Friday, December 6, 2019

Colorado Avalanche 3 at Toronto Maple Leafs 1 - December 4, 2019

I have seen the Maple Leafs in every NHL city but it has been a long time since I saw them at home. So when I noticed a very cheap flight for an overnight trip on the day they were hosting Nazem Kadri and the Colorado Avalanche, I jumped at the chance. With the UP Express going from the airport straight to Union Station for only $9 using your Presto card, I was at the Air Canada Centre Scotiabank Arena about 45 minutes after my flight landed.

There have been many changes since my last visit in addition to the name, with the most prominent being Legends Row outside the box office entrance. This is a series of statues honouring past Leaf greats, with a variety of poses, including Darryl Sittler coming off the bench. Another new addition is shown below.

There is a lot of construction in the area and so I didn't take any exterior shots. I went to the box office to get a ticket as they have specials when single seats get stranded. Called the Selfie Seat Special, tickets are quite a bit cheaper than those on the secondary market, particularly in the lower bowl, which is where I wanted to sit. I found an aisle seat in the corner 12 rows from the ice and asked for that specific seat at the window, but they were unable to get the ticket for some reason. I also was unable to get it on my phone, so after several minutes of trying, I gave up and headed to my hotel. Along the way, that seat became available and so I picked it up for under $200 (ridiculously expensive but still cheaper than the usual price), incurring the TicketMaster charges as well. Guess that TicketMaster has some way of blocking the ticket when you are in the building (not really, other seats were obtainable). The view from my seat is below.

I was in the gold section just a couple of rows back from the platinum and to the left of the club section. It is a good spot to sit as the aisle ends at the row in front, so there were never issues of people walking up and down during the play.

The shot above is looking down the sides behind the benches, while that below is behind the net that the Leafs defend twice. Both are taken from the same standing point at my seat.

I took the usual walk around and was amazed at how many concession stands are in here. This is a compact venue and even the view from the upper bowl, where I usually sit, is not bad at all.

There are standing areas atop the corner sections which would be a worst case scenario. I did have a ticket for Game 7 of the NBA Finals here, but thankfully did not have to use it.

The concourses are crowded but the stairwells are not, and this is where you can see plenty of old photos and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. I enjoyed this shot below of the first Raptors game at SkyDome, which they won 93-79. There were "only" 19 3-pointers attempted in that game.

With the tour done, I grabbed some sushi, which is the healthiest and one of the least expensive items in the building, and sat down to enjoy the Avs take on the Leafs and new coach Sheldon Keefe.

The first half of the game saw no goals and no penalties, and the clock even stopped with exactly 10 minutes to go in the second period. After that, things picked up as Dmitiri Timashov was whistled for hooking, and Nathan MacKinnon made the Leafs pay after just 37 seconds with a wicked shot to the upper corner. Zach Hyman tied things up two minutes later, redirecting a no-look pass from Alex Kerfoot past Philip Grubauer. The Leafs got their first powerplay in the third and had chances, but Jason Spezza broke his stick on a shot from the point. Rather than get to the bench for a new stick, he stayed on and when the puck came back to the point, he tried to kick it, causing Morgan Rielly to mishandle it. Valeri Nichushkin grabbed the puck and skated in alone on Frederik Andersen and beat him high with 4 seconds left in the penalty. That turned out to be the winner as the Avalanche added an empty netter to make the final 3-1.

Goaltending was the story here Grubauer taking the first star and Andersen the second, with Nichushkin. A decent game that turned on a fluke, as is often the case in hockey.


Keefe started his coaching career in Pembroke and won the national title in 2011. He also won the Calder Cup with Toronto in 2018. Hoping it takes less than 7 years for his next championship. After this loss, though, the Leafs are going to need a major winning streak just to make the playoffs.

Next Up

I'm back to work this month but have a week to travel before that, so I'll be taking an NCAA hoops trip with 6 games in 5 days, starting with CSU Northridge, then Wright State, Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky on the same day, and finishing with Northern Kentucky. Check back for recaps starting next week.



Tuesday, December 3, 2019

NFL Playoff Picture

Every year, I like to look at the NFL playoff picture as it develops over the final weeks of the season. Once all teams have completed their bye week, it is easier to compare records. In the past, I had to figure out tiebreakers, but the playoff picture does that for me now, so this just serves as a historical record, which I will delete once the season ends.
Week 12   Week 13   Week 14
NE 10-1   Bal 10-2
Bal 9-2   NE  10-2
Hou 7-4   Hou  8-4
KC  7-4   KC   8-4
Buf 8-3   Buf  9-3   
Pit 6-5   Pit  7-5
--------  ---------  
Oak 6-5   Ten  7-5                   
Ind 6-5   Oak  6-6                     
Ten 6-5   Ind  6-6
Cle 5-6   Cle  5-7                                                               
Week 13: New England's loss to Houston has huge implications for home advantage in the championship game as the Ravens beat the Patriots in November. Pittsburgh has a better conference record than Tennessee to take that final spot.

Week 12: Houston beat KC in October to take the third spot, but neither has their division locked up yet. The final spot belongs to Pittsburgh by virtue of their 5-3 conference record, better than Oakland at 4-3. The Colts defeated the Titans back in Week 2, but have lost to both the Raiders and Steelers. With the Steelers using their 3rd-string QB, that final spot is really up for grabs.
Week 12   Week 13   Week 14
SF 10-1   NO  10-2   
NO  9-2   Sea 10-2
GB  8-3   GB   9-3 
Dal 6-5   Dal  6-6  Dal  6-7
Sea 9-2   SF  10-2
Min 8-3   Min  8-4
--------  ---------
LAR 6-5   LAR  7-5 
Phi 5-6   Phi  5-7                    
Week 13: Seattle beat San Francisco in OT on Veterans Day, while the Saints beat the Seahawks early in the season to claim top spot. The 49ers play at the Saints in Week 14 and at the Seahawks on the last weekend of the season. Two road wins are unlikely but would give them the top seed. Meanwhile, the NFC Least continues to embarrass itself. The Rams and Vikings each play divisional opponents once plus a winnable game (Rams at Cowboys, Vikings at Chargers). The Rams already have a better conference record but will need to beat both San Francisco and Seattle to catch the Vikings, who should go 3-1 the rest of the way.

Week 12: Essentially just one race left here, with the Cowboys and Eagles vying for the NFC East and the right to host Seattle. So overall, it looks like 10 of the 12 spots are mostly decided. I'll update this every week over the final month of the season.



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Proposed Changes to Minor League Baseball

If you follow sports at all, you will have heard about Major League Baseball's recent proposal to shrink the number of affiliated minor league teams from 160 to 120, cutting 42 current franchises and adding two independent league teams (St. Paul and Sugar Land). Short-season leagues will bear the brunt of the contraction, with 2/3 of the teams coming from the those circuits, including the elimination of the entire Pioneer League and the Appalachian League losing all but Pulaski. Some A and AA teams will be contracted, while a few larger market franchises in lower leagues (Vancouver and Brooklyn for example) will move up in level. Affiliations will also change so that each MLB team has exactly four minor league affiliates (AAA, AA, High A and Low A). Meanwhile, those towns that lose their teams will still be part of a vaguely defined "Dream League" that will see mostly undrafted free agents playing for a shot, with little or no support from the majors. As well, the draft would be moved to August from June, and reduced to 20 rounds from its current 40 as major league teams would need far fewer players to fill their minor league system.

The reasons are sensible from MLB's point of view as minor league baseball is remarkably inefficient. The vast majority of minor leaguers are organizational filler; players needed so that those who are actually prospects can play games. Do players really improve facing guys who will be selling insurance in a few years? Why not concentrate your development efforts with four franchises rather than seven, with teams stocked with prospects rather than having one or two potential big leaguers at the lower levels? You can then pay those players more too. Add in the fact that some minor league facilities do not meet increasingly high standards in terms of locker rooms and other amenities, along with the long bus rides for lower level teams, and you can see why MLB has put forth this proposal. I don't like it, but I understand where they are coming from.

As you would expect, reaction in the baseball world has been universally negative, as is usually the case when a significant change is introduced. Commentators allude to the destruction of communities, the elimination of sleepers like Raul Ibanez (36th round in 1992) and Mike Piazza (62nd round in 1998) being drafted, and the end of baseball as we know it. All of these are poor arguments because they don't address the problem that MLB is trying to solve: inefficiency. And they are also wrong.

Minor league franchises move all the time and communities survive; it is silly to think that Bluefield, with an average attendance of 611 over 31 games in 2019, will suffer greatly if the Blue Jays suddenly fly away. Fans will mourn and move on, just like they have done in Brevard County, Bellingham, and Bakersfield. And if the Dream League takes shape (I'm betting it won't), then those fans can still see baseball. It might not be affiliated, but most fans just want to sit back and relax and really don't care about the quality of the game or in what round a particular player was drafted. And sure, it is always nice to have a surprise come out of the later rounds, but that doesn't mean that teams should spend tens of millions to develop a bunch of nobodies for one late bloomer every few years. Similarly, to say that the disappearance of 42 franchises will have a large impact on the popularity of the game is ridiculous. These are small markets with matching attendance numbers and that is why they are being targeted. Baseball has treated fans with disdain for years and we still come back. This will be no different.

The problem in baseball is that the game is now run by analytical minds who put efficiency above all else. If you want to change their minds, appeal to their sense of economics, not emotions. For example, many affiliates have spent money upgrading their facilities at the request of their parent club; the possibility of lawsuits from local governments could lead to some meaningful negotiations. And that is the key word here: negotiation. MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred want to simplify their minor league operations and they have lobbed the first grenade, but this plan is by no means final. Minor league franchises on the cutting block need to figure out a smart way to reply that solves the problems faced by MLB and allows them to continue in some form. Perhaps the most important economic aspect is baseball's anti-trust exemption. If the minor league owners can figure out a way to show that MLB is abusing it with this one-sided proposal, costing them their franchises, they could end up winning the war. It will be tough, but not impossible.

Personally, I don't like the idea because minor league baseball is the type of sports road trip I enjoy most. In particular, my favourite leagues are those short-season ones that take me to small towns that I would not go to otherwise. Some of my favourite experiences have been in locales like Elizabethton and Great Falls. Unfortunately, I am in the minority and most sports fans want to travel to the big events, so there is no argument about minor league ball leading to millions of dollars in tourism for these places. I'm glad I completed by quest to see a game in all 160 active minor league stadiums and I don't want to see that number drop to 120. But if it did, I'd still go to every new venue, and I'd probably start visiting independent leagues more as the quality of ball would improve there with a lot more younger players who would have been plying their trade in the low minors instead.

So what do I think should happen? I do believe the minors need to change somewhat for the 2021 season, which is when the next contract between the two organizations will take effect, but not to the extent proposed by MLB. For 2021, the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues could take a year off and renovate their facilities. In 2022, the Northwest and certain teams in the New York Penn League could do the same. Meanwhile, MLB would be able to focus on negotiations with the Players Association, with that agreement expiring after the 2021 season. And here is the solution: part of the new contract will include two expansion teams for 2024 (with Montreal being one). Lo and behold, those two expansion teams would need minor league affiliates and five levels for each of 32 MLB teams equals 160 - the same number we have now. St. Paul and Sugar Land would jump in and a few larger market teams in the lower levels would move up accordingly.

It might be tricky to get leagues and affiliations correct, especially with minor league franchises moving from place to place, but it could be done over three years. In the end, only two minor league franchises would be lost and I'm sure that two owners could be found to take some cash to make things more palatable.

In fact, I've put together one example of how the leagues and affiliations could look and this took me all of a couple of hours. Auburn and Batavia are the two franchises eliminated in this case, mainly because the New York-Penn League is the largest of the short season circuits with 14 teams and these two are already in trouble. St. Paul goes to AAA along with Frisco, whose stadium is bigger than Sugar Land, who join the Texas League instead. Nashville and Memphis move to the International League to give 16 teams in each AAA circuit. Aberdeen and Brooklyn make the big leap from the NYPL to the Eastern League. Two clubs (Augusta and Columbia in the example) can jump from the South Atlantic to the Carolina League, and those can be replaced by two from the Appalachian League (Danville and Pulaski). Mahoning Valley would move to the Midwest League, while Bowling Green would remain at Low A, but switch from Midwest to South Atlantic for geographic reasons. West Virginia would also leave the NYPL and join the South Atlantic, giving 16 teams in each Low A league. The four short-season leagues would have 8 teams each. The below table shows the potential affiliations for each major league team with exactly 5 levels of minors. Again, this is just one of many possibilities, but it certainly solves the issue of 42 teams disappearing from minor league baseball.

Tampa BayDurhamMontgomeryCharlotteKannapolisPrinceton
TorontoBuffaloNew HampshireDunedinLansingTri-City
YankeesScranton/Wilkes-BarreTrentonTampaCharleston SCStaten Island
ClevelandColumbusAkronLynchburgLake CountyGreeneville
DetroitToledoErieLakelandWest MichiganKingsport
Kansas CityWichitaNorthwest ArkansasWilmingtonLexingtonIdaho Falls
MinnesotaSt. PaulPensacolaFort MyersCedar RapidsMissoula
White SoxOmahaBirminghamWinston-SalemKane CountyVancouver
AnaheimFresnoRocket CityInland EmpireBurlingtonOrem
HoustonRound RockCorpus ChristiFayettevilleQuad CitiesBillings
OaklandLas VegasMidlandStocktonBeloitEugene
SeattleTacomaArkansasModestoMahoning ValleyEverett
TexasFriscoSugar LandDown EastHickorySpokane
MetsSyracuseBrooklynPort St LucieCharleston WVHudson Valley
MiamiNorfolkJacksonvilleJupiterWest VirginiaBurlington
PhiladelphiaLehigh ValleyReadingClearwaterLakewoodWilliamsport
CubsIowaTennesseeMyrtle BeachSouth BendBoise
MilwaukeeSalt Lake CityBiloxiCarolinaWisconsinRocky Mountain
PittsburghIndianapolisAltoonaBradentonGreensboroState College
St. LouisMemphisSpringfieldPalm BeachPeoriaJohnson City
ArizonaRenoJacksonVisaliaBowling GreenHillsboro
ColoradoSan AntonioHartfordLancasterAshevilleGrand Junction
Los AngelesOklahoma CityTulsaRancho CucamongaGreat LakesOgden
San DiegoEl PasoAmarilloLake ElsinoreFort WayneTri-City
San FranciscoSacramentoRichmondSan JoseClintonSalem-Keizer
ExpansionAlbuquerqueBowieAugustaDanvilleGreat Falls

The key to all of this is MLB expansion, and I think the minors should include that in any negotiation platform they formulate. It will be interesting to follow developments over the next few months and I will post updates here as they happen.



Sunday, November 17, 2019

New York Hurling Classic - November 16, 2019

There are few sports in North America that I haven't witnessed, but when looking overseas, there are still dozens of competitive events that I'd like to attend. One of these is hurling, a popular sport in Ireland, but one that gets no coverage here. So I was quite excited when I learned that there would be a hurling exhibition at Citi Field, and kept November 16 open for the occasion.

Dubbed the New York Hurling Classic, this was the fourth time such an event would be held in the States, with the other three taking place at Fenway Park in Boston. Four sides compete in two semifinals, with the winners facing off in the final for the Players Champions Cup.

The rules of hurling are not complex, with this summary from Wikipedia the best description:
The objective of the game is for players to use a wooden stick called a hurl to 
hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponents' goalposts, either over 
the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a 
goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points. The sliotar 
can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than four steps, struck in 
the air, or struck on the ground with the hurl. It can be kicked, or slapped 
with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants 
to carry the ball for more than four steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar 
on the end of the stick, and the ball can only be handled twice while in 
his possession.

As you can see above, however, there are no goalposts. In this version of the game, known as Super 11s, the sliotar is shot into a soccer net, with goals shot from inside the defensive zone worth 4 points, while those outside are worth 6. There are some other rule changes which are summarized here.

The game is extremely fast paced, with few stoppages, other than for injuries. Given that the players are not wearing any padding, it is surprising that injuries are not more common. Each half is just 20 minutes long and with the non-stop action, things move very quickly. As the field is not as long as a regulation hurling pitch, the goalies can hit the ball from one end to the other, so there are very sudden changes in field position. As well, there are plenty of goals, as you would expect when hitting a small ball into a large net with an unpadded goalie the only thing stopping you. The first match saw Limerick defeat Wexford 52-20 with a total of 15 goals between the two teams, or nearly one every two minutes. Even then, the goalies did make some spectacular saves with their hurl, but in the end, it was a thankless job. The Mets Apple appeared after goals, getting more of a workout than a typical summer homestand.

The seat I had purchased from a scalper was in the shade behind one of the nets, and it was very cold, so when the first match ended, I moved over to the seats in center field, looking directly at the sun. This was considerably warmer and I was surprised that more fans did not follow me.

There were 11,214 on hand for this, a good showing for a chilly day. A lot were Irish and I saw several jerseys supporting one of the four sides participating.

The second match saw Kilkenny defeat Tipperary 86-36 with 26 total goals scored, which is really far too many and I think many fans started to lose interest with such a blowout. Below is one of the Tipperary players taking a penalty.

With a 30-minute break before the final, I headed out and missed Kilkenny's 64-40 win over Limerick to capture the championship. It was a fun couple of hours, and next time I am in Ireland, I will look for a regulation hurling match to attend to compare the two versions.



Saturday, November 16, 2019

Rhode Island Rams 0-7 at Fordham Rams 0-6 (NCAA Soccer, A10 Semifinal) - November 15, 2019

With the baseball season having ended, weekday afternoon games in New York are few and far between. So I was delighted to discover that that Atlantic 10 was holding the semifinals of their men's soccer tournament at Coffey Field on Friday afternoon.

Coffey Field is on the campus of Fordham University, and I visited it for football four years ago. It hasn't changed in the meantime, with metal benches on one side providing more than enough space for the 602 on hand, most of whom were students smart enough to have no classes on Friday afternoon.

The semifinals featured all three of the Rams schools in the A10, and the first game saw two of them butt heads as fifth seed Fordham took on top seed Rhode Island. Note that the field has the Patriot League logo on it as the A10 does not sponsor football.

The first half was dull except for one impressive fingertip save by Fordham's Konstantin Weis (from Germany) but the second half saw things open up and both teams had several chances, only to be denied by poor finishing and the crossbar. The officiating was questionable and several clear fouls went uncalled (including one that led to a Fordham player having to leave the game), resulting in some very exasperated players and fans. Ninety minutes passed without a goal, as did the first overtime. With 3:49 left in the second, Fordham had what seemed to be the winner, but it was flagged as offside in a decision that could have gone either way. I believe the NCAA uses VAR, so it would seem that the call was correct, despite the player protesting otherwise. So after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer (NCAA overtime is two 10-minute periods), we had penalties and those fans who remained moved down to field level to watch (above).     

Rhode Island netminder Stefan Schmidt (also from Germany) saved the first spot kick (above) but Weis saved the third Rhody attempt and the next three were made by both teams. Schmidt then saved Fordham's seventh shot, and surprisingly was selected to take the following kick with a chance to win, but it was saved by Weis (below).

After both teams scored on their eighth shot, Schmidt stopped Jack Murphy, and Simon Trcka snuck one under Weis to win it for Rhode Island. Weis is seen disconsolate behind the celebration below.

This was the longest penalty shootout in A10 playoff history, so I suppose I can say I saw history on this day.

The other Rams team was VCU, who lost 1-0 to Dayton in the following game. Rhode Island then beat Dayton 1-0 in the final on Sunday to advance to the tournament, where they will visit Syracuse with the winner going on to play St. John's.



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Gatineau Olympiques 3 at Charlottetown Islanders 0 (QMJHL) - November 11, 2019

The third and final stop on my weekend tour of Maritime junior hockey was Charlottetown, where the Islanders play. Charlottetown is the capital of Prince Edward Island, from where my mother hails, so I have been there on several occasions but this was my first trip without family. It is about 2.5 hours from Moncton with a trip over the Confederation Bridge, an 8-mile span that is free on the way over but has a $47.75 toll on the way out.

After my mandatory stop at Harvey's, I drove over to the Eastlink Centre, which is right next door to the Red Shores Racetrack and Casino. The horses were not running on this Remembrance Day, but I did quickly check out the Hall of Fame on the second floor, which contains quite a bit of information on local harness drivers.

Opened in 1990 as the Charlottetown Civic Centre, Eastlink Centre once hosted the AHL's P.E.I. Senators, who now play out of Belleville. Along with the Islanders, the NBL's Storm are a tenant, having moved here from Summerside in 2013. That same year, telecommunications firm Eastlink, based in Halifax, bought the naming rights. In addition to the rink, the facility houses a trade centre.

After picking up my media credential, I did a quick tour. The Eastlink Centre is much smaller than the arenas I saw in Halifax and Moncton; it is more like a community rink than a sports venue. The main entrance leads to a long atrium which includes the box office and a Tim Horton's, as seems to be the case in every rink in Canada these days. There is also a large canteen here with some good food options. In a corner at one end of the lobby is a Captains Wall (above) that displays plaques for past captains of the Islanders franchise. Behind this is a P.E.I hockey memorabilia room that includes displays on the Senators, who were honoured earlier this year when the Islanders wore Senator jerseys.

There is a staircase here that leads to an upstairs area that includes a trophy case for the Islanders, as well as the administrative offices.

Returning to the atrium, look up to see banners honouring past NHLers from the Island, including Summerside native Errol Thompson, who played for the Leafs in the 1970s.

There are two entrances from the lobby to the rink where you should get your hand stamped because you will be returning to the lobby at intermission, as the rink is cold and uncomfortable. There is a very narrow interior concourse around most of the rink that stops at one end where the Zamboni enters, and behind the benches at the other, and it has a couple of small concessions, but no seating. If you wanted, you could even rush over to the casino and play the slots during the intermission.

There are a few photos along the wall, including one of the 2009-10 PEI Rocket, which was the franchise name before they became the Islanders. The team moved from Montreal and were named for Rocket Richard; these days the AHL's Laval Rocket continue the tradition. I don't know why this particular team is commemorated with a photo, they had 6 NHL draft picks, none of whom made it to the league.

To give you and idea of how small this place is, there is a standings board that is kept up to date, but it is partially blocked by an unused concession bar, along with some empty beer boxes, suggesting that there is not enough room to store it out of sight.

Inside, there is a single seating bowl with blue plastic seats that are identical to those used in Rogers Centre in Toronto. I have only seen these seats in Canada, so I guess the maker is Canadian, but I have no idea who it is. At any rate, these are not the most comfortable seats around.

At the four corners, the seats do not turn toward the rink, as you can see in the photo above. If you are buying tickets at the box office (all seats are $18.50), avoid sections 4, 10, 16, and 22. As I was doing the Stadium Journey review, I had a credential and moved around, choosing a seat by the glass for the final two periods after starting in Section 9. One of the feistiest fans I have seen also sat here, an elderly woman who yelled non-stop at the Islanders, encouraging them to "Knock him off the puck" and "Challenge him" in her delightful Island accent.

The main scoreboard has no video, but there are screens in all four corners that show live action and the replays and you can see two of them in the distance below.

The Moose Light Lounge is above section 5, at the same level as the suites. This is a small room that is open to the public and serves beer in plastic cups, and has a spot from which you can watch the game. There are also a couple of simple displays, including a timeline of the franchise and a Mason McDonald jersey. McDonald was a second-round pick in 2014 to Calgary but is currently plying his trade in the ECHL.

Overall, Eastlink Centre is a decent venue for junior hockey, with the main attractions being the memorabilia room and racetrack next door. I hope to return for a day at the races and an NBL game in the near future.

The Game

The visitors were the Gatineau Olympiques (6-14), who had made the long trek from Western Quebec for this matchup against the Islanders (12-8), who were missing their top scorer, Nikita Alexandrov, a 2nd-round pick to St. Louis earlier this year. The only other draft pick was Xavier Bernard (4th round, New Jersey, 2018, #55 below).

The Islanders, wearing gold and black, looked like the team that had travelled as they had little energy early on, and Gatineau took advantage when the Charlottetown defence allowed Metis Roelens to grab a loose puck and execute a quick deke to beat Matthew Welsh with the opening goal.

Early in the second, Charlottetown's Anthony Hamel initiated a fight and was assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for being the aggressor, while his opponent, who did not throw a punch, received nothing. This meant a 5-minute power play for Gatineau and although they did not score during that time, they did so 6 seconds after the penalty had expired when Kieran Craig potted one from the slot. A few minutes later, Charles-Antoine Roy outhustled the Charlottetown defense, chasing the puck into the Islander end, skating untouched in front of Welsh, and beating him above the shoulder to make it 3-0.

The only question in the third is whether Remi Poirier would get the shutout. Charlottetown had a few chances in the final frame but could not beat Poirier, who stopped all 27 shots to earn his first career blanking. I also happened to get my first puck as an errant pass came over the glass and bounced around before landing under the seat next to me. I had no use for it though, and handed it to the guy behind me who had 3 kids who could fight over it.


With this game, I have now seen a sporting event in all 10 Canadian provinces. There are three territories in Canada (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon) and I do hope to see some sort of sporting event in each someday, but I won't be traveling just for that reason.

In the U.S., I still have Alaska in which to see a game, and I plan to do that on Super Bowl weekend when the Alaska Anchorage hockey and basketball teams are home on the same day.



Monday, November 11, 2019

Acadie-Bathurst Titan 3 at Moncton Wildcats 6 (QMJHL) - November 10, 2019

The second stop on my whirlwind tour of the Maritimes was Moncton, home of the Wildcats. I picked up a rental car in downtown Halifax (thus saving on exorbitant airport fees) and drove 260 kilometers along pristine highway (which has a $4 toll), arriving at my hotel around 1:00 on Sunday afternoon. This gave me a couple of hours to rest before heading over to the Avenir Centre for the 4:00 start.

Opened just last year with naming rights bought by a New Brunswick audiology company, the venue is located on Main Street, just a short walk from the nightlife area a few blocks east. It also hosts the NBL's Moncton Magic, and there is even a small skating rink next to the main entrance, though it was too early in the season to be operational.

As I was not covering this facility for Stadium Journey, I had to pick up a ticket. Despite arriving an hour before the game, there were long lines at the box office that moved very slowly. When I asked for a specific seat, I was told that they can only give me the best available seat as it was less than an hour to game time. I guess that was to speed things up, but it didn't seem to be working as it took me 10 minutes to get a ticket with just 3 people in front of me. The cost was $23.10, and I could have bought a specific seat online for $24, including the $3 will call fee. In the end, it didn't matter as I stood for most of the game.

Once the ticket had been acquired, I entered the arena and saw the Moncton Sports Wall of Fame. If you look at the screens in the photo above, it appears as if Rheal Cormier was inducted twice, but the screen are just rotating through all the inductees.

There are a few displays including one on the Moncton Mets, who were not an affiliate of the New York Mets, but an amateur senior league team.

To get to the concourse, you have to go upstairs from the atrium at the main entrance, which is shown below.

Inside, you have a fairly narrow concourse that leads to the portals. There are concessions all around, offering typical stadium fare, but as usual, I chose Tim Horton's for their delicious donuts. It is interesting that most fans choose Tim's as well despite there being one on every street corner. The good thing is that they do not jack up their prices in the arena, which is one reason that there are long lines throughout the game.

On one side of the ice, there is a large standing area beneath the suites; much of this is reserved for wheelchairs and TV cameras, though some fans do stand here for a bit.

Across the way, there is a single standing area beneath section 116, right at center ice. This is the best standing spot I have seen in hockey; there is a rail for drinks and donuts as well. However, this area is actually ticketed - there are 14 numbered spots and each is sold for the game. Fortunately for me, a dad with two young kids bought three tickets here, not knowing that they were standing spots. The usher was kind enough to let him sit in some open seats and told me that I could stand at their spot without worry.

The view below is from directly opposite that standing rail, which is visible beneath the scoreboard.

The seats are red, black, and gray but there is no discernible pattern to them. Looks pretty cool anyway.

Note the Moosehead Light Ice Bar in the photo above, this is an ice-level area that seemed to be reserved for those with tickets, though I did not investigate further.

There is even a Honda SUV in the corner, much like there used to be at Barclays Center for the Islanders before this season.

The photo below is from above the Ice Bar and you can see the tables and stools there.

The Wildcats have been around since 1995 and were known as the Alpines (after a local beer) for one season before taking on their current moniker. They have two President Cup titles, but have yet to take home the Memorial Cup, losing the final as the host team in 2006 and losing all three round-robin games in 2010.

Overall, Avenir Centre is an excellent junior hockey venue with some great fans and staff. Once they speed up the ticketing process, it will be ideal and I hope to be back for a Magic game sometime.

The Game

Once again, the visitors were the hapless Acadie-Bathurst Titan, who had lost an overtime heartbreaker in Halifax the night before and had just one win in 19 tries. Moncton were 14-4 but one of those losses came at Bathurst on Friday, so they wanted to avoid being embarrassed at home. They came out strong, peppering Titan goalie Felix-Anthony Ethier with 25 shots in the first period, only to be stoned on every attempt. Of course, Acadie scored against the run of play to take a 1-0 lead.

Could Ethier keep the Wildcats off the board? Nope. Early in the second, Mika Cyr completed a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Jakob Pelletier (26th overall pick to Calgary this year). A few minutes later, Alexander Khovanov (3rd round, Minnesota, 2018, #31 above) finished a nifty rush to make it 2-1 Wildcats. The Titan tied things up just a minute later, but Khovanov potted his second and assisted on a power-play marker by Jeremy McKenna that gave Moncton a 4-2 advantage entering the final period.

In the first minute, Yan Aucoin got the visitors within one on his second of the evening, but Moncton continued to dominate and McKenna added his second for some insurance, with Christian Huntley finishing the scoring as Moncton won 6-3. Moncton tripled Acadie in shots 57-19 and Ethier was awarded the 3rd star despite giving up 6 goals. Khovanov (2-2) and Pelletier (0-4) finished with 4 points each, while Wildcat netminder Olivier Rodrigue (2nd round, Edmonton, 2018) got the win despite a less than stellar performance.

I don't include a Player to Watch in my junior hockey posts, because it is pretty obvious who is going to make it. Both Khovanov (37 points in 18 games) and Pelletier (36 in 19) will be in the NHL eventually and make Moncton a very enjoyable team to watch. If you happen to be driving through New Brunswick, try to see a game at Avenir Centre.