Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dallas Stars 2 at Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO) - December 6, 2010

After a quick morning flight to Cleveland (Delta Connection plane below), I rented my $1-a-day car and drove 2 hours south to Columbus to watch the Dallas Stars take on the Blue Jackets. As I moved south on I-71, there were a few flurries, but after 30 miles or so, it cleared up and was smooth the rest of the way.

Nationwide Arena

One of the NHL's premier facilities, Nationwide Arena is the centerpiece of a downtown renewal project that has completely altered Columbus and made it one of the best sports travel destinations in the US.

Located just south of I-670 along Nationwide Boulevard, the arena is actually owned by Nationwide Insurance, whose head office is right across the street. The area is now known as the Arena District and includes eateries, bars, hotels, and Huntington Park, where the AAA Columbus Clippers play. Unfortunately, it was extremely cold, so I just took a cursory walk around, but was definitely impressed with the old-style look of the area and would like to return for an extended visit.

There are two main entrances to the venue, one next to the ticket office at the corner of Nationwide and McConnell Blvds, the other is near the corner of Nationwide Blvd and Front Street (above). I entered at the former and was immediately impressed with the spaciousness. Two escalators and stairs led up to the main concourse. Once there, the openness of the area is most notable, with open views to the seating bowl, which is uncommon in hockey arenas.

If you use the other entrance, you will be on the Bud Light Terrace, a huge area with some interesting games and features, including a steel hockey game that you have to line up to play with about 10 other people (below).

Like Minnesota, high school hockey jerseys are on display. There's also lots of bars and food options in this area, including my favourite arena concession, namely Tim Horton's. The iconic Canadian fast food joint has increased its presence in the northern US and you can grab a donut for $1 here, the best bargain in any sports venue (I got an apple fritter!). However, the most notable feature here is the Goal Cannon, a Civil War reproduction that fires whenever the Blue Jackets take the ice or score. I've read people complain about the noise that it makes, but I found it within reason; it is a great touch and so much better than the horns that blare at every other arena.

As you walk around the lower concourse, you will see a number of interesting displays such as one commemorating the 10-year history of the Blue Jackets (that's Rick Nash's Rocket Richard trophy above), another containing hats thrown on the ice for Blue Jacket hat tricks, and a great display detailing how the late John McConnell worked tirelessly to create the Blue Jackets franchise (below). McConnell is a hero to Jacket fans and with good reason, he was the driving force behind the new team and there are several mementos around the arena dedicated to his memory.

Tickets are somewhat expensive here, with the good lower bowl seats going for $85, but there are options for those on a budget too. Two hours before every game, 250 Huntington seats go on sale for just $10. They are at the top of the second deck, but at least you are in the building. There are also deals for certain games, so check in advance or ask at the ticket office first.

With the Jackets struggling recently though, I found plenty of cheap seats from scalpers outside and ended up getting a $100 club seat for $40. Think I could have gotten it cheaper if I had been willing to negotiate or wait a bit, but it was ridiculously cold so I took it and went in. The club seats are just above the lower deck but I would not recommend taking them; the benefits of the club are fairly limited (you get stats updates after each period and some very nice but expensive restaurant options) and you can't move lower that easily.

Beautiful lower concourse from the club area

At a couple of corners stand the party towers which are for groups and look pretty interesting. The problem with doing these roadtrips is I only get one chance to see the stadium and it would be fun to visit a few times and get to try the other seating options.

The view from the upper deck was pretty good, and I was intrigued to notice that the sections behind the net the Blue Jackets defend twice are a bit lower than those at the other end. So if you want to be close to the ice, look at the lower rows in sections 221-227.

Overall, this is another great hockey facility. There's even a practice rink on site, which the Blue Jackets use. With the surrounding area filled with amenities, this is one place every hockey fan should visit. Just try to be there when it's slightly warmer!

The Game

After the craptacular weekend in Minnesota, I actually had a pretty good matchup to watch. Dallas was second in the west and on a 6-game winning streak, while Columbus was a respectable 14-10-1, although they had lost 5 in a row. Kari Lehtonen (stretching below) started for the Stars while backup Mathieu Garon was in goal for the Blue Jackets.

The home team got off to a quick start on a beautiful goal. Just over 5 minutes in, Jakub Voracek and Kris Russell executed a perfect give-and-go, and Russell was able to lift a backhand shot into the top corner behind a surprised Lehtonen.

Matt Niskanen finishes a check

After that, there was little to talk about, with few chances for either team. Dallas could only muster 5 shots in the first, while Columbus had 7.

Mike Ribiero just misses

The second period wasn't much more interesting, although Dallas began to assert control, controlling the puck for extended periods. Even then, they were only able to direct 5 shots at Garon, but one was a goal. The Jackets turned it over at their blue line and Brad Richards was the lucky recipient, taking a pass from James Neal, getting open in the slot, and wristing one that Garon partially gloved, but not enough to stop it from bouncing into the net . It was a bad goal and Dallas were lucky to head to the third tied at one.

R.J. Umberger in front

Things finally picked up in the third and the Stars took the lead 8 minutes in when Steve Ott and Trevor Daley (below in the warmup) ran a little give-and-go of their own; Ott converting the snap shot low into the far corner.

The Stars then went on the defensive and it looked like they would hold on until a cheap holding penalty was called on Karlis Skrastins with just 1:50 to go. The Columbus player was barely touched but fell like a ton of bricks and the ref bought it, giving the Blue Jackets one final chance. With Garon on the bench, Rick Nash (warming up above) tied the game on a low shot that beat a screened Lehtonen with 46.8 seconds left (below) and set up overtime, the second in two games on the trip. Again, nothing was decided in the extra five minutes and a shootout was required.

Nash scored on the first shot beating Lehtonen low to the stick side (below) and when Garon saved Neal's attempt, it looked good for Columbus.

But Lehtonen stopped Nikita Filotov's shot and Richards scored on a deke (below) to even the shootout at one.

This brought Kyle Wilson out for his first ever shootout opportunity and he made no mistake, beating Lehtonen in the same manner as Nash, which put all the pressure on Jamie Benn. He skated in very slowly, getting close and trying for the deke, but Garon stuck out the leg to deny him with a toe save and Columbus escaped with a 3-2 shootout victory to end both streaks.

Nash is the first star

It was amazing how similar this game was to the one I saw in Minnesota. The home team grabbed the lead, only to give up 2 goals before tying it to force overtime. But today's game saw the Blue Jackets win the shootout, so it was a better result, even if it was a bit ref-assisted. And a reminder to never leave early, as many did.


There is a bar called the Blue Zone after Labatt's Blue, a Canadian import. They have $4 pints after the game and I dropped in to check out the MNF game but it was already 24-3 for New England, so I didn't stay. It was pretty empty though, so I guess people just wanted to get home.

Next Up

I'm in Morgantown now and about to head out to an NCAA game between Robert Morris and the Mountaineers. It's my first sporting event in West Virginia and I'll have a recap tomorrow.



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