Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Toronto Marlies 2 at Lehigh Valley Phantoms 3 (AHL) - November 15, 2014

After watching a bad football game, Eddie and I zoomed over to Allentown to catch the second game of our two-sport, two-state doubleheader. The Toronto Marlies were visiting the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, a new entrant in the AHL this season. The peripatetic Phantoms, affiliate of the Flyers, are in their third city, having started in Philadelphia (I saw a playoff tilt there in 2008) before moving to Glens Falls to play as the Adirondack Phantoms from 2009-2014. Glens Falls is not particularly convenient to Philadelphia, so the team moved to Allentown to play in the brand new PPL Center starting this season. Adirondack still has a team, however, as the Abbotsford Heat moved there to become the Flames.

The arena was opened in September of this year and is located in the southeast quadrant of downtown at the corner of 7th Street and Hamilton. There is street parking available if you get there early enough, otherwise $6 will get you a spot in a nearby elevated parking structure. The area surrounding the rink is already built up with several bars and restaurants, including a Chickie's and Pete's in the building itself, and local brewer Fegley's Allentown Brewworks across the street. Try to stop in there before or after the game; it is one of the better spots I have seen on my travels.

We arrived about 20 minutes before puck drop and bought the cheapest available tickets which were standing room at $19. I heard there were cheaper options available earlier in the day, but have seen no proof of that on the Phantoms website. There are several standing areas along the lower concourse, and although they announced a sellout, there were a few empty seats in some of the end sections such as 119 and 120. The shot below (taken during the intermission) shows the two levels of suites along with a club area that is completely closed to non-ticket holders, so you cannot tour the entire lower concourse. I saw several people turned back, quite annoyed as they had to walk back through the narrow concourse to reach their seats that are just on the other side of the club section. I hate it when minor league sports try to act like they belong to the major leagues; I hope that when the novelty wears off, the club area will become open to all fans.

As you can see below, the concourse is not that wide as a result of the small footprint and during intermissions, it gets crowded in areas. As well, they seem to have neglected to put in enough toilets as the lineups for the men's were ridiculous. Considering this is the most expensive minor league rink ever built, it seems like they spent the money on looking nice rather than being practical.

After spending the first period standing in a few different areas, we moved upstairs to meet Gary and King from Royalty Tours. Gary told me he was in section 210, row 10, right behind the net. These are actually folding chairs above the seating bowl with a lot of room and are a good place to spend the game away from the rest of the crowd, with a good view of the entire ice surface (below). Turns out Gary had mistyped and was actually in section 201, so Eddie and I spent most of the rest of the game sitting in unclaimed seats in Section 210, a bit of good luck.

Right behind us were several banners, including this one from their championship ten years ago.

Overall, the new arena is very impressive and a great addition to the league. But they made a few mistakes along the way, and I hope that those get rectified over the next couple of seasons to make PPL Center a top destination in the AHL.

The Game

This was my first Marlies road game, and I was pretty excited to see them. Both teams came in at 5-6-1 and well out of the early playoff picture (Lehigh Valley is in the Eastern Conference while Toronto remains in the West). Christopher Gibson (below), a feisty Finn in only his second pro year, got the start for the Marlies while Rob Zepp, a veteran returning from eight seasons in Berlin, manned the cage for the Phantoms.

The Marlies scored just five minutes in when Troy Bodie, who spent 47 games with the Maple Leafs last season, came out from behind the net and beat Zepp from a sharp angle. The Phantoms replied with two goals in under a minute, the first from Scott Laughton who converted a beautiful backhand pass from Taylor Leier just 5 seconds before the midpoint of the period, and then Nick Cousins finished a two-on-one that was the result of some great checking by Steven Delisle.

That was all the scoring until the third. With the Phantoms shorthanded, Greg McKegg (#9 above, who spent all of one game with the big club last season) tied the game on a wicked rising shot from the slot. With overtime looming, the referees realized that they had a hot date or something, as they quickly sentenced the Marlies to two penalties within 18 seconds of each other. It took Lehigh Valley 47 seconds on the 5-on-3 to take the lead as a shot from the point by Brandon Manning snuck through Gibson (below).

The Marlies killed off the rest of the penalty, and were then rewarded with a 5-on-3 of their own, though the second penalty came with just 93 seconds left in the game. With Gibson on the bench, Toronto enjoyed a 6-on-3 advantage in skaters, but still spent most of the time passing the puck around in the Phantoms zone, unable or unwilling to take a shot. Despite my repeated calls to "Shoooooooooooooot", they played hot potato until it was too late. Zepp stopped the only meaningful chance they had as the game ended 3-2 in favour of the home team. The players scuffled after the final whistle and former Leaf Jay Rosehill, now toiling for Lehigh Valley, was awarded a misconduct, which means nothing after the game is over.

This was a decent game, some good chances for both clubs and it went down to the wire. I get depressed when I attend Leafs and Jays games on the road and they lose, but no such emotions spoil a Marlies loss; I am just happy I added venue 513 to my count. I hope to be back for a weekend set sometime, the AHL has a lot of Friday-Saturday games and Allentown has a couple of attractions that make is a worthwhile weekend destination.



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