Sunday, February 12, 2012

Prince Albert Raiders 1 at Lethbridge Hurricanes 4 - February 11, 2012

I flew from sunny LA to chilly Calgary yesterday, all in the name of watching the Leafs in two more road encounters. Those games aren't until next week though, so I have the weekend to check out some WHL action in southern Alberta. First off was a short drive to Lethbridge, home of the rather oddly-named Hurricanes who were hosting Prince Albert in a Saturday night tilt.

Calgary to Lethbridge

As any hockey roadtripper knows, Highway 2 is the main road between Edmonton and Calgary, but it also continues south to Fort MacLeod, where it hits the Crowsnest Highway which leads to Lethbridge to the east. That was the planned route, but on the way to the airport to rent the car, I saw a massive traffic jam on Highway 2 southbound, due to an earlier accident. I'd say the jam was at least 5km long and moving very slowly, so I decided to go east from the airport and take Highway 23 south instead.

This brought me through a small town called Vulcan, named for the Roman god of fire. Of course, the name Vulcan is now more well known as the home of Mr. Spock from Star Trek, and the town leaders didn't waste the chance to capitalize on that. The town now hosts a Star Trek convention on a regular basis and has a small replica of the Enterprise which attracts tourists year round.

So after a brief stop to take the above picture, I continued on to Lethbridge to catch the first of 12 hockey games on this trip.

ENMAX Centre

The ENMAX Centre (named after an energy concern that is owned by the City of Calgary) is a multi-purpose arena that was originally built in 1974 for the Canada Games the following year. It is currently undergoing extensive renovations which should be finished later this spring, and which make anything I write here of limited use.

Tickets are $20 for adults for any seat. There are two seating levels with a wide concourse that runs from one end to the other. The arena is horseshoe shaped as one end has no seats, this is a consequence of the fact that facility is used for events other than hockey, including curling (the Women's World Curling Championships are here next month) and concerts (Elton John is visiting in April). The seats are very new and quite comfortable.

There is also a drink rail along most of the concourse and this was very busy during the game; there are specific positions for which you can buy tickets. I moved around during the game and didn't find any bad seats, but think the upper deck gives the clearest view. The very important sign below is on all staircases to the second deck - it should be in all arenas!

The scoreboard is obviously new and the best I've seen at this level, with all four sides having an HD display which shows live action and replays. The scoreboard even displays the time remaining in the officials' time outs, which I have never seen before. Very good for planning that quick beer run.

Food options are fairly typical, but more varied than a typical junior rink. There is poutine of course, and also a chili bread bowl. I had a hot dog and pop combo for $5.50 which was a reasonable price and tasted pretty good to boot.

There isn't much else to write about here, and I think this is due to the ongoing construction. I would expect to see banners and other memorabilia around but didn't notice anything. There are luxury suites around the upper level and these might be recent additions as they looked newer than the rest of the building.

Overall, this is a venue that is in the middle of a major overhaul. I'd like to come back when the renovations are complete, because if the current setup is any indication, they are doing the right thing.

The Game

There are 12 teams in the WHL's Eastern Division and this game featured the teams placed 11th (Lethbridge) and 12th (Prince Albert), so expectations were low. Sure enough, the game was rather dull, with both teams clearly playing out the string. There were a few good hits, but generally limited physical play.

Lethbridge captain Brody Sutter, son of Duane and property of the Carolina Hurricanes in an interesting coincidence

Lethbridge opened the scoring in the 2nd minute when Sam Mckechnie wristed one that Cole Holowenko should have stopped. Three minutes later, Mckechnie doubled the lead knocking home a big rebound off a 2-on-1.

Midway through the first, Jay Merkley took a saucer pass from Jamal Watson, fell to his knees and still scored, a great goal that chased Holowenko, who only stopped 5 of 8 shots. Luke Lee-Knight (#35) replaced him and the visitors calmed down enough to stop the bleeding, although Lethbridge missed several great chances such as below.

Lee-Knight covers up after yet another Hurricanes chance

The Hurricanes added a power play marker in the second to essentially end things. After Prince Albert ended Liam Liston's shutout bid with a goal late in the period, the only thing left to wait for was tacos (if the Hurricanes score 5, everybody gets a free taco from Taco Bell). Unfortunately, the third period was scoreless, and the game ended 4-1 for the home team, so no free food tomorrow. The game was mostly forgettable, but the fans didn't seem to mind, after all a win is a win.

Mckechine was the first star, Liston second, and Merkley (21) third


Today was Hockey Day in Canada, an annual occurrence that features 3 NHL match-ups between Canadian teams. Naturally CBC broadcasts all three games and fills out the schedule with hockey-related programming from a small town somewhere in the country. It has become a big deal across the nation and I was glad to be a small part of it.

The Hurricanes come on to the ice to The Scorpions "Rock You Like A Hurricane", which is also played after every goal. I think they need to add Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" to the repertoire to fulfil the Canadian content rule.

The temperature change from LA to Calgary was -68 degrees F (80 down to 12). Even then, there is no snow on the ground here, which is surprising to me. Guessing that will change when I head north next week.

Next Up

I'm zooming over to Medicine Hat to see the Tigers take on the Brandon Wheat Kings. These two teams met in Brandon in late January and my roadtripping buddies Peter and Andrew of the USRT were there, so I'll be catching the other side of the home-and-home series (separated by a few weeks).

After that, I'm back in Calgary for a rest day before watching the Leafs take on the Flames on Valentine's Day. Here's hoping my heart isn't broken.



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