Saturday, February 16, 2013

Oklahoma City Barons 3 at Texas Stars 4 (SO) - February 15, 2013


After watching 5 basketball games over 5 days on two different continents, it was time to see some other sports. Surprisingly, the AHL has a solid presence in the south region, with four teams in Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, and Cedar Park, TX. Where is that last one you might wonder? Cedar Park is a city just 20 miles north of Austin, the biggest town in America that I had yet to visit. Fortunately there was a game on Friday night, so I pointed the car due south and drove 6 hours, arriving in plenty of time to see the Texas Stars take on the Oklahoma City Barons.

Cedar Park Center



Located in the middle of nowhere in sprawling Cedar Park, the stadium was opened in 2009 in time for the Stars to move there from Iowa and become the Texas Stars. The CPC is a beautiful facility, rising out of the prairie like a mirage, but if you think it is just a figment of your imagination, the $10 parking charge will quickly bring you back to reality. I think that is a bit much at this level, but the parking lot is huge and can easily handle the traffic.

Tickets range from $11 for the Terrace seats in the upper rows behind each net to $64 for the single row along the glass in the Club. Best bet is probably the Luxury seats at $21 which allow you to sit in one of the offensive zones. If you want to avoid having the glass block your view of the goaltender, row J and above is best.



There is a single spacious concourse with a number of booths and concessions. My recommendation is Smoky Mo's BBQ, where a sliced beef wrap is just $4. The beef is sliced right in front of you (below), something you don't see very often at sporting events. There is a shaved ice stand that was offering free samples, but it was very cold outside and few fans seemed interested. In terms of sit-down spots, there is a Club Lounge for those with Club seats ($40) and Tito's bar for others.



There is a single seating bowl with 22 sections. Above each section is a separate loge section with seats that go for $27 and give you some space. Note that the seats in the upper rows of sections 111-113 are just folding chairs.



One interesting promotion for tonight's game was the Texas Lottery Lucky Row. Each section was assigned a player and if he scored first, a row in that section would win lottery tickets.



Another thing I liked here was having the team store on the concourse itself, providing more space to browse around. Often these are separate spots and can get very crowded before the game.



The path from the dressing room to the ice is not blocked off and fans can stand there as the players walk out onto the ice. A nice touch that cannot be replicated in the NHL, with dressing rooms usually located beneath the seating bowl.



Finally, make sure to pick up your game notes, which are handed out as you enter the seating bowl. A bit of useful info on both teams that makes the game that much more enjoyable.

All-in-all, I was impressed with the Cedar Park Center. The acoustics were great, the fans were loud throughout the game, and I didn't notice a single person leaving early. Which is good, because the game they saw was fantastic.

The Game

The Stars were the top team in the league with 64 points, while the Barons (Edmonton's affiliate) lay 9th in the conference, just behind the Marlies. Observant readers will remember that I saw the Barons play the Marlies in a playoff game in Toronto last April.



Jack Campbell (above) started in goal for Texas. He was the USA junior goalie who won gold in that memorable game against Canada back in 2010. Drafted 11th overall that year, he is in his first full pro season and should be up with Dallas before long. Niko Hovinen (32, below), a Finn who recently was claimed by the Oilers off waivers, was tending net for the Barons in only his 3rd AHL start.



The Stars dominated the first period, peppering Hovinen with 18 shots but only Mike Hedden could beat him, scoring on a power play.


Jonathan Cheechoo, one time NHL leading scorer, now plays for OKC

The Barons found their legs in the 2nd, scoring twice in just over two minutes. Kristians Pelss tied the game with a sneaky screen shot at 14:28. Josh Green was left alone in the slot and had no trouble wristing past a helpless Campbell at 16:57.

In the third, Antti Tyrvainen was on a breakaway, only to be hauled down. A penalty shot was awarded and although the fans didn't like it, the referee was correct. Tyrvainen scored on a low wrist shot (below) and OKC had a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes to go.



But just over a minute later, Hedden scored his second deflecting an Alex Chiasson pass over Hovinen's shoulder, and when Theo Peckham (below) took an interference penalty just after that, the Stars used the momentum to tie the game as Justin Dowling tipped in a cross-ice pass from Toby Petersen.



Neither team could break the deadlock the rest of the way and we went to overtime, which was very fast paced. There were 7 total shots but both keepers were up to the task, sending the game to a shootout. Remember that in the AHL, five attempts are the norm.

OKC went first and Green scored. The next four shooters all failed (two for each team), and then Chiasson potted one for the Stars to tie the shootout at 1. Again, the next four shooters all failed so it was sudden death.



Amazingly, the next eight shooters were unable to score. Pelss came out to take Oklahoma City's 10th attempt and he was stuffed by Campbell (above). That brought big Jamie Oleksiak to the ice for the Stars. Oleksiak, the 14th overall pick in 2011, had just made his first appearance with Dallas (six games in all) and had been sent back down the day before. Not one to mope, he broke in on Hovinen and beat him high over the shoulder to win the game for the home team. Fantastic ending to a fantastic game.



This was a great battle, just back and forth action with some great goaltending, a comeback win for the home team, and 21 penalty shots. In fact, this was probably the best minor league game I have ever seen, which isn't saying much as I've only watched 16 of them.

Notes

I arrived quite early and had to wait around for the press credential in the bowels of the building. While I was there, the Stars warmed up by kicking around a soccer ball (below). A few Cub Scouts were also waiting with their parents for their official passes, and it was fun to see them so amazed by the players.



The game took 2:24. When you compare that to the 2:38 that the previous night's Heat-Thunder game lasted (mostly due to TV timeouts) it shows that hockey gives you much more value for your dollar. There were 65 minutes of game action plus 20 shooutout attempts in less time than 48 minutes of action in the basketball game.



I was in the press box (view from there above) for this game and Craig MacTavish was one of the guests, watching the Oilers' top prospects.

The Austin Toros of the NBA D-League play here, so I will be back as part of my Quest for 400.




Update, June 16th, 2013: A sad footnote to this game: Pelss' goals was his first and only marker at the AHL level as he died tragically just four months later, while spending the off-season at home in Latvia.


Next Up

It's baseball season! Yes, NCAA baseball started on Friday and the University of Texas Longhorns are hosting Sacramento State in Austin, where it is 19 degrees and sunny. I'll have all the details tomorrow.

Best,

Sean

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