Friday, November 27, 2015
I didn't start taking extended sports road trips until after I was living in Japan for several years, so I never took a journey around my hometown province of Ontario to see the variety of OHL venues on offer. In fact, my trip to Oshawa on Sunday was only my eighth OHL rink, and two of those are inactive. So there are 14 arenas left to see, including the Peterborough Memorial Center, home of the Petes.
I arrived in Peterborough in the early afternoon and the arena was open to the public, so I took a brief walk around. The Petes have had several hockey legends in their organization, including coaches Scotty Bowman and Roger Neilson, and players Bob Gainey and Steve Yzerman to name but a few. Some more recent stars are shown just outside the main entrance.
The building documents not only the history of the Petes but sports throughout the Peterborough area. Every Petes team is pictured, and it is interesting to see these coaches and players before they became famous. The Sports Hall of Fame includes a separate room with memorabilia from every sport, as well as having the concourse walls covered with pictures of inductees.
You'll also notice the many banners in the rafters, honouring both successful teams and star players and coaches. Get there early to enjoy this before the place fills up with fans.
Parking in the attached lot is $4 though I got there at 3 pm and left my car there for free, watching a bit of the Thanksgiving NFL at a nearby pub to pass the time. You can find street parking in the residential neighbourhood as well, and that would allow you to avoid the small jam that takes place after the game.
Tickets range from $12 for the family zone (from where the above photo was taken) to $28 for club seats along the right side (they come with padded seats as you can see below). The middle sections on the left in the photo above are called Premium Centre Bowl and cost $21.75, while the other bowl seats are $20.50. I bought the cheapest seat and ended up standing in a corner for the last two periods. If I were to return, I would probably splurge for the Premium Centre Bowl. Capacity is limited to just 4,329, so a crowd of 3,000 fills the place quite well.
The photo below is taken from the far end of the rink, the Family Zone is the three sections above the concourse. A deal for $12 if you have kids, and most fans sitting there did. One interesting touch here is that the players have to cross the concourse to get from the ice to the dressing room, so you can stand there and talk to them after each period.
I didn't bother eating here as I had enjoyed a pizza at nearby Southside Pizzeria, but the offerings looked pretty typical for junior hockey. There are vending machines scattered about which are good for snacks and bottled pop. Overall, the PMC is a great place simply for all the history on display, but it helps that you can see a hockey game too.
The Sarnia Sting were in town with top-ranked defenseman Jakob Chychrun (above, son of Jeff) the star. The first period was scoreless, though not without chances. Just a minute into the second, Sarnia's Anthony Salinitri knocked in a rebound to open the scoring. Both teams continued to press, and at the midway point of the period, Hunter Garlent (#23 in white below) took a pass from Daniel Nikandrov and wristed a perfect shot from the right dot that beat a surprised Justin Fazio to tie the game.
A couple of minutes later, Sarnia's Pavel Zacha (#14 above, the sixth overall pick by New Jersey in 2015) took a high-sticking penalty. The Sting killed it off, but 25 seconds after getting back on the ice, Zacha again was called for high-sticking. Again, the Petes power play was ineffective, but just 13 seconds after returning to play, Zacha was whistled for kneeing. I'm guessing there was a cute girl near the penalty box that had caught Zacha's eye, but whatever the case, the Petes did not waste their third opportunity as Adam Timleck (below) was left alone at the goalmouth and converted a great pass from Matt Spencer.
The third period saw Peterborough take five penalties, and Sarnia peppered Matthew Mancina (below) with 18 shots but none beat him as he took home the game's first star with 41 saves. The Petes added a third when Steven Lorentz popped home a rebound into a empty net to complete the scoring.
It was a rather slow game with 86 face-offs (an average game has around 65) but the home fans left happy.
I'm off to Winnipeg for the Grey Cup! Check back for a recap of that on Monday.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
The NBA's D-League added a 19th team this past off-season as it continues to become a true minor league. The Toronto Raptors now have their own affiliate just a few miles away in Mississauga. Known as Raptors 905 for the city's area code, the team plays out of the Hershey Centre, also home of the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL.
The arena is located southwest of the intersection of highways 401, 410, and 403, and easy enough to get to off Matheson Boulevard. Parking is free, and the majority tickets are reasonably priced at $14 and $24, about the same as you would pay for a junior hockey game. There are courtside seats between the benches (optimistically called celebrity seats) for $90 while the rest of the floor level seating is $75.
I had visited here in early 2011 for hockey, but the venue is completely different for basketball. As you can see, the court is right in the middle of the rink, so the end seats, the cheapest at $14, really aren't that good. As the season has just started and this was only the 905's second home game though, attendance was not that strong and you could move around to the other sections. I did the Stadium Journey review, so got in before the fans and took a few more pictures.
You can see them setting up the souvenir stand in the bottom left of the photo above, this is on the floor so all fans can access this area before the game and during halftime, and probably during the game as well.
It is really an odd sight to see the empty spaces at the ends of the court, in most multi-use facilities there are seats that file in this gap but obviously they are not necessary here.
The team has hired a dance troupe called the 'Sauga City Dancers, who greet fans at the main entrance and sit idly by before the game. They perform a couple of times and toss t-shirts and the like, and generally get the crowd going. There is also an in-game host and a mini-Raptor mascot called Stripes to add to the festivities.
As it is still early in the franchise's existence, it will take time to establish a fan base, a rivalry or two, and some traditions, but the Raptors have done well so far. I was impressed with the crowd on the night I attended, particularly as the parent club was taking on LeBron James at the Cavaliers at the same time. The fans were diverse, with many families taking in the game along with some older hoopheads. If you like basketball and live in the Toronto area, make an effort to see the Raptors 905, they are a great value and highly entertaining.
Raptors 2015 first-round pick Delon Wright was assigned to the 905 a couple of days before to join Bruno Caboclo, the team's first rounder from 2014 (below). In fact, it was Caboclo's assignment to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, a D-League club with no affiliate, that convinced the Raptors to create the 905, so they would have complete control over their projects. In order to make the team a bit more marketable to locals, a few Canadians were acquired, including Sim Bhullar, a lumbering giant who was the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA when he suited up for Sacramento last season.
This was a crazy game, not only are the players in the D-League but so are the referees and the scoreboard operators. The first quarter was evenly played and the 905 had a 27-25 lead, but they put on a defensive show in the early second period, going on a 14-3 run over six minutes and taking a 57-37 lead into halftime.
Idaho, who are Utah's affiliate and had lost the night before in Westchester, came out on fire in the third, scoring the first 12 points and the quarter finished with the Stampede still down 8, 78-70. The Raptors managed to build a 14-point advantage early in the final frame, but Idaho continued to sink key shots and got it within 87-80. When the Stampede's Treveon Graham missed a free throw, the scoreboard operator gave him the point anyway, while the officials were oblivious. This was the start of some interesting mistakes by all parties. The additional point remained on the board for a few possessions before someone figured out the mistake and corrected it. The Stampede complained stupidly, but the score was correct at 87-83 with three minutes left.
Then Jack Cooley committed the Stampede's fourth foul of the quarter with 2:09 left. The scoreboard operator made it the fifth foul (perhaps thinking there were less than 2 minutes left), again without the officials noticing. The Stampede tied it at 89 when Brandon Fields hit a jumper with just over a minute to go and overtime loomed. Caboclo and Fields missed shots on the next possessions, and then Scott Suggs played hero for the Raptors, draining a three with just 6 seconds left (above, Suggs is #5 middle left). After an Idaho timeout, Wright committed a rather silly foul, and J.J. O'Brien sank both shots to make it 92-91. Idaho committed their own foul, and the Caboclo went to shoot free throws. But wait! How many team fouls was that for Idaho? The correct answer was five, but there was confusion over the rule. As this was the first foul in the last two minutes, the penalty wasn't in effect, so the Raptors inbounded again, only to be immediately fouled again. The whole conversation took a couple of minutes, delaying an already lengthy fourth quarter. Anyway, Ronald Roberts sank his first shot, but missed the second. The rebound could not be corralled by the Stampede and went out of bounds as the horn sounded. Another review was needed, this time to determine how much time was on the clock. The answer was 0.4 seconds, not enough for the Stampede to inbound the ball past a dancing Bhullar, and the Raptors held on 93-91 for their first home win in franchise history.
The last six seconds of the game took over 10 minutes to play out, a crazy ending that is not uncommon in basketball. It was a fun evening, but one that could have ended much earlier had the scoreboard operator and officiating crew been a bit more polished. But that's the D-League, still one of the best sports values out there. As the 905 gain traction in the Toronto sports marketplace, I expect them to become a popular attraction during the winter months.
Wright was the player of the game, finishing 9/9 from the floor and 5/5 from the stripe for 24 points.
The path to the NBA is known as "Road to the Six" here, after Toronto's area code, which is 416.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
With the bye weeks complete, I am starting my annual NFL playoff picture, which will be updated on a weekly basis. It is interesting to see how teams move up and down week-to-week, so I will keep the previous standings in for reference purposes. After each team has played 10 games, the playoff contenders are:
NFC Car 10-0 Ari 8-2 GB 7-3 NYG 5-5 Min 7-3 Atl 6-4 -------- TB 5-5 Sea 5-5Green Bay's win over Minnesota gives them the NFC North. Tampa Bay has a better conference record than Seattle. Dallas is 16th in the conference at 3-7 but with Romo back, can inch their way into playoff contention with a few more wins.
AFC NE 10-0 Cin 8-2 Den 8-2 Ind 5-5 Pit 6-4 KC 5-5 -------- Hou 5-5 Buf 5-5
NYJ 5-5 Oak 4-6 Jax 4-6 Mia 4-6Cincinnati has a better conference record than Denver, and the two play on the last Monday Night Football game this season. KC has the best conference record of the 5-5 teams.
It really isn't a very exciting race right now with only mediocre teams fighting for those final spots , but the next six weeks could see some interesting developments. I'll update this every week.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
After watching the Beast knock off the Komets in ECHL afternoon action, I headed back east along the 401 along with about half of Toronto. Seriously, how can there be a traffic jam on a Sunday evening? Why isn't everyone home watching the CFL playoffs? Anyway, the traffic wasn't THAT bad and I made it to Oshawa about ten minutes before the scheduled 6:05 puck drop.
The Oshawa Generals play out of the General Motors Centre, which is not a coincidence. Oshawa is the headquarters of General Motors Canada and the team is named for the company, which was a sponsor way back in 1937. The arena, opened in 2006, is located in downtown Oshawa, with plenty of free street parking in the vicinity.
The cheapest seat on game day is $21 for a bowl seat, which are the sections outside the blue lines. I found the drink rail (below) to be less crowded and spent most of the game there, it is open to all as tickets are not sold for these spots.
My view from the drink rail in the southwest corner is below. Prospects Bar and Grill is another interesting area; it is a restaurant above the seating bowl between the blue lines (you can see it in the middle right of the below photo) that offers full service during the game and has a few TVs tuned to other sports. Tickets are sold in groups of 4 ($26-$34 each on game day) and this might make an interesting evening out for a group of friends. Other food options are pretty basic, but there are two concessions that stand out: a carvery and a protein/veggie setup that both looked quite tempting.
The GM Centre has no shortage of historical touches. First is the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame next to the main entrance. This collection of memorabilia is very impressive for its breadth in sports covered and attention to detail. Bobby Orr played for the Generals and his jersey is on display, among many others.
History is not limited to the Hall of Fame, around the top of the concourse you will see the Ring of Excellence, which is a series of posters honouring players who have gone on to the NHL, such as Alex Delvecchio.
Throughout the building, there are plaques that honour those inducted into the Hall of Fame. Most of these are pencil drawings and quite impressive. You really should get here early and take your time to look around.
Also note the large number of banners in the rafters; the Generals are one of the most successful junior clubs, with five Memorial Cup titles to their name, including the most recent one last season. As an aside, I attended their 1990 win over Kitchener at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton; it remains one of the best hockey games I have ever seen.
The game on this day wasn't that exciting, but it was very entertaining, particularly when compared to the ECHL match I had seen earlier in the day. First, Ottawa scored just 11 seconds in when Oshawa turned the puck over in their own end and Sam Studnicka passed to Trent Mallette (son of Troy) who was all alone in front and he eventually buried it behind Jeremy Brodeur (below, son of Martin). Man, am I old.
The 67s added a second marker when Dante Salituro, recently released from a tryout contract with Columbus, converted a perfect 2-on-1 pass from Travis Konecny (Philadelphia's 1st-round pick this year, 24th overall). Oshawa scored on a goalmouth scramble in the second to make it 2-1, but Ottawa replied quickly when Salituro and Konecny combined with Jeremy Addison (drafted 207th overall by Montreal this year) on a pro-level passing play to regain the two-goal advantage. Before the period was out, Ottawa had another when two Generals collided in their own end, allowing Konecny to feed Nathan Todd who drove the puck home.
The third period started with Brodeur being replaced by Logan Gauthier, and the Generals responded with a goal but then took a penalty immediately thereafter and Ottawa capitalized, with Salituro notching his second with another assist from Konecny. Oshawa pulled Gauthier with 3 minutes left, but this only allowed Salituro to get his hat trick on the empty netter, assisted yet again by Konecny who finished with five helpers on the night.
The game took just 2:10, with only one timeout per period and none of that time-wasting scuffling after every whistle that mars the minor leagues. Having seen an ECHL game on the same day, there is no doubt that the OHL is far more entertaining.
The urinals had a hockey net to improve your aim. Brings out the hockey player in all of us. Well, all of us guys at least.
This was my 600th venue lifetime. Hoping to get to 700 in early 2017.
I'm returning to Mississauga tomorrow to see the newest team in the NBA's D-League, Raptors 905 and then heading to Peterborough on Thursday to see the OHL's Petes before flying to Winnipeg for the Grey Cup on Sunday. Check back for recaps of all the excitement!
Monday, November 23, 2015
I'm in Canada for a couple of weeks to visit family and see the Grey Cup among other events. With the hockey season well underway, it is also a good time to add a few rinks to my venue count. There is only one pro team in Ontario that I have yet to visit, namely the Brampton Beast of the ECHL.
The Beast are in their third year of existence after spending one season in the now-defunct CHL before moving to the ECHL in 2014. They took over the Powerade Centre (below) from the Brampton Battalion, who moved on to North Bay. I saw one of the Battalion's final games here and correctly predicted that I would revisit the rink in short order.
The Powerade Centre is a community rink located on Kennedy Road just north of Mississauga. Parking is free, though you should drive around the ring road to the north side, where the main entrance is. The community entrance is on the east side, where three rinks are open to the public for youth and adult hockey. You cannot access the main rink from the community rinks, but you can enjoy the smell wafting over, an door familiar to those of us who grew up playing hockey in Canada. Can't say that I've missed it.
Tickets on game day are very expensive for this level of hockey; I paid C$33, including taxes, for a gold seat, but given how poor attendance is the best option is to choose the cheapest seats and move around if you desire. The Beast average about 2,500, third worst in the league, but still retired number 7 (visible at the top of the photo above) to honour their fans. Not a big fan of these sorts of banners to begin with, but even less so when the team can't sell out. Anyway, advanced tickets are 25% cheaper and definitely worth looking into as the fees are reasonable. I really don't know why the platinum seats are $2 more than the gold seats, other than the gold seats are filled with fans who are there as part of promotions or giveaways and thus those sections are more crowded.
The concourse is quite narrow and made more so by a games zone, which includes a ping pong table and bubble hockey. I really don't understand how table tennis works in a crowded area, since you are always chasing the ball among trampling feet, but it seems to be a popular stopping point. The Brampton Sports Hall of Fame (below) is the key attraction here, with the card machines that I mentioned last time running a close second.
Inside the seating bowl, all seats are a garish purple, with 16 rows, Q being the topmost. The higher rows offer the best view without being blocked by the glass.
The Beast spent their first season unaffiliated with any NHL team, but are now in the farm system of the Montreal Canadiens and have the team's logo as a shoulder patch.
Before the game, the team honoured Cal Wild, their captain who had just retired after playing six games this season. His career started with Texas Brahamas in 2010 and I saw him score a goal four years ago, almost to the day. It is discovering these small coincidences that make the maintenance of this blog so interesting to me. Wild will fittingly remain with the Beast in a community relations role.
The game was a 2 p.m. start with the Fort Wayne Komets (Avalanche affiliate) the visitors. Neither team was able to generate much in the first couple of periods, though the referee was trying his best to help out the offenses by awarding plenty of penalties. The most notable player was Cody Sol (above), who was anything but a ray of sunshine, getting called for multiple infractions, including one where he jumped Jordan Henry after Henry had levelled a Komet with a hit to the head. Later, Sol was given a misconduct for his actions during a fight between other players, giving him 16 PIMs on the afternoon.
Early in the third period, Brampton rushed up the ice on a 2-on-1. Pat Nagle made the save but Komet defenseman Kyle Thomas got tangled up with Nagle and the puck ended up on the stick of Luc-Olivier Blain (#27 above), who slapped it into the empty net. Nagle and Thomas complained vociferously as it did appear as if Thomas was nudged into Nagle, but the referee had none of it and Brampton led 1-0.
Just a few minutes later, Brampton was on the power play and new captain Brandon Marino (#22 in the second photo above) snapped a shot from the right circle off the left post for a 2-0 lead, which the Beast maintained, with Edward Pasquale (above) picking up the shutout.
Brampton finished 1/6 on the power play while Fort Wayne went 0/10. Not a pretty game, but entertaining enough for a Sunday afternoon.
Both Sol and Pasquale were drafted by Atlanta in 2009 after playing for Saginaw in the OHL Pasquale played the previous three seasons in St. John's but was recently sent to Brampton when Carey Price made his return to Montreal. Pasquale has yet to repaint his mask.
This was the first half of a sportsroadtrips doubleheader with the second half a 6 p.m. start an hour away in Oshawa. The Wild retirement ceremony pushed the end of this one to nearly 4:45, but I was still able to make it to Oshawa in time. More on that game shortly.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
The busy weekend I discussed in my previous post continued on Sunday. Madison Square Garden had a doubleheader with the Knicks hosting the Pelicans at noon and the Leafs taking on the Rangers at 7 p.m.. That was the original plan for Sharpy and me, but the Ottawa Fury advanced to the NASL final against the New York Cosmos with that game slated for 5 p.m. out on Long Island. I decided to see that to add to my championships witnessed total, while Sharpy remained in Manhattan for the Leafs, checking out a play in between the two games, a unique tripleheader.
The game was played on an international weekend, so Ottawa did not have Canadian national Julian de Guzman. You have to wonder why the league would allow that to happen. Generally it is only the top leagues that take breaks when there are international games scheduled (MLS took the weekend off in the middle of their playoffs), as it is assumed that most international players are in those leagues, but I think the NASL should consider doing the same for a game of this significance.
The other championships I have witnessed: 1990 Memorial Cup, 1995 Stanley Cup, 1997 Japan Series, 2001 World Series, 2002 World Cup, 2012 NBA title, and the 2013 Super Bowl. The 2015 Grey Cup is next.