Sunday, March 31, 2013

Negeri Sembilan 0 at Lions XII 1 (Malaysia Super League) - March 30, 2013


Last year I saw a Malaysia Cup game featuring the Singapore Lions XII, the local team that plays in the Malaysia Super League. However, I had yet to see them in an actual league contest. As you probably know, I like to count the number of different venues I have been to, as well as the number of separate leagues and cup competitions that I have seen. So when a colleague mentioned he was going to the game, I decided to join him to add another league to my total (which is now 95).

It rained quite heavily a couple of hours before the game, so I was late leaving, which necessitated a cab to Jalan Besar Stadium. This turned out to be quite fortunate as I arrived just as a gentleman was unloading complimentary tickets. I asked for two and he kindly handed me two, and I went to find my colleague who was near the front of the ticket queue, about to unnecessarily spend $12 each. I showed him the freebies and he quickly moved out of the line. With our newfound savings, we decided to visit the nearby hawker stall to pick up a beer for the first half. You are allowed to bring plastic cups into the stadium, even those filled with a can of Tiger. At $4, it is definitely worth it on such a hot night.

The Game

The visiting team was Negeri Sembilan, a traditionally strong team who was off to a poor start, lying last in the table. The Lions (in red), on the other hand, were just a couple of points shy of top spot, with two games in hand.



During the first half, I thought that Negeri was Malay for "injury" and Sembilan was Malay for "fake". That was because the first 45 minutes were characterized by a succession of Negeri Sembilan players writhing around in pain despite minimal contact. The most egregious offender was a chunky Argentinian, Emanuel De Porras (below), whose poor acting skills did not endear him to the home fans. On at least three separate occasions, De Porras fell to the ground holding the clearly destroyed part of his body that had been ever so slightly brushed by his marker. The referee would patiently walk over and ask De Porras to get up while the fans booed lustily. His teammates were no better and whenever the Lions threatened, a Sembilan player would suddenly collapse, forcing the sporting Lions to kick the ball out of play while the injured player miraculously recovered.



The fans had the last laugh though, as De Porras complained a bit too loudly when a Lions player was awarded a free kick, only to receive a yellow card, which shut him up for the rest of the match.



In the second half, the visitors were clearly playing for a draw, and Singapore dominated with several chances. They were finally rewarded when captain Shahril Ishak was able to head home a cross off a corner kick in the 79th minute. Negeri Sembilan never seriously threatened after that and the Lions moved to the top of the table with the 1-0 victory.



This was the second Malaysian soccer game I have seen and in both cases, the constant overacting was tiresome. It always amazes me how these players have no shame; it is not gamesmanship but immaturity. I won't be back until they grow up.

Next Up

I'm heading to Perth, Australia in a couple of weeks for an Australian Football League match in Subiaco and then a Western Force rugby battle the following night. The Perth basketball team is in the Grand Final but I don't think the series will last until my visit. Fortunately, the West Australian Football League (WAFL) has a match between Perth and East Fremantle. This is a semi-pro league but I won't waffle and will definitely be visiting Brownes Stadium to end that 3-day journey. Check back for all the action.

Best,

Sean

Friday, March 29, 2013

Malaysian Grand Prix - March 23-24, 2013


I saw my first Formula 1 race in Malaysia back in 2010, and even posted a few tips about it. Since then, I’ve attended two races in Singapore, one in Japan, and seen dozens of other races on TV, so I’m no longer an ignorant newbie. The more I’ve learned, the more I enjoy this fiendishly complex sport, which doesn’t get much coverage in the USA, where NASCAR dominates the racing scene.

Asia holds 8 of the 19 races this year and the first of these is the Malaysian Grand Prix, which is the 2nd race of the season (after the Australian GP in Melbourne). Malaysia is probably the cheapest F1 race as well, with earlybird tickets bought before December 31, 2012 half-price, an unbelievable bargain. With the circuit next to the airport, it makes sense to fly from Singapore and spend the weekend there. In fact, the combined price of the flight, hotel, and Turn 1 ticket is still half the price of a Turn 1 ticket in Singapore.



I bought my tickets back in November and secured a great spot at the top of the K1 Grandstand, which looks down the pit straightaway. Turns out these are probably the best seats on the track as you can see the cars racing down the straight as well as the maneuvering in the first two turns. That is the start below, there was still water on the track from an earlier storm which hampers the view of those starting back on the grid.



Qualifying was held on Saturday and the race followed on Sunday. No need to recap the events, although the race was quite controversial as Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders and passed Mark Webber to take the chequered flag, causing a significant bit of friction between the two drivers. Incidentally, I have seen five Grands Prix and Vettel (below) has won every one of them. That's Webber in the second shot below. You'll notice that the cars are identical except for the drivers number (Webber's 2 is barely visible) and the colours on the cameras atop the air box (black in Vettel's car, fluorescent yellow in Webber's). The top driver in the team gets the black camera, and the second driver  gets the yellow; this is probably the easiest way to recognize the cars from afar.





There was an incident at the start of the second lap when Fernando Alonso lost control after damaging his front wing and drove straight into the gravel in front of us. That's his car below on the flatbed.



As usual, the F1 was an excellent experience but there were two occurrences that made the race slightly less enjoyable. The first was that the diamond screen (which shows the live TV feed) in front of our section was off for most of the race, only becoming operational with about 12 laps of the 56 total left to be driven. When at a big track like this, you want to see what is happening at other areas, along with replays. Not having this functionality was very disappointing.

The other problem was that the race commentary was in both English and Malay, meaning that some key points were not communicated to those at the track. The locals should have their own frequency and the full race should be broadcast in English; when combined with no screen it meant that we missed some very important developments.

Of course, the most important aspect was the fact that Vettel went ahead and won the race despite having been told to stay back. We did not know this sitting in our seats and didn’t find out until much later. It could be one of the most significant events of the F1 season and shows how the sport is more for the constructors rather than the individual drivers. Lewis Hamilton finished third and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was furious for being told to stay back in fourth. At least Rosberg followed orders, while Vettel is now public enemy #1 in Australia.

These are just two of the storylines that promise to make this an interesting season in Formula 1 this year so if you haven’t followed it before, now would be a good time to start.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Perth Trip Planned


Australia is likely the world's biggest sporting nation if you consider the amount of sport that is followed and played by a relatively sparse population of just 23 million. Cricket, rugby and Aussie Rules Football are the three big games, but field hockey, basketball, and even baseball have their own followings. This weekend also sees the first race in the F1 calendar in Melbourne, which also is home to the Australian Open every January. You get the point; Aussies love their sport. And as you probably know, so do I.

Despite this connection, I've only visited there once in the past 5 years, a trip back in 2009 just after I started this blog. This neglect was mostly due to the fact that Sydney and the other main sporting cities are about ten hours from Japan, a long and expensive trip. Now that I am residing in Singapore however, Australia is quite a bit closer. Those cities on the east coast are now an eight-hour journey, but even more proximate is the province of Western Australia, just five hours straight south. That three-hour difference may not seem like much but it makes weekend trips much easier. With rugby season underway, I thought it a good time to check out some schedules and see if a trip presented itself.

The capital city there is Perth, which has plenty of teams to choose from. In rugby union, there is the Western Force, a team in Super 15 Rugby, which also features clubs from South Africa and New Zealand. There are two squads in the Australian Football League (AFL which is Aussie Rules to those from overseas): Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles. As well, there is a soccer team (Perth Glory), basketball (Perth Wildcats), baseball (Perth Heat) and cricket (West Coast Warriors). The key would be finding a weekend where two or three of those teams were in action and flights were cheap.

Starting with the Force, I narrowed down possible trip dates to a couple of weekends in April and May. The AFL gets underway on March 22nd and either Fremantle or West Coast is home every weekend as the two share the same venue, Patersons Stadium (which used to be known as the Subiaco Oval). The basketball regular season is just finishing up but the playoffs begin in early April and Perth is one of two very strong teams and should be playing until the middle of the month. The A League playoffs will also be going on at that time but the Glory are far down the table and won't have a home game as far as I can tell.

With all that in mind, I decided to go on April 12th for three days. Friday night sees Fremantle hosting Essendon and Saturday evening will have the Force taking on the Crusaders from Canterbury, New Zealand. Sunday is currently empty but I'm hoping for a basketball game to magically appear on the schedule. If not, the city has plenty of attractions to keep me busy before I fly back that night.

As usual, I will be posting updates here, so check back in April for all the highlights.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2013 Texas Trip Summary


After every long roadtrip, I like to post a summary of the journey as it helps to see the bigger picture after spending so much time focused on the day-to-day travel. It is a bit self-indulgent, but then so is much of this blog.

The trip began in Tokyo and ended in Brampton, but most of the games I saw were in Texas, hence the name. I find that giving each trip a name (such as 2013 Texas Trip) and using it as a label on the blog makes it easier to review the trip later on. I've been doing this blog for four years now and more than ever it serves as a reminder of where I've been over that time, much like a public diary, and these summaries are interesting to read a year or two after the fact, when much of the memories have faded.

During the trip, I saw 19 games over 22 days with 11 of those being basketball battles, the most hoops I have seen in my life. There were 4 NCAA baseball games, all in Texas, and 4 hockey games in 4 different leagues. The best game was Houston's comeback win over the Thunder, with Steph Curry's 54 points in the Warriors loss to New York a close second. The AHL game in Texas was also highly entertaining.

I saw 18 new venues which makes 415 total stadiums visited, although only 7 of the 18 counted toward the Quest for 400, which now stands at 188.

I drove over 2,200 miles at an average speed of 54 MPH, with most of this coming in the first few days as I raced from Dallas to Memphis to OKC to Austin. In total, I spent $271 on gas which works out to 12.2 cents per mile. Compare this to a trip three years ago when I drove 2,414 miles and gas was only $203, about 8.4 cents a mile. Thus fuel on this trip was 45% more costly in terms of cents per mile, a reflection of the higher price of gas and the poor mileage of the rental car.

Avoiding Tolls

Texas has a lot of toll roads and on many, there is no cash booth, so you need to have a transponder which is inserted in the rental car. The rental company outsources the collection of tolls to a third party, who charges a fixed amount per day of the rental with a monthly limit (about $15), along with the toll itself. I wanted to avoid these unnecessary costs, so spent some time checking out the routes in advance. Google Maps provides an "Avoid Tolls" option which I used before every drive.

However, the car also included a GPS system, which had been included, either by mistake or because I am a member of their loyalty program. I had never used one before and found it helpful as it told you how many miles you had left and an approximate arrival time. However, it did not have an "Avoid Tolls" option so on many occasions it would instruct me to take a freeway that wasn't free. When I refused, it would chide me with a "Recalculating Route" until it eventually agreed with the path I had plotted.

I think I was successful in avoiding the tolls but I won't know for sure until I get my credit card bill in a couple of months.

Next Up

I'll be flying back to Singapore next week and spending the summer touring Asia with limited sports on the menu. There's the Malaysian Grand Prix near the end of March, a trip to Jakarta for some ASEAN League Basketball in May, a final trip to Japan in August to finish off the NPB ballparks for Stadium Journey, and the F1 in Abu Dhabi in November. I hope to add a few more trips during that time though, so keep checking in to see what might happen.

Best,

Sean
 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ottawa 67s 2 at Brampton Battalion 4 - March 3, 2013


The Brampton Battalion have been playing in the OHL since 1998 but have never had much luck in drawing fans with so much hockey competition in the area, both of the professional and junior variety. With the 15-year lease in the Powerade Centre expiring after the 2013 season, owner Scott Abbott, who made his money inventing the Trivial Pursuit board game, finally had his chance to move the team. The city of North Bay was more than willing to upgrade their arena, and the Battalion will begin play there in September, 2013.

As such, this is their last month in Brampton and when I saw they had a home game against the Ottawa 67s on Sunday afternoon, I decided to pay a visit as it would be the only time I could see OHL action in Brampton.

Powerade Centre



Rather than review the arena, which is not going to be used in the OHL again, I'll just briefly describe the Battalion game day experience. The nickname of the rink is "The Bunker". The players skate onto the ice through an inflatable tank (below).



When they score, an air raid siren plays. Rather than the usual "Last minute of play in the period", the announcer says "One minute to ceasefire". The mascot is Sarge, a guy dressed like an army Sergeant. The club's uniform is olive green and has sergeant's stripes on each sleeve. Losing goalies are given 30 days in the stockade. OK, I made that last one up, but the Battalion take the military motif quite seriously and it works surprisingly well. I think they will keep the same traditions in North Bay so the fans there have something to look forward to.

The Game

Ottawa came in last in the league with just 15 wins in 61 contests, while Brampton was third in the Central Division with 65 points from the same number of games. The Battalion started Czech junior goalie Matej Machovsky (below) who was 5th in the league with a 2.60 GAA, nearly half that of 67s keeper Jacob Blair whose 4.98 mark was worst in the league.



The first period saw three power play goals, with Brampton scoring two of those on tip-ins. Ottawa's marker was netted by Sean Monahan (below), who is the OHL's top-ranked prospect and should be taken early in the first round of the upcoming draft.



The bigger story was a fight between two 27s named Brendan, Bell of Ottawa and Childerley of Brampton. Fights in junior are not that exciting because the players wear face shields, so the combatants rarely get in a good punch, but this one ended in a takedown for Bell (below), the only thing Ottawa would win today.



The second period saw the teams score once each, with Ottawa's coming on a great shorthanded play by Joseph Blandisi, who stole the puck and broke in alone, beating Machovsky with a perfect shot to the stick side. Early in the third, the Battalion's Nicholas Foglia tipped in yet another shot to restore the two-goal cushion and the rest of the game was a snoozer as Brampton won 4-2.



Notes

The Powerade Centre will be the home of a Central Hockey League expansion franchise next season, so I'll probably be back there before long. It will be interesting to see if it undergoes renovations before bringing in this slightly higher caliber of hockey. The seating bowl is quite nice, but they probably need to upgrade concessions and the concourse.



The Brampton Sports Hall of Fame is worth a look, you will find a few familiar names (mostly NHL players) among the inductees.



The coolest thing at the rink is the Card Box, a vending machine that sells old baseball, hockey, and football cards. I picked up a 50-cent 1992 O-Pee-Chee baseball set in the hopes of getting a Blue Jay from their first World Series and was lucky that Juan Guzman was included in the pack.



Next Up

My next scheduled event is the Malaysian Grand Prix in three weeks. Until then, I'll be taking it easy in Canada for a week and then returning to Singapore where I'll spend the summer touring Asia. Check back on occasion to see what's happening.

Best,

Sean
 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Jersey Devils 3 at Buffalo Sabres 4 (SO) - March 2, 2013


OK, I've been yammering on and on about boycotting the NHL but absolutely nobody listened to me. Not even myself. When I checked the new schedule after the lockout ended, I saw that Buffalo had a home game on March 2nd, the date I would be flying from New York back to Toronto. The First Niagara Center was one of three NHL rinks where I had yet to see a regular season game, so I had a dilemma. Should I simply forgo the NHL this year, or try to find a way to get to Buffalo and cross another arena off the list. I chose the latter option and my regular roadtrip friend Sharpy agreed to pick me up in Toronto and drive me to Buffalo. Meanwhile, Andrew of the Ultimate Sports Road Trip would sell us his season tickets as he would be out of the country on a European sports adventure.

I began the day in Manhattan, took a taxi to Newark Airport, flew to Toronto where Sharpy met me and we drove to downtown Buffalo, location of the First Niagara Center, where the Sabres hosted New Jersey (who coincidentally call Newark home).

First Niagara Center



We arrived in Buffalo just after 1 pm and drove around to look for free parking, which we located about a five minute walk west of the arena near Marine Drive. Fortunately, gates open two hours early so we were able to enter the arena to get out of the freezing weather. There are several entrances into the first floor atrium, a spacious area (below) where the ticket windows and Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame are located. This is a detailed display with memorabilia from all those inducted, including Don Majkowski, the Packers QB prior to Brett Favre.



The seating bowl doesn't open until one hour before the game, so we were able to tour the main concourse and see some of the history on display such as the Blue Zone which has a good history of the Sabres (below).



We stopped by the Pour Man's Aud Club and grabbed some lunch as the Beef on Weck ($9) there is the recommended dish. It comes with a bag of chips and some pickles, so you get all your food groups. We also found a charity stand that was offering very large and very good chocolate bars for just $1, so that was desert. After our completely healthy meal, we walked around the concourse, which is quite spacious at first (below) but fills up quickly as 19,070 fans make their way inside.



We didn't do much else as we had met a friend of Andrew's and were chatting with her for most of the pre-game. So when the players came out for the warm-up, we headed to our seats and got ready for the battle at hand.

The Game

Martin Brodeur was hurt for the Devils so Johan Hedberg got the start against Ryan Miller. The Sabres had recently fired long-time head coach Lindy Ruff and were on a 2-game win streak as they tried to salvage their season. The first period was a snooze as the Devils played a typical road game, limiting the Sabres to six shots.

Things got going in the second when the Sabres scored shorthanded as Cody Hodgson won the puck on a forecheck and fed a wide-open Jason Pominville, who slapped it in from the slot. Just two minutes later, the Devils' Mark Fayne shot from the point and the puck bounced off Ryan Carter and then Steve Bernier before finding its way behind Miller (perplexed below) and the 1-1 tie.



The third period saw New Jersey open the scoring on a shorthanded marker by Adam Henrique, but Buffalo responded two minutes later when Hodgson (#19 below) again found an open Pominville streaking down the right wing. His shot was partially blocked by Hedberg, but still made it into the back of the net and we were tied again.



Near the midway point, Jochen Hecht took a shot that bounced off the side of the net. Hecht continued around the back of the cage and took a pass from Mikhail Grigorenko and fired from the other side, sending the puck in off a diving Hedberg. Yet again though, the lead was less than two minutes old when the other team tied it, this time Andrei Loktionov doing the honours to cap a great three-way passing play with Stefan Matteau (son of Devils slayer Stephane) and Ilya Kovalchuk.

The remaining 8 minutes decided nothing and neither did overtime, where Buffalo had the only two shots. This took us to the shootout. Pominville went first for Buffalo and beat Hedberg to the glove side. Kovalchuk missed for New Jersey, and when Tyler Ennis scored five-hole for the Sabres, it was up to Adam Henrique to keep the Devils alive. His backhand shot was gloved by Miller and the Sabres had their third win in a row.



After that horrid first period, both teams played well the rest of the way. Each club had one shorthanded goal, one fluky deflection, and one goal as a result of a nice passing play. Miller was just a bit better than Hedberg and earned the second star as a result. A good game to mark  my only NHL visit this season.

Notes

Even though there was no Canadian team playing, O Canada was sung. Great touch!

The Sabres logo is one of the best. I don't know why they changed it back in the mid 90s, but I'm glad they brought it back.



Both Ennis and Henrique were penalized for roughing at the end of overtime but were still allowed to shoot in the shootout. I think that if you are in the box at the end of OT, you should not be allowed to shoot. Are you listening NHL GMs?

Next Up

I'm going to visit Brampton today for an OHL game, one of the last to be held there. The team moves to North Bay next season and a CHL franchise will move in. This will be the last game of the trip, so there will be one final recap tomorrow and a trip summary after that. Check back for those posts in a couple of days.

Best,

Sean