Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hartford Wolf Pack 2 at Bridgeport Sound Tigers 1 (AHL) - April 19, 2015


Another weekend means another trip to an AHL rink in the Northeast. I'd seen all the arenas in the area but Bridgeport, Utica, Manchester, Portland and Hershey. Of these, only Bridgeport failed to qualify for the postseason, so I decided to pay them a visit on the last weekend of the regular season and save the others for some playoff action.



The arena is located just 5 minutes from the Amtrak and MetroNorth station, an off-peak ticket is $13.75 and gets you there in less than 90 minutes from Grand Central. A friend had given me a voucher for a free ticket which always helps. I wasn't the only fan with one of these freebies; as this was the last day on which they could be used, many had decided to see some free hockey, leading to a short wait at the box office, with the attendance of 6,345 being about a third more than the season average.



I had visited here for Fairfield basketball back in the middle of our miserable winter, and have to say that Webster Bank Arena is much better as a hockey venue. The concourses were busy and the crowd lively in what was a meaningless game.



If you wanted to watch the NHL playoffs, you could head to Masons behind section 103, a bar with a few TVs tuned to the action. As well, you could check out the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League, who were playing at Harbor Yard right next door.



As is usually the case in these single level rinks, the best seats are those near the top of the sides, which are usually left open by fans. I spent the first two periods down low but moved up to the top for the third period.



There are your usual banners, though three of them were for their very successful inaugural season over a decade ago, when they lost to Chicago in the Calder Cup Final. Note the logo change as well, as they adopted Islander colours at some point in the 2000s. The scoreboard has to be the best in the league, it spans nearly the length of the ice as you can see in the final shot down below.



Overall, Webster Bank Arena is a good place to watch hockey. It is the most convenient AHL venue from New York, though there are rumours the franchise will move to Long Island when the Nassau Coliseum is renovated. In the meantime, if you are in New York and want to see some decent minor league hockey, head to Bridgeport next season.



The Game

The Sound Tigers are owned by the New York Islanders, while the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack are the Rangers top farm team. A minor league battle of New York (well, Connecticut at least) should be pretty intense, right? Nope. With Hartford having secured the 4th seed and Bridgeport done for the year, only pride was on the line. A scoreless first period was dull, but the teams picked up the pace in the second, only to have goalies Kevin Poulin and Jeff Malcolm (below, he led Yale to their 2013 NCAA title) stymie all shooters.



With 3:26 left in the frame, Bridgeport's Colton Gillies lackadaisically crossed in front of his net, not noticing as Chris Mueller snuck around the back of cage and chipped at the puck. It bounced over an equally relaxed Poulin and into the net. Just off the face-off seconds later, Hartford shot the puck in and Poulin went to play it around the back of the next. The puck hit an outcropping and bounced to the front of the net where Ryan Potulny (below) had no trouble beating a scrambling Poulin. Two bad goals in 11 seconds pretty much doomed the Sound Tigers.



Although Alan Quine (below) scored a beauty midway through the third with a flying wrist shut to end Malcolm's shutout bid, Bridgeport could not find the tying marker and fell 2-1 to end their season in last place in the East.



Both teams were on their 3rd game in 3 days and in the future, I am going to skip such affairs. The quality is just so low that it becomes unwatchable at times. The AHL really needs to rethink their scheduling system; if this is a development league, they should develop players not exhaust them.



Notes

I don't know why these minor league clubs don't cooperate with each other in terms of scheduling games. The Bluefish started their game at 4, one hour after puck drop. If the Bluefish had moved their contest to 5:30 and marketed it as a Harbor Doubleheader, some intrepid fans (well, me at least) could have seen both games. The Binghamton Senators and Mets did this very thing over the weekend, charging $18 for a ticket to two games. This goes for the pro leagues as well: the Houston Dynamo and Astros play at the same time on May 16th; why not move the soccer match (with its fixed time) to 3 hours before the baseball game and encourage fans to see both with a discount ticket? Sports road trippers will thank you if you do!

Best,

Sean

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