Monday, November 30, 2015

Ottawa RedBlacks 20 vs Edmonton Eskimos 26 (2015 Grey Cup) - November 29, 2015


Back in July, my buddy Eddie asked if I wanted to go to the Grey Cup which would be held at Winnipeg's Investors Group Field. When I checked the NHL schedule, I found that the Leafs would be in Winnipeg just three days later, so I immediately said "Yes". As the date neared, other happenings allowed me to take some time off from my job and expand the trip to include the Leaf games in Minnesota and St. Louis, as well as a week in Ontario to visit family. But the highlight of the trip was the 103rd Grey Cup, and as luck would have it, my hometown Ottawa RedBlacks were one of the teams involved, with the Edmonton Eskimos the other.



We arrived in Winnipeg on the morning of the game, happy to see that the weather was clear and not too cold, just a couple of degrees below freezing. After watching the early NFL games at our hotel, we headed over to the stadium using the free shuttle from the airport, which got us there about an hour before the scheduled 5 p.m. kickoff. There were fans from every CFL franchise on our bus, except Montreal, which is not surprising, because nobody from Montreal would want to travel to Winnipeg in the best of times, never mind the end of November. It was quite the fun ride with Eskimos fans singing their fight song, and already a much different atmosphere than the Super Bowl that I saw in New Jersey, where public transit was a disaster.



Eddie had bought the tickets in July and had told me that they would be in the temporary seating section in one end zone. The tickets were supposed to be delivered but something went wrong and we had to pick them up at will call. When I had a look at the ticket, it said Section 133, Row 11. Checking the stadium map, it appeared as if our seats were in the lower bowl at the 10-yard line, a far cry from the temporary seating. Eddie believes that they upgraded us for some reason, and as the seats behind us were empty for the entire game (suggesting returns from the league), he might be right. Regardless, we were pretty excited with the seats.



We took a walk around the concourse, which was a bit of a mistake as every other person had decided to do the same thing. There were several bottlenecks, particularly at the end zone with the temporary seating. This did allow me to snap a picture from the concourse there.



We made it back to our section a few minutes before kickoff and I was surprised to find that Danny's Whole Hog stand had no lineup. Their pulled pork sandwich comes topped with coleslaw and BBQ sauce and was a bargain at $10. One of the better stadium sandwiches I have enjoyed.



Below is a shot of the lower deck from our seats. Even the upper deck is quite close to the field here and should you attend a game, avoid the end zone if possible as the additional few bucks to sit between the goal lines is worth it. I'm not going to write a more thorough review of the stadium at this point as I'll be back here for a Blue Bombers game sometime, when it will be less crowded and I can tour the whole thing a bit more comfortably.



As mentioned, the game was supposed to start at 5, but in reality, it was the pregame show that got underway at that time, with Dean Brody performing his California Girls derivative, suitably titled Canadian Girls. Sample lyrics:

And we like the foreign ladies
Their accents are really nice
But there ain't nothin like our northern girls
To keep us warm at night

You can read the entire cliched song here. While this was going on, a whole bunch of Canadian girls danced. Actually, each team had sent a few cheerleaders along, and they danced in union, celebrating all that is wonderful about Canada. Or Canadian football. Or something. By this time the sun had set, the temperature was dropping, and I just wanted the damn game to get started.



First though, it was time for the Grey Cup to be displayed and several Mounties escorted the trophy onto the field while the crowd applauded politely. Ain't she a beaut?



Finally, the national anthem was sung, a couple of F-18 fly-bys took place, the coin flip was held, and then it was time for football. Edmonton had won the toss and elected to defer, so Ottawa took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards, scoring when Henry Burris (#1 below) connected with Patrick Lavoie for a 3-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Edmonton's Kendial Lawrence fumbled and Ottawa recovered. It took the RedBlacks (I refuse to use the all-caps REDBLACKS as the team calls themselves) just four plays to score again,  with Burris finding Earnest Jackson for a 7-yard score. Chris Milo missed the extra point, but it was still 13-0 Ottawa after just 6 minutes.



Edmonton kicked a field goal on their next possession, and when Burris was intercepted on his first pass of the next drive, the game took a turn. Edmonton capitalized when Mike Reilly (#13 below) found Adarius Bowman in the end zone for a 27-yard score and the first quarter ended 13-10 for Ottawa.



After that, defense took over. In fact, the final 3 quarters totalled the same 23 points that were scored in the first 15 minutes. The RedBlacks added a field goal in the second quarter, while Edmonton tacked on a single on a missed field goal. When the Eskimos took possession from their own 22 with just 2:41 left in the half, they ran a near perfect two-minute drill, moving the ball 86 yards over seven plays before Reilly hit Akeem Shavers for a two-yard touchdown with just 12 seconds left. The two-point convert was missed and Edmonton took a 17-16 lead into the break.



The third quarter saw Ottawa hit another field goal, while Edmonton managed only a single on a punt that sailed through the end zone. The Eskimos had a chance to take the lead on the last play of the quarter, but Sean Whyte's field goal hit the upright. That meant a dead ball and no single point, so Ottawa maintained their 19-18 lead, and it sure looked like they were getting all the breaks. The stage was set for what should have been an exciting finish, but neither team could muster a sustained drive in the fourth quarter with another long punt giving Ottawa another single to make it 20-18. After a couple of 2-and-outs, Edmonton took over on their own 32 and took advantage of a couple of pass interference calls to move the ball to the Ottawa 10. This second penalty was only enforced after Edmonton challenged. Yes, in the CFL, pass interference calls and non-calls can be challenged. After an incomplete pass brought up 2nd and goal, Reilly escaped a sack and found Nate Coehoorn for a 9-yard gain. It was 3rd-and-goal from the 1 and Edmonton gambled, bringing in Jordan Lynch, who had starred at Northern Illinois, to run the QB sneak. He succeeded, as did the two point convert and Edmonton had the lead 26-20 with just 3:17 to go. Ottawa punted on their next possession, and Edmonton was able to get a couple of first downs to run out the clock in a really anti-climactic ending.



It was their 14th Grey Cup but first since 2005. The post-game celebration was pretty muted, with Reilly winning Most Outstanding Player, Shawmad Chambers taking Most Outstanding Canadian for his 49 receiving yards, and the Grey Cup being presented by new commissioner Jeffrey Orridge. Then some confetti was shot out of a couple of cannons and with that, the CFL season was over. It was a pretty good game, although it was really dominated by the defences after that very exciting first quarter.



As we made our way back to the bus, we saw the statue of Bud Grant, more famous for his stint as the Vikings coach who lost four Super Bowls, but a legend in Winnipeg for leading the Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup titles between 1958 and 1962.




Super Bowl Comparison

I attended the Super Bowl last year and found the Grey Cup to be a much more enjoyable experience.  The Super Bowl crowd is filled with corporate types who have no interest in the game, while at the Grey Cup, it was all CFL fans, dressed in the gear of their teams even though they weren't playing. Naturally security, transit, and ticket prices are all much worse at the Super Bowl. Still, with all that being said, the Super Bowl will always be more memorable, simply because it is such a part of the sports psyche in America.

Best,

Sean

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sarnia Sting 1 at Peterborough Petes 3 (OHL) - November 26, 2015


I didn't start taking extended sports road trips until after I was living in Japan for several years, so I never took a journey around my hometown province of Ontario to see the variety of OHL venues on offer. In fact, my trip to Oshawa on Sunday was only my eighth OHL rink, and two of those are inactive. So there are 14 arenas left to see, including the Peterborough Memorial Center, home of the Petes.



I arrived in Peterborough in the early afternoon and the arena was open to the public, so I took a brief walk around. The Petes have had several hockey legends in their organization, including coaches Scotty Bowman and Roger Neilson, and players Bob Gainey and Steve Yzerman to name but a few. Some more recent stars are shown just outside the main entrance.



The building documents not only the history of the Petes but sports throughout the Peterborough area.  Every Petes team is pictured, and it is interesting to see these coaches and players before they became famous. The Sports Hall of Fame includes a separate room with memorabilia from every sport, as well as having the concourse walls covered with pictures of inductees.





You'll also notice the many banners in the rafters, honouring both successful teams and star players and coaches. Get there early to enjoy this before the place fills up with fans.



Parking in the attached lot is $4 though I got there at 3 pm and left my car there for free, watching a bit of the Thanksgiving NFL at a nearby pub to pass the time. You can find street parking in the residential neighbourhood as well, and that would allow you to avoid the small jam that takes place after the game.



Tickets range from $12 for the family zone (from where the above photo was taken) to $28 for club seats along the right side (they come with padded seats as you can see below). The middle sections on the left in the photo above are called Premium Centre Bowl and cost $21.75, while the other bowl seats are $20.50. I bought the cheapest seat and ended up standing in a corner for the last two periods. If I were to return, I would probably splurge for the Premium Centre Bowl. Capacity is limited to just 4,329, so a crowd of 3,000 fills the place quite well.



The photo below is taken from the far end of the rink, the Family Zone is the three sections above the concourse. A deal for $12 if you have kids, and most fans sitting there did. One interesting touch here is that the players have to cross the concourse to get from the ice to the dressing room, so you can stand there and talk to them after each period.



I didn't bother eating here as I had enjoyed a pizza at nearby Southside Pizzeria, but the offerings looked pretty typical for junior hockey. There are vending machines scattered about which are good for snacks and bottled pop. Overall, the PMC is a great place simply for all the history on display, but it helps that you can see a hockey game too.

The Game



The Sarnia Sting were in town with top-ranked defenseman Jakob Chychrun (above, son of Jeff) the star. The first period was scoreless, though not without chances. Just a minute into the second, Sarnia's Anthony Salinitri knocked in a rebound to open the scoring. Both teams continued to press, and at the midway point of the period, Hunter Garlent (#23 in white below) took a pass from Daniel Nikandrov and wristed a perfect shot from the right dot that beat a surprised Justin Fazio to tie the game.



A couple of minutes later, Sarnia's Pavel Zacha (#14 above, the sixth overall pick by New Jersey in 2015) took a high-sticking penalty. The Sting killed it off, but 25 seconds after getting back on the ice, Zacha again was called for high-sticking. Again, the Petes power play was ineffective, but just 13 seconds after returning to play, Zacha was whistled for kneeing. I'm guessing there was a cute girl near the penalty box that had caught Zacha's eye, but whatever the case, the Petes did not waste their third opportunity as Adam Timleck (below) was left alone at the goalmouth and converted a great pass from Matt Spencer.



The third period saw Peterborough take five penalties, and Sarnia peppered Matthew Mancina (below) with 18 shots but none beat him as he took home the game's first star with 41 saves. The Petes added a third when Steven Lorentz popped home a rebound into a empty net to complete the scoring.



It was a rather slow game with 86 face-offs (an average game has around 65) but the home fans left happy.



Next Up

I'm off to Winnipeg for the Grey Cup! Check back for a recap of that on Monday.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Idaho Stampede 91 at Raptors 905 93 (NBA D-League) - November 25, 2015


The NBA's D-League added a 19th team this past off-season as it continues to become a true minor league. The Toronto Raptors now have their own affiliate just a few miles away in Mississauga. Known as Raptors 905 for the city's area code, the team plays out of the Hershey Centre, also home of the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL.



The arena is located southwest of the intersection of highways 401, 410, and 403, and easy enough to get to off Matheson Boulevard. Parking is free, and the majority of tickets are reasonably priced at $14 and $24, about the same as you would pay for a junior hockey game. There are courtside seats between the benches (optimistically called celebrity seats) for $90 while the rest of the floor level seating is $75.



I had visited here in early 2011 for hockey, but the venue is completely different for basketball. As you can see, the court is right in the middle of the rink, so the end seats, the cheapest at $14, really aren't that good. As the season has just started and this was only the 905's second home game though, attendance was not that strong and you could move around to the other sections. I did the Stadium Journey review, so got in before the fans and took a few more pictures.









You can see them setting up the souvenir stand in the bottom left of the photo above, this is on the floor so all fans can access this area before the game and during halftime, and probably during the game as well.





It is really an odd sight to see the empty spaces at the ends of the court, in most multi-use facilities there are seats that fill in this gap but obviously they are not necessary here.



The team has hired a dance troupe called the 'Sauga City Dancers, who greet fans at the main entrance and sit idly by before the game. They perform a couple of times and toss t-shirts and the like, and generally get the crowd going. There is also an in-game host and a mini-Raptor mascot called Stripes to add to the festivities.



As it is still early in the franchise's existence, it will take time to establish a fan base, a rivalry or two, and some traditions, but the Raptors have done well so far. I was impressed with the crowd on the night I attended, particularly as the parent club was taking on LeBron James and the Cavaliers at the same time. The fans were diverse, with many families taking in the game along with some older hoopheads. If you like basketball and live in the Toronto area, make an effort to see the Raptors 905, they are a great value and highly entertaining.

The Game

Raptors 2015 first-round pick Delon Wright was assigned to the 905 a couple of days before to join Bruno Caboclo, the team's first rounder from 2014 (below). In fact, it was Caboclo's assignment to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, a D-League club with no affiliate, that convinced the Raptors to create the 905, so they would have complete control over their projects. In order to make the team a bit more marketable to locals, a few Canadians were acquired, including Sim Bhullar, a lumbering giant who was the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA when he suited up for Sacramento last season.



This was a crazy game, not only are the players in the D-League but so are the referees and the scoreboard operators. The first quarter was evenly played and the 905 had a 27-25 lead, but they put on a defensive show in the early second period, going on a 14-3 run over six minutes and taking a 57-37 lead into halftime.



Idaho, who are Utah's affiliate and had lost the night before in Westchester, came out on fire in the third, scoring the first 12 points and the quarter finished with the Stampede still down 8, 78-70. The Raptors managed to build a 14-point advantage early in the final frame, but Idaho continued to sink key shots and got it within 87-80. When the Stampede's Treveon Graham missed a free throw, the scoreboard operator gave him the point anyway, while the officials were oblivious. This was the start of some interesting mistakes by all parties. The additional point remained on the board for a few possessions before someone figured out the mistake and corrected it. The Stampede complained stupidly, but the score was correct at 87-83 with three minutes left.



Then Jack Cooley committed the Stampede's fourth foul of the quarter with 2:09 left. The scoreboard operator made it the fifth foul (perhaps thinking there were less than 2 minutes left), again without the officials noticing. The Stampede tied it at 89 when Brandon Fields hit a jumper with just over a minute to go and overtime loomed. Caboclo and Fields missed shots on the next possessions, and then Scott Suggs played hero for the Raptors, draining a three with just 6 seconds left (above, Suggs is #5 middle left). After an Idaho timeout, Wright committed a rather silly foul, and J.J. O'Brien sank both shots to make it 92-91. Idaho committed their own foul, and the Caboclo went to shoot free throws. But wait! How many team fouls was that for Idaho? The correct answer was five, but there was confusion over the rule. As this was the first foul in the last two minutes, the penalty wasn't in effect, so the Raptors inbounded again, only to be immediately fouled again. The whole conversation took a couple of minutes, delaying an already lengthy fourth quarter. Anyway, Ronald Roberts sank his first shot, but missed the second. The rebound could not be corralled by the Stampede and went out of bounds as the horn sounded. Another review was needed, this time to determine how much time was on the clock.  The answer was 0.4 seconds, not enough for the Stampede to inbound the ball past a dancing Bhullar, and the Raptors held on 93-91 for their first home win in franchise history.



The last six seconds of the game took over 10 minutes to play out, a crazy ending that is not uncommon in basketball. It was a fun evening, but one that could have ended much earlier had the scoreboard operator and officiating crew been a bit more polished. But that's the D-League, still one of the best sports values out there. As the 905 gain traction in the Toronto sports marketplace, I expect them to become a popular attraction during the winter months.

Notes

Wright was the player of the game, finishing 9/9 from the floor and 5/5 from the stripe for 24 points.

The path to the NBA is known as "Road to the Six" here, after Toronto's area code, which is 416.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 11


With the bye weeks complete, I am starting my annual NFL playoff picture, which will be updated on a weekly basis. It is interesting to see how teams move up and down week-to-week, so I will keep the previous standings in for reference purposes. After each team has played 10 games, the playoff contenders are:

NFC

Car 10-0
Ari  8-2
GB   7-3
NYG  5-5
Min  7-3
Atl  6-4
--------
TB   5-5
Sea  5-5


Green Bay's win over Minnesota gives them the NFC North. Tampa Bay has a better conference record than Seattle. Dallas is 16th in the conference at 3-7 but with Romo back, can inch their way into playoff contention with a few more wins.

AFC

NE  10-0
Cin  8-2
Den  8-2
Ind  5-5
Pit  6-4
KC   5-5
--------
Hou  5-5 
Buf  5-5
NYJ  5-5
Oak  4-6
Jax  4-6
Mia  4-6

Cincinnati has a better conference record than Denver, and the two play on the last Monday Night Football game this season. KC has the best conference record of the 5-5 teams.

It really isn't a very exciting race right now with only mediocre teams fighting for those final spots , but the next six weeks could see some interesting developments. I'll update this every week.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ottawa 67s 6 at Oshawa Generals 2 (OHL) - November 22, 2015


After watching the Beast knock off the Komets in ECHL afternoon action, I headed back east along the 401 along with about half of Toronto. Seriously, how can there be a traffic jam on a Sunday evening? Why isn't everyone home watching the CFL playoffs? Anyway, the traffic wasn't THAT bad  and I made it to Oshawa about ten minutes before the scheduled 6:05 puck drop.



The Oshawa Generals play out of the General Motors Centre, which is not a coincidence. Oshawa is the headquarters of General Motors Canada and the team is named for the company, which was a sponsor way back in 1937. The arena, opened in  2006, is located in downtown Oshawa, with plenty of free street parking in the vicinity.



The cheapest seat on game day is $21 for a bowl seat, which are the sections outside the blue lines. I found the drink rail (below) to be less crowded and spent most of the game there, it is open to all as tickets are not sold for these spots.



My view from the drink rail in the southwest corner is below. Prospects Bar and Grill is another interesting area; it is a restaurant above the seating bowl between the blue lines (you can see it in the middle right of the below photo) that offers full service during the game and has a few TVs tuned to other sports. Tickets are sold in groups of 4 ($26-$34 each on game day) and this might make an interesting evening out for a group of friends. Other food options are pretty basic, but there are two concessions that stand out: a carvery and a protein/veggie setup that both looked quite tempting.



The GM Centre has no shortage of historical touches. First is the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame next to the main entrance. This collection of memorabilia is very impressive for its breadth in sports covered and attention to detail. Bobby Orr played for the Generals and his jersey is on display, among many others.



History is not limited to the Hall of Fame, around the top of the concourse you will see the Ring of Excellence, which is a series of posters honouring players who have gone on to the NHL, such as Alex Delvecchio.



Throughout the building, there are plaques that honour those inducted into the Hall of Fame. Most of these are pencil drawings and quite impressive. You really should get here early and take your time to look around.



Also note the large number of banners in the rafters; the Generals are one of the most successful junior clubs, with five Memorial Cup titles to their name, including the most recent one last season. As an aside, I attended their 1990 win over Kitchener at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton; it remains one of the best hockey games I have ever seen.



The game on this day wasn't that exciting, but it was very entertaining, particularly when compared to the ECHL match I had seen earlier in the day. First, Ottawa scored just 11 seconds in when Oshawa turned the puck over in their own end and Sam Studnicka passed to Trent Mallette (son of Troy) who was all alone in front and he eventually buried it behind Jeremy Brodeur (below, son of Martin). Man, am I old.



The 67s added a second marker when Dante Salituro, recently released from a tryout contract with Columbus, converted a perfect 2-on-1 pass from Travis Konecny (Philadelphia's 1st-round pick this year, 24th overall). Oshawa scored on a goalmouth scramble in the second to make it 2-1, but Ottawa replied quickly when Salituro and Konecny combined with Jeremy Addison (drafted 207th overall by Montreal this year) on a pro-level passing play to regain the two-goal advantage. Before the period was out, Ottawa had another when two Generals collided in their own end, allowing Konecny to feed Nathan Todd who drove the puck home.

The third period started with Brodeur being replaced by Logan Gauthier, and the Generals responded with a goal but then took a penalty immediately thereafter and Ottawa capitalized, with Salituro notching his second with another assist from Konecny. Oshawa pulled Gauthier with 3 minutes left, but this only allowed Salituro to get his hat trick on the empty netter, assisted yet again by Konecny who finished with five helpers on the night.



The game took just 2:10, with only one timeout per period and none of that time-wasting scuffling after every whistle that mars the minor leagues. Having seen an ECHL game on the same day, there is no doubt that the OHL is far more entertaining.

Notes

The urinals had a hockey net to improve your aim. Brings out the hockey player in all of us. Well, all of us guys at least.

This was my 600th venue lifetime. Hoping to get to 700 in early 2017. 

Next Up

I'm returning to Mississauga tomorrow to see the newest team in the NBA's D-League, Raptors 905 and then heading to Peterborough on Thursday to see the OHL's Petes before flying to Winnipeg for the Grey Cup on Sunday. Check back for recaps of all the excitement!

Best,

Sean