Friday, February 24, 2012

Tampa Bay Lightning 3 at Winnipeg Jets 4 - February 23, 2012

After a day off, I returned to the MTS Centre on Thursday night to see a southeast divisional matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets.

MTS Centre

The smallest rink in the NHL with a capacity of 15,004, the MTS Centre was previously home to the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. It was built in 2004 to replace the Winnipeg Arena, which housed the previous incarnation of the Jets.

The building was constructed on the site of the old Eaton's building, which was demolished after the retailer went bankrupt in 2001. You can find a statue of Timothy Eaton on the second floor, make sure to rub his left toe for luck.

The main entrance is at the corner of Portage and Donald and opens into an atrium where the box office is located.

You can enter the lower bowl which is immediately to the right of the ticket windows. The concourse is wide enough and you can easily make your way around before it gets too busy (doors open 90 minutes before the game). There are a couple of interesting displays: old-style Jets jerseys (below) and a tribute to the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons, who were the first Olympic gold medal winners in ice hockey.

As you walk around, you will notice the floor is directly level with the street outside. It is a bit unusual to see cars driving outside just a few feet from where you are, most arenas have their concourse above street level.

There is also a map that lists all NHL franchises and their AHL affiliates (above), great for planning that upcoming roadtrip.

I should note that if you want to tour around the lower bowl, you better have a ticket for that level as the plebes in the upper deck are not allowed to mingle with the well-to-do downstairs. I had upper level seats for both games, but on Tuesday I was somehow able to get in to the lower bowl and take a few pictures. I fully expected to do the same on Thursday but was told that this is not possible and I was "very lucky" to have had the chance during the previous game.

From the atrium, the stairs to the upper deck lead to a large lobby where pennants for each NHL team hang, displayed in reverse alphabetical order which puts Winnipeg first. At the other end of this lobby is a Game Night Stage where a band plays very loudly and not particularly well. This is also where a skybridge connects to Portage Place, a shopping centre and many fans use this route to enter the building.

Once inside the upper level, you will notice the concourse here is somewhat narrower and has far fewer concessions. I was fortunate on Tuesday to find a full-service Tim Hortons on the lower level. It sells sandwiches and donuts at regular prices and is the best stadium bargain I've found in a while. On Thursday, confined to the upper deck, the best choice was an Asian Noodle Box at $8, a relatively healthy if overpriced option with three flavours to choose from (Caribbean Pork, Korean Beef, or Thai Chicken). There is another Timmys here, but it only sells donuts and other sweets, not the more appealing sandwiches. Poutine and perogies are also available, as are the usual hot dogs, pizza, and nachos. Moxie's Bar and Grill is a full-service restaurant on the lower level but I did not try that.

The seating bowl is darkened before the game and during intermission so you can't read the free program. I don't know why they do this; the usher in my section was an older gentleman who had difficulty reading everybody's ticket.

There are a few banners that remain from the Moose, and the mascot is Mick-E Moose, so they are retaining some history. On the second level, there are some posters from concerts past as well as a few Moose players. It is strange to see Kevin Bieksa, now an enemy player, remembered in this way.

The scoreboard is a typical four-sided video board, while a single ribbon board encircles the rink between the two levels. The out-of-town scoreboard is shown here on occasion, cycling between the other games, but disappearing when ads are displayed.

I sat in the first row of the third deck and found my view to be partially blocked as you can see below. I found this to be quite annoying and wonder why they can't better design rinks so that there aren't unobstructed views from what should be the best seats. The people next to me had it even worse, forced to crane their necks whenever the play was in the other end.

Overall, I was not impressed with the MTS Centre. Preventing fans from accessing both levels is stupid and a fix needs to be found. Having obstructed views is something I expect from rinks built in the 1950s, not in 2004. There is also no free wifi, which should be an arena standard going forward. I know that the team is new and the fans are excited, but they deserve better than what they are getting here.

The Game

After watching Winnipeg on Tuesday and knowing that Tampa Bay had the worst goaltending in the league, I expected the Jets to win easily and that's pretty much what happened. Don't be fooled by the score, it wasn't that close.

Winnipeg scored two in the first period and added two power play markers in the first three minutes in the second to chase Mathieu Garon, who was replaced by Dwayne Roloson. Andrew Ladd (shown being tripped below) had three points, including his second consecutive 2-goal game.

The game then went into boring mode, with little action for about a period and a half. I managed to stay awake to see Steve Stamkos score on the PP after a beautiful 4-way passing play, his league-leading 43rd that ended Ondrej Pavelec's shutout bid with nine minutes left in the third.

Tampa Bay pulled Roloson with about two minutes to go and Teddy Purcell scored with 54 seconds left to pull within two. Tanner Glass then took a stupid cross-checking penalty for Winnipeg and Martin St. Louis tallied almost immediately to make it a one-goal game. But with only 8.9 seconds left, the Lightning didn't have enough time to tie things up and the game finished 4-3.

With the win, the Jets moved into first place in the southeast division and third place in the conference. They are playing well (4-0-1 in their last 5) and have a good team with a great goaltender. They lack that killer instinct though, as evidenced by giving up several goals late in these two games. They need one more piece to make a good playoff run; I'd be afraid to play them in the first round, especially if they have home advantage through the third seed. However, the teams chasing them have games in hand, so it will be a close race the rest of the way.


Winnipeg fans are loud and nearly all of them stay for the whole game which I really respect. Check the picture above, that's with less than a minute to go.

However, they complain about every single call against them. At one point, Tim Stapleton put his stick in the feet of a Lightning skater who fell. The ref raised his arm to signal what was clearly a penalty and the place erupted in boos. The reverse is also true: when a Jets player falls and no penalty is called, the catcalls rain down. This happened during both games I attended and began to drive me nuts near the end of this one,. Look, I've seen lots of hockey and it is normal for fans to rag the officials, but this is too much. I know it has been 15 years since you had the NHL, but get used to it, sometimes your team commits penalties too!

Next Up

I'm driving back to Regina tomorrow to check out a game between Moose Jaw and the Regina Pats. There's just three more hockey games (all of the WHL variety) on the Canadian portion of the trip, with over 800 miles to drive to get to them all, so it will be a busy weekend. I'll try to keep the updates coming, so check back regularly.



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