The NFL Road Trip was planned back in May and pretty much set in stone from that point. I knew that I would be in Phoenix for the Cardinals and Rams on December 8th, and when the NBA schedule was released, I was able to add the Raptors visit the Suns on Friday night. Last week Arizona State football won the Pac-12 South and the right to host the championship game on Saturday. Suddenly it would be a very busy sports weekend in Arizona's capital city.
As I was looking into tickets for the football game, another Stadium Journey correspondent informed me that there would be a college hockey game in Tucson on the Friday night. Tucson is about 90 minutes south of Phoenix and it didn't take me long to replace a crappy NBA game with my first college hockey game. I should note that this is not NCAA hockey, but the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which is non-varsity and offers no player scholarships.
The #1 Arizona State Sun Devils were in town to take on #13 Arizona in a weekend set. The Sun Devils were 21-0 having scored 116 goals while giving up just 22, while the Wildcats were 10-10. The two teams had met up in Tempe two months before with Arizona State winning both by a combined 11-1 score.
The Wildcats play at the Tucson Convention Center, a multipurpose facility that includes a theater and other entertainment venues. You can park right outside for free after 5 pm as that is when meters are no longer enforced. If you have time, walk a few blocks east to some of the local eateries such as the Empire, which offers a slice of pizza and a beer for $6.
Tickets for this game featuring the "Scum Devils" are a bit more expensive than usual, running from $11 to $18. For most games, including this one, you can pretty much sit where you want as long as it is not too close to the glass, so buy the cheapest ticket if you are alone. The rink is shaped like a horseshoe, with one end having no seats at all, as you can see above. However, there is a complete concourse here, so you can stand right above the goalie at the other end, a great view that is not available at most rinks. Even better, the protective netting that is now mandatory at all professional rinks is not used here, so you have a clear view.
I watched the first two periods from right behind the net before moving to a seat for the third.
Most of the players played previously in Junior A hockey or the equivalent, with Kory Chisholm of the Sun Devils coming from Lloydminster, where I saw him play just last year in Camrose. ASU is led by freshman keeper Robert Levin, who was sporting a 0.93 GAA, but he was given the night off and Joseph D'Elia from Richmond Hill started. That's him below in a photo that gives you a good look at both team's uniforms.
Arizona scored a couple of early goals to take a surprise lead, but even then it was clear that the visitors were the superior team, as they were generally faster and generated more chances. They fought back to 3-2 and then Faiz Khan was hauled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot, on which he scored (below).
Arizona again took the lead 4-3 when Jarrod Levos misplayed a clearance and Robbie Wilkinson skated by him and and beat D'ELia, who had stayed in his crease rather than play the puck. Anyway, that was it for the home team, as ASU began to dominate the second half of the game, scoring twice in the second and then twice early in the third to make the final 7-4.
The quality here is not as good as that in major junior of course, but it is still fun to watch, Games are usually Friday and Saturday, so if you happen to be in Tucson during the winter, see if the Ice Cats are at home and if they are, drop by for a rare treat: college hockey in the desert.
A pane of glass was knocked out and shattered on the ground next to some fans, but fortunately nobody was hurt. It took them about ten minutes to get a new pane installed, which was interesting to watch.
The Raptors lost 106-97 in Phoenix, so I think I made the right decision.
The two teams played again on Saturday and ASU won 13-2, cementing their #1 ranking.
The Pac 12 Championship today in Tempe and then the NFL Road Trip resumes with the Rams and Cardinals on Sunday. Check back next week for the updates.