Thursday, February 28, 2013

Golden State Warriors 105 at New York Knicks 109 - February 27, 2013


The World's Most Famous Arena is what Madison Square Garden calls itself, and it would be difficult to dispute that. However, it had not been aging well and my last visit there back in 2008 left me unimpressed. The owners obviously felt the same way and in 2011, they began a $1 billion renovation program which is still ongoing. However, the majority of the changes have been implemented and my friend Gary had told me that the Garden was much improved, so I wanted to get there this week. The Rangers had home games against the Jets (Tuesday) and Lightning (Thursday), while the Knicks were hosting the Warriors on Wednesday. ESPN was covering the basketball game and the start time had been moved to 8 pm, making it easier to get to after work. Combine that with my ridiculously stupid NHL boycott, and Gary telling me he had an extra ticket for the Knicks game, and the decision was made. Turned out to be a great decision too.



Gates opened an hour before game time, and I met up with Gary to get the ticket and we followed the masses into the building. The entry procedure involves a bag inspection, wanding, and then a long wait as the ticket takers scan everybody's ticket. There are not enough ticket takers for the volume of people so you have to be very patient as you inch your way up the ramp. Once inside though, you will immediately notice how the arena has been transformed. The concourse is big and bright, with plenty on display as you make your way around. Along the top they have an anniversary timeline, with one event that happened at MSG for each day of the year. For major happenings such as Stephan Matteau's overtime goal in 1994, they have memorabilia from the player or game in question.



I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate the main concourse and to go inside the seating bowl to take a picture. Before the renovations, there were inner walkways that were in constant use during the game and made sitting in the first couple of rows behind them a frustrating experience as your view was blocked on a regular basis. These have been removed and now the lower bowl is more like a typical arena, with nice new seats to boot. There are some temporary floor seats for basketball that are not in use for hockey (capacity for the Knicks is 1,833 more than for the Rangers) but getting close to those wasn't going to happen, so I satisfied myself with a couple of snaps and then toured around the Madison Concourse (below). 


The upper deck is known as the Garden Concourse and there are a series of escalators that make getting there a bit annoying. In some spots there is only one escalator, so it has to be turned off to allow people to come down as well, which means you are walking up about 3 flights of stairs. This is just a minor inconvenience, but it will be difficult to resolve given the limited space available in the downtown location.



Our seats were in the 400 level just below the new West Balcony, which has two rows of seats with glass in front of them, plus an open area with barstools for seats. This might be the most interesting place to sit but at $81, it isn't cheap. You do get a great view of the banners as you can see above. The balcony partially blocks the sightlines for fans in the 400 level and significantly affects the acoustics; I had trouble making out the PA announcer at times. I found the best place to stand was next to the stairs to the West Balcony. There is a small space that has great views of the whole arena and is right next to the exit so you can make a quick getaway and beat the rush down the escalators. I don't know if you'd want to stand there for the whole game, but I spent the last few minutes there and thought it was great. The photo below is from that spot.



Other new features include much better lighting - I remember watching Ranger games on TV and thinking how dark it was. When I watched the Rangers host the Jets on the tube at my hotel, the view to the ice was clear and the camera angles were much better.

Overall, the new Garden is an improvement in every way and a joy to visit again. The renovations are still ongoing, so I hope to come back soon and see a hockey game here. But for now, it was the Warriors and the Knicks which turned out to be another wonderful Wednesday ESPN game.

The Game

There were so many storylines here including one-time Knick David Lee being suspended after a skirmish the night before in Indiana. More importantly though was another ex-Knick returning for the first time as a head coach. Warriors' boss Mark Jackson was a fan favourite when he played here and he received a prolonged cheer when he was introduced. His team didn't seem to care much though as they came out flat, although they showed respect to the Square by falling behind 16-9 and then 25-16. Meanwhile Tyson Chandler of the Knicks was a monster on the boards, grabbing 13 in the first 9 1/2 minutes. Steph Curry finished the quarter with 4 points as the Knicks led 27-18.



Early in the second, the Knicks were up 32-22 when Curry decided to get involved. He made a layup, technical free throw, and three 3-pointers in less than three minutes to bring the Warriors to within a point, 35-34. After the teams traded baskets, another Curry trey made it 40-37 Golden State and the fans were puzzled, because the reversal had happened so quickly. The Knicks responded just as quickly as Carmelo Anthony (above) added 9 points in the final 5 minutes of the half and they went to the locker room up 58-55 despite Curry (dribbling below) scoring 27.



The third quarter saw the score tied on four occasions but the Knicks maintained their 3-point advantage, leading 84-81. Curry potted 11 more to give him 38 and there was a noticeable buzz whenever he touched the ball as it seemed like every three pointer he took went in.



The final frame was thrilling. Another Curry bomb brought the Warriors within one and then he drove for a layup to give them a 90-89 lead. Over the next five minutes the teams fought to a 13-13 standoff as Curry continued to hit from downtown, adding three more treys to give him 52 points. Still, Golden State could only manage a 103-102 lead with 3:42 to go. After J.R. Smith missed a 3, Chandler grabbed his tenth offensive rebound and fed out to Anthony who drained his three. Two possessions later, Curry sank two FTs and the game was tied at 105 with two minutes left.

After Raymond Felton missed a three for the Knicks, he fought his way back on defense to make a key block on Curry, with the rebound falling to Chandler naturally. The Knicks drove back up the court and Smith hit a jump shot for the 107-105 lead. After the Warriors called time out, Jarrett Jack traveled while being double teamed and Anthony made a jumper on the subsequent possession, giving him 35 points on the evening. Another Warrior turnover forced them to foul, but Felton missed both freebies, grabbing the offensive board in contrition. The Warriors chose not to foul and after Anthony flubbed a layup, they drove down for a chance to get close, but Klay Thompson missed two threes and the Knicks held on 109-105.



Curry's 54 points were an NBA season high, and his 11 threes (on 13 attempts) were a franchise record, just one short of the NBA mark. Chandler finished with 28 rebounds, second most in the NBA this year. It was an unbelievable performance from both men and pushed Anthony to the sidelines despite his 35 points. Truly an incredible game.



Statistically, Golden State outshot New York from 3 point land (55.6% to 32.4%), and the charity stripe (85.7% to 78.8%) and the teams were both at 47% from inside the arc. How did the Knicks win? Rebounding, turnovers, and driving to the basket. New York took 16 of 49 boards on their offensive end, leading to 27 second-chance points (compared to just 2 for the Warriors). Meanwhile, the Knicks protected the ball, giving up only 10 turnovers compared to the Warriors 18. Finally, the home team went to the line 33 times (hitting 26) compared to just 21 (making 18) for the Warriors who spent most of the game on the perimeter. Shooting well is important, but if you neglect the other areas of the game, it won't matter in the end.

Notes

During the game, they show celebrities on the big screen. Famous names were Katie Holmes (no Suri in sight) and Katherine McPhee, as well as Victor Cruz of the football Giants.

I've seen some excellent basketball games on this trip. A week ago in Houston was James Harden's 46 points, and the Heat over OKC the previous week was great to watch. That is the beauty of Sports Road Trips, getting to see different teams in different venues and sometimes being rewarded with fantastic performances. I wonder if anyone else was at all three of those games…

Finally, thanks to Gary for his hospitality during my stay in New York, he was instrumental in getting tickets to the Nets and Knicks.

Next Up

I fly to Toronto on Saturday and immediately make my way back to the great State of New York as Sharpy will drive me to Buffalo to watch the Sabres and Devils. Yes the NHL boycott will be broken but First Niagara Center is a venue where I have yet to see a regular season game and as I am getting tickets from my friend Andrew, there is no direct payment to the NHL. You may call it rationalization but I call it dedication to the Quest for 400!

Sunday will see me visiting the Powerade Centre in Brampton, home of the OHL's Battalion who are playing their last season before moving to North Bay. A CHL team is scheduled to begin play there next season. Yes, that is the league with the team in Allen, Texas. Lots of long road trips for those guys next season. Anyway, check back next week for all the updates.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Villanova Wildcats 65 at Seton Hall Pirates 66 (NCAA Basketball, Big East) -February 25, 2013


When I first planned this trip I figured I would have no sports to watch on Monday night in New York as there were no NBA or NHL games in the area. However, when I met up with Gary on Sunday, he mentioned that Seton Hall would be hosting Villanova in Big East basketball action. Despite being a relatively small school, they play at the Prudential Center in Newark, which is easily accessible from downtown Manhattan using the PATH train from the World Trade Center. Another local friend Mike "The King" Casiano decided to join me so after work, we met up and headed over to New Jersey.

Prudential Center



More commonly known as the home of the New Jersey Devils, the Prudential Center was opened in 2007 to replace the aging IZOD Center in the Meadowlands. The Devils moved in immediately while the Nets only came here in 2010 before moving on to Brooklyn this season. The arena is also host to a number of other clubs, including Seton Hall Pirates basketball. I had already visited "The Rock" when the Leafs played the Devils back in 2008, a 3-2 loss that ended John Ferguson's tenure as GM.



With a capacity of over 18,000, the stadium is too big for the average college crowd, which seems to number around 7,500, so the upper bowl is usually blocked off. As such, I didn't do much touring as most concessions were closed and the concourse was quite empty (above). The Seton Hall band used the extra space to set up and serenade entering fans prior to the game, a nice touch (below).



The only other thing I noticed was The Mural, a 200-foot long piece of art by Tom Mosser that highlights local sports figures (below). As game time was approaching (a rather late 9 pm start), we took our seats without doing a full tour, so I'll have to come back for a Devils game in the near future.



The Game

Seton Hall came in with a 2-13 conference record and on a 9-game losing streak, while Villanova, was coming off a big road win at 17th-ranked Marquette on Saturday and had taken the last ten games over Seton Hall.



The story here was the Pirates' 3-point shooting. They went 8-13 from beyond the arc in the first half (and only 1-9 from inside), which allowed them to stay close to a more well-rounded Wildcat squad, who shot 67% from close range as the half ended tied at 32.



The second half was more of the same as Aaron Cosby (#1 leaping above) made three treys early on to keep the Pirates in the contest. After much back and forth, Villanova used a 9-2 run to get a little breathing room, building a 60-55 lead with five minutes to go. Seton Hall pulled with 1 but a Darren Hilliard (#4 in blue above) three pointer and a Mouphtaou Yarou (#13 above) jumper sandwiched around two freebies by Brian Oliver allowed the Wildcats to take a 65-61 lead with just 19 seconds left.

This is when things got crazy. Fuquan Edwin drove to the basket and was fouled, sinking both free throws to make it 65-63. As Villanova inbounded, the Pirates pressed and forced a turnover before the Wildcats could call timeout. Tom Mayaan passed to Edwin who stepped back beyond the arc and drained the shot for the 66-65 lead and a suddenly crazy crowd. It was the Seton Hall's 13th three in just 21 attempts and it won the game as Villanova could not get a good shot on their last possession.



This game may have had a thrilling finish, but it wasn't pretty to watch. There were 37 turnovers and 41 fouls. The best part was Villanova's FT shooting, which was 25-27. Still, that's only 25 points, far less than Seton Hall gained on those 13 three-pointers. If you believe you only need to watch the last two minutes of a basketball game to enjoy it, this battle would do little to disprove that.

Notes

Before the game, the King and I signed up for the designated driver program to get our free soda. Every game one person who signs up wins a prize and this time it was the King himself. He seemed quite shocked to see his name (Michael Casiano of course, not the King) up on the scoreboard. The swag was pretty good, including a nice Seton Hall hoodie. Congratulations Mike!

The final shot was #9 on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays on their late broadcast.

What's Wrong with College Basketball

College basketball has so many problems, the most obvious being the five time outs afforded each team along with the four media time outs per half. That 18 stoppages for a 40-minute contest. Add on the 40 or so fouls and you rarely get a full minute of continuous action. The game has no flow and when are you are at the venue and not distracted by commercials or Dick Vitale yelling, it can get very tiring. Of course, no one will ever mention this as college basketball is currently the most hyped sport on ESPN with March Madness just around the corner, but it is true. Two hours and 20 minutes for 40 minutes of game action only serves the TV networks who can sell more ad time; fans as usual have their time wasted.

Another issue is the overuse of the 3-point shot. When it was first introduced, the trey was a novelty and teams used it relatively rarely. But we now have a generation of players that have grown up making this shot so their shooting percentage is sometimes 40% or better, while the 2-point shooting percentage is still around 50%. It doesn't take a math whiz to calculate that once you are shooting better than 33% on threes, it makes sense to shoot from there (assuming the 50% rate from inside the arc). In this game there were 92 FG attempts and 39 were from 3-point land (42%). The three point shot is no longer exciting when it happens all the time and it has changed the college game considerably. Basketball should have balance with an inside game to complement the outside shooting, but as teams rely more and more on perimeter play, the quality of big men will continue to decline.

Finally, these schedules are a bit crazy. Villanova played in Milwaukee Saturday and then Newark on Monday. Do these kids study? Isn't it midterms right now? Oh wait, those are stupid questions, college basketball is not about college, it is about money (of which none goes to those kids). If you are not following the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, you should. It could change the landscape of college sports and finally ensure the players are treated fairly and not exploited so ruthlessly by the NCAA and ESPN.

Next Up

After 16 straight days watching a game, I'm taking tonight off. The Jets are visiting the Rangers but I have other commitments so I will miss it. I still hope to get into the Knicks and Warriors tomorrow night though, so check back to see if I did.

Best,

Sean

Monday, February 25, 2013

Memphis Grizzlies 76 at Brooklyn Nets 72 - February 24, 2013


After a slightly delayed flight from Dallas, I arrived in New York City with plenty of time to head over to Brooklyn to see the newest stadium among the 122 big 4 sports venues, the Barclays Center. The Memphis Grizzlies were in town and my friends Gary and the King from Royalty Tours would be there, choosing this game over the Knicks, Islanders, and Devils who were all at home around the same time.

Barclays Center

Located on Atlantic Avenue, Barclays Center is just 3 miles from downtown Manhattan making it a very short subway ride, about the same distance from Wall Street as Madison Square Garden. The first thing you might notice as you approach from the subway exit is the Ebbets Field flagpole at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. Look beyond and you might find it hard to believe they've put a full scale stadium right in the middle of the block, but as you can see below, they have. It is really a fascinating place from the outside and looks more like a fine arts venue than a basketball arena.



Inside is a different story. First, you have to have your bags checked, then you are wanded, and then you get your ticket scanned before you can stand on the open plaza, which has a clear view of the floor but is so crowded that you'll want to quickly escape. The concourse has charging stations for those whose phones are running low on battery as well as ATMs that have no withdrawal fee, something very useful for international travelers such as myself. Walking around, you will notice dozens of concessions, each with traditional Brooklyn favourites but the prices are outrageous. I saw sandwiches selling for $15.75 which is what an entree should cost at a quality restaurant. I guess Nets fans are loaded, but I am not, so I signed up for the designated driver and got a free popcorn instead.



I briefly made my way inside the seating bowl to snap the picture above but you can't walk down into the seats without a ticket. So I wandered back to the concourse where there is a display on the Black Fives that was only installed a couple of weeks ago for Black History Month. It should remain as it makes a fairly drab spot much more interesting.



Gary had secured me an upper deck ticket at a discount, but without his services, I would have paid $35 at the box office for the cheapest seats, again somewhat overpriced. After completing my tour of the lower level, I took the escalator up to the 200 level bypassing the club section, although from the escalator you can look down and see the buffet options available to those with club tickets. When I walked into the upper seating bowl, I had to squint to see the row and seat numbers since it is very dark as you can tell in the photo below. During the game, there is no point trying to read the program or score the game, unless you have a small flashlight to help you see.



The Nets have moved their banners over from the Prudential Center (and the Brendan Byrne Arena before that) including a couple of ABA championship ones (below). There are also six retired Net numbers on display and a banner for Jay-Z, a Brooklyn native who is a part owner of the team and who celebrated the opening of the arena with eight consecutive sold out concerts.



The upper concourse has far fewer concessions so if you do want to be fleeced for your supper, better to choose something from the lower level. There is a 40/40 Club (again co-owned by Jay-Z), an upscale sports bar which is open to the public both before and after the game but I had seen enough of the prices so I didn't bother checking it out.



Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in the Barclays Center. After my trip to Texas where I saw four NBA venues, I had high expectations but found that this is an average stadium with little to make me return. Particularly the game I witnessed.

The Game



Ugh. They don't get much worse than this. The Grizzlies and Nets are two of the slowest-paced teams in the league and it showed. Both squads milked the clock, took bad shots as a result, and left the crowd in a torpor for most of the contest. The Nets shot under 36% from inside the arc and committed at least four 24-second violations, perhaps a sign of good Grizzly defense or more likely, a sign of bad Net offense.



Deron Williams (#8, above) was the star for the Nets with some great plays, going 9-15 for 24 points (exactly 1/3 of their total), while Zach Randolph (shooting below) led the Grizzlies with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Despite only scoring 76 points, the Grizzlies managed to get all five starters into double figures - a craptacular team effort!



The game had 12 lead changes and was tied 5 times, which sounds exciting. Not really. Brooklyn had a 72-67 lead with 2:50 to play but missed their next four shots while Memphis scored 7 straight points. Down by two, the Nets had one last chance to tie it up, but Williams made a terrible pass instead of shooting. Tayshaun Prince who was the recipient of the gift pass, quickly threw the ball over to Mike Conley who was fouled. Conley sank the free throws to make the final 76-72.


After this stinker, don't advertise upcoming games

Remember that game in Houston I saw last week? The score was 122-119, or 241 total points. This game had just 148. No wonder Grizzly fans have stopped coming out to their games in Memphis, they are simply not a fun team to watch even when they win. As for Net fans, who can blame their lack of enthusiasm tonight, their team was simply not very interesting.

Notes

The 3-hour flight from Dallas was on a CR9, where the R stands for regional, which means small (just 76 seats). I am surprised that they are using such tiny planes for flights that can hardly be described as regional. The flight was delayed 40 minutes due to a late arriving aircraft, but after a quick boarding process, we left just 20 minutes behind schedule. I had been upgraded and had a nice window seat without having the wing block part of the view. After takeoff, we flew directly over the American Airlines Center where the Mavericks were getting ready to host the Lakers, and I had a great view of SMU's football stadium, where I saw a game back in November 2011. We passed south of Little Rock and stayed parallel to I-40 briefly before veering northeast, where clouds eventually moved in. It was my first upgrade in several years and a nice way to end the Texas trip.

Next Up

I had no plan for Monday but Gary told me that there was an NCAA basketball game in Newark with Seton Hall hosting Villanova. It was the only game in town and I'm glad I went as it turned out to have an amazing finish. I'll have a post on that tomorrow.

I also plan to see the Knicks and Warriors on Wednesday at MSG, but that will be it for New York City. This weekend I finish the trip with a a couple of hockey games in Buffalo and Brampton, so check back for updates on that as usual..

Best,

Sean
 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cal State Fullerton Titans 6 at TCU Horned Frogs 2 (NCAA Baseball) -February 23, 2013


It's always fun to discover an extra game after the initial trip is planned. When I found the updated college baseball schedule online, I started going through every Texas-based team to see if they were at home this weekend. Imagine my delight when I learned that the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs were hosting baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton in Fort Worth. With a start time of 2 p.m., it fit in nicely with the indoor soccer game in Allen at 7. Of course, the plans changed after that and the soccer game was dispatched from the schedule but the baseball game remained, so I headed over to Lupton Stadium to catch all the action.

Lupton Stadium

 

Built in 2003 on the TCU campus, Lupton Stadium is named for Charlie and Marie Lupton in recognition of a $2-million gift from the Brown-Lupton Foundation, of which Charlie was a founder back in 1944. You might notice in the picture below that the field is named separately (Roger Williams was a TCU player and coach, while Michael Reilly is a local businessman), meaning there are four individuals recognized here. It maybe a bit wordy, but it is much better than naming rights sold to a corporation.



Parking is free in a large lot off West Berry Street. From here, you can walk around the fence and see the history here, including a 1921 conference champions plaque in the shape of a baseball. Continuing along the third base side, the championships are listed in chronological order, with the CWS appearance in 2010 the highlight.



TCU teams are called the Horned Frogs, although the animal is actually a lizard. The name was given back in 1897 when the university was located in Waco and must be one of the longest serving nicknames in sports. There are horned frog representations everywhere around the ballpark, including an inflatable one as you approach (below). There is even a stand selling Horned Frog jewelry and art for true fans.



The main ticket window is located up a flight of stairs and after paying $12 for a reserved seat, you can make your way inside, being sure to pick up a copy of the free game notes. I should point out that fans show up in droves here as TCU was 11th in total attendance in 2012 with an average of 4,112 in a venue with a capacity of just 4,500. Most of these seem to be season ticket holders and there were only reserved bleacher seats available when I showed up an hour before game time.



The stadium has two seating levels and the bleachers are the uncovered seats in the second deck above. There are about 26 seats per row, so when you get a middle seat, you are pretty much stuck. The picture below was taken well before game time but it filled up quickly. With the sun shining brightly, I decided to move to a shadier location on the concourse, where a couple of metal picnic tables are available to all with decent views of the mound and home plate.



The concourse is a bit narrow but perfectly adequate for the crowd. There are concessions along the concourse with sausage wraps at $4.50 very tempting, but I chose a freshly grilled hot dog at the TCU Grill for $4, where cheeseburgers are also on offer at $7.50. Other typical fare is available as well as a Mexican stand with $5 burritos that looked very good.



Along the concourse you will notice signs for players that have made the majors, although they include minor league contracts. Lance Broadway played in 27 games for the Chisox and Mets but never appeared in the majors for the Blue Jays, spending his last year in organized baseball at AAA Las Vegas. It is too bad he didn't make it big in New York as he might have the best name for anyone who played in the Big Apple.



Along the right field line there is a large berm where kids can run around. Even better, you can stand against a fence here and get a completely unobstructed view of the diamond. All seats are protected by netting so if you want a clear view, best to move over to the berm. I alternated between the shaded picnic table and this area throughout the game.



Overall, Lupton Stadium is yet another beautiful college ballpark with great fans, good food options, and a nice atmosphere on a weekend afternoon. If you are in the DFW Metroplex during baseball season, check out the TCU schedule too see if the Horned Frogs are at home and if they are, make sure to catch a game.

The Game

Cal State Fullerton came into the weekend ranked 19th with a 4-0 record, while TCU was 24th despite an 0-3 start. The Titans won Friday's encounter 7-2 and sent freshman Justin Garza (below, drafted by Pittsburgh in the 26th round out of high school but smartly choosing school instead) to the hill to face sophomore Preston Morrison.



In the top of the first, leadoff hitter Richy Pedroza reached on an error when first baseman Kevin Cron bobbled a grounder. This rattled Morrison who walked the next batter before getting a double play ball. But a hit batsmen, infield single from prospect Michael Lorenzen (below, taken from the picnic table), another hit batter, and a walk to Jake Jefferies led to two unearned runs.



Garza was superb, throwing 4 perfect innings before giving up a hit with one out in the fifth, the only blemish through seven frames. Morrison was just as good, retiring 19 of 22 batters he faced after giving up those runs as the game zoomed along. Below is Jantzen Witte out at first, taken from the berm area.



In the top of the 8th, Matt Chapman bunted for a single to lead things off. Morrison was replaced by Riley Ferrell, who gave up two singles to load the bases for Jefferies. After fouling one off (below) and taking the count full, Jefferies smashed a pitch over the right field fence for a grand slam and a 6-0 Titan lead.



Garza had a safe lead but tired in the bottom of the frame, giving up four straight hits and 2 runs before leaving having just thrown 86 pitches. J.D. Davis relieved and shut the door the rest of the way as CSF won 6-2 to move to 6-0 on the season.



The game took just 2:18 as the pitchers were throwing strikes and batters were swinging freely. There were only two walks, both by Morrison in the first inning. When the weather is so nice (see the temperature in the picture above - 67F!), I would like it if the game took just a little bit longer. This will be my last warm day until I return to Singapore in two weeks.

Notes

This was my 12th collegiate ballpark and each has been a great experience. Every stadium is unique and the fans are much different than those in the minors. Many are alumni and as most players remain for four years, they really build a relationship with them. There were several Titan fans who had made the trip as well and were standing along the first base line where they could talk to their players after the game. One guy chatted with me asking if I "booked" every game. Turns out that booking means keeping score and sounds much cooler. So yeah, I book every game.

Next Up

I'm flying to New York Sunday morning (already upgraded to first class!) for a week of work, but hope to see the Nets and Grizzlies Sunday evening, assuming my flight is on time. Check back tomorrow for an update.

Best,

Sean
 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wichita Thunder 1 at Allen Americans 2 - February 22, 2013


Today was spent entirely within in the Dallas Metroplex but I still drove 130 miles which shows you just how big this area is. First I changed hotels (Denton to Hurst) and then I headed over to Allen to watch a CHL battle between the Americans and the Wichita Thunder. The 45-mile drive from Hurst took about 1h45m, as there had been an accident on I-635 during rush hour in a work zone to boot. Fortunately I had left quite early and still arrived with plenty of time to tour the Allen Event Center.

Allen Event Center



Allen is a city about 25 miles northeast of Dallas that is a great destination if you like minor league sports, with franchises in the CHL, Indoor Football League, and Professional Indoor Soccer League. All three play in the Allen Event Center, which is part of the Villages at Allen and Fairview, two large shopping complexes that includes several full-service restaurants along with dozens of stores and most importantly, an In-N-Out as the hamburger chain continues their expansion in Texas.

Parking is free in a lot right next to the arena, and very easy to get into and out of. Tickets are not so cheap though, with the cheapest end zone (known as terrace) seats going for $16. However, you can sit where you want without having your ticket checked by an usher, so I moved around until I found a seat near the blue line which offered unobstructed views.



There is a single seating bowl with 20 sections each with 19 rows. There were over 4,000 fans there but still lots of empty seats as capacity is 6,275 for hockey so you can move around. Best seats are those in the top 5 rows in the sections along the sides.



There is a single concourse with lots of concessions, including a few that I hadn't seen before. Randy White's Hall of Fame BBQ offers sandwiches for $6.50 while there was a shrimp po'boy basket for $8.50. Sweet lovers will be happy with the Nestle Toll House stand which sells cookies and brownies, with the 13 mini-cookies for $6 a good bet for a family. There was even a full-service bar with large margaritas going for $13, although I did not see anybody trying one.



You cannot walk around the entire concourse as one end is where the players enter and exit the ice. If you need to get from section 109 to 111, you can try to enter the seating bowl and walk through one of the three rows that make up section 110, as you can see below.



A couple of unique touches: first, the anthem was sung by a group of children in the stands; in a small venue such as this it makes sense. As well, the starting lineups are announced for the home team much like in basketball - the player skates out from the goal line to the blue line as his name is announced.

There is no scoreboard above center ice, instead there are two video boards (below) above the sideline seats and a scoreboard at each end.



The atmosphere during the game was great, helped along by an 80s night promotion which had songs from that decade playing throughout every break in the action. There is also a small section of fans that played drums to generate some enthusiasm. However, fans were a bit quiet for the most part, but hard to blame them as the game was fairly lackluster (more on that shortly).

Overall, I was quite impressed with the Allen Event Center. Tickets are slightly overpriced but with free parking, the overall cost is about the same as any other game at this level. The team puts on a show and keeps the fans entertained from the time they enter the arena. If you are in the Dallas area, have a look at the CHL schedule and see if Allen is at home; the trip will be worth it.

The Game

The CHL lost 6 franchises this past off-season, leaving the league with just 10 clubs in a single conference. Allen was in first while Wichita lay just a point behind, so I had high expectations for the game. The most recognizable name was Aaron Boogaard (below), but that was due to his involvement in the death of his brother Derek in 2011. Allen boasts twin brothers Tyler and Trevor Ludwig, sons of Craig who is a minority owner along with Ed Belfour, Mike Modano, and Steve Duschene.



The first period was horribly boring, with just 11 total shots and no real scoring chances. I thought  there might be a few fights especially as these teams had played two games in Wichita earlier in the week, but only a couple of skirmishes made things remotely interesting.



It was more of the same in the second period until the midway mark when Wichita's RG Flath dropped his stick. As he went to fetch it, the play continued into the Thunder zone, where Chris Doyle intercepted a pass in the corner. He fed it into the slot where Flath's man Jamie Schaafsma was all alone (as Flath was late getting back into the play) and Schaafsma one-timed a shot past Grant Rollheiser for the only goal of the frame.

The teams finally got going in the third, with some good rushes and nice saves by both keepers. Wichita tied it when Neil Trimm (below) converted a goalmouth scramble at 8:52.



Just 38 seconds later though, Allen's Jim McKenzie (#25 falling below, who had just signed a week before) intercepted a clearing pass and fed Anthony Maiani, who quickly returned the favour. McKenzie then slid the puck across to Jarret Lukin who deposited it into the empty net. A beautiful 3-way passing play that had the fans on their feet and gave Allen a 2-1 lead. Wichita had a late power play when Lukin interfered with Rollheiser but they could not convert and the Americans held on for the win.



This is the second CHL game I have seen and neither have been that great. There are a number of ex-AHL players here, including Wichita's Andrew Martens who had a couple of brief stays with the Marlies, but obviously they aren't good enough to stick. The difference in quality between last week's Texas Stars game and this one is very noticeable. Still, the CHL is on my Quest for 400, so I expect to visit the other eight venues in the next couple of years.



Notes

They have a mascot race with the four owners and Richard Matvichuk, assistant coach, as the mascot faces. I'm not sure who is who below, but Steve Duschene won.



Hotels

One of the things I don't write about much is finding hotels on these trips. I always try to book hotels close to the stadium I am seeing that night to minimize the amount of night-time driving. I also try to keep the price under $60, which can be tough in the bigger cities, although with Priceline and Hotwire, I can usually do it. So for this weekend, I had booked a hotel in Plano, just a few miles south of Allen where I was planning to see both the Allen game as well as a PASL game on Saturday night.

Then while cleaning up my membership cards, I noticed a very old Hyatt Gold Passport that had been inactive since 2006. I checked online and found that I had enough points for 2 free nights, so I began looking at other options. In the end, I booked a hotel in Hurst, near Fort Worth, where there was a college baseball game on Saturday afternoon. This is what left me 45 miles from Allen and as mentioned, that took nearly 2 hours to navigate due to road work (an awful lot of it going on here), rush hour, and an accident. I therefore won't be revisiting for the soccer game as it isn't quite worth the 90 miles there and back.

Next Up

Today is my last day in Texas and I've driving over to the Texas Christian campus to watch the Horned Frogs hosting Cal State Fullerton in baseball. I was thinking of going to the Stars game tonight but have decided against it as my useless boycott lives on for few more days.

I have an early flight tomorrow to New York and I hope to get out to Brooklyn for the Nets-Grizzlies game, where I will meet up with Gary Herman of Royalty Tours. Check back to see if I made it.

Best,

Sean