Sunday, December 6, 2015

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at St. Louis Blues 1 - December 5, 2015

After seeing the Leafs lose in Winnipeg and Minnesota, I had one game left to salvage the trip, which had been fantastic otherwise. The tilt was against the St. Louis Blues that would be shown on Hockey Night in Canada. After taking an afternoon flight from Minneapolis, I had to hurry to my hotel to drop off luggage and get a ticket on StubHub before rushing back to Scottrade Center for the 6 p.m. start. St. Louis' excellent MetroLink light rail allows you to ride up to two hours on a single ticket, so I took it from the airport to my hotel near Edward Jones Dome and then back to the Civic Center station, right across from the arena.

Scottrade Center was opened in 1994 as Kiel Center and was also known as Savvis Center before Scottrade bought the naming rights in 2006. For this reason, the light rail stop is known as Civic Center, as it isn't worth it to modify all the signage every time the venue undergoes a name change. I had only visited once before, during the 2003 playoffs when the Canucks won Game 6 on their way back from a 3-1 series deficit. I cheered for Vancouver and was "a-salted" at game's end when fans threw peanuts at me. That was long before this blog was created, so in the interest of providing some info, I'll include a brief review.

The main entrance is known as the Hall of Fame Plaza, where there are three statues of former Blues who were elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. That's Bernie Federko above, the other two are Brett Hull and Al MacInnis. Most fans wait here for gates to open, but there are two other entrances that should provide quicker access: one in the parking garage to the west, and the other on 14th street to the east. Gates opened 90 minutes before the scheduled start time, which was good for me as I had not toured the venue during my previous visit. However, I ran into a problem when my ticket was not accepted at the gate. I went to the box office and was told that the ticket had been bought with a fraudulent credit card and was not valid. I ended up getting a lower deck seat for $35 (view below), and StubHub refunded my money as part of their guarantee, so it all worked out. I even moved to the original seat for the last two periods as it had not been resold.

I took a long time wandering around both concourses, which are quite wide and offer plenty of concession choices. I was happy to see toasted ravioli, a St. Louis staple, on the menu for $7, though I wish it had been served piping hot instead of lukewarm. Still better than the usual hot dog or pretzel. The Blues do have a designated driver program, but the cup you get is the smallest I have seen in sports, no more than five ounces. Not even worth your time signing up.

Both the upper and lower concourses include several display cases that celebrate sports history in St. Louis. The Cardinals and Rams get their due, as do former clubs such as the NBA's Hawks (who won the title in 1958, the trophy is on display) and the Browns. Each case has memorabilia, photos, and short descriptions; make sure to stop at each and take your time to appreciate these well-curated exhibits. Other displays celebrate Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament held here every March, and the Braggin' Rights game between Mizzou and Illinois.

The lower rows of the upper deck are not that far away. You can see the banners on the left in the photo below, but none of them are for a Stanley Cup, so they aren't really that meaningful. The Blues did make three straight finals after the expansion in 1968 but have yet to return since then.

The club seats are the upper rows in the lower bowl, surrounded by the red walls in the photo below. The fact that there is not a separate club deck allows those upper bowl seats to remain fairly close.

Not only is the building top-notch, the game experience is quite entertaining as well. A celebrity lookalike cam appears during one break; on this night the theme was James Bond and they found fans who resembled Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Donald Pleasence and other Bond actors. The gentleman next to me was a ringer for Desmond Llewelyn, which had him chuckling for a long time. Other funny bits were the kiss cam, which ended with a lonely Leaf fan (not me thankfully) while the song "All By Myself" played. Highlights are also presented for both teams, and during the ice scrapes, the presentations are not overly loud. The only bothersome thing here is the horn that sounds when the Blues appear on the ice before each period, and after each goal. Fortunately, it was used rarely on this evening. Overall, Scottrade Center is an excellent place to watch hockey and one that I look forward to visiting again.

The Game 

The Blues had played in Brooklyn the night before, losing in a shootout, while the Leafs had enjoyed Friday off after their 1-0 in Minnesota. Jake Allen (above) got the start for St. Louis (wearing their excellent third jerseys) while Garret Sparks got the call for Toronto with James Reimer out injured and Jonathan Bernier in the AHL on a conditioning stint.

The Blues scored just 1:51 in when Vladimir Tarasenko (above) potted his 15th on a 2-on-1 with Paul Stastny, while Sparks was visibly upset with Matt Hunwick who deflected the shot. The Blues continued to press but as the period continued, Toronto found their legs and because to fight back. Their pressure was rewarded when Nazem Kadri (#43 below) tapped home a rebound with just 1:17 left in the first.

Before the second period, I moved to my original seat down low near the blue line and enjoyed the view here a bit better. On the opening face-off, David Backes knocked over Kadri (below) which seemed to upset the Leaf enough for him to goad Backes into a scrap, the first fighting major for the Leafs all season. Both wear visors, so it wasn't very compelling, but the Leafs reacted well, controlling the period by limiting St. Louis to just two shots while scoring twice in a 2:46 span to make it 3-1. Allen was briefly replaced by Brian Elliott after the third goal, but re-entered the game after the next whistle.

In the third period, Kadri added his second of the evening, converting a 2-on-1 with Morgan Rielly, picking his spot perfectly and beating Allen between the blocker and the body. Great goal, particularly from my vantage point as I could see Kadri sizing up Allen as he moved in. When the puck entered the net, I let out a guttural yell in celebration. Thankfully, it was mostly Leaf fans around me, so nobody noticed.

It is always good to see your team win on the road, but especially against a better squad. Which for the Leafs is most everybody in the NHL. Still, I think the Blues were tired after playing the night before in a different time zone. I've noticed the NHL has became more like the NBA in scheduling with several stretches of three games in four nights and back-to-backs that involve travel. These are not good for the players, and consequently not good for the fans, who are still paying top dollar for a product that is not top level. With 82 games in 185 days and most venues doing double duty, it is a necessity to have this sort of schedule, but it does impact the quality of play. If you are a fan who can only attend once or twice a season, you should check out the schedules of both teams in the days leading up to the game before purchasing your ticket to make sure you get two rested teams.



1 comment:

  1. I was the lonely Leaf fan that wife (who is a HUGE Blues fan) was killing herself laughing. I got the last laugh though....all in good fun...:)