Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stockton Heat 3 at Bakersfield Condors 7 (AHL) - February 9, 2016


After a day off from sports, I drove from Encinitas to Bakersfield, navigating lovely Interstate 5 through Los Angeles. I missed most of rush hour and the 210-mile drive took just under four hours with a couple of stops for gas and food. I arrived in time to catch the last 40 minutes of West Ham's exciting extra time win over Liverpool at Goose Loonies, a sports bar with surprisingly good Greek food. After a short break, I walked over to Rabobank Arena for a battle of Alberta, AHL style.



The Bakersfield Condors are Edmonton’s affiliate while the visiting Stockton Heat belong to Calgary. I saw both teams last season in their previous guises in Oklahoma City and Glens Falls respectively.



Rabobank Arena is located in downtown Bakersfield close to city hall. The southern side of the arena is bordered by a railroad, and the old saying “the other side of the tracks” applies here, as there is almost nothing once you cross those tracks, at least for a few blocks, other than several bail bonds concerns.



Above is a shot along N street, with the railroad behind me. Trains pass by frequently, so there is a pedestrian bridge for fans to access the arena should they be parked south of the tracks. As I took the shot, I was asked to stop doing so for “security”. This has happened to me just twice on all my travels, and the other time was several years ago in Modesto, 200 miles north. The incident in San Bernardino might have everyone a bit jumpy, but pictures of buildings from the outside are not a security concern. A quick Google search for Rabobank Arena images gives you plenty of exterior shots available in the public domain.



The arena was opened in 1998 and originally named Centennial Garden before Rabobank bought the naming rights in 2005. It sits next to the convention center that was opened in 1962 and the administrative office and ticket window lie between the two. The entire Condor campaign is shown on a wall here as well. The "3 Million Fans in History" refers to the years the Condors (who were originally known as the Fog) belonged to the WCHL and ECHL. Korn, a local band, opened their 2006 World Tour here and that is commemorated with a plaque out front.



Street parking is plentiful and free, though again the neighborhood can be a bit sketchy, so leave all valuables out of sight. Most fans used a lot just on the other side of the tracks, which seemed to be secure. I was staying close enough to walk, but would not advise that approach with parking so plentiful.



Tickets range from $14 for upper end zone for $37 for club and glass seats, inclusive of a $2 facility charge. There were less than 2,000 on hand (announced attendance was 3,135) so you could easily sit where you want.



The layout of the arena is one of the best, with good sightlines from the top of the upper bowl. However, some seats do have the annoyance of a pane of glass in the way as you can see below.



The lower bowl encircles the ice, but the upper bowl is horseshoe –shaped. The far end has a couple of banners but not much else.



There are a number of very interesting displays on the concourse. First is the Bakersfield Centennial Garden Hall of Fame, a rotating display that honours local stars, such as Cody Kessler, Colby Lewis and Kevin Harvick.



There is also a more detailed Kern County Sports Hall of Fame that has inductees from nearly 100 years ago, including several pro players such as Lonnie Shelton and Ken Ruettgers.



There are five retired numbers from the days when the Condors were in the WCHL and ECHL. None of these guys made the NHL; the most famous would be Glen Mears, who was drafted in the 3rd round in 1990 by Calgary.



League standings are shown along with scoring and goaltending leaders for both the league and the Condors, something that is common in minor league ballparks but unusual in hockey rinks.



The concourse is clean and wide enough for the smaller crowd. Kids can play at the mini hockey game or bouncy house, while adults can enjoy a beer or two at the Tap Room. There are also several private club areas throughout the seating bowl. It was Fat Tuesday on this evening and frozen margaritas were $5. I tried one and it was actually quite strong, lasting me an entire period.



Overall, I really enjoyed Rabobank Arena. Easy to access and move around, lots of historical touches, and a game day host that is not overbearing and annoying. I am not sure why more fans don’t come out to see the team, which was very entertaining on this night.




The Game



You can see the standings above, so I expected a good one with the teams evenly matched. Stockton started former Islander Kevin Poulin (above), while the Condors countered with AHL rookie Eetu Laurikainen (below), whose nickname should be E2.



The first period was scoreless but saw 29 total shots taken, with Bakersfield accounting for 18 of those. At that pace, goals were expected and in the second period, they came fast and furious. A turnover in the Condor zone allowed Kenny Agostino (2013 NCAA champion with Yale, drafted in the 5th round by Pittsburgh in 2010) to break in alone on Laurikainen and beat him with a great shot high on the stick side at the 1:23 mark. Stockton then took a penalty and Bakersfield capitalized when Matthew Ford (8th-round pick by Chicago in 2004 who has spent 8 years in the AHL without a call-up) tucked one through Poulin’s legs at 2:55 (that is Ford waiting for the pass below). That opened the floodgates and the Condors added goals at 3:17, 5:09, 8:58, and 9:28. The last one should have been stopped and Poulin angrily skated to his bench, smashing his stick on the glass in the process. I am not sure if he pulled himself because he was out of the crease before the cheering had even stopped.



Anyway, Joni Ortio replaced Poulin and the second period ended without any further damage, but Bakersfield added a couple more early in the third to end all doubt. Stockton’s Mason Raymond, recently demoted from Calgary, scored late in the third and then assisted on a power play goal by Turner Elson with less than a minute to go. Some fans actually booed at this point. I guess a 7-3 win is not as good as 7-1 or something.



Anyway, that was the final, with Bakersfield outshooting Stockton 48-43 in a fun game. All seven Condor goals were scored by different players, though Andrew Miller (who captained that Yale championship team) added two assists to take first star.

Notes

I had visited Rabobank Arena for an ECHL game in 2008 so it doesn’t count as a new venue, but it is now an AHL venue on my list instead of ECHL.

In addition to Mason Raymond, former Leaf Colton Orr is on Stockton (on the right below), and Todd Gill is an assistant coach for the Heat.



The Condors put a red line through the visiting team's logo when the starting lineup is introduced. I haven't seen something like this before but think it is pretty neat.



The Condors have a number of promotional giveaways, all of which were hit on this night. Three goals gets each fan a burrito from El Pollo Loco, killing a penalty in each period yields a free burger from Jack in the Box, a power play goal results in another free burger from Carl’s Jr, and something else netted a free Grand Slam from Denny’s. Perhaps the reason that Bakersfield has so few fans is because they all died of heart disease after one too many freebies. I might end up there myself, having already claimed the two burgers.

Best,

Sean

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