Saturday, February 6, 2016

San Jose Barracuda 0 at Ontario Reign 1 (AHL) - February 5, 2016


The primary purpose of this extended trip to California is to see the five new AHL teams. As you are probably aware, the league created a Pacific Division for the 2015-16 season and moved five franchises to the west coast. The Worcester Sharks became the San Jose Barracuda (no points for guessing which NHL team they belong to) while the Oilers and Ducks combined to move a team from Oklahoma City (Edmonton) to San Diego (Anaheim) while switching AHL and ECHL teams between Norfolk and Bakersfield. In the other two cases, the parent club simply exchanged their AHL and ECHL franchises: the Stockton Heat and Adirondack Flames switched places, while the Manchester Monarchs are now the Ontario Reign and vice versa.



Obviously the affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, the Reign were my first AHL stop on the trip. The city of Ontario is part of the Inland Empire, which fits in nicely with the entire regal motif. The Reign play out of Citizens Business Bank Arena (the Royal Bank of Canada should really sponsor the naming rights), which is just off I-10 and only a few minutes from Ontario Airport. Built in 2008, the arena has a capacity of 9,736 for hockey and the team draws very well, averaging over 8,200 so far this season, good for fourth in the league.



The arena is not accessible by public transit, so you will have to drive unless you stay at one of the nearby hotels as I did. Parking is $5 and don't bother trying to park elsewhere, it isn't worth the hike. Ticket prices vary depending on the opponent, with the cheapest ranging from $13-20 plus a $3 facility charge. However, the Reign are very popular and on the night I showed up, the least expensive ticket was $29 for a second-level seat behind the net. I decided to wait for someone to show up with an extra and eventually found a lower level seat for $20. There are metal detectors at the entrance which slows everybody down, but as this is very close to San Bernardino, it is not surprising. In fact, one of the first responders to the terrorist attack was honoured before the game. It was also Pink at the Rink night and the Reign wore pink jerseys which were auctioned off for the Susan G. Komen foundation. Minimum bid was $500 and each jersey had found a bidder at that price, a surprise to me but a sign that the area is doing well economically.



The ice was also pink, though it was tough to tell, especially with my crappy camera.



The rink is typical for this level, with a single concourse servicing two seating levels, each of which offers excellent sightlines. If you want to avoid the glass, sit in the top four rows in the lower deck. Normally I move around during AHL games, but this one was nearly sold out, so I stayed in my seat for two periods before finding a standing area for most of the third.



There are a few attractions along the concourse, along with several sponsor desks. The arena was built on the site of the old Ontario Speedway, and this is noted in a couple of displays. I particularly liked the old photo which showed the speedway in the 1970s and pointed out what lies where today.



Interestingly, the Monarchs Calder Cup championship banner is on display, along with the old ECHL banners.



There are several concession stands each offering something unique, such as a Chicken Parm sandwich that is only available at one stand. Take a walk around the concourse to look at all your options. There is also a VIP club along the concourse. I spoke with a ticket rep as I was gathering schedules and mentioned that I was visiting, so he gave me a pass to the club, but it didn't have much other than a simple buffet and private restrooms. It happened to be $2 swill night, and unlike some places where they give you smaller cups, these were full 20-ounce beers. Yeah, it was Bud Light, but I didn't drive, so I had a couple.



There are several promotions, with the most interesting being the lucky section. During breaks in the game, about ten sections are awarded prizes such as a free double-double at In 'n' Out. The sections are announced very slowly, for example, "The winning section is (pause) 2 (pause) 0 (longer pause) 3!!!! Then all the fans in 203 cheer loudly as they receive their prize. I happened to be sitting in a winning section near the end of the game and received $5 off a $30 purchase at a local grocery, which is unusable as is is not valid for beer or wine purchases.

Overall, this is a very nice arena that delivers for its target audience. I believe that minor league hockey should be a bit cheaper, but fans here disagree and who am I to argue. If you are planning a trip to LA to see the Kings, check out the Reign schedule to see if you can include them and make it a truly royal event.

The Game

The Barracuda were in town and this promised to be a good matchup as both teams had not played in a week due to the All-Star break. Ontario was first in the division and started Peter Budaj (to the right below), who had shutout his last two opponents, while San Jose stood third and countered with Aaron Dell.



The Reign scored the only goal of the first period when Michael Mersch (#27 on the left above) banged home a rebound on the power play with just over six minutes to go. The Barracuda managed only 4 shots in that period, and were nearly invisible in the second, testing Budaj just once. They really should have been called the Where-a-cuda on this night.



San Jose managed to put together a decent third period, but Budaj stopped everything that came his way, including a couple of good chances late when San Jose had pulled their goalie. The final was 1-0 with that early Mersch marker holding up. Budaj now has a 1.56 GAA and a .935 save percentage and I am sure that the Canadiens, his last NHL team, could use his services right about now.

Update: Budaj was called up by the Kings a week later and started against the Rangers at MSG, getting a 5-4 OT win, his first NHL victory since April, 2014.



Notes

I saw Manchester play in the playoffs last season and it is interesting to note how many of the same players are still with the team. I suppose that living in the L.A. suburbs beats living in New Hampshire during the winter months.

Next Up

I am already in San Diego and saw a great college hoops game this afternoon, with San Diego State beating New Mexico in overtime. I'm now off to see the San Diego Gulls host Milwaukee in the second AHL game of the trip. Check back for updates on Monday, as I'll be watching the Super Bowl tomorrow.

Best,

Sean

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