Friday, January 15, 2016

Norfolk Admirals 4 at Elmira Jackals 1 (ECHL) - January 14, 2016

The final hockey game on my Stupid Trip was another ECHL affair, this one in Elmira, NY. The town is only about 130 miles from Utica if you take the state highways. Use Google Maps' "Avoid Highways" option to plan the route, otherwise you will be advised to take the NY Thruway (a toll road) and I-81 to reach NY-13. Instead, Dom and I meandered through the back country, stopping at Frank and Mary's Diner in Cortland for a nice lunch, before continuing on NY-13 all the way to Elmira.

After stopping at the hotel, we made our way downtown to First Arena, whose naming rights are owned by a transit company based in Cincinnati. When it was first opened back in 2000, it was known as Coach USA Center after the bus company, and the dedication still uses that name (below).

There is plenty of street parking in the surrounding blocks; meters are not enforced after 6:00, perfect for a 7:00 start. The arena seats 3,784, just 76 less than the Utica Memorial Auditorium, but in a much more traditional configuration.

There are 12 rows in most sections, though one corner of the rink goes up a bit farther as you can see below (that's section 108/109), while behind the net at that end, there are only six rows.

You might notice that many seats in the pictures above have something white affixed; that is a Reserved sign. On this night, all tickets sold at the box office were general admission, and you could sit anywhere as long as the seat was not owned by a season-ticket holder. This is a great idea and I wish more teams would try it as you can find a spot that you like and stretch out, or move around between periods. As an aside, only about half of season-ticket holders showed up.

The concourse is very barren, with limited food options in the typical concession stands. However, there was a carving station serving a turkey sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise that was well worth the $7.25, even if the turkey was a little dry. A new addition is the SplitRock Bar on the east side of the building; it opens before gates do and is a decent place to grab a pint or two as the rest of the neighbourhood is rather devoid of nightlife, or any life at all for that matter. Elmira is a very quiet town in the evenings.

The Jackals used to play in the United Hockey League, which folded as the International Hockey League in 2010, with most of its teams joining the Central Hockey League, which in turn merged with the ECHL in 2014. There are five former UHL teams in the ECHL now, with Evansville, Quad City, Fort Wayne, and Kalamazoo rounding out the list. The Jackals still keep a couple of banners from their UHL days, as well as a retired number for Eddy Lowe, who toiled for six seasons in Elmira.

Overall, I found First Arena to be a decent rink to watch a game, particularly with the GA ticket promotion that allowed me to sit in a different seat for every period. Elmira averages 2,860 so far this season, but many of those are probably no-shows as at this game. That's too bad, because having a nearly full house would give this place a much better atmosphere and perhaps help the Jackals perform a little better, as they were not very good on this night.

The Game

The Norfolk Admirals (Edmonton's affiliate) were in town to face Elmira, who are Buffalo's AA team. Norfolk is one of five cities that lost their AHL team when the league established a western presence in 2015, but they kept the franchise name and logo for the ECHL.

The Jackals warmed up using Labatt Blue uniforms, perhaps a sign of things to come as the pro leagues are starting to consider advertising on uniforms. One look at the shot below should convince all that it is not a a good idea.

Below is Jackals netminder C.J. Motte in the much more appealing regular Jackal jersey. Motte is in his first pro season after a solid career at Ferris State; his younger brother Tyler is a Blackhawks draft pick currently playing for the Michigan Wolverines.

Ty Rimmer, a young goalie out of Edmonton, got the start for Norfolk (below). He was the victim of the only goal of the first period when Jackals captain Nathan Oystrick (who has 65 games of NHL experience, including 53 with Atlanta in 2007-08) was on the tail end of a great three-way passing play, one-timing a slap shot just three minutes in.

Sadly for Elmira, that would be their highlight of the night, as Norfolk dominated the second period. Greg Chase (Edmonton's 7th-round pick in 2013, nephew of Kelly) was left all alone in front while the Jackal defense dilly-dallied, and he converted a goalmouth pass from Steven Whitney at the 1:33 mark. The Admirals then took the lead three minutes later on a power play goal from Scott Allen, another Edmonton native toiling for Norfolk.

Norfolk doubled their lead midway through the third when Chase tipped home a pass from Charles-Olivier Roussel (42nd overall pick by Nashville in 2009). Chase was instrumental in getting the puck out of the defensive zone and following the play for the entire shift, mostly while the Elmira defense again ignored him at their peril. A great end-to-end play that essentially clinched the game, though Norfolk added a final tally when Whitney banged home a rebound of a Chase shot. On this play, Chase effortlessly grabbed a long pass along the wing, a play rarely seen at this level. The highlights are worth checking out if you are an Oiler fan.

There's the final above, along with the next three home games for the Jackals. They lost 4-0 to Reading and 1-0 to Adirondack before beating Brampton 2-1 in a shootout. That's only 2 goals in 12 periods at home, so perhaps those no-shows are making the right decision after all!


Chase (another Admiral from the Edmonton area) was recently sent down from Bakersfield for his second stint with Norfolk. He was clearly the best player of the ice with three points and the first star. He's had organizational trouble in the past, and it is possible that he has burned another bridge in the Oiler organization, but he just turned 21 and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in the NHL in the next few seasons, if he can get his head on straight.

I used to find out the draft status of all these players, and it is fun to look back at past drafts to see which players succeeded and which did not. There are so many that end up making the NHL for only a few games, only to be sent back down to spend the rest of their careers in relative anonymity. In many cases, size is the determining factor. I notice a lot of talented players are just not big enough for the NHL, but they fit in well in the AHL or ECHL, making minor league hockey games great road trip destinations.



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