Sunday, November 10, 2019

Acadie-Bathurst Titan 3 at Halifax Mooseheads 4 (OT, QMJHL) - November 9, 2019


One of my remaining quests is to see a game in all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. After visiting North Dakota and Wyoming last year, I only have Alaska left stateside, but there were still three Maritime provinces remaining. The best way to see all three is ironically through the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) which has six teams in its Maritimes Division. I needed a weekend where the Halifax Mooseheads and Charlottetown Islanders were home with a New Brunswick team slotted in between. I found just such an occurrence over the Remembrance Day long weekend, with Halifax home Saturday, the Moncton Wildcats Sunday, and the Islanders on Monday afternoon.



I then found a direct flight from LaGuardia to Halifax for the ridiculously low price of $79, so the trip was coming into focus. That was American's Saturday-only flight, which meant that I had to book a return flight separately, since I couldn't spend the entire week in the area, and Air Canada had reasonable prices for a one-stop return via Toronto on Tuesday. With everything lined up perfectly, I decided to book the flights and some hotels and began the wait. Unfortunately, things hit a small snag when American decided to completely cancel their Halifax service about a month later, but surprisingly Air Canada had similarly priced flights via Montreal. The advantage of this route was I got a view of downtown Montreal and snapped a shot that includes the Bell Centre (above). It is tough to spot but it it between the two tall buildings in the lower left quadrant. I also got a good picture of Olympic Stadium and Stade Saputo (below).



Winter travel is always risky, but things worked out with the flight to Halifax delayed only slightly, arriving at 4:30. Stanfield Airport is a far piece from downtown and taxis are $68 plus tip, which is far too much for me, with an hourly bus that is only $4.25 providing the other option. Thankfully, there is an A&W restaurant in the airport, so I was able to enjoy a burger and charge my phone before taking the bus downtown, getting to my hotel around 6:00. After checking in and dropping my bag, I made the short walk to Scotiabank Centre.



Opened in 1978 as the Halifax Metro Centre to replace the Halifax Forum as the home of the AHL's Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the venue has seen a lot in its 41 years. Three different AHL franchises played there as have several different basketball squads, and the NLL's Thunderbirds will begin their inaugural season next month. As well, hundreds of concerts have taken place here, including Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister on the Powerslave tour in 1984, a show that I saw in Ottawa.



Even with all that, it is still referred to as Home of the Halifax Mooseheads, who won the Memorial Cup in 2013 and lost the final to Rouyn-Noranda this past May as the host team.



The arena is right below the Halifax Citadel, from which you get great views of the city as well as the building itself. The shot below is from just across Brunswick Street at the base of the Citadel's staircase.



Along the facade here are banners of past Mooseheads who have gone on to star in the NHL, such as Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.



The arena is also home to the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame and admission is free at all times. There is some excellent history on Nova Scotian athletes and builders from all sports, but of course, hockey dominates.



The WHA had 3 Avco World Trophies and one is on display (the other two are at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in Winnipeg).



The highlight is the most famous dryer in Canada, the one that was in the basement of Sidney Crosby's Cole Harbour home. Each dent is a missed shot as the net was next to the dryer.



With the tour done, I entered the rink itself. There is a large concourse with the best food options I have seen in junior hockey. Dozens of stands, most named Halifax and the food they serve (Halifax Poutine, Halifax Sandwich, Halifax Links, etc.), line the concourse and you are spoilt for choice. The exception to the naming convention is King of Donair, a local restaurant that is credited with the first donairs in Canada. I enjoyed the grilled cheese and bacon sandwich for $6.50, a bargain for a freshly made item.



Just above the Halifax Mac & Cheese stand are several paintings commemorating Canadian hockey successes over the years.



Capacity here is 10,595, second in the QMJHL behind Quebec, who should soon be getting an NHL team.



A single seating bowl surrounds the ice surface, with dark blue padded seats provided in all sections. There is no interior walkway along the sides so make sure to enter by the correct section.



The concourse opens up behind each net and some fans choose to stand here for the game.



Along the sides, there is an additional level of seating above the bowl, with the upper rows view of the scoreboard blocked by the suites.



Compare the photo above, taken in the lower level, with the one below, taken from near the top. You can see how the suites block the scoreboard. There are TV's along the back of the suites so fans who sit there can still see what is shown on the main scoreboard.



Banners for the Mooseheads can be found above one end of the ice, as well as a championship banner for the NBL's Hurricanes.



I was on assignment for Stadium Journey, so moved around from period to period. Attendance was 7,300, which left plenty of seats from which to watch the action, all of which provide good views.



Overall, this is one of the finest junior hockey venues in the land. Superb location, excellent food, lots of history, and excellent sightlines make it a must-visit arena for those who love junior hockey.



The Game

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan were visiting having just notched their first win of the season the night before after losing 17 in a row. Halifax had 8 wins in 19 games, and had swept the Titan the previous season, winning all 9 matchups (the Titan were awful last year too, winning just 8 of 68 games). As expected, Halifax got off to a great start, potting 2 in the first six minutes. The Titan weathered the storm and actually started to take control in the second period, helped by a too many men and three delay of game penalties against Halifax, including two against Pembroke's Patrick Kyte. On the last of these, Halifax's Benoit-Olivier Groulx (2nd round pick by Anaheim in 2018) scored a beautiful shorthanded goal, going between his legs to flip one over Tristan Berube. But the Titan managed to score on that very power play when Swiss prospect Noah Delemont scored his first Q goal on a seeing-eye shot from the point to make it 3-1 entering the third.

Midway through, Acadie's Anderson MacDonald scored off a loose puck in the slot and suddenly the easy victory was anything but. The Titan continued to pester Cole McLaren in the Halifax net, but as the final minute began, it looked like the Mooseheads would hold on. Then Kyte made yet another mistake, trying to clear the puck up the center of the ice, where it was easily intercepted by Remy Anglehart, who beat McLaren with 12.8 seconds left, shocking the home fans. Could the Titan win two in a row? Nope. The overtime period was entirely controlled by Halifax, who scored the winner when Senna Peeters poked home a loose puck with 1:52 remaining, sending everyone home happy. This turned out to be a fun, competitive game despite the supposed mismatch, with Bathurst outshooting Halifax 45-31.



Highlights are worth watching for Groulx's goal alone.

Notes

There was a fight, which surprised me. I thought fighting had pretty much been eliminated in junior hockey but Jason Horvath and Evan MacKinnon dropped the gloves after Horvath dropped MacKinnon with a solid hit. Horvath gained an assist on the winning goal too.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

2019 MLB Award Predictions


The MLB award finalists were announced yesterday, so it is time to look at my proprietary Bases Per Out (BPO) statistic to determine who should win each award. To refresh your memory, the formula is: (TB+BB+SB+HBP+SAC+SF)/(AB-H+CS+SAC+SF+GIDP). That's the total bases achieved by the batter against the number of outs he made, and obviously, the higher the ratio the better. Of course, this completely ignores defense, which is why it is imperfect, but it does give some insight into a player's offensive contributions.

MVP

Here are the top 5 in BPO in the AL:
Player         Bases  Outs  BPO
Mike Trout      444   344  1.290
Alex Bregman    469   408  1.150
Nelson Cruz     356   331  1.076
George Springer 366   357  1.025
Mookie Betts    438   444  0.986
Yet again, Mike Trout was the best player in the league, but he also missed 28 games due to injury, nearly 20% of the season. Bregman, on the other hand, was a stud for the whole year, took over shortstop when Carlos Correa went down, and was the best player on the best team in the league. I believe that the MVP should play at least 90% of the team's games, so Bregman would get my vote, but the writers will probably choose Trout. The other finalist is Marcus Semien, who isn't even in the top 5 in BPO.

Here are the top 5 in the NL:
Player          Bases  Outs  BPO
Christian Yelich 449   341  1.317
Cody Bellinger   468   407  1.147
Anthony Rendon   432   394  1.097
Juan Soto        426   407  1.047
Ketel Marte      406   393  1.033
A similar situation in that the obvious MVP was injured late in the season. In this case, Yelich's Brewers actually did better during his absence to secure a Wild Card berth, which doesn't help his case. Regardless, he only played 130 games, so the winner should be Bellinger, but again, look for the voters to ignore games played and choose Yelich. The other finalist is Rendon.

Cy Young

For pitchers, the statistic is reversed, giving Outs Per Base ((IP*3)/(TB+BB+HBP+WP+BK+SB)), with higher numbers again better.

The top 5 in the AL:
Player          Outs  Bases  OPB
Justin Verlander 669   350  1.911
Gerrit Cole      637   334  1.907
Charlie Morton   584   326  1.791
Lucas Giolito    530   313  1.693
Shane Bieber     643   381  1.688
What a close race between the two Astros. Either is worthy, Verlander was slightly better in WHIP (0.80-0.89), wins (21-20) and OPB, while Cole had 326 strikeouts to Verlander's 300. Hard to say who wins; I would pick Verlander based on OPB, but I think the writers will choose Cole, if only to get a rise out of Kate Upton and another story to file in the quiet offseason. Morton is the third finalist. Winner: Verlander

The top 5 in the NL:
Player          Outs  Bases  OPB
Hyun-Jin Ryu     548   285  1.923
Jack Flaherty    589   311  1.894
Jacob deGrom     612   326  1.877
Mike Soroka      524   282  1.858
Max Scherzer     517   291  1.777
This is the most interesting race to me, because deGrom is the best pitcher in the league except for one thing: stolen bases. He gave up 24 during the season against just 4 caught stealing. Ignoring those would push his OPB up to 2.013, by far the best. But as he gets credit for a caught stealing in the form of 1/3 of an inning pitched, he has to take the hit for the stolen bases. So Ryu, who did have the lowest ERA in the league and the best OPB in the majors, should win. But I think the voters will again reward deGrom, whose 255 strikeouts were 92 more than Ryu. Scherzer is the third finalist. Winner: deGrom

Rookie of the Year 

These are the two races that are not a race. Yordan Alvarez, who led the league in slugging at .655 and whose 1.155 BPO was even above Bregman, will win in the American (Brandon Lowe and John Means are the two destined to "lose"), while Pete Alonso and his rookie record 53 homers (and 9th-ranked 0.972 OPB) will take the honours in the National in front of Soroka and Fernando Tatis Jr.

There are four races that could go to either of two players, which is unusual. In each case, my personal pick differs from what I expect the voters to decide; check back in a couple of weeks to see what happened.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, November 3, 2019

DePaul Blue Demons 2 at St. John's Red Storm 4 (NCAA Soccer, Big East) - November 2, 2019


As I've mentioned often on the blog, there aren't many venues left for me to see in NYC. The only sports left that are worth my time are college baseball and soccer. For the latter, there are 3 venues left: Jack Coffey Field for Fordham (where I've already seen football), Gaelic Park in the Bronx for Manhattan, and Belson Stadium for St. John's. The Red Storm are closest, and as they are ranked in the top 10 these days, I decided to visit for their final regular season home game.



I took the Q46 bus from Kew Gardens and arrived right at the scheduled start time of 7 p.m. The stadium is right next to Union Turnpike, separated by a small parking lot which actually continues under the playing field. This is a creative way to maximize use of limited space on campus and is not something I have seen before.



The box office is to the right as you walk towards the entrance at the far end of the stadium and can be missed if you do not know it is there. Ten bucks gets you in with a general admission ticket.



The entrance is just a small gate where your ticket is ripped. Next to it is the honors list for St. John's women's soccer (the men's list is just inside). You can buy some beverages, including beer and wine, from a small table beside the entrance.



Inside is a single stand along the sideline with cheap plastic seats, some of which have drink holders in their arms. The Johnnies draw relatively well here, and there were over a thousand fans on this night, but still plenty of room to stretch out with capacity of 2,168. The concession stand here is just a small truck and the lineup at halftime was very long, so I didn't even bother looking. If you need something to eat, try Cobblestones Pub at Kew Gardens before taking the bus over.



If you prefer the end zone view, there are benches behind both goals, above which you can see past accomplishments for both men's and women's soccer, including the 1996 national championship won by the men. Cheerleaders stand behind the goal that St. John's is attacking for both halves.



This is a facility built specifically for soccer, so there is no track to push the field farther away from the seats. You can hear clearly the players and even the coaches from the other side of the pitch.



As far as college soccer venues go, Belson Stadium is one of the better ones I have been to. Which isn't saying much. The sport doesn't get a lot of attention from the media and the stadiums reflect this. Still, it is a lot more relaxing and affordable to see a ranked soccer team than one in football or basketball and I'll keep my eyes open for future college soccer viewing opportunities.

The Game

It was a colourful match up as the Red Storm, ranked 8th, took on the Blue Demons, attractively clad in blue and red striped jerseys below. DePaul was second from the bottom in the conference so the Johnnies had high hopes of getting the victory and clinching a bye to the Big East semis. But the first 30 minutes saw a lot of back-and-forth play mostly in the midfield before St. John's began to pressure consistently. This was rewarded in the 36th minute when Tani Oluwaseyi (from Mississauga, #14 below) took a pass to the right of the keeper, chested it past a defender, and blasted a shot to the top of the net for the only goal of the opening frame.



St. John's switched keepers for the second half, something they seem to do for nearly every game, with another Canadian Luka Gavran (from Hamilton) replacing Jan Hoffeiner from Frankfurt. Early in the stanza, yet another Canuck, Brandon Duarte (also from Mississauga, suggesting St. John's has a good scout in Southern Ontario), headed home a perfect corner kick. DePaul got that back when Jake Fuderer beat Gavran with a surprising shot from outside the box at 52:09. Just over two minutes later though, DePaul committed a foul in the box and Einar Lye, from Norway, calmly slotted home the penalty to restore the two goal advantage as we had 3 goals in the first 10 minutes of the half. The Red Storm added a fourth goal from Drew Rosen (actually from New York) to salt the game away, while DePaul added a late one on a deflection off Matt Chandler (from Toronto) to make the final a bit more palatable at 4-2.



St. John's dominated this game, outshooting DePaul 22-5 (14-4 on goal) and gaining a 17-1 advantage in corner kicks (the scoreboard only goes up to 9). It was actually an entertaining game to watch as St. John's controlled much of the play and generated plenty of chances. They will be worth following in the NCAA tournament.

Notes

Belson Stadium was the site of the NASL's championship game between the Cosmos and the Indy Eleven back in 2016 after the Cosmos regular stadium at Hofstra could not accommodate them. The Cosmos won 4-2 in penalties after a scoreless match. Two years later, the league was out of business.

Next Up

A return to Canada this weekend as I will be attending QMJHL games in Halifax, Moncton, and Charlottetown, thus completing my quest of seeing a game in all 10 Canadian provinces. As always, recaps will be posted here, so check back in mid-November.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Ottawa Jr. Senators 2 at Pembroke Lumber Kings 4 (CCHL) - October 25, 2019


After checking out my first CCHL game on Thursday night in Kanata, I didn't wait long to see my second. The Pembroke Lumber Kings had a Friday morning game and as I had family commitments that evening, it worked very well with my schedule.

Growing up in the Ottawa Valley, I heard the Lumber Kings name often on the local sports, but really had no idea what they were. In those days, Pembroke seemed like a mysterious, far-away land with giant trees being felled by these Lumber Kings. Much older now, I realize that they are just a Junior A team that has played in Pembroke for more than a century.



Nor is Pembroke far away; a 90-minute drive from Ottawa gets you to the Pembroke Memorial Centre, which has been in operation since 1951. I left my downtown Ottawa hotel at 9 a.m. and pulled into the parking lot (free of course, this is small town hockey at its best) at 10:40. The first thing I noticed as I walked towards the entrance were the beautiful murals; below is one that illustrates the history of fiddling and stepdancing in the city (Pembroke hosts championships every Labour Day weekend); the other celebrates MacKay Street Arena, the predecessor to the PMC (barely visible on the far right above).



Tickets here are $12 and you get a stub with that. Pick up a lucky lineup for a buck and you might win a prize, while 50/50 tickets are 3 for $2. There are two main concessions that offer hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, and candy at reasonable prices. Once you are set, take your time to look at the history on display.



Pembroke calls itself Hockey Town Canada (many small towns do so as well), and at the back of the rink, there is a photo display with teams that played here in the early 20th century, along with the history of the previous arena.



Along the rink siding is a Wall of Honor that highlights the contributions of several Lumber Kings over the years.



The team has had a lot of success and there are championship banners throughout. The league used to be known as the Central Junior Hockey League before becoming the CCHL in 2011, after a single year as the Central Hockey League.



The teams biggest success came under the tutelage of Sheldon Keefe, who is honoured with a banner above the ice. Keefe, who led the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup in 2018, won the National Junior A Championship in 2011 and there is a banner at one end of the arena commemorating this achievement. This was only the second CCHL team to win the national title, with the first being the Rockland Nationals in 1976.



As for the rink itself, red benches surround the ice surface on 3 sides. Above that is a standing rail which was popular on this day as most of the seats were filled with school kids enjoying a field trip.



The picture below is from the standing rail and you can see pillars that block a portion of the ice. You have to sit a few rows down to completely avoid them.



At one end is a glass partition behind which you can sit; this area is slightly warmer than the seating bowl and does provide a unique view as you are almost on top of the goalie.



The view below is from the opposite end zone. You might notice that there is no trapezoid behind the net as the CCHL does not enforce that rule about goalies playing the puck too far from their net.



You can stand down by the glass in the end zone if you enjoy that view, though I did not see anyone doing so.



The game was quick, with the Lumber Kings beating the Ottawa Jr. Senators 4-2 in front of 675, with about 600 of those being children from local schools. That made for the third-highest attendance in the league so far this season, with the leader being Rockland that very night, where 900 showed up.



For me, it was a great way to spend the morning finally getting to see what those Lumber Kings were all about. I love old venues with a lot of history, and this one is exactly that. I don't think too many sports travelers are going to put Pembroke on their to-do list, but if you are in the area, it is definitely worth a look.



Notes

If you are on your way to Pembroke from Ottawa (or heading back), consider stopping in at Whitewater Brewery for a bite. They are right along the highway and have a full menu as well as great beer that you can get to go.

Best,

Sean

Friday, October 25, 2019

Navan Grads 3 at Kanata Lasers 5 (CCHL) - October 24, 2019


This trip to Ottawa was made at the last minute, and when I first looked at the schedule, I saw a QMJHL game in suburban Montreal for Thursday night. But that morning, I noticed that there was a Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) game in Kanata, where I spent most of my teenage years. Seeing that would save about 3 hours of driving and allow me to look around the old neighborhood, so I decided to head up to the Kanata Recreation Complex instead of all the way to Montreal.



For those who are not aware of the CCHL, it is a Junior A league, the Tier 2 level that lies below Major Junior, from where many NHL players are drafted. Sometimes, players are drafted directly from Junior A, the most recent notable being Cale Makar, who was taken 4th overall by Colorado from the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) in 2017. But for the most part, any player with a future will play a season here before moving up to Major Junior or onto the NCAA. Marc Methot is a perfect example: after a year in Kanata as a 16-year-old, he spent a year with the London Knights before being drafted in the 6th round in 2003; after 2 more junior seasons he turned pro and played 624 games over a 13-year NHL career. Of course, he is in the minority, most who play here have no chance to make it to the pros and will finish their careers in relative obscurity. Still, I have seen games at this level in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the hockey is not bad at all. And of course, I got to see a new venue too.



The Kanata Recreation Complex is a small building with two full-size arenas that each have a few rows of benches for spectators and a standing rail at the top. It is located just a stone's throw from the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the Senators. Entrance is $12, with no ticket given out, so pick up a lineup sheet if you want a souvenir.



As with all small arenas in Canada, there are lots of banners celebrating the successes of the local kids' programs.



Eagle-eyed readers with a deep knowledge of the NHL will recognize Mark Borowiecki's name on the white banner below; he was 12 when his Atom team won that championship. Nearly twenty years on and he's a regular with his hometown Senators.



The concession stand here is the highlight, with a great selection of junk food plus the usual hot dogs and pretzels. If you want something more substantial, there are a couple of bars just across Terry Fox Drive that will serve that purpose.



As far as venues go, this level is as low as I will go for counting a stadium; the nearest equivalent was a similar rink in Iceland. At least the hockey was pretty good here.



No reason to recap the entire game however, just the final frame will do. Visiting Navan was leading 3-2 when Charlie Johnson scored a shorthanded marker for Kanata early in the third to tie it. Johnson then potted the eventual winner at 16:27, but the scoreboard operator took his time to add the goal, giving me a chance to snap the rare all-3's scoreboard. Johnson added an empty netter for the natural hat trick as Kanata prevailed 5-3. With no TV timeouts or ice scrapes and 15-minute intermissions, the game took just 2:10 and was played in front of 101 spectators. Glad I finally caught a game here!

Best,

Sean