Wednesday, February 29, 2012

USC Trojans 2 at Pepperdine Waves 7 (NCAA Baseball) - February 28,2012


When I first planned this trip, I had 3 events scheduled for this day: an NCAA golf tournament in the morning, an NCAA baseball game at 3 in the afternoon, and an NBA game in the evening. The schedule was tight and I figured I'd have to leave the baseball game early to deal with the LA rush hour to get to the Staples Center on time.

Fortunately, though, things sorted themselves out. First, the golf tourney was being held at a private club. Public spectators were welcome, but there was a dress code for which I did not bring the necessary accoutrement (i.e. no jeans allowed). Secondly, the ballgame at Pepperdine was moved to 2 pm, so I would be able to see all of that and still have plenty of time to make it downtown for the Clippers and Timberwolves. And that's what I did.

Eddy D. Field Stadium


The Pepperdine campus is in Malibu, just off the Pacific Coast Highway, comfortably nestled in the seaside cliffs. In the middle of it is a jewel of a ballpark, Eddy D. Field Stadium, opened in 1973 and renovated a couple of times since then.


Arriving on campus, you'll receive a free parking pass at the gate and drive up the road to the parking lot. You can park right behind the outfield fence but there is a sign warning of baseball damage, so most people park in an upper lot.

I parked in a small lower lot near the fence and from here, took an indirect path to the park, walking up about 100 stairs to get a great overhead view of the stadium and the surrounding area, and then walking back down and entering the concourse behind home plate.


Tickets are apparently $8 but I must have walked in the wrong way because I never saw anybody charging admission. I did get there quite early, over an hour before game time, so perhaps they didn't have gates set up yet. I did notice that other fans had a stamp on their hands so I guess I got away with one.

All seats are box and unreserved. There are about 2000 seats total and the entire seating section is protected by a screen.


There is one small concession stand selling pretzels, hot dogs, and Cracker Jack at prices you would find in a convenience store.


There is no cover from the sun, so bring a hat if it is a clear day. Sunglasses are also a necessity as it is bright throughout the afternoon.

Overall, this is one of the best places I have ever enjoyed a ballgame. You can't beat natural scenic beauty and that alone makes Eddy D. Field worth visiting.

The Game


USC won their first 7 games of the season and moved into the top 25 rankings at #21, while Pepperdine was a respectable 6-2. I still expected a blowout though, and got one, but not with the expected winner.


After two scoreless innings, the Waves got on the board in the bottom of the third. With the bases loaded thanks to a couple of walks and a single, Joe Sever (being congratulated at home above) crushed a pitch from Trojan starter Brandon Garcia over the left field fence for a grand slam and a 4-0 lead.


USC managed a run in their 5th when James Roberts (above) doubled and scored on a single by Garret Houts, but Pepperdine promptly replied with a sacrifice fly from Tony Cooper. The sixth inning also saw both teams score a run, with Pepperdines's coming on a monster homer from Sam Meyer (below), who also played solid defense at first.


The Waves added a final run in the 7th on a HBP with the bases loaded and USC never threatened to make the final was 7-2. Matt Maurer picked up the win for the Waves, going 5.1 solid innings and giving up just the 2 runs.


Not a fantastic game, but great to see a smaller program beat a larger one. I've never seen baseball in February before, and it was sweet to be sitting outside in the sunshine after two weeks of watching hockey in Canada.


Notes

Pepperdine was the national champion in 1992 and has won the West Coast Conference on several occasions, so they are not a weak team. Interestingly, they beat Cal State Fullerton in the final that year, and I'll be finishing the trip with a game there tomorrow.


Best,

Sean

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kelowna Rockets 1 at Calgary Hitmen 2 - February 26, 2012


After a brief stop in Swift Current to get a few hours of sleep, I rejoined Highway 1 to make my way to Calgary, where the WHL's Hitmen were hosting Kelowna in a 4:00 start. The storm had stopped and the drive was clear until I arrived in Calgary, where it was snowing again (below), but that didn't prevent me or 9,500 others from making their way to the Saddledome.



I visited here for that horrible Leafs loss nearly two weeks ago and I won't bother reviewing it. For the WHL, the Press Level is closed off but the rest of the arena is open, and fans are scattered about. Tickets in the lower bowl are $23.75 in the lower bowl and $18.75 for the upper, which actually has better views if you can sit in the first few rows.


There is plenty of parking on the Stampede site for $13, which is very expensive for this level of hockey, considering every other rink I visited has no charge. You might be able to find free parking offsite, but I didn't have time to check around due to the early start. There was no problem getting out as this area is used to heavy crowds for the Stampede.

Food options are the same as for the NHL game, so overall, this can be an expensive event. That doesn't stop Calgarians from enjoying it though, the Hitmen are one of the top teams in junior in attendance, averaging 8,263 last season to top the league.

The Game

The Hitmen entered the game in 5th in the East, just a point behind Kootenay while the Rockets were a solid 6th in the West. They would be the only team from the Western Conference that I would see on this trip, and when I heard they were finishing up a stretch of 3 games in 3 nights, I expected them to be easy fodder for the Hitmen.



Things certainly started that way as Kelowna took a too-many-men penalty early on and Calgary converted when Jimmy Bubnick popped home a rebound on the ensuing power play. The Rockets didn't even get their first shot until the 7:46 mark and looked tired. I was sitting behind the Calgary net for this period (see picture above) and didn't see much action until Brett Bulmer (below, who spent time with the Wild earlier this year) took a pass from Madison Bowey and beat Brandon Glover (great name for a goalie!) to tie the game.


The second period was choppy with a couple of fights and several penalties, including a 5-on-3 for both teams. Calgary scored on theirs, but it was disallowed as Danny Gayle was impeding Kelowna keeper Jordon Cooke (below).


Kelowna again couldn't get a shot on net, this time going over 10 minutes before finally testing Glover (below). Neither team scored in the frame and we went to the third still knotted at 1.


The Rockets found their second wind in the third and took control of the game, outshootingCalgary 8-1 through the early part of the period, but Glover was solid in net. Near the midway mark, Alex Gogolev found Victor Rask (Carolina's 2nd pick in 2011, below) who managed to squeeze a shot under Cooke's arm to give the Hitmen the lead again.



That was all they needed. Kelowna had a couple of chances late but Glover blockered them away to preserve a tough 2-1 win. Kudos to Kelowna for putting up a fight (literally, there were 3 bouts in the game) despite playing their third game in as many nights. A good game to end the Canadian portion of the trip.

Notes

The name Hitmen is derived from founding owner Bret "The Hitman" Hart, although the team has been owned by the Flames since 1997, three years after the franchise was established.

I saw 7 WHL games on this trip and the home team won every one.

Next Up

I'm flying to LA today where I'll spend 3 days checking out a few different games, including the Timberwolves at the Clippers on Tuesday night as well as one or two NCAA baseball games. Check back tomorrow for another update.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Swift Current Broncos 2 at Moose Jaw Warriors 5 - February 25, 2012


The winter storm that had been predicted arrived in Regina just as I left my hotel, but it was mostly just blowing snow and the short drive to Moose Jaw wasn't impacted. After I arrived though, the storm hit with force, so I spent some time at the casino and a bar while waiting for the game to start that evening. The picture below shows the condition of the streets, not a lot of fun for drivers.


Mosaic Place


Opened in August 2011, Mosaic Place is a brand new multi-purpose complex that is the jewel of downtown Moose Jaw. Along with the hockey rink, there is an 8-sheet curling rink and a restaurant known as the Great Western Lounge, which is open during games.


There is little to talk about there, and I mean that in a good way. There is a single seating bowl with 14 or 15 rows per section, and some very nice-looking suites above it. The concourse is quite spacious and you can stand anywhere and watch the game while making your rounds.


Parking is free but limited within the parking lot, however street parking is free when there is an event at Mosaic Place.


There are concession stands at every corner as well as pop and candy machines. I didn't see much of interest though, just your typical WHL fare, with prices a bit more than I would expect.


There were no pennants or banners immediately noticeable; I'm not sure if that is due to the Warriors relatively poor success record or that they haven't moved them from the old rink yet.


The best thing about this place is the acoustics. I enjoy the sounds of hockey: the puck being passed stick to stick, a pad save, the players yelling at each other and this rink allows all of those to be heard more clearly than any other venue. Some may argue the crowd is too quiet, but I think that is a factor of being caught up in the game. Hockey requires concentration to watch properly and these fans follow that maxim closely.


Overall, this is a simple place where hockey rules. I arrived two hours before game time and was happy to find the rink open to the public. I walked in and watched a pick-up game between two teams of guys in their 40s, exploring the venue in the process. It was great fun to be one of few spectators in such a sparkling new arena (a few of the Warriors were watching as well, perhaps seeing their future). If you are every driving through Moose Jaw, check out the WHL schedule and see if the Warriors are in town, you won't regret a visit to Mosaic Place.


The Game

Both teams had played the night before and then traveled to get here and it showed. There was little intensity from either team and plenty of uninterrupted choppy hockey.



Moose Jaw had come off that terrible 8-2 thrashing at the hands of the Regina Pats and things started poorly for them when Richard Nedomlel (below, Detroit's 6th round pick in 2011) scored on a screen shot just 26 seconds in. After that we had seven minutes of continuous play until Swift Current took a penalty.


The Warriors tied things up when Kenton Miller beat Jon Groenheyde high after a give-and-go with Tanner Eberle. It was a great shot and Miller's third goal on the trip after he scored two in Swift Current earlier in the week. He's an undrafted free agent that seems to have a good touch around the net. Curious to see if he'll end up signing somewhere.


The second period saw the Broncos score against the run of play when Taylor Vause took a Moose Jaw giveaway and found Coda Gordon (above) alone in front of the net. Gordon beat Luke Siemens easily and I thought that we might be in for a replay of the previous night's game, where Moose Jaw outplayed their opponent only to lose. The Warriors had other ideas though, and they put the pressure on to score not one but two great goals just 25 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead into the third.


That seemed to deflate Swift Current, who could only muster 4 shots in the final frame while Moose Jaw added a two more markers, including another by Miller, to complete the win 5-2. The highlights are here. You can see the Warriors' domination in shots below.


Notes

Great fans here, with over 4,000 showing up despite the snow. Of course, for them, this was just a few flurries, not nearly enough to keep them from a hockey game.

The Warriors were sporting their 3rd jersey, a red number with "Warriors" across the front. Good to see different designs when I see the same team more than twice.

Next Up

The storm was still going after the game ended, but the snow wasn't sticking on the highway, so it didn't slow me down that much. Ironically, I drove to Swift Current where I grabbed some shuteye before continuing on my way to Calgary, where I just saw the Hitmen beat the Rockets in the last game on the Canadian portion of the trip (update to follow shortly).

I'm flying to LA tomorrow where I've got two or three events to there before I head back to Japan. As usual, keep checking back for updates.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moose Jaw Warriors 2 at Regina Pats 8 - February 24, 2012


After a 6-hour drive west along the Trans-Canada Highway, I arrived in Regina to watch the hometown Pats host the Moose Jaw Warriors in WHL action.

Brandt Centre


Located on the western edge of Saskatchewan's capital, the Brandt Centre was opened in 1977 as the Regina Agridome and renamed in 2005 when local agricultural equipment manufacturer Brandt bought the naming rights. It is the main attraction of Evraz Place, a trade show and exhibition space that is used for fairs and rodeos among other events.

There are two main access routes for cars that lead to a large parking lot, which is free and reasonably easy to escape from after the game. There is one main entrance at the east end of the building where the box office is located inside a large lobby. There are two seating levels and tickets are $20 for a seat in either; I found the upper deck to provide somewhat better views. There is one section called the Safeway Funzone which is only $10 with a catch: tickets must be bought at a local Safeway. That's not much use for us roadtrippers.


There is a concourse between the two levels and this can get very crowded during intermissions. Many fans use this concourse as a standing area during the game, but it isn't that useful as you have to stand about a foot back from the top row of seats, so there are areas that are not clearly visible. I also noticed that the number of seats per row is quite long, with some rows containing 24 seats. If you don't like getting up and down all game, avoid the aisle seats here.


There are a number of concession stands but I found the food to be rather expensive for a junior rink, with the chicken strips running $8.50. Poutine was also available at $6.50 but did not look particularly appetizing, so I did not partake. There was one bargain, a 32 oz beer for only $10, that seemed to be the beverage of choice among the men.

The Pats are the oldest junior hockey franchise in the world, having been founded in 1917 and operated continuously since then. They were originally named the Patricias after a granddaughter of Queen Victoria; the name was shorted to Pats in 1923. There are a few pennants here from those days, including one commemorating a 1919 Memorial Cup Finals appearance. That was the year the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded due to an outbreak of influenza. You can also see the 1925 and 1930 championship pennants below.


There are also a few picture banners of old Pats heroes, including Doug Wickenheiser. All of these are located at the back of the rink, surrounding the main scoreboard. Unlike nearly every other arena, there is no scoreboard over center ice here, so if you are sitting in the end zone below, you have to turn around to see replays. There are a few TV monitors but they are too small to be of much use.


Due to the scoreboard and pennants, the upper bowl doesn't go all the way around the rink. If you like to sit up high behind the net, you only have one choice here.


The most surprising feature here is a hot tub that is used as a promotional tool for a local business. Sitting right next to the ice, it was filled with 4 hardy souls in bathing suits, who seemed to spend most of the game there. I can't imagine the condition of their skin after 2 hours in that thing.

Overall, the Brandt Centre is a decent venue for junior hockey with some history and a very good crowd. I like to move around from place to place to take pictures but the place was nearly full and I couldn't find a good seat because they were all taken. It is worth visiting but I'd suggest buying tickets in advance if you are particular about where you sit.

The Game

The Pats were 7th in the East but a fairly solid playoff bet with a 10-point lead on 9th-place Red Deer. The Warriors were 2nd, so there is a chance this would be a playoff preview. For Moose Jaw's sake, I hope it isn't.


After Moose Jaw dominated the first few shifts only to be denied by keeper Matt Hewitt (above), they took their first of many penalties and the Pats converted when Lane Scheidl perfectly deflected a point shot. Despite the early deficit, Moose Jaw continued to dominate and were finally rewarded when Cam Braes scored after the Warriors spent 3 minutes cycling the puck in the Regina zone.

The Pats regained the lead against the run of play when Morgan Klimchuk beat Luke Siemens with a pretty deke on a delayed penalty. The first period ended 2-1 for the home team despite Moose Jaw outplaying the Pats for much of the frame.



In the second, Jordan Weal (above, drafted by L.A. 70th overall in 2010) began to put on a show. First he assisted on a goal by Chandler Stephenson (#22 below) who threw the puck at the net and was fortunate to have Siemens misplay it. Then Weal showed a true goal scorer's touch, finding open space and beating Siemens on the short side. The second stanza ended 4-1, and Siemens was replaced by Spencer Tremblay (below) to start the third.



The goalie change did not work at all though, as Weal assisted on another power play marker that took several minutes to review and then added his second on another fantastic shot. It was his 100th point of the season making him the 4th WHL player to reach that milestone so far.

The rest of the game was pretty much garbage time. Regina added two more with their eighth being yet another goalie error. Below is a shot of Tremblay pulling himself out of the net just hoping that the game would soon be over.


Moose Jaw added a meaningless one when Hewitt misplayed a Kendall McFaull shot with a couple of minutes left, but that's didn't stop him from being awarded the game's 2nd star behind Weal, whose 4 points gave him the first star. Highlights are here.


This was an ugly game from the second period onward, with far too many penalties and scuffling after the whistle. There was one good fight between Cody Beach and Brandon Underwood (above). I've seen a lot of hockey on this trip but few fights, as it is obvious that fisticuffs are on the decline across all levels of hockey. This trend doesn't bother me, but I still enjoy a good scrap once in a while and this was the best one on the journey.


Overall though, there wasn't much to remember here. Neither Warrior keeper played well and the team will look to rebound tomorrow when they host Swift Current (they did, winning that game0. I'll be there too and hope for a better game than this one.

Notes

The scoreboard showed the Canadiens-Capitals game until the players began the warmup. After that though, there was no out of town scoreboard or announcement of the result.

The 50-50 winner was from Moose Jaw, which elicited a few boos, despite the score being 8-1 at that time. Hey, at least Moose Jaw won something!

Next Up

I'm driving a short distance to Moose Jaw tomorrow for a rematch of last weeks Swift Current-Warriors game. There's a winter storm warning in effect for southern Saskatchewan, so that could slow me down considerably, but the two cities are just an hour apart, so I should be able to make it. Check back tomorrow to make sure I did.

Best,

Sean

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.

Notes


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.

Best,

Sean