Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rochester Americans 2 at Chicago Wolves 6 (AHL) - February 28, 2014

My long journey to membership in Club 122 is nearing an end. I have one NHL rink (Carolina) and  three NBA arenas (New Orleans, Orlando, and Chicago) left and all should be visited in March, barring any weather difficulties. However, I can't travel all the way from New York to any of these places for just one game; that is anathema to the concept of Sports Road Trips! So what other events caught my eye in these cities? In Chicago, it was the Stadium Series with Pittsburgh visiting the Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1st. The Bulls were scheduled to host the Knicks on the following Sunday afternoon, making a nice Windy City weekend and allowing me to check off venue 119.

Still, I wanted another game on Friday evening to fill out the slate. Fortunately, it didn't take long to find one as the AHL also has a team in the area, the Chicago Wolves, who play at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. The Wolves are actually affiliates of the St. Louis Blues (the baby Blackhawks are in Rockford, which I saw back in November) and they were home on Friday evening against Rochester. With that sports weekend set, I booked my plane tickets last month and waited for the end of February to arrive.

Allstate Arena

Located just north of O'Hare Airport, Allstate Arena is a multipurpose venue that hosts DePaul basketball, WWE, Disney on Ice, as well as concerts aplenty, with luminaries such as George Strait and Miley Cyrus due to perform here next week. Getting there is easy enough with a car, but not cheap as parking costs $13, outrageous for minor league hockey. This parking charge is for every event that takes place at the arena and there is nothing the Wolves can do about it, but I am sure it hurts their attendance.

I did not rent a car for this trip, choosing to use public transit instead. My hotel was close enough to Rosemont CTA station (one stop from O'Hare on the Blue Line) and from there you can get an express bus for $1.75 each way that takes no more than 10 minutes.

The cheapest ticket is $10 at the box office, but I bought a lower level seat for the same price from a friendly scalper. Even then, I never sat there, choosing to move around during the game. The biggest problem here is that the arena is not designed for hockey as the seating bowl is not angled properly to the ice. It is just not steep enough, so even in the upper level, heads six rows in front of you block a small part the ice. The picture below might show you what I mean; probably only the upper end zone is steep enough for a hockey rink. Fortunately there are few fans so you can move around until you find a seat that suits you, most likely in the nearly empty upper deck.

Some good variety in food here with cheeseburgers at $6 the best value from my limited observation. I had a Chicago Dog (comes with tomatoes and a pickle spear), also for $6, and there slices of deep dish pizza were also $6 and looked quite good. Other options are a bit more expensive. Don't bother with the designated driver program, the free soda is maybe 6 ounces. There are no open concession stands in the upper deck, so buy your food down below before heading upstairs. The concourse is wide enough and carpeted at both ends, as well as in some of the upper deck. There are small banners honouring past players as well; the Wolves used to be Atlanta's affiliate and Ondrej Pavelec was one name I spotted. Not all banners are happy ones though. Among those in the rafters are one dedicated to Dan Sndyer, who died in a car accident with Dany Heatley driving back in 2003, and Tim Breslin, who played with the Wolves for 5 seasons in their IHL days and died of cancer in 2005. There's also DePaul banners for their NIT appearances and stars like George Mikan and Mark Aguirre.

I always enjoy visiting these large arenas when minor league teams are in town as you can see the entire venue at a more relaxed pace. Allstate is affordable apart from the parking charge and the home team is pretty good too, well worth a visit if you are in the Chicago area.

The Teams

As I was on my way to the arena, I read that Ryan Miller had been traded to St. Louis. Wouldn't you know it? Buffalo is Rochester's parent club so the game featured the affiliates of the two teams making NHL news.

Chicago has been in the AHL since 2001 when they, along with five other franchises, transferred from the defunct IHL. This is their 20th overall season during which they have won 4 titles: 2 Turner Cups in the IHL and 2 Calder Cups (banners below). The Americans have been in the league since 1956 and have six championships to their name.

Both clubs came in second in their respective divisions, with Chicago 5th in the West and Rochester two spots behind them. Yes, Rochester plays in the West, along with Toronto, Charlotte, Hamilton, Utica, and Lake Erie, victims of the league's heavy concentration of teams in the northeast. I really like the Rochester jersey and logo, although I find it a bit ironic that they are sponsored by Toyota.

The Game

My focus was on the goalies given the big trade just a couple of hours before. Jake Allen (above) started for Chicago while Matt Hackett (taking a puck off the noggin below) got the call for Rochester. Allen is the league's leading keeper in both GAA (2.12) while his .923 save percentage ranks 6th. Hackett is 39th and 35th respectively in those categories at 2.89 and .904. Both have had cups of coffee in the NHL, Hackett with Minnesota and Allen with St. Louis just last season.

With that in mind, you would have expected Chicago to win, especially given that Rochester had played the night before in Des Moines, and you would have been right. First though, we had to sit through a 5-minute pyrotechnic display, which was mostly fire shooting out of some contraptions pulled out onto the ice while Kickstart My Heart blares over the loudspeakers. Once is enough for this bit of fun.

The first period was forgettable with the highlight being a fight between Frederic Roy (son of Patrick and a feisty player for 5'10) and Mark Cundari. Roy lost.

The second period saw a veritable explosion of goals, with ex-Leaf Christian Hanson (#32 above) scoring an easy one that Hackett let slip through his legs to make it 3-1 Wolves. Rochester got one back when Kevin Porter scored just 3 minutes later, assisted by ex-Leaf Mike Zigomanis, but then they got into simultaneous penalty trouble. First Dan Catenacci (#43) was called for high-sticking. During the break, Drew Bagnall knocked over a Wolf making his way to the bench, earning him a roughing penalty. Then someone on the Rochester bench said a mean thing to the referee, and boom, the unsportmanlike penalty was assessed, to be served by Jamie Tardif (#49 above).

That's three penalties at the same time, but of course a 5-on-2 is not legal, so only two were served concurrently and Chicago capitalized on the first 5-on-3 with Cundari knocking it past Hackett (below).

The rest of the power play was ineffective, but Rochester were unable to get closer, and a couple of third-period markers from Chicago made the final 6-2. Roy got into another fight late, this one with 6'5 Cody Beech. Like I said, feisty, if not smart.

Certainly the goalies lived up to their statistics, with Allen playing well, while Hackett had a game to forget. I wonder if St. Louis will let Miller or Brian Elliott walk and promote Allen next season. I'll hazard a guess and say yes as Miller will likely command a premium salary.


Toronto is the only other city with teams in both the NHL and AHL, but as you know, the Marlies are the affiliate of the Maple Leafs.

After seeing one of the Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium, I changed my plan and am heading to Milwaukee today to see the Bucks host the Nets instead of overpaying to sit outside in the frigid cold. Check back tomorrow for a quick recap on that one.



1 comment:

  1. Certainly the goalies lived up to their statistics, with Allen playing well, while Hackett had a game to forget. banners Chicago