Monday, February 15, 2016

Ontario Reign 0 at Stockton Heat 3 (AHL) - February 13, 2016


After watching the San Jose Barracuda in the afternoon, I made the 80-mile drive to Stockton to complete the AHL California rinks. The jaunt took nearly two hours thanks to a surprisingly large amount of traffic, at least for a Saturday afternoon. I still arrived before 6:00, in plenty of time for the 7:30 start. I found a free parking spot a block away and headed over to Stockton Arena to see the Heat and Reign in a battle that sounds more like a mixed-up weather forecast.



The arena lies on Fremont Street, right next to Banner Island Ballpark. There is a parking lot right in front, but this was already full, and anyway, there is plenty of street parking within a block or two. The Sonoma Raceway had a sponsor tent outside the main entrance, and one of Kyle Busch's M&M cars was on display. Busch was the 2015 Sprint Cup winner, though I would guess this was not a chassis used in an actual race, but feel free to correct me.



Anyway, the cheapest ticket was $12 for the upper end zone, with the most expensive $32 for glass seats. There is also a club that takes up the top few rows along one side, also $32. You can see from the photo below that the lower bowl encircles the ice, while the upper bowl is a horseshoe. The club area is denoted by the dark section above the blue seats to the left below.



The picture below shows the difference between the lower ($22) and upper ($16) premium seats. No point in spending the extra cash, the better seats are closer to the top and fewer fans sit here so you can have some space to yourself.



The view from the last row before the club seats. The club section is separated by a railing with signs threatening ejection if you climb over. I obviously did not test this rule, but did not see anything special about the club section, other than private tables at the very top.



The main entrance takes you to the lower concourse, with the entrances to the sideline seating bowls up a set of stairs to either side. It is a cool sight from the top of the stairs, as the lower concourse is beneath a lighted facade, which is also visible from outside.



Along the concourse wall on the non-club side is an extensive Hall of Fame. Von Hayes is top left of the middle frame below. I always appreciate the time and effort taken by the curators of these areas, and this one is particularly impressive in its breadth. Gates opened 90 minutes before game time, and I used much of that time to read up on Stockton's sports history. I think the area could use a bit of an upgrade though, as the white walls are rather plain and not suitable for such an extensive display.



The previous franchise here was the Stockton Thunder (now in Glens Falls) and they have a single conference championship banner (they lost to Reading in the Kelly Cup) as well as a retired number for Garet Hunt, now with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL.



Food here deserves a mention as well; it is among the best arena fare I have had. The Polish sausage for $5 was a bargain given how tasty it was. The concession provider is SAVOR, a marked improvement on Aramark, who runs most stadium concessions and is average at best. Even better is the designated driver program; if you sign up you get two bottles of water (or O'Douls). These came in very handy during the rest of my trip through the desert.



Overall, I really enjoyed my time here. The Heat do a lot of things right, from opening gates early to providing good food and designated driver options, to allowing fans to move around. If they could just turn down the pre-game music a bit, it would be perfect. Stockton is rarely a tourist destination, but if you are a hockey fan, check out a Heat home game, you will be glad you did.

The Game

As mentioned, the Ontario Reign were in town, looking to cool off the Heat. I was hoping for a quick game as I had a three-hour drive ahead of me, but the teams did not co-operate. The California teams play each other about ten times each so some bad blood has developed and it didn't take long for a fight, as Paul Bissonnette (most famous for his tweets) pounded Dustin Stevenson before two minutes had passed.



Mason Raymond opened the scoring six minutes later, skating in off the right boards and beating Reign keeper Michael Houser (above). Four minutes later, Raymond found Drew Shore (Florida's 2nd-round pick in 2009 with 78 games of NHL experience), who slapped one by Houser for the 2-0 lead. The goal looked to go through the net, so the play was reviewed and the goal upheld. That was all the meaningful scoring, though we did get another fight and lots of penalties to make sure the game lasted a frustratingly long 2.5 hours.



The Heat added an empty netter to make the final 3-0. Ontario outshot Stockton 36-19 but Kevin Poulin (in net above), fresh off an embarrassment in Bakersfield, stopped everything to earn the first star.



Notes

When the players sit in the penalty box, the scoreboard alternates between them, and fans cheer for the Heat player and boo the visitor. This is only done when the Heat player wins the fight though.

Peter Budaj started for Ontario when I saw them at home last week. He blanked San Jose for this third straight shutout and was called up to Los Angeles yesterday. He started for the Kings at MSG, earning an OT win, though he has since been sent back to Ontario.

Best,

Sean

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