Sunday, February 28, 2010

Orlando Titans 16 at Toronto Rock 12 (NLL) - February 27, 2010


With the Leafs off due to the Olympic break, the NLL's Toronto Rock had a rare chance to host a Saturday evening game. The Orlando Titans were the visitors coming of a double-OT loss to Boston the week before in what was the longest game in league history. The Rock were on a 2-game losing streak themselves but were still perfect at the ACC. These two squads were the top of the east so it promised to be a good game.

The Arena

The Rock play at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Leafs and Raptors as well. It's located right by Union Station, so transit is your best option to get there. Unlike other NLL games I've attended, the upper seating bowl is also open, as the Rock reliably draw more than 10,000 per game. Tickets are not cheap here, with the best seats going for $72, more than double the price that the same seat would cost you in Orlando. I attended the game with an old college friend, and he preferred the end seats which were a more reasonable $46.

I'll refrain from a full review of the ACC here, I'd prefer to do that when I see a Leafs game and the arena has all of their facilities open.

The Game


The Rock had four goals in the first period, but two were called back due to crease violations. Meanwhile, Toronto keeper Bob Watson was strong, shutting out the Titans as the quarter ended 2-0 for the home team.

That was the highlight of the night for Watson, who turned into a lacrosse version of Vesa Toskala in the 2nd quarter, allowing 8 goals including a hat trick by Casey Powell. The final marker came with just 0.3 seconds left as the Titans went into the half with an 8-5 lead.

Toronto's Garrett Billings shoots

The third quarter was fairly even as the Rock outscored Orlando 3-2 to enter the final stanza down 10-8. But Watson fell apart in the 4th, allowing goals on the first four shots as the Titans stormed to a 6-goal lead. Watson was replaced but it was too late for Toronto. They did manage to close within 4, but Orlando added a 15th against replacement goalie Steve Dietrich and the Rock never threatened against Orlando keeper Matt Vinc (shown below making one of his 52 saves) as the Titans won 16-12.


Goaltending was the difference in this game. Toronto outshot Orlando 64-43 but Vinc was up to the challenge while Watson had a forgettable night. With the win, Orlando takes over first place in the East with a 4-2 record, while Toronto is second at 6-4. These two teams meet again in Florida at the end of March and that game could decide the eventual Eastern champion.


Thoughts

Sitting behind the net is quite interesting as you can see the play develop. It was impressive when the players were able to shoot the ball into the tiny openings left by the goalie. The view from section 102 is below.


I was also able to see how the line changes affect the game. From what I could tell, both teams had defensive and offensive lines that would change whenever the play moved from one end to the other. In some cases, a player would come off the bench, get the ball, shoot, and after the other team gained possession, return to the bench for a shift totaling 10 seconds.

There was a funny incident when Vinc saved a shot and the ball disappeared into his equipment. The referee and some players tried to help him find it, but it remained hidden. Finally they gave up and restarted the game; the ball did finally reappear during a break in the action.

The most annoying thing tonight was the loud music that was played constantly during game action. I don't understand the need to take away from the game itself, and want to hear the sounds of the game, not the Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Skipping the Raptors

I had planned to see the Raptors hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers the day before, but decided against it for a couple of reasons. The first is that ticket prices were simply too high. It was $264 (yes, over two hundred bucks) for a seat between the baskets, which is far more than I'm willing to pay for 48 minutes of action. There were some cheap seats available in the upper deck, but I've become a bit picky about where I sit for NBA games, as the field of play is so small that there are very few decent seats available. The other reason was Canada's semi-final game against Slovakia, which began at 9:30. I didn't want to miss the first period so went to a local establishment to catch all the action. Think it turned out to be the right decision as the Raptors lost in OT while Canada won a nailbiter over the Slovaks.

Best,

Sean

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hershey Bears 2 at Toronto Marlies 3 - February 25, 2010



After lunch with an old colleague (Thanks Rob) and a much-needed nap to cure the jet lag, I boarded the streetcar to head over to the Ricoh Coliseum to watch some AHL hockey. The Maple Leafs' affiliate is the Toronto Marlies, and they were hosting Hershey, who are the farm team of the Washington Capitals.

The Arena

The Ricoh Coliseum is located on the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds just west of downtown. Two streetcar routes, including the 509 from Union Station, terminate here at the Exhibition Place stop; from there it's just a minute walk to the main entrance. With a TTC ride costing $3, a group of 3 might be better off driving as there is parking on the CNE grounds.

The arena was built in 1921 and served primarily as an agricultural facility for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair since then. It didn't become a hockey rink until the Toronto Roadrunners were relocated there in 2003. That team served as Edmonton's affiliate for only a season and after the lockout, the Maple Leafs moved their farm team here from St. John's, Newfoundland. The Marlies have played here since then, even achieving a division title back in 2008.

So that's what a Toronto championship banner looks like

There are two seating levels here - a "platinum" level that comprises the first 7 rows ($38), and the rest of the seats, which are divided into sides ($30) and end zones ($18). There's even a single row known as the red zone which is only $10. All prices are for tickets bought before game day; it's $4 more if you buy on game day. Tickets are also available at the Air Canada Centre. Given the lack of fans there, buy a cheap ticket and sit where you want.

In the main entrance there are several trophies that are presented annually to the Marlies' MVP, best defenseman, etc. It's interesting to note that almost none of the players have made an impact with the Leafs, which illustrates just how poor their farm system is. Having said that, there is a display that rings the ice surface just below the suites which is called "Developing Leafs since 1927" and lists dozens of Leafs who must have played in the AHL.


The concourse offers some displays on the other AHL teams including a great map that is a must for any roadtripper (shown below). Food options are typical and I didn't eat anything while I was there. There was a poutine stand that I'll try on my next visit.


Above the seating bowl is a wide concourse that encircles the rink. I spent the third period wandering around here watching the game from various angles. Seemed to be a few scouts that use this area as it is quite spacious and provides a good view of the ice. There are even TV's at one end; the picture below shows the Marlies scoring their 3rd goal just as the Canadian women were being presented with their Olympic gold medals (below - check out the red light at the far end).


If you enter the club area, you can see the Marlies going to and coming off the ice. Below is distant relative Joey MacDonald smiling after being announced as the 2nd star.


The Ricoh Coliseum is a good place to watch a hockey game. There are no distractions and no bad seats here. Easily accessible by transit and offering reasonably priced tickets, it's a mystery why the Marlies aren't more popular in the so-called "Center of the Hockey Universe".

Fans? Where are you?

The Game

The Bears are the top team in the AHL with a 44-12-2 record while the Marlies lie 6th in the North Division with a 24-27-10 mark. The league actually separates overtime and shootout losses, which I hate, so I've combined them above. Regardless, the Bears had to be favoured in this battle, and they started quickly. A giveaway in the Marlies end was poked by MacDonald right onto the stick of Andrew Joudrey who potted the easy goal for a 1-0 Bears lead just 64 seconds into the contest.

The Marlies fought back and tied the game midway through the period when Kyle Calder scored on a rebound. In the second, Toronto added another when defenseman Juraj Mikus found himself some open ice in the faceoff circle and snapped a shot that beat Bears' keeper Braden Holtby high to the glove side.

Holtby saved this Mikus shot

In the third, Hershey got into penalty trouble and Calder added his second on a 5-3 advantage to make it 3-1 Marlies. The Bears got one back when Steve Pinizzotto tipped home a point shot, but despite a flurry at the end, they could not get the equalizer and Toronto escaped with a 3-2 win.

It was fun to see a Toronto team hold a lead for a change. MacDonald played well and made a great toe save in the final couple of minutes to preserve the win.

MacDonald with another save

The game itself wasn't that exciting, a lot of chippy neutral zone play, but I can't complain - seeing a Toronto team win a game over the best team in the league is not something I'll enjoy often.


Other Thoughts

Where are all the hockey fans in Toronto? The Marlies are averaging just over 3,600 per game and only 2,725 showed up to watch this tilt. Maybe the weather and the women's gold medal game kept some at home, but still, it's terrible that Toronto is smitten only with the Leafs. Tickets here are reasonable and the on-ice product is good; the game crew puts on a good show to entertain fans during the intermissions and time outs. I really don't understand how minor league hockey can be so completely ignored here. Hey Toronto fans: get out and support the Marlies!

Too many empty seats

Next Up

LeBron and the Cavaliers are in town tonight but there are no good tickets and I'm not going to pay over face value from scalpers. With the Canada/Slovakia game starting at 9:30, I might skip the Raptors and make my way to a local for the hockey game instead. Either way, I'll update you tomorrow.

Best,

Sean




Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stuck in Detroit


So much for getting to watch the Canada-Russia quarterfinal. A passenger on my flight from Tokyo took ill and forced a diversion to Winnipeg. The three hour delay caused me to miss two connecting flights. Naturally the flight I was in time for was completely full. So I get to spend an evening in the Detroit airport waiting for my late flight to Toronto. I'll see if a sports bar will show the game, but I'm not hopeful.

Update: Things worked out after all. I don't know why I thought that HockeyTown airport wouldn't have the game on. I found a bar and watched Canada hammer Russia 7-3, and chatted with several Americans sitting nearby. It was a good experience and although it took me 28 hours door-to-door, it wasn't that much of a burden. And a 4-goal first period is the best cure for jet lag I've found yet.

I also complained to Delta who answered in a timely manner and added miles to my frequent flyer account to make up for the delay. I'm more than satisfied with their response and will now forget this long day.

For completeness, I'm keeping the rest of my post (written when I was very tired but still valid) below:

I may sound callous given the circumstances but the passenger in question shouldn't have been flying in the first place. A fairly overweight gentleman, he was sweaty and nervous before we even took off, and was extremely reluctant to sit in the middle seat to which he was assigned. The flight was full though, and volunteers to give up their aisle seat were not to be found. So he took a middle seat and seemed quite normal, sleeping for most of the flight. But with two hours or so to go, he became unwell. Treatment onboard was not effective, so the flight was sent to Winnipeg, where he was treated by paramedics and removed from the plane, seemingly in reasonably good spirits.

I hope he's OK but I also hope that he doesn't get to fly again until his medical condition is cured. This was a preventable diversion in my mind (of course, I don't know all the facts, but judging from my observation). The result was thousands of dollars in expenses to Delta and inconvenience to 300 other passengers. The moral is: if you are not sure you can fly, don't risk it.

Trip Plan

I should be in Toronto tomorrow to watch the Marlies. Friday the Raptors host the Cavaliers and then Saturday it's the Rock taking on the Orlando Titans. After that, it's back to Ottawa for some more hockey. Check back regularly for posts on all the games.

Best,

Sean


Monday, February 22, 2010

More on the Olympics


NHK sucks a bit less

Last week I complained about NHK's coverage of the Winter Olympics. Somebody must have been listening, because since then, I have seen a lot more coverage. Today, they even showed the Canada/US hockey game live and in its (rather depressing) entirety. Another discovery was that they were live streaming other events on-line. So I was able to watch Canada's Jon Montgomery win the gold medal in men's skeleton, as well as all the bobsled crashes yesterday. Even better, this live streaming comes without commentary. It would be great to have all the feeds from all the events shown like this - with the sounds of the fans and the competitors, and no pointless rambling from announcers who add nothing to the enjoyment of the event.

So NHK no longer totally sucks in their coverage, they just partially suck. And as I am leaving in two days, that's where the bar shall remain until 2014.

Canada stunned?

I obviously watched the US/Canada game this morning and was not surprised to see the Yanks take the victory. Anyone who watched the Canada/Swiss game knew that the home team was vulnerable to good goaltending and despite putting tons of shots against Jonas Hiller, they were still only able to muster an overtime win.

So why was everyone expecting them to overrun the US, who have the best goalie in the NHL in Ryan Miller? I though the US had more than a fighting chance, and with Martin Brodeur not playing well (he gave the puck away on the USA's second goal and generally did not look sharp), the match was clearly in the American's favour from the get-go. One of the benefits of being overseas is that I don't have to listen to the national hand-wringing whenever Canada loses in international hockey. But by now, I would expect the nation would be used to losing big games. It happened in 1998 in Nagano (a game I attended that still ranks as my worst sports memory), and again in 2006 in Torino. One gold medal in three tournaments does not lend strength to the claim that "Hockey is Canada's game".

Canada finished in 6th place overall in the round-robin tournament. Interestingly, if they had beaten the Swiss in regulation, they would have finished 4th and advanced to the quarterfinals directly. So it's not the loss to a good US team that sent Canada to the qualification round, but the inability to beat a less talented Swiss squad.

Now Canada takes on Germany, and they should win to move on to face Russia in the quarterfinals. I'll be in Toronto on that day and although I had planned to check out the Raptors and Trailblazers, I'll be in my hotel watching the hockey game with the rest of the country. I am hoping that the extra game gets Canada some additional time to work out their problems. I think we'll see Luongo against Ovechkin and the Russians; when Washington visited Vancouver earlier this season, Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet. Hey, I know it doesn't mean much, but when you're down, you gotta be optimistic.

Best,

Sean

Friday, February 19, 2010

Surprise trip to Toronto and Ottawa!


I've had it with the Olympic coverage here, so I've decided to do something about it - spend the last few days back in Canada. OK, I'm not being entirely truthful; I'm not returning home just to watch the Olympics. In reality, I had a bit of good news that freed up the last week of February and the first week of March. The only question was where to go.

With my parents still living in Ottawa, I knew I had to spend a few days there, and a quick check of the hockey schedule revealed the Senators would be hosting the Rangers on March 2nd and then Toronto on March 6th. So I knew I would be in Ottawa for that week, but I wanted to add another city in there for some more live sports. I first considered Vancouver for a few nights to enjoy the Olympic atmosphere, but hotel prices were sky-high, so that plan was quickly rejected.

I then looked at the Toronto sports schedules and found that the Marlies, Raptors, and Rock were home on four consecutive nights from February 24th. A quick check of flights and I knew I had my destination. The full schedule for this trip is below (updated Feb 27th after I missed the Cavs/Raptors game due to jet lag and Olympic Hockey). It all came together rather quickly but it will be a lot of fun. And I'll be able to see the Olympic hockey semi-finals and finals live and in English!

Feb 24 Portland at Toronto (NBA) 7:00 Watching Canada-Russia QF in Detroit Airport after flight delay
Feb 25 Hershey at Toronto (AHL) 7:00
Feb 26 Cleveland at Toronto (NBA) 7:00 Watching Canada-Slovakia SF
Feb 27 Orlando at Toronto (NLL) 7:00
Mar 2 NY Rangers at Ottawa (NHL) 7:30
Mar 5 Barrie at Ottawa (OHL) 7:00
Mar 6 Toronto at Ottawa (NHL) 7:00
Mar 7 Hartford at Toronto (AHL) 4:00
Best,

Sean



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Japanese Olympics coverage sucks


I am not a big fan of the Olympics, and it's probably because I've lived in Japan for the last several Olympiads. It's said the Games bring out the best in people; this may be true for the athletes but it's certainly not true for fans or broadcasters, who become extremely and annoyingly nationalistic. For a country like Japan that is already far too self-centered, the coverage on NHK becomes downright nauseating.

The worst case happened today, Wednesday morning. I had watched the women's snowboard cross qualifications and was looking forward to the medal races, which are quite exciting with 4 racers hurtling down the slope at the same time. Scheduled to start around 7:30 a.m. here, the race was nowhere to be seen. NHK's main channel was showing the morning news while the Japan-US women's curling match was show on the cable channel. Even with a Japanese boarder in the final sixteen, the event was completely ignored. To make matters worse, Canada won the gold but I've still yet to see any coverage of the event on any of the stations here. Nice job NHK.

I understand that viewers want to see their nation's athletes, but here that's all we see. Medal events that don't involve a Japanese athlete are simply skipped while we see replay after replay of Japanese athletes finishing somewhere below 3rd place. When a Japanese actually wins a medal, we are then treated to endless interviews of this previously unknown commodity, who is suddenly a national hero.

To be fair, all countries extol their medal winners (after ignoring them for the past 4 years), but in Japan it just goes too far. Despite live hockey on right now, NHK's cable channel is replaying the men's 500m speed skating, where Japan picked up a silver and bronze medal. Yesterday. Unbelievable. Perhaps I shouldn't blame the broadcaster, who must appeal to the simple-minded Japanese who would rather yet again see a 2nd and 3rd place finish than watch some live sports with the best athletes in the world.

I believe that as the rights holder, NHK should show as much live competition as possible. With 3 available channels, every medal event should be covered live regardless of the participation of this country's athletes. The Olympics is supposed to be about a sports competition that brings the world together in mutual understanding, but here, it's just an opportunity for the population to remain convinced that Japan is the only nation that matters.

On-line Olympics

After all that complaining, a compliment to the Olympics internet site at www.vancouver2010.com - great live updates with detailed stats that cannot be found on television. An excellent companion when you are fuming about the crap coverage you are forced to watch in a foreign country.

Best,

Sean

Friday, February 12, 2010

Goodbye Northwest


For those of you who might have missed it, the Delta/Northwest merger has been completed and the airline is flying under a single operating certificate now. The NWA website no longer exists (it redirects to delta.com) and it's getting harder to spot Northwest planes as more and more are repainted in Delta colours.

On my return flight from Atlanta last week, I was fortunate to fly on N671US, the last 747 in Northwest's scheme. According to Airliners.net, it is now being repainted at Victorville airport in California, which means the end of that familiar red tail on 747s in Narita.

I've been flying NW for well over 10 years as they were usually cheaper than Air Canada and offered reasonable connections through Detroit. I've always found them to be a decent airline, although these 747s could use some refurbishments on the inside as well, particularly with the addition of personal video systems. It's sad to see them go, but so far Delta has been similar in service, so we'll see how things go.

For now, here's a picture of the last NWA 747, before flying ATL-NRT on February 1st, 2010.



Best,

Sean

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Trip to Osaka, Hiroshima and Nagoya planned


While I am still based in Japan, I want to see as many sports venues as possible. With the J League schedule finally being released on February 3rd, I've put together a short 1-week trip to Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nagoya at the end of March. Each city is home to at least one pro baseball team and one J League team, so there's a good range of games to choose from. Here's the schedule:
Mar 26 Yokohama at Hanshin (Central League season opener)
Mar 27 Urawa Reds at Cerezo Osaka (J League)
Mar 28 Vegalta Sendai at Gamba Osaka (J League)
Mar 30 Adelaide United at Sanfrecce Hiroshima (AFC Champions League)
Mar 31 Hanshin at Hiroshima (Central League)
Apr 1 Hanshin at Hiroshima (Central League)
Apr 2 Hanshin at Chunichi (Central League)
Apr 3 Vissel Kobe at Nagoya Grampus (J League)
Apr 4 Consodale Sapporo at F.C. Gifu (J2)
It's just a coincidence that all the baseball games involve the Hanshin Tigers. The main point of this trip is to see games at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima; it was opened last year but I didn't get down there, which is unacceptable for a sports road tripper. It's also interesting that I'll get a rematch of the Emperor's Cup semi-final between Vegalta Sendai and Gamba Osaka. Two of the games are being played in venues that are not the teams usual home: the first game is at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka rather than Koshien, and the Nagoya Grampus game is in nearby Toyota city.

This trip won't involve a car; it will be done entirely on public transit. It should be a fun week, so check back for posts on each game.

Update (March 22nd): Due to unforeseen circumstances (namely the girlfriend getting a new job) I'll be taking a trip to Singapore and Malaysia during this time so this trip has been cancelled, but should be replaced with a short jaunt to Hiroshima sometime in the summer.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Back to Work - for a day


In what appeared to be a shocking development, I tentatively accepted a 1-month contract at my previous firm. The project looked to be a lot of work, so I expected to be taking it easy on the sports watching and blogging for the next month. But as it turns out, the project didn't really require my services, so it turns out that I won't be working there after all. So I'll still be here to bore you all with my sporting updates.

There's not much going on in February other than the Winter Olympics and the completely meaningless East Asian soccer championship, where Japan invites Korea, China, and Hong Kong over for a little tournament. As an aside, Japan was shutout by China on the weekend, which makes me wonder how they plan to beat the Netherlands, Denmark, or Cameroon on their way to the World Cup semi-finals (their stated goal).

I'm off to Phuket in early March to play in a street hockey tournament, then Manila to meet friends. After that, a Japanese road trip is planned - more on that later. The next big trip isn't until early May, when I revisit California and Arizona for some baseball and maybe some NBA or NHL playoffs. As usual, updates will be available here.

Best,

Sean



Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2010 January Trip Summary


I'm back in Japan and suffering from sports withdrawal. So it's time to look back on the two and a half weeks that comprised my first extended sports journey in some time.

Toronto's Trying Travels

The purpose of the trip was so see the Leafs in 4 road games, which I did. I expected 3 points out of 8, which is what I got. In fact, back in October I had told a friend that I have a goal of seeing the Leafs lose in every NHL city and I expect to add 3 or 4 on this trip. Well, I got 3, and that brings the total to 11 (Toronto, Vancouver, Philadelphia, LA, Anaheim, San Jose, New Jersey, Buffalo, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Florida).

Hey, when you are a Leaf fan, low expectations leaves little room for disappointment. Of course, now that they've made those trades, I'm expecting playoffs in 2011!

1-goal (point) games

I saw 7 NHL games and 3 minor league hockey games. All but one were decided by a goal. No points for guessing which team lost 2-0 to ruin the perfect streak. I also saw 3 NBA games, all of which were decided on the final play, and all three were the lead story on ESPN that evening. I really didn't think about this during the trip, but I was quite fortunate to get such a run of competitive and enjoyable games, and I doubt such a streak will happen in my future trips.

Stats

I drove 2,414 miles over the 15 days I had the car, which isn't much at all, about 160 miles per day. But that's about right for a regional roadtrip - somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 miles per week. Most of the driving was on interstates, I averaged 55 mph, which means 44 hours spent in the car. I spent $203 on gas, so each mile cost 8.4 cents. The car, a Chevy Cobalt, averaged 33.1 MPG for the trip, which isn't bad.

I was on the road for 18 days and saw 16 events in 4 sports and 12 venues. I checked into 12 hotels during that time, all had wifi, although in one case it didn't work and in one case it wasn't free. Back in 2001, I was using dial up to update my site, was it ever a pain trying to find hotels that had free local calls. It is amazing how much things have changed in such a short time. In fact, I bought an iPhone the day before I left - despite being locked in to a Japanese service plan, you can use it with wifi without charge, so I was able to plan my driving routes and store them on the iPhone. Back in 2001, before Google Maps, there was a lot of wrong turns and curse words, it seems like those are a thing of the past.

Travelers Cheques

One thing that hasn't changed much since my trip in 2001 is the difficulty in cashing traveler's cheques at banks. Hotels and restaurants accept them in small amounts as they are as good as cash once signed. But when I try to cash them at a bank that is recommended by American Express, I am asked "Do you have an account with us?" Umm, they are traveler's cheques. I am traveling. I do not live here. So no, I don't have an account. On one occasion, it took about 20 minutes for the teller to understand the concept. Being a Canadian living in Japan and traveling in the U.S. is still not that easy money-wise.

Annoying Fans

My usual rant about fans that just don't get it. I've never understood why people will pay a lot of money to watch a game, then get up and down repeatedly during the event to buy food or beers or whatever. During the Pens game on Sunday, I noticed several fans, sitting in great seats, missed the first 6 minutes of the second period as they were out getting their crappy food. It surprised me that you would be willing to miss 10 percent of an event, in particular to be overcharged for terrible food. Of course, when you return to your seats, you block the view of everyone behind you (who actually want to watch the game!) while you sidle in front of everyone who has to stand up to let you pass.

When you go to a movie, you buy your food before the film begins and you sit there for the entire thing. Hockey games are about 2.5 hours long, shorter than Avatar for example. You also get two 15-minute breaks during hockey games. So why not leave your seats then?

Why I like sports

OK, enough ranting. What is great about sports is that you can see the best in the world perform on a nightly basis. On this trip, I saw LeBron, D-Wade, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Vesa Toskala, among others. You can also see stars on their way up in the minor leagues. There's no other genre where you can do this; it's not easy to find out where Meryl Streep is shooting her latest film, gain access to the set, and then sit there watching her do take after take.

For me, what's exciting about sports is that the outcome of the event is unknown at the beginning. You never know what you're going to see, which is why I keep coming back.

What's Next

And I will keep coming back! Two more overseas trips are planned this year, both involving baseball. The first is in May to watch Toronto in Arizona. On either side I'll catch some minor league games in California and Nevada, as well as some MLB games in Oakland, Anaheim, and San Francisco. And perhaps some NHL playoff action should the Coyotes or Sharks be alive in the later rounds and the schedule lines up.

In July, I'll make a visit to Minneapolis to see the new Target Field. I'll also spend a few days in Iowa watching all of their minor league teams in action.

In Japan, I'll be trying to watch some soccer/baseball doubleheaders in Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Sapporo. As usual, the schedule will be updated online, so please have a look and let me know if you'll be in the area.

Thanks

Finally, a word of thanks to a few people who made the trip memorable. First to Aunt Barb and Uncle Ed for their hospitality in Fort Myers. Great burgers!

To Gary and his Royalty Tours comrades The King, Rich, Mike, and Alicia for an enjoyable day in Pittsburgh - lots of fun meeting up again in a new city guys!

To Sharpy for putting up with me for a week; it's true that when we do a Toronto road trip the team undergoes some transformation afterwards.

To Mr. Jones, father of Predator Ryan Jones; thanks for the extremely informative conversation before the game. Hope you weren't ostracized too long for talking to us Leaf fans.

And most importantly, to everyone who's been reading this blog, thanks and hope you enjoyed it. I'll take a few days off but look to get back into the sports watching biz with a bj league game in Tokyo next week. Until then, have fun everybody!

Best,

Sean

Monday, February 1, 2010

Detroit Red Wings 1 at Pittsburgh 2 (SO) - January 31, 2010



Today was the last day of the trip. I had planned to spend it resting in Atlanta, but when I found out my road tripping buddies Gary and the King were going to be in Pittsburgh to see the Red Wings and Penguins in a Stanley Cup rematch, a little idea popped into my head. Why not fly to Pittsburgh to watch the game with them? Well, I've detailed my search for flights and tickets elsewhere, but ultimately the logistics worked out perfectly. The NHL even helped out by moving the game to 12:30 from 3:00, so we had time for dinner afterwards.

Getting There

I woke before 6 am, left my stuff in my Atlanta airport hotel, and returned my trusty rental car before boarding my Air Tran flight to Pittsburgh. We arrived a few minutes early, and I lucked out in that the Port Authority 28X bus was a few minutes late. I expected to wait until 10:35, but the 10:00 bus arrived at 10:04, so I only had to wait a minute before I was on my way downtown. The bus only costs $2.75 and is a good way to get downtown quickly and cheaply.

Once there, I made my way through the freezing cold to Mellon Arena, arriving at 11 am. There were already people gathering, and I got the familiar feeling of excitement whenever I am about to enter a new stadium. I should note that the temperature in Pittsburgh was 9F or so. Considering that yesterday I was in Orlando where it was around 75F during the day, this was quite the shock to the system. Fortunately, the sun was shining and it quickly warmed up to a more reasonable level.

The Arena


This is Mellon Arena's last year, which is one of the reasons I wanted to see it. Nicknamed the Igloo due to its circular structure (as you can see above), the arena was built in 1961 to house an opera company. It was the first indoor stadium with a retractable roof. It's now the oldest stadium in the league and the one with the smallest seating capacity, which is why it will be replaced by the Consol Energy Center next year (see below).


Seating here is quite different from your typical rinks. Sections are lettered from A to F, with A through D circling the rink, A being those closest to the ice. the E and F sections are only at the ends, with the E seats above the C and D, and the F seats on another level above E. I sat in the B seats, but think that E would be perfect - they are almost directly above the net which is a great place to see the play develop as the players race down the ice toward you. My seat was next to the Igloo seats, which seem to be club seats. As you can see in the picture below, those seats were replaced recently whereas the red B seats seem to be about 50 years old!


The E and F overhanging seats obstruct the view for the seats directly below, which is why new arenas use a different design which pushes these seats further away. You can't expect the expensive seats to have their view blocked by the cheapies! The picture below is from the F deck, which is not that bad. But I was told by a season ticket holder who sits in the end seats that his seat next year would be 50-100 feet further away, so we'll have to how that looks when the building opens.


Naturally being so old, Mellon Arena is very tight. The concourse at each end is narrow and gets crowded during the intermission. Food is typical from what I noticed. I hope that the new place manages to bring in some of the Primanti Brothers sandwiches that make PNC Park a treat. The restrooms are troughs for the guys. It's been a long time since I've seen that sort of set up.

There's lots of history here. Of course, the Penguins have won a Cup or two, but they've also had several scoring titles, which are commemorated on banners as well. The Penguins Hall of Fame is located just beneath the press box, with the players and numbers listed. As well, there's a Pittsburgh Hall of Fame and jerseys from local hockey teams that liven up the concourse.


Overall, this is not a bad rink at all. It's unique and I love the seats almost directly above the net. But it's obvious that the Penguins need a new place, so I'll be visiting again sometime soon to see the Consol Energy Center.

The Game

It was the NBC Game of the Week which meant an early 12:30 start. It seemed like Detroit had no legs at all as they were outshot 16-6 in the first period, and only several good stops by Jimmy Howard kept them in the game.

Malkin crosses the blueline

In the second, Pens captain Sidney Crosby took a cross-ice pass from Alex Goligoski and deked Howard out of his pants before depositing the puck in the empty net for the 1-0 lead. The way Detroit was playing, it looked like this would hold up, but Dan Cleary deflected a Brad Stuart slapshot midway through the 3rd that tied the game at 1. The last few minutes saw more Penguin chances, but Howard was tough and we had overtime.

The two goal scorers

Both teams had chances in the extra period, but Sergei Gonchar took a penalty with 1:23 to go, giving Detroit a power play to end play. But Marc-Andre Fleury (below in the warmup) made a superb save on a slapper from the point and the Penguins killed the time to force a shootout.


After the first shooters missed for both teams, Crosby showed everyone how it is done, skating in quickly, waiting for Howard to flop, and backhanding the puck into the top of the net, knocking the water bottle out of its sleeve. A highlight reel goal that is pictured below.


After Fleury saved a Jason Williams attempt, Evgeni Malkin was shooting for Pittsburgh. Malkin was only 5-for-25 in his career, and he looked tentative as he slowly skated in on Howard. But he faked left, went right and tucked the puck in behind Howard's sprawled figure. Pens win! They are now 7-0 in shootouts this season.


Pittsburgh outshot Detroit 47-24 but Howard grabbed the point for the Wings. It must be fun being a Pens fan watching Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Staal every game. Be interesting to see if the extra workload of two Stanley Cup Finals plus the Olympics hurts their star players come playoff time.

Datsyuk in the shootout

It was a very exciting finish to a game that started poorly. The 3rd period was good as Detroit finally found some energy but Pittsburgh deserved the points. Crosby was the first star; I tried watching him a bit and was amazed how the puck always seemed to find him. Also was impressed by Pittsburgh's strong defensive effort as a whole. An excellent game to end the trip.

Thanks to Gary for the drive to the airport after dinner. It was great seeing you all again and I look forward to meeting up in Minneapolis in June! The photo below is a sculpture of Franco Harris making the Immaculate Reception and is located in the airport as an advertisement for the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. I'll have to visit next time I'm in town.


Toronto Trades Toskala!!

This has been an incredible trip. It got even better when I found out that Toronto GM Brian Burke had traded Vesa Toskala to Anaheim for J.S. Giguere. I danced a little jig when I heard the news. I just wish that the trade had been made before the Atlanta game a couple of weeks ago.

The Leafs definitely got better with their two trades, also acquiring Dion Phaneuf, so let's hope that the next time I do a roadie, they might win more than one game.

That's It

I'm flying back to Japan tomorrow. I'll put up a statistical summary of the trip once I'm back, since I'm a numbers geek. It was a fantastic 18 days, except for the Leafs losing 3 times. But there were three great NBA games and a whole bunch of new venues that I saw. And the weather in Florida was perfect for the 8 days I was there. Thanks to everyone for reading and take care!

Best,

Sean