Monday, January 3, 2011

Saginaw Spirit 4 at Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 0 - January 2, 2011

After a quiet New Year with my parents, I drove back to Toronto where we needed to spend a night as my girlfriend had an early flight back to Tokyo on Monday. Just a few minutes drive from the airport is the Hershey Centre, home of the OHL's Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. Fortunately, the OHL schedule maker was kind and scheduled a 2:00 game between the Saginaw Spirit and the Majors, the top two teams in the league. A good way to start the year!

Hershey Centre

Located right next to Highway 403 south of the 401, the Hershey Centre is a relatively new rink, having been built in 1998. It was initially the home of the Mississauga IceDogs but when Eugene Melynk (who also owns the Ottawa Senators) purchased the Toronto St. Michael's Majors, he couldn't find a suitable arena in Toronto. So he bought the IceDogs in 2006, then sold them less than a year later to a buyer who moved the team to St. Catharines, which opened up the Hershey Centre for his Majors.

Despite being so close to the highway, access is not that simple as there is no exit that leads directly to the rink. Dixie Road off the 401 provides the easiest way of getting there from downtown Toronto. As the arena is part of a complex that includes several smaller community rinks, there is plenty of free parking. The main entrance has a small lobby with ticket windows and people wait there to escape the cold and wait for their friends. You might find someone with extra tickets around here too.

Once inside the arena proper, you can walk around the reasonably wide concourse, but there's not much to see other than some posts with pictures of old Majors who are Hall of Famers, including Ted Lindsay (below) and Frank Mahovolich among others.

There are a number of concession stands which offer nothing atypical other than Hershey products that are not excessively overpriced.

There is a single seating bowl with maroon seats with about 15 rows of seats. Tickets are divided into 3 areas: platinum ($24.80 including HST) which is along one side of the rink; gold ($19.15) which are on the other side, and red ($16.90) in the ends. The platinum seats allow you the advantage of entering the Platinum Lounge, but nothing else, so I'd recommend the gold seats. For the game we saw, the scoreboard was missing as they are installing a new one, so they had set up video screens at either end, which eliminated a large chunk of seats.

There are a couple of retired number banners: Red Kelly (#3, below) and Dave Keon (#9). I expect they'll add to these with those players who are currently honoured in the concourse.

Our seats were in section 19 row F and I initially thought they were great because they were just to the left of the player entrance, which means there is no glass for a portion of the ice. The clear view of the ice was nice but man, the smell from the bench wafting up forced me to move after two periods. The picture below is of the opening faceoff from the original seats.

Overall, this is a fairly generic arena with nothing special. After seeing a couple of old-school barns in Gatineau and Belleville, it's a bit disappointing to see the new style, which is so basic. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but there's no character yet. According to Andrew of the USRT, the OHL is getting rid of most of the old rinks and replacing them with these bland multi-purpose arenas, which is not surprising as junior hockey is more popular than ever.

BTW, the Hershey Centre will host the 2011 Memorial Cup, the junior championship featuring winners from the 3 CHL leagues as well as the host team, so if you are in the Toronto area in May, it might be worth checking out.

The Game

Saginaw came in at 24-8-4 to lead the Western Conference, while Mississauga held the top spot in the East with a 29-5-1 record. With the World Juniors going on, Mississauga was missing their head coach, Dave Cameron, as well as their captain Casey Cizikas.

Mavric Parks (making a save above) got the call for Saginaw while the league's #2 goalie Anthony Peters started in net for Mississauga. Peters came in with a 10-0-1 record, the lone blemish a shootout loss. But it only took Saginaw 39 seconds to open the scoring when Jordan Szwarz (drafted by Phoenix in the 4th round, 2009) deflected a point shot that beat Peters. The rest of the period was fairly dull with plenty of penalties to both teams, not surprising as the two teams were in the top 3 in PIM so far this season. The penalty parade continued in the second period, and Saginaw capitalized on one chance when Brandon Saad found an opening on Peters' glove side to double the lead. Despite outshooting Saginaw 22-15 through two periods, Mississauga couldn't solve Parks and went to the final frame down two.

The refs put away their whistles in the third, but Mississauga still couldn't get going and Saginaw's John McFarland (above, drafted in the 2nd round by Florida in 2010) put the game away with a breakaway goal midway through. A late power-play tally by Josh Shalla made the final 4-0 as Parks outduelled Peters, taking first star honours with his first shutout of the season.

For me, a rather dull game with 17 power plays between the two teams and Mississauga unable to do anything 5-on-5 or on with the man advantage. It's possible these two teams will meet in the Memorial Cup in a few months and I hope the Majors are able to put a more impressive performance then.

Next Up

I'm in Buffalo now and about to head out to the World Junior Hockey Championship semi-final games. Check back tomorrow for a post on that.



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