Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Los Angeles Clippers 100 at Houston Rockets 113 (Western Conference Semifinal, Game 7) - May 17, 2015

When I planned the trip to Houston, I really didn't consider the NBA as an option. The Jays were playing every day and if the Rockets had a game, it would be an expensive playoff affair. When the second round schedule was released, Game 7 was scheduled for Sunday, with the time TBD. As the Jays had an afternoon game that day, I hoped for an evening tilt, though when the Rockets fell behind 3-1 to the Clippers, Game 7 looked like a longshot. Houston won Game 5 easily, but were down 19 points late in the third quarter of Game 6, causing most Rocket boosters to turn off their TVs in disgust. As you probably know, the Rockets mounted an unbelievable comeback, outscoring the Clippers 40-15 in the final frame to force Game 7 after all. I didn't expect tickets to be available at the box office, but I guess Houston fans had fallen asleep because when I checked a few minutes after Game 6 had finished, I found a pair in the upper deck for $89 each. Not cheap, but Game 7s are rare and worth the premium.

After Cleveland dumped Chicago in six games, we needed Memphis and Golden State to go to 7 for the Rockets game to be pushed to the evening, but the Grizzlies were awful in Game 6 and thus the Rockets and Clippers were set at 2:30 Houston time. After seeing the Jays lose three straight, it wasn't too difficult to skip the fourth.

As Sharpy and I walked to the arena, Corey Brewer (above in his work clothes) strolled by on his way to the game. Fans in their cars honked and shouted encouragement, and Brewer smiled and thanked everyone. He even said hi to us, and thanked us when we wished him good luck. The fans were classy, letting him enter the arena without any hassles for autographs. It amazed me that in this day and age, a pro player can walk along the street and not be excessively bothered, especially before such an important game. Impressed with the Houston fans all around.

Gates opened at 1:00 and we entered shortly thereafter, taking our time to tour the facility. I had visited here just two years ago, and not much had changed, but the atmosphere was electric. Red t-shirts sporting Clutch City were laid on every seat and those fans who were too proud to wear one were shamed on the jumbotron until they acquiesced. The mascot, Clutch, had dyed himself red (instead of grey) and was making as much noise as possible to get the crowd ready, including riding in on a motorcycle.

Our seats were in the third row from the top, the best you could hope for at $89. That scoreboard is just as impressive from up there and you do have to be careful to not watch it instead of the action on the floor.

After that Game 6 miracle, there was an air of certainty that the Rockets would complete the comeback from 3-1 down. Early jitters affected both teams as the first quarter finished with 15 combined turnovers, but Houston shot 58% including 3/7 from beyond the arc to take a 28-21 lead.

The second quarter was solid basketball, with only 3 total turnovers and better shooting, with the Rockets winning 28-25 to take a 10 point lead into the break. An early run by LA in the third narrowed the gap to 60-57 but the Rockets finished the quarter on a 25-11 run and the fourth period was mostly a formality, at least until the final couple of minutes when the Clippers got within 8 at 102-94 to send fans into a panic. Two James Harden (bearded below) FTs assuaged the crowd and when Trevor Ariza hit a 3 a few seconds later, the game was sealed.

The final was 113-100 but we didn't stay for the celebration, scurrying out while the confetti fell (a bit early, confetti should be limited to championships), as we had to get to Dallas that night for flights on Monday. A great way to end the trip, and no regrets about missing the Jays game, as they lost yet again.


The city of Houston had its best sports weekend in a long time. The Astros went 4-0, the Rockets completed an improbable comeback, the Cougars swept UConn in baseball and clinched the Southern Conference championship, and even the Dynamo won. That's a combined 10-0 record, something that Toronto fans can only dream of.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

UConn Huskies 0 at Houston Cougars 1 (American Conference Baseball) - May 16, 2015

The college baseball season is nearly over and I had yet to see a full game this year. Fortunately, the Houston Cougars were home to the Connecticut Huskies this weekend and they had kindly scheduled an afternoon affair on Saturday to close out the regular season.

The University of Houston campus is just south of the city, and Cougar Field is right on the eastern edge. Parking is free off Cullen Boulevard, from where a short walk takes you to the park. Like all college ballparks, Cougar Field is simple, with no distractions. There are plaques commemorating some of the program’s retired numbers (including Doug Drabek) and All-Americans, but that is about it on the outside.

I am not sure how much tickets are because a kind lady was handing out freebies. If you do visit Cougar Field for an afternoon game, buy the general admission seats because you’ll want to be covered from the relentless sun and only the top few benches provide that protection.

Inside the stadium, you'll notice the red dirt surrounding the bases, and there are a couple of standing plaques commemorating College World Series trips but little else. There are a few food options, with water an outrageous $3.50. Sneak one in instead.

The Game

Taylor Cobb started for Houston and walked the first two batters, earning him the quickest hook I’ve ever seen. Aaron Garza (below), a senior, came in and induced a fly ball to right. The runner on second tagged and was thrown out by Zac Taylor, a great way to get out of the jam. Garza retired the next batter and what had initially appeared to be a long game turned out to be a fast-paced pitchers duel.

Jordan Tabakman (below) was the Husky starter and matched Garza in efficiency, throwing only 22 pitches through three innings. In the fourth, he gave up a single to Taylor, who took second when he saw it uncovered. Two singles by Josh Vidales and Jacob Campbell plated Taylor and the Cougars had the 1-0 lead.

Garza threw 5 solid innings and was replaced by Jared Robinson, who gave up two singles to the first two batters he faced before retiring 11 in a row, including Joe Deroche-Duffin on a called third strike (below) to end the game.

A really fun afternoon and the most enjoyable game of the weekend, given how terrible Toronto was playing. The 1-0 victory took only 2:13, very quick for an NCAA ballgame.


There were 11 hits in the game, all singles.

Houston is the 2015 American Conference champ as you can see in the scoreboard shot below. Sadly, the final score did not show up from the angle I was shooting, but rest assured I did stay to the end.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Toronto Blue Jays at Houston Astros - May 14-16, 2015

With Club 122 complete, I have few reasons to travel to major league venues anymore. New stadiums still appear, but they are limited to two or three per year. In order to keep sports road tripping for a few more years, I’m trying to see the Blue Jays and Leafs in each road venue. This baseball season, I'll watch the Blue Jays play interleague contests in Washington and New York, but I needed one AL venue to maintain my recent pace of three new venues per year. The East and Central have all been checked off, as has Anaheim, leaving me just four AL cities to choose from. After examining the schedule, I decided on Houston as it was a four-game weekend series and I hadn’t seen Minute Maid Park since my trip in 2001. I also expected the Jays would have a pretty good chance against what has been a dismal Astros squad in recent years. I was very, very wrong.

Cost considerations led to a flight to Dallas, where I met Sharpy, and we drove to Houston for the opener on Thursday night. The drive along I-45 is pretty dull, but there are a couple of interesting attractions in Huntsville: the Texas Prison Museum and the Sam Houston Statue (heavy rains prevented a shot from the front).

We arrived in Houston about an hour before the game and had no trouble finding a parking spot a block away. Street parking in downtown Houston is plentiful and free after 6 pm, yet few fans seem to take advantage. I prefer the entrance off Crawford Street as it is less crowded, and it is just north of here where most of the parking can be found.

Before going in, be sure to find the statue of Jeff Bagwell (above). Once inside, you will find yourself on Home Run Alley, one of the park’s signature elements, with banners commemorating past heroes and events.

Other notable features are Tal’s Hill in centerfield, the Home Run Pump that counts the number of Astro dingers hit at the park (1,371 before the series began and about 2,000 after), and the train that carries Minute Maid oranges along a track above left field whenever the Astros go deep (next to the Citgo sign in the 3rd picture below).

Even with all these unique additions, I found the park to be somewhat sterile, due to the roof that is usually closed to keep out Houston’s humidity. Baseball is an outdoor sport and Minute Maid Park is really just like any other dome, even with the view of the skyline through the windows above left field.

Food options are decent, with Nolan Ryan beef advertised everywhere. Avoid the 5 & 7 Grille though, as it is extremely overpriced, with a simple turkey wrap running $14. You can bring in an unopened bottle of water here, there was an ice cream truck selling them at the corner of Texas and Hamilton streets for $1 (along with lots of ice cream treats). There is a designated driver program too, which will net you a full-size soda if you sign up.

You can wander the concourses easily, and sit pretty much where you please. We had good seats for the opener, just behind the plate, but noticed that ushers were not checking tickets. For the second game, we bought the cheapest available ($12) and sat about 25 rows up along first base, and for the third game, a generous gentleman gave us freebies. We spent that game moving from section to section in a vain effort to bring the Blue Jays some luck.

The series actually started well as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion belted back-to-back monster homers in the first inning off Roberto Hernandez. Drew Hutchinson pitched 6 good innings and the Jays had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom half of the 7th. Aaron Loup came in and faced 4 batters: single, walk, double, double. An error by Josh Thole led to another run and the Astros had turned the 2-run deficit into a 2-run lead. The Jays did nothing in their last two innings and a game that they should have won ended up a disappointing loss.

The Jays faced Astro ace Dallas Keuchel (below) in game 2 and he pitched well enough, while R.A Dickey could not find any movement on his knuckleball indoors, giving up a couple of long balls, including a 3-run shot to Jose Altuve, as the Astros won 8-4.

The Jays only managed 2 fly ball outs, and it became clear from the first two games that the Astros have recruited pitchers that tend to induce ground balls, a necessity in the bandbox that is Minute Maid Park. They lead the majors in ground ball outs, a big factor in their early success.

Game 3 saw the Jays storm out to a 3-0 lead, only to have the bullpen blow it again, as lefty Jeff Francis faced two lefties, gave up a single and a double, and left the game. Both runners scored when Liam Hendriks served up a gopher ball to Chris Carter. A late Encarnacion pinch-hit homer made it close, but the Jays fell 6-5, and I realized that they are in for a long summer. They can score, but they can't pitch, so expect lots of scores like this one.

We skipped the fourth and final game of the set as the Rockets were hosting the Clippers in Game 7 of their second-round series. The Jays lost that one for good measure.


My Toronto on the Road record is again below .500 at 33-34-3. I’ll see two more games this season (in Washington on June 1, and in New York on June 16) and hope that the Jays will be injury free by then and back to playing competitive baseball.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NFL Road Trip 2015

A couple of weeks ago, the NFL schedule was released. I've been busy travelling since then, so haven't had time to put together the usual NFL road trip post until now. This is merely to help other fans an idea of what a full-season expedition looks like and might help those considering making the trip themselves - there is no chance I would do this again.

Before I get to the games, a few points. The schedule is based on the assumption that you are driving to every game (except the one in London obviously), and so the main objective is to minimize the number of miles driven (and gas purchased) as opposed to seeing the best games every week.

Secondly, this is supposed to be an enjoyable exercise, so drives longer than 600 miles a day are avoided where possible, as are same-day doubleheaders. It just isn't worth the hassle of seeing both Soldier Field and Lambeau on the same day (which can be done in Week 2); those venues need to be experienced without rushing through them. Finally, you must begin with the season opener in New England, a symbolic start to the excursion. As is always the case, you need to see 32 games in 17 weeks, so plenty of Thursday and Monday contests are on the slate. This season, you can add London to the mix:

Week     Date      Vis  Home   Time
  1   Thu, Sep 10  Pit   NE    8:30
  1   Sun, Sep 13  Sea   Stl  12:00
  2   Thu, Sep 17  Den   KC    7:25
  2   Sun, Sep 20  Det   Min  12:00
  2   Mon, Sep 21  NYJ   Ind   8:30
  3   Thu, Sep 24  Was   NYG   8:25
  3   Sun, Sep 27  Phi   NYJ   1:00
  4   Thu, Oct 01  Bal   Pit   8:25
  4   Sun, Oct 04  NYJ   Mia London
  5   Thu, Oct 08  Ind   Hou   7:25
  5   Sun, Oct 11  Den   Oak   1:25
  6   Sun, Oct 18  Car   Sea   1:05
  7   Thu, Oct 22  Sea   SF    8:25
  7   Sun, Oct 25  Oak   SD    1:05
  7   Mon, Oct 26  Bal   Ari   5:30
  8   Sun, Nov 01  GB    Den   6:30
  9   Thu, Nov 05  Cle   Cin   8:25
  9   Sun, Nov 08  GB    Car   1:00
 10   Sun, Nov 15  Car   Ten   1:00
 11   Thu, Nov 19  Ten   Jax   8:25
 11   Sun, Nov 22  Ind   Atl   1:00
 12   Thu, Nov 26  Chi   GB    7:30
 12   Mon, Nov 30  Bal   Cle   8:30
 13   Thu, Dec 03  GB    Det   8:25
 13   Sun, Dec 06  Hou   Buf   1:00
 13   Mon, Dec 07  Dal   Was   8:30
 14   Sun, Dec 13  NO    TB    1:00
 14   Mon, Dec 14  NYG   Mia   8:30
 15   Sat, Dec 19  NYJ   Dal   7:25
 15   Mon, Dec 21  Det   NO    7:30
 16   Sat, Dec 26  Was   Phi   8:25
 16   Sun, Dec 27  Pit   Bal   8:30
 17   Sun, Jan 03  Det   Chi  12:00

Using Google Maps directions between stadiums and assuming that you start and finish in Foxboro, this trip would take 21,362 highway miles. The toughest drive is from Houston to Oakland, nearly 2,000 miles in just over two days, but it can be done.

You would see the Jets, Baltimore, Green Bay and Detroit on the road three times (plus a second Miami "home" games if you flew to London), while Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver, Washington, Carolina, and Seattle would be the visitors on two occasions each. A number of teams are skipped on the road, most notably the defending champion Patriots, which means you would miss Tom Brady since you would start the season at Gillette Stadium. I mentioned flexibility above, though, and if you needed to see the Pats, you could switch Weeks 3 and 10, visiting Nashville for the Colts on September 27, and then hitting the Rex Bowl on November 12 and then the Pats at Giants the following Sunday. Other examples are switching Buffalo and Chicago in Weeks 13 and 16 if you'd rather finish with yet another Jets game, or checking out Week 5's MNF battle as the Steelers visit San Diego instead of waiting for the Raiders to visit Qualcomm on October 12. In all these cases, I've chosen the game that will limit your driving.

The best part of this schedule is the number of quality games. You get 20 divisional battles, including both Pittsburgh/Baltimore tussles. In fact, all games featuring AFC and NFC North teams are within the division, which should mean some smashmouth football. This season, the NFL is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl by highlighting past matchups on the schedule, and you would be at two of them: Jets at Colts and Packers at Broncos. You'd finish in frigid Chicago, which could present problems on the highway should a new year's snowstorm arrive, but that is about your only worry. All in all, a decent plan that is fun to think about; if you end up doing this one, let me know and we can meet at one of the games in New York.



Wednesday, May 6, 2015

England at West Indies (Test Cricket) - May 2-3, 2015

If you enjoy sports travel, you should consider becoming a fan of cricket if you aren't yet. It is a game that is not played professionally in Canada or the US, which means lots of opportunities to travel to exotic locales. I saw the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, and the Indian Premier League attracts tourists throughout its season. Other faraway lands in which cricket is popular include Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. Of course, the sport's origins are found in England, but that hardly qualifies as an exotic destination. Fortunately, there is a closer and more appealing vacation spot (weather wise at least) that hosts cricket matches on a regular basis: the West Indies.

Of course, you probably know that the West Indies is not a country itself, but a collection of Caribbean nations and territories that has been misnamed (it is nowhere close to India) since Columbus first visited back in 1492. It may not be an official federation in political terms, but it does wield power in the sporting world through its cricket team, known as the Windies.

The federation consists of 15 countries and dependencies in the Caribbean and South America. Of these, 10 have a stadium that has been used in an international cricket match: Antigua (2), Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana (2), Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Trinidad. When the West Indies hosts a test series, they will play each test match in a different venue, an ideal situation for a fan who wants to explore these destinations, all of which are easily accessible from the east coast of the United States and Canada.

Most recently, the Windies hosted England in a three-test set that began at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua (a draw), moved to the National Cricket Stadium in Grenada (England victorious) and finished at the Kensington Oval in Barbados (Windies winning in just 3 days). I happened to spend days 2 and 3 at this final test and found it to be one of the most enjoyable sports road trips I have taken.

Kensington Oval

The Kensington Oval was originally constructed in 1871, but was completely rebuilt in 2006 for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. It now holds about 28,000 fans, who are seated in several different stands as is the norm in cricket.

On both days, I ended up in the Greenidge & Haynes Stand which was fortunate as most seats here are covered. Some other stands are completely uncovered (as you can see above), though in some cases you can move over into the covered stand should the sun get too hot. There is also a Party Stand which was significantly more expensive but included all you can eat and drink and was therefore a lot livelier than where I was sitting.

The ground is in the southwest corner of Bridgetown, the capital city. It is easy to walk to from the Nursery ZR terminal, taking about 20 minutes or so. ZRs (pronounced Zed-R) are small, white minivans with a red stripe along the side that are your best bet for getting around the island. They are very frequent, driven wildly with music blaring from the loudspeakers, and locals getting on or off every few seconds; in other words a lot of fun. The routes are numbered but not published, however, I found out that the end of the #11 route was close to my hotel and would get me all the way to Bridgetown for a mere $2 BBD (that's a buck in US terms). If you are not up for the walk to the ground, another ZR will take you there for another $2.

I didn't even make it to the box office on my first day. As I sauntered down the road, a local had exactly one ticket for sale, for which he wanted $40 BBD. I offered half, we split the difference, and a few minutes later I was inside, stopping briefly to snap a shot of the statue of Sir Garfield Sobers, one of the greats of the game.

I was impressed with the number of concessions, most of which are offering similar wares at cheap prices. I highly recommend Mac Pie, which is mac'n'cheese baked into a large pie and served in squares. This local favourite is as good as it sounds and can be found at most bars and restaurants too. It is a good choice for lunch here because it will fill you up for most of the day. If you don't want to leave your seat, there is a vendor with a box of peanuts on his head.

Banks beer was on sale everywhere for $4, though one stand competed well, offering it for only $3. That's $1.50 US for a beer at a sporting event! Hell, there were even bottles of rum, gin, vodka, and scotch on sale, in some cases for about the same price as a beer at Yankee Stadium. Hey, cricket takes a full day so you best be prepared.

The fans were evenly split between English tourists and locals, and everyone got along. None of the idiotic posturing that you see at NFL games. What makes a day at Kensington Oval so enjoyable, besides the cheap eats and beer, is the weather. Barbados days are consistent, with temperatures around 30C and a light breeze blowing throughout the day. The match unfolds in front of you, slowly but gradually runs are compiled while wickets occasionally fall, and before you know it the day has passed. It is a unique experience in the sporting world and Kensington Oval is one of the best places to enjoy that experience.

The Media Centre

The Match

The first day of the test saw England win the toss and choose to bat, where they put up a total of 240/7. By the time I had arrived on Day 2, Windies had bowled out the tourists for 257, and had just lost opener Kraigg Braithwaite for a duck (0 runs). The wickets continued to fall and when Moeen Ali got Darren Bravo to edge to slip, the hosts were only 37/4 and looked to be in serious trouble. A few steady partnerships solidified the total though, and Jermaine Blackwood finished with 85 as the West Indies finished all out for 189, with James Anderson (below) capturing 6 wickets.

There was still time for England to bat, and the wickets didn't stop tumbling. In just 21 overs, England was out five times for a dismal total of 39 and it was clear that a draw was not going to happen.

The third day was little better for the visitors. Early partnerships of 23 and 33 got England to 95/7, but two quick wickets left them 98/9 and in danger of falling short of a century. Only some fine batting from Jos Butler saved them from complete humiliation, as his team-leading 35 was enough to get them to 123 all out. That set a total of 192 for the hosts to win, and it didn't take long to see that they would make it as they played defensively, taking few risks and not allowing the English bowlers any easy wickets.

The only question was whether they would delay enough for force a morning session on Day 4. At tea, they were only 70/3, but as the close of play approached, they began to bat more aggressively, with Bravo doing the most damage. His 3 sixes and 7 fours accounted for more than half of his 82 runs and although he was caught with the Windies just four runs from victory, Blackwood did the honours a few balls later as the West Indies cruised to a 5-wicket win.

It was their first test victory over England in 12 attempts and only their second in 29. I was glad to see a bit of an upset and as it turned out, it was nice to have an off day and explore Barbados (or at least bars in Barbados).


The Kensington Oval is also used in the Caribbean Premier League, which is 20/20 cricket with the Barbados Tridents the home club. The CPL season is very short, running from June 20-July 26, so if you are looking for a Caribbean destination this summer with a bit of sport thrown in, there are also teams in Jamaica, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Next Up

I'm taking this weekend off to recuperate and then heading to Houston to see the Blue Jays. As my luck would have it, the Astros are one of the top teams in the league, so here's hoping Toronto can win a couple while I am there. I'll also check out the Houston Dynamo, some college ball, and maybe the Rockets if they can force Game 7 against the Clippers, so check back in a few days so see how it all turned out.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Portland Pirates 2 at Manchester Monarchs 6 (AHL Eastern Conference QF, Game 2) - April 25, 2015

After a delightful day touring the Currier Museum of Art (highly recommended), it was time for the main event of my Manchester weekend, the alliterative AHL playoff game between the Portland Pirates and Manchester Monarchs. The Monarchs are moving to the West Coast after the season and being replaced by an ECHL team with the same name so this was my last chance to see the AHL at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Located at the southern edge of downtown, the rink is one of the biggest in the league, at least among those that don't house a major league team. Note the huge sloped roof (not so obvious above) is so designed to allow the heavy New Hampshire snow to fall off. Manchester has free street parking on the weekend, so you can find a spot nearby and avoid paying for a lot.

Whereas most arenas block off portions of the upper deck for AHL games, all seats are sold here, with capacity listed at 9,852 for hockey. The cheapest seat for this second game of the conference quarterfinal was $12 and that left me in the top row behind one of the nets (view above). I am pretty sure this is farther away than the top row at Nassau Coliseum. Even further away are the top seats along the sides, which are above some luxury suites. The view from here is seen below. Note that the upper bowl seats along the side form a parabola, a rare setup in this sort of indoor venue.

The main entrance leads you to a platform behind one of the nets (below) but access to the rest of the seats is up a set of stairs on either side. The main concourse is relatively narrow and during intermissions, lineups from the concession stands and restrooms can make a walkaround a trying proposition. There are two additional mini concourses that lead to the upper decks on the sidelines.

If you have figured it out yet, the Monarchs are affiliated with the Los Angeles Kings, who won a couple of Stanley Cups in recent years. There is a banner honouring those players who played here and were on the first Cup-winning squad.

The lower bowl is at a shallow angle, so even in the 10th row, some of the ice is blocked by the glass. This is not a problem during the play, but limits your ability to take unobstructed pictures.  Like so many hockey teams now, the Monarchs darken the arena for introductions, so get to your seat early. The players emerge from a giant inflated lion's head. It actually looks pretty cool.

Overall, however, I found the venue to be somewhat limited in its amenities given its large size. The design is unique but not necessarily the smartest use of space. That's a minor complaint though, and I'll be back here to check out the ECHL next season.

The Game

The Monarchs finished first in the Eastern Conference while Portland (Arizona) barely made the playoffs. Mike McKenna (who has seen action in 22 NHL games for four franchises) got the start for Portland, despite giving up 4 goals on 14 shots in Game 1, a 5-2 Manchester victory.

Well, things were even worse for McKenna on this night, as just 20 seconds in, Manchester's Michael Mersch chipped the puck into the net after taking a pass from league MVP Brian O'Neill (above) stationed behind the net. Ten seconds after that, Jordan Weal skated down the right wing and took a harmless shot from the corner that McKenna somehow played into the net, and Manchester led 2-0 with only half a minute gone.

McKenna was mercifully pulled and replaced by Louis Domingue (above, who I had seen come into a game in Ottawa earlier this year). That seemed to sort Portland out and they prevented any more goals, scoring themselves with 14 seconds left in the period as a Brendan Shinnimin point shot deflected off a Monarch defender past Jean-Francois Berube (below).

The second period was scoreless despite Portland being afforded a five minute power play due to an Andrew Crescenzi boarding major and we entered the third with the outcome still in doubt. But not for long. First, Manchester's Sean Backman tipped home a point shot for a power-play goal at 1:53; just 17 seconds after that O'Neill drilled a shot from the slot that beat Domingue under the bar, and a further 22 seconds elapsed before Nic Dowd finished a rush by deking a shell-shocked Domingue and sliding the puck home. That's three goals in 39 seconds, a franchise record and more than enough for Manchester to cruise to a 6-2 win and take a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series.

I was not impressed with Portland's overall play, as well as the general lack of intensity displayed by either team. The AHL playoffs are not much different than the regular season from what I can tell, which makes sense, no one grows up dreaming of scoring the Calder Cup winning goal.


Brendan Periini, Arizona's first-round pick in 2014 (12th overall) appeared in his first pro game just two days before his 20th birthday. He finished with a shot on goal and a -2 rating.

I had planned to drive up to Portland for Game 3, but the rather anemic displayed convinced me to remain in Manchester for another Fisher Cats ballgame, also reducing the Sunday night drive home. Portland won 3-2, scoring the winner with 3 seconds left. Domingue took the victory, while McKenna wasn't even dressed. It was the first playoff win for a Coyotes AHL affiliate since May 27, 2008, when San Antonio Rampage beat Toronto in the opening round.

Next Up

I'm off to the Barbados this weekend for the third and final test of England's tour of the West Indies. Check back next week for a recap.