Monday, March 9, 2015

Providence Tripleheader - March 7, 2015


As winter gradually approaches its long-awaited demise, I am trying to put a dent in my AHL venue count before the season ends. Of the 30 active rinks, I have seen only 12, and when all the moves to the west coast are completed next year, that number will dwindle to 7 if I do nothing about it. There are a dozen teams within a few hours of New York, so most of my upcoming weekends will be spent driving to these towns in an attempt to catch two games in two arenas in two days. The AHL plays a weekend heavy schedule, with some teams hosting three games in three nights. That was the case this past weekend, when the Providence Bruins had three different opponents pay a visit to the Dunkin Donuts Center. Not only that, but Providence Friars basketball would close out the Big East regular season with a game against Butler on Saturday afternoon. In the end, I decided that one AHL game would be enough and chose the Saturday night affair, making for a nice double dip at the Dunk. Then I checked the Friars composite schedule (which lists all sports) and found that the lacrosse team would have a game at 3:00, a perfect fit. This allowed for a rare three-sport triple header in one city, and all at new venues for me.

Butler Bulldogs 68 at Providence Friars 64



Providence is about three hours from New York and easily accessible by transit. I decided to try Amtrak on the way up, as their schedule was the best for getting to the basketball game in time for the noon start. Or so I thought. The train was supposed to leave Penn Station at 7 with an arrival in Providence at 10:30, but it was rather late getting to New York (due to ice on the brakes during its journey from Norfolk) and we didn't depart until 7:45. The rest of the journey was slightly slower than expected and we pulled into Providence at 11:30. Fortunately, the station is just minutes from the arena, and my hotel was right in between them, so I checked in and then headed to the Dunk with about ten minutes to spare, only to discover that the game was sold out. There were scant few fans with extras and I thought I was going to get shut out, but then a gentleman emerged from the box office with a couple of tickets for sale and I happily bought one for $10.



I stopped at center court to take some pictures before making my way to the top of section 224 (above), very far away from the action (below). The week prior I spent $10 to sit 4 rows from the court. Ah the pleasures of mid-major basketball.



Both teams were nationally ranked (Butler #21, Providence #24) despite rather mediocre 11-6 records in Big East play. The #2 seed in the upcoming Big East tournament was on the line (not that it really matters that much as both teams will be in the NCAA tournament) and I expected a good game, but neither squad cooperated in the first half, particularly the Friars. After a Jalen Lindsey dunk gave them a 15-14 lead with 8 minutes to go. Providence went stone cold, missing seven straight from the field as the Bulldogs took a 33-22 lead into the half. At the break, I decided to do a tour of the venue but so did most of the 12,600 fans. There is only a single concourse here and it was extremely crowded, taking me nearly the whole 15-minute halftime to get back to my seat. If you visit here, do not wait until halftime to order food or hit the loo as both will see you waiting in line for a long time.



Returning to the game, the second half saw a bit of a reversal, as is often the case in basketball, when the team in the hole makes a run of their own. Kris Dunn (#3 above) led the Friars on a 19-4 spurt that brought them to within a point with 7:32 to go, finally getting fans to their feet. Butler did not fold though, scoring the next 8 points and Providence was unable to get closer than 3 the rest of the way, falling 68-64.



Butler was a perfect 20/20 from the charity stripe including 6 in the last minute of the game, and that made the difference as Providence missed 4 of their 18 foul shots. Of course, it is tough to point to any one element of the game as being the difference in basketball; much of the end game is fouls and desperation shots which skews statistics somewhat. If anything, Butler's prowess on the offensive glass was the game changer, they grabbed 10 of 31 rebounds off their misses, leading to 10 second-chance points.



Sacred Heart Pioneers 8 at Providence Friars 11

The hoops game ended just after 2:00, which gave me plenty of time to return to my hotel for a brief rest before heading over to Providence College's campus for my first full NCAA lacrosse game. It's just a couple of miles from downtown and normally walkable, but with snow still piled up and the temperature around freezing, I opted for the bus, which ended up getting stuck in post-game traffic. I arrived at Ray Treacy Track and Field complex just after 3 and was surprised to see 267 other fans (yes, somebody counted), although most were family and friends of the players. The field had been cleared of snow but the white stuff was everywhere else, which was hard on the eyes with the sun reflecting off it. Smarter fans than I were sporting sunglasses to battle the glare.



I am not completely familiar with outdoor lacrosse rules yet, but it is a physical game with teams maintaining possession for extended periods. When a ball goes out of bounds, the team with the closest player takes possession, which explains why there is an offensive player behind the net at all times. The ball occasionally disappeared into a snowbank, reminding me of my childhood road hockey games. In this case, they had spare ones at the ready.



Sacred Heart scored first and had a 2-1 lead after the first quarter, but Providence stormed back with 5 in the second to take a 6-4 lead into the 10-minute break. The student union building was open so fans migrated there to warm up before heading back to the stands to watch the home team outscore the Pioneers 3-2 in the third quarter. The final frame saw the Friars take a 10-6 lead but two quick goals from Sacred Heart made it close again. With 5:55 left. Providence scored the final marker of the contest, holding on to win 11-8. Sacred Heart scored 2 goals in each period, which shows that consistent performance doesn't always lead to victory. I thought the difference here was goaltending with Providence keeper Peter Badgley (above) making several saves to keep his team in the lead. Lacrosse is a great sport and I look forward to watching more games in slightly more pleasant weather.



Springfield Falcons 1 at Providence Bruins 4



Yet again the sporting event ended in time for me to catch a bus, this time I returned to downtown for the main event of the day, the AHL game. Upon entering the Dunk for the second time that day, I stopped in to say hi to Paul Baker, Stadium Journey's New England Correspondent who is a P-Bruins season ticket holder. The best part about being a member of the sports traveling community is meeting other fans around the country and Paul was very helpful in his recommendations for bars in the surrounding area.



After our chat, I took a more relaxed tour as the concourse was much less crowded than during the basketball game. Providence has a long hockey history and at one end of the concourse they have a good display on the Rhode Island Reds, a minor-league team that featured future stars such as Johnny Bower and Eddie Giacomin.





There is even a banner commemorating the Reds. Interestingly, this banner was not visible during the basketball game; it turns out that they rolled up the Friars banners and unfurled the Bruins ones in between the games. Perhaps the most impressive feat of the day was how they turned the basketball court into a hockey rink in about 3 hours.



I splurged for a glass seat here ($38) and was very happy with the view.





The visitors were the Springfield Falcons, Columbus' affiliate. Malcolm Subban was tending goal for Providence (I saw him on the bench as a Belleville Bull a few years back) and he faced 43 shots, including a penalty shot, with only one getting by him as the Bruins beat the Falcons 4-1.



Two of the Bruin goals came on the power play and another was a beauty on a shorthanded breakaway. Interestingly, Subban was not awarded one of the three stars (rightly so in my opinion as many of the shots were from the outside and easy stops). Good to see that the AHL media don't go for the low-hanging fruit; just because a goalie makes a lot of stops doesn't necessarily mean he has played an outstanding game.

All-in-all, it was a pretty good day for Providence sports, taking two of three games. The Bruins also won their other two weekend matches and are in 5th place in a very competitive Eastern Conference.

Notes



Rob Flick probably should space out the letters on his jersey. When he skates by at speed, his name looks like a naughty word.



Providence is the state capital of Rhode Island and worth a bit of a tour. The capitol building (above) is right downtown, and you can see Roger Williams National Memorial (below), a National Historic Site, nearby. There are a number of quality eating and drinking establishments, with the Union Station Brewery the recommended choice for craft beer. Providence will not be losing their team this offseason, so if you are looking for a hockey destination in 2015, consider adding the P-Bruins to the list of possibilities.



Best,

Sean

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