerseys floating around
The Cyclones are the first minor league team I ever saw, and they helped get me hooked. I even own a jersey:

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This would be Dean Stork’s jersey, who is the assistant coach of the team.

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Congratulations, Cyclones.

Les Borsheim Out of Surgery, Still Critcal

From the Coloradoan:

Colorado Eagles veteran Les Borsheim remains in critical condition today at a Greeley hospital following emergency surgery Sunday night, but coach Chris Stewart and two teammates said the surgery went better than expected.

Borsheim, 29, suffered a broken neck in a motorcycle crash Sunday afternoon about 3 miles east of Greeley. He was riding with two friends at the time, teammate and neighbor Ed McGrane said.

We’ve seen players come back from “broken necks” before, but there isn’t much indication as to how bad this is. Obviously, he’s lucky to be alive.

“This morning he looked good, he responded well,” Stewart said. “They felt he had done extremely well through the surgery and through the night.
“Make no mistake, this is a very serious injury. The spinal cord, there’s some trauma there. But they’ve relieved all the pressure, and now as we hope and pray, it’s going to be day-by-day to see how he recovers.”

Dr. John Viola, a surgeon with the Front Range Center for Brain and Spine Surgery in Fort Collins, performed the surgery. Gene Haffner, North Colorado Medical Center’s public relations director, couldn’t provide details of the surgery, but Stewart, who was with Borsheim in the emergency room before he went into surgery, said it lasted “probably an hour-and-a-half to an hour-and-45 minutes.”

As for what he was ticketed for:

Borsheim has been cited for driving under the influence of alcohol, careless driving and violating restrictions on a drivers license, the state patrol said. He was not wearing a helmet, which is not required by Colorado law, and did have proper eye protection, which is required.

Of course, the allegation of driving under the influence has yet to be proven.

I just shake my head.

Another Hockey Player Injured in Motorcycle Accident

From the Coloradoan:

Les Borsheim, 29, a franchise player and fan favorite with the Colorado Eagles hockey team is in critical condition at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley tonight following a possible drunk driving accident 3 miles east of Greeley.

Eagles Coach Chris Stewart said Borsheim suffered a neck injury was was having surgery following the accident that occurred at 1:22 p.m. on Weld County Road 60 1/2 and Weld County Road 55.

Yes, this isn’t a 21 year old NHL player, but you have to think that he heard about Luc Bourdon. You have to wonder what was going through his mind.

Borsheim was cited for driving while under the influence of alcohol and careless driving. He was not wearing a helmet but was wearing eye protection.

Colorado does not have a helmet law, but does have eye protection regulations. Mind you, they do have laws against drinking and driving

Borsheim joined the Eagles for the 2005 season after playing for the Quad City Mallards in the United Hockey League in 2004.

Stewart said Borsheim was pursuing plans to play in Europe next season because of the veterans’ clause in the CHL.

More details when they become available.

Eagles in the Finals

The Colorado Eagles are going back to the CHL finals, with tonight’s win over the Texas Brahmas (a brahma is a cow like bull, or something – I used to know). For those not in the know, the Eagles won the Championship last season, and have won it all twice in their five year lifespan. They are awaiting their opponent, either Laredo, with whom they have a history, or Arizona, with whom they do not. It’s also the third time the Eagles have been in the Finals in their five year history.

Go Eagles!!!!!

Gwinnett vs South Carolina: ECHL in Goergia

I had thought that live hockey games would be over for the season after my trip to Tulsa, OK. After all, I am currently in Atlanta, and moving on to Tampa, FL in two weeks, not exactly places that are steeping in post season action. But a check of the schedule, and a local visitors guide showed that the Gwinnett Gladiators had a hope, a dream, and a home game about 30 miles away. With Monday being my day off, how could I say no?

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Welcome to Gwinnett Arena, which is nice building, but a little sterile. It looks like a lot of modern arenas, but only at a smaller size. The parking is ample, with only one exit to the parking lot. And this…
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is the longest damn wait for a stoplight, with the shortest payoff in green light time. Seriously, eight cars got in on one green light, and we waited forever for the next cycle. This picture was taken while I was making the turn. I put my life in danger for you.

The ECHL is in playoff mode right now (see their bracket here), and the Gladiators are already facing elimination. The South Carolina Stingrays were up two games to none in a best of five (only in the minors) series, and this was the first game in Gwinnett. The mood was somber when we entered the building, and I would say it was the quietest I had ever heard a crowd outside a hockey arena. There was no buzz, there was no chatter, there were no cowbells. There was nothing. It felt like a death march.

A few pictures of the lobby:
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Nice place. This place has bigger hallways than the Hartford Civic Center, and they used to have an NHL team. Oh the conveniences of modern arenas. Such as the food. Our bounty of plenty for the night:

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The one on the right should explain itself (if not, that’s a chili cheese dog), but the one on the left may need a little… understanding. That is what is called a Georgia Dog, which is a hot dog with cole slaw on it. The one on the right was the one I ordered, and I made the wrong choice. On to the game!!!!

The place was a little under populated, but is actually a healthy crowd for a minor league team, especially one that is located in a suburb.

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And they have luxury boxes. How much do you suppose it costs for a luxury box at a Gladiators game? Can’t be that much.

Scrum!!!!!

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The first period was slow, sluggish, and disorganized. While some may make snarky comments that the minors are usually that way, I love minor league games, and for the home team to come out so sluggish didn’t bode well. I figured the crowd was going to be headed home with the season over, but things started getting better late in the second.
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Fist knocking = goals, and the Gladiators got one. The Stingrays came back back to tie the game up, which is how things were left at the second intermission. I had to do something, anything, to dig this team out of the basement. This called for desperate measures.
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OK, so I have to work on my shot, but I will say that it worked. The Gladiators came back, and scored some great goals. The last goal of the game was one of the most perfect tip in goals I have ever seen. A simple shot from the high slot made the goalie jump to stop it, but a Gladiator stick had other plans, sending the puck careening down between the legs. I would call it a five hole, but can you have a five hole when you are jumping in the air? Perhaps….
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The Stingrays poured on the pressure, and kept the excitement of the game alive, even though the conclusion was inevitable. Can you ask for more from a 4-1 game?
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One of the things they do for the playoffs is hang the opposing team in effigy (and yes, that is how they put it). This is a crappy picture of it, but it was what I could do. They drop one from the rafters after each win.
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Remember, the playoffs are happening all over North America right now. Find a team near you, and see some hockey. The minor leagues need your money more than the NHL does, and they need less of it. My tickets cost $18 apiece. I could have been in the first few rows had I wanted. Go see some hockey.

Toledo Walleye: Really

Toledo, OH has been quiet on the hockey front this season, while the Toledo Storm shut down operations for the season while they await the construction of a new arena. Along with that, the Storm are undergoing an identety change. Here’s a little primer from Wikipedia:

Their franchise was bought by the Toledo Mud Hens AAA Baseball team who will operate the team, under a new name, in a new arena expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2009 season. The team is currently in suspended operations while a new arena is built for them in downtown Toledo, and was expected to return to ECHL during the 2009-2010 season. On February 20th, 2008, it was revealed that the team’s new name would be the “Toledo Walleye”[1].

So, the Mud Hens thought that Walleye was decent enough name? Did they not see the outcry and finger pointing when the Lake Erie Monsters were reported to even consider the name Walleye?

But what gets me is that the team isn’t even starting to play until the fall of 2009, a year and a half away, but they want you to buy their gear. From their homepage at www.toledowalleye.com:
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Be the first to get the new gear? What is this, Pokemon? They are a year and a half away from taking to the ice, and the “fans” should get their merch now? Aside from the colors mimicking the Denver Nuggets, a toothless yellow fish with a hockey stick is the sure source of pride for a minor league hockey team. The money for new jerseys should be pouring in.

Right now, there are 12 shirts, 5 hats, a puck, a mini-stick, and a sweatshirt listed for sale online. I can’t stress this point enough: they haven’t even played yet.

I’m going to get a puck. Nothing screams collectors item like abject failure.

Tulsa Oilers vs. Mississippi Riverkings: Meh.

Tonight’s game between the Oilers and the Riverkings was not exactly full of promise, since the RK are fighting for their lives right now, and the Oilers are already dead (much like the NHL version). All that was on the line for the Oilers was pride, and sometimes, pride is not enough. At least, not enough to play a halfway decent game of hockey.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to dissuade you from taking in an Oilers game. By all means, if circumstance should find you in or near Tulsa, you should go to a game, and certainly next season, when I am told a new arena will open downtown. And it looks like the cat’s ass, which is a good thing. For now, the cat has the better deal, and the Oilers may have to sign him to a contract next year. That is, if they want to have a full bench.

But the Oilers, who are out of the playoffs according to math, the law, and the new testament, decided not to show up for the game tonight, at least not in any way that would have won them a hockey game. They did show up in the penalty box. Hell, they set up a nice condo in the penalty box.
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A few double minors didn’t help them, along with some plain idiocy. For instance, the spearing double minor to Kal Magnussen was such an obvious penalty, done right in front of the ref. It not only negated a penalty on the Riverkings, it put Tulsa on the PK. Then a roughing and a slash a minute thirty later put the Oilers down by two men long enough for the ‘kings to score. Twice. And that was the game.
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And the worst part? The Oilers have to play in Colorado for the weekend, with a Saturday night game in Windsor against the Eagles (1st in division) and a Sunday game against the Rage (2nd in the division).

Let’s get to the photos.

On the drive in, I passed the Kansas Coliseum, home of the Wichita Thunder. A barn, I saw the longest minute of hockey in this arena, in 2005.
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The Tulsa Convention Center is just that, and not your new fancy CC, it’s your old CC, built when attaching a rink was a good idea. It does remind me of Amarillo, where the rink is attached to the theater, but a little cleaner.
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Here’s the layout of the place. A little 1970’s, ya think? I’m reminded of Buck Rogers.
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Hockey is not the only thing in town. For example….
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The arena is a lot like the one in Roanoke, and that is not a complement.
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On to the game. Which was notable for… FIGHT!!!!!!
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Line Brawl!!!!!!

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This guy handed out free taco coupons after the first goal, another highlight from the game. Who wears a tux to a game, and doesn’t own the team? In Tulsa?
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This came at a point when the Oilers didn’t need anything other than a mercy killing, or a really fast clock. The game was over, and they weren’t playing for pride, just fighting with it. There was no message to be sent, nothing to be gained. But it was probably the only thing the fans could go home happy with.
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The new arena looks like it could be cool, at least on the outside.
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I don’t have any idea what it’s going to look like on the inside, but I have great expectations. A nice new place for all of Tulsa’s minor league teams to play.

I’ll let my experience in Tulsa be summed up with one last picture. I have been in beat towns before. Really beat towns, where hockey isn’t even an afterthought, and Les Miserable coming to town is an event. But this is the most beat thing I have ever seen.
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That is beat.

Tomorrow night, if I get up in time, and drive like hell, I am seeing a game in Bossier City, LA, another CHL matchup. It will probably be my last live game of the year. You gots to do what you gots to do.

A Minor Hockey League Walks Into a Bar

For all the issues fans have with the NHL, they really don’t know how good they have it. Complaints about not having the game in HD, or a blown call by a ref? That ain’t nothing. Welcome to the MAHL. Never heard of it? There’s a good reason for that. The MAHL is a five team league that started with little fanfare, and left with about the same. From the MAHL website:

Mid-Atlantic Hockey League President Andrew Haines today announced that the 2007-08 season will be come to an end immediately in order to allow all member teams to re-organize for the 2008-09 season.

As a result of this announcement, the Indiana Ice Miners have been declared MAHL League Champion based on their amazing record setting regular season record of 31-1-0 and their consecutive victories record of twenty-six.

A team goes 31-1-0 and no one hears about it. That is the definition of a joke league. The sad part is that there are 100 or so players out of work six weeks early, players who needed a gig, and had enough faith in the league to sign on the dotted line.

Want a hockey gig for next season? I can’t really recommend you take one, but this is from the MAHL website as well:

The Mid-Atlantic Hockey League currently has the following employment opportunities available for the upcoming season.

League Open Positions:
-Director of Hockey Operations (Full-Time)
-Director of Public Relations (Full or Part Time)

Team Open Positions:
-Head Coach (Expansion team – Michigan)
-General Manager (Expansion teams – Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio)

Internships:
-League
-Teams

Hey, they need GMs. GMs. Any takers? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

More Johnstown Pictures

I took a bunch of pictures from my time at the Johnstown Chiefs, but I thought the last post was long enough. Here are some more.

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You know it’s a tough crowd when the penalty box attendant gets heckled. From behind me I heard, “You throw like a girl.”

More hot dog tossing.

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This is a “bar” (beer stand with seating) at the end of the rink. As far as I can tell, it isn’t reserved seating, and I would have gone down here for a period, except that the people next to me were into talking hockey, and I wasn’t going to give that up.
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When the away team enters or exits the ice, they have to do so next to the Chiefs bench. Look at the step they have to take getting through the doorway. I would fall on my ass with a step like that on hockey skates. I bet the crowd goes wild when it happens.
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I believe that I saw the worst Zamboni work I have ever seen at this game. To be fair, the guy didn’t have a lot of time, as between period promotions pushed the time perilously close to the start of the next period, but I have never seen, and I have been to a lot of minor league rinks, anyone have to squeegee the ice this much.
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Notice that the ice and the building are not aligned. That would give me a headache.
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That’s it from Johnstown. Next up, Flyers vs. Pens from Sunday.

Johnstown Chiefs vs. Elmira Jackals: Hockey Shrine

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Welcome to Johnstown, PA. For a lot of hockey fans, it’s impossible to think of Johnstown as being it’s own town. The city has a double identity, shared with a mythical place of violence, hockey, bad hair, and horn-rimmed glasses. Johnstown will forever be confused with Charlestown, the fictional town that hosted the Charleston Chiefs, from the movie Slap Shot. If you have not seen Slap Shot yet, you are missing out, and I do not believe you. The movie plays on every bus that has ever carried hockey players, is the perfectly quotable hockey movie, and maybe the perfect hockey movie. Miracle has it’s shine and polish, Mystery, Alaska has it’s charm, and Youngblood has… um…. I’ll leave it at that. But Slap Shot has grit, blood, humor, and a reckless abandon with the script that could never make it to the screen today. If Slap Shot crossed the desk of a movie producer in this day and age, it would wind up in the trash.

I happen to be in Pittsburgh with a week off from work, and I love spending my off days searching out minor league hockey. There are plenty of NHL arenas and games to take in, but they don’t need my money, not like the teams and players toiling in the minors do. They play in sheds that are falling apart, with Zambonis that need more than a wrench put on them, and dressing rooms that could use more than a fresh coat of paint. They need the attendance, and they work hard for every dollar they can get. And they truly appreciate you showing up. When I say “you, I really mean you. Tell a person wearing a name tag at a minor league game how far you drove to see their team, and they will thank you for coming for hours, talk hockey with you, and maybe even bring you a puck. Trust me, it happens. These people are struggling to keep the team afloat, and I mean everywhere. Hockey doesn’t sell itself, no matter what the NHL teams believe.

When the opportunity to visit an icon of the game comes up, you take it. Johnstown had a game on a Friday night, and I could go. What else do I have to say. I grabbed my map, camera, and jersey, and got my butt to the Rink.

First, I had to eat, so I took a stroll down Main St.
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Is this where they had the parade at the end of the movie? I can’t tell.

I wound up eating at The Fish House, which is just a little hole in the wall with an old school look and feel to it. Two words: wood panelling. It turns out the place has been there for over thirty years, and was down the street before that, until the flood wiped the old place off the map. It also wiped the Johnstown Jets, the team the Chiefs were based on, off the map as well. From Wikipedia:

The Jets played four seasons total in the NAHL before the league folded in 1977. The team itself folded in the offseason, when the Johnstown flood of 1977 that damaged the arena’s ice making equipment.

The movie was released and the town was flooded in the same year.

Johnstown itself is exactly where the movie left off. The steel factories shut down, and the town has never recovered. The person sitting next to me at the game told me the biggest employer in Johnstown is the hospital. Walking down Main St, the only word I could use to describe the place was “Beat.”
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On to the Arena. First, I stopped along the way in a liquor store to pick up a few things for later. My jersey drew the attention of the man working the counter, and he started talking hockey with me. I got a quick rundown of the previous weekends games, one win in the shootout, and one loss in the shootout. The guy was telling me about the crowd, and how much hockey meant to the town. Another stop along the way back to the rink brought me inside the “Candy Store.” I don’t want to insult anyone, but the place was in need of some serious TLC. But they had a smattering of hockey items, including a few Starting Lineup figures from the late 90s, including Sandis Ozolinsh in 1997 and Joe Sakic holding the Stanley Cup. Mind you, they look surprisingly similar. Aside from the numbers on the back, you would think they were twins. Still, at $5 each, I couldn’t pass it up. The store owner bent my ear for a while. He’s concerned about the town, that it’s going down the drain, that younger people just pack up and disappear. He talked about the loss of hockey for the town, and told me how heartbreaking it was to see the team leave. He doesn’t wish that one anyone, but told me that people who bemoan their team should lose it for a year. “I’m still getting over it.”

Finally, I made it to the arena, in time for warmups. First, let me introduce the Mascot to you, Tom E. Hawk:
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There are about a hundred different ways to look at this. And I am not going to get into it here. I will say this. If you hire a mascot for hockey, make sure the person you hire can skate with a big head on.

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Can you imagine the opposition at an NHL game walking by you in the hall before the game? One simple fence keeping you from the players. You could say anything you wanted. You could taunt, poke, and prod them at will. Then you see a big ass goalie, and you think better of it. The crowd was really tame here, and I don’t blame them. The fence that keeps you from them may be the one that saves your life.

Welcome to the War Memorial.
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That black Budweiser sign is the goal light. Coolest. Thing. Ever.
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This is the barn. Nothing fancy, just a shrine of hockey. This was taken during warmups, so there are more people are going to show up.
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The home team gets off the ice, comes down this hall, and then turn to the right (your left)…
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And then head down the hall to the dressing room. The families, kids, and fans hang out to knock knuckles with the players as they pass by. And the players knock every single knuckle held out.

Every.
Single.
One.

It’s really cool. These guys are looked up to by the kids, and the fans love their team. You always hear of players in the NHL who snub fans and kids, and hey, those guys have more demands and more requests than these guys. But it takes so little. These are happy fans. It doesn’t take much.
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This is Tom E. Hawk throwing hot dogs out to the crowd. Yes, you read that correctly.

More arena shots:
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This guy is mad. Really mad.
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This guy is scared. Really scared.
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I don’t blame him. I would be scared too.

The good guys won the game (that would be the Chiefs), but oddly enough, there were no fights. I figured if you played for Johnstown, fighting was mandatory. So remember kids, it’s just a movie.
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Can you say, blow out? I knew you could.

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That’s about it. The experience was totally worth it. If you are happening by Johnstown, you should stop and see a game. You might even see a fight.