Friday, March 11, 2016

Binghamton Senators at St. John's IceCaps (AHL) - March 8-9, 2016


Keeping the AHL as a quest league meant that I needed to make a visit to St. John's, Newfoundland to see the IceCaps, affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. The franchise played in Hamilton last season but were sent to St. John's to replace the previous incarnation of the IceCaps, who were Winnipeg's affiliate and moved to Manitoba during the offseason to become the Moose. As there is no guarantee that Montreal will keep the team here next year, I wanted to make sure to get this journey in before the end of the season.



The IceCaps play out of the Mile One Centre, so named because it is close to the beginning of the Trans-Canada Highway. As it is such a pain for road teams to travel here, they play back-to-back games. Most of these are on the weekend, but sometimes they play a Tuesday/Wednesday doubleheader which is much easier for me to get to while I am not working as midweek flights are cheaper. There are no direct flights from NYC, but I found a couple of cheap one-way flights via Toronto on Air Canada, and made a quick three-day trip this past week when the Binghamton Senators were in town.



The rink is located downtown on Gower Street, right next to City Hall. Street parking can be difficult to find, but I did see spots on Casey Street at Barters Hill, about two minutes away. There is also a garage right next door, but at $12 to park, it was a bit much even with the weak Canadian Dollar. Another option is to stay downtown and walk; this is the preferred option for drinkers as the neighbourhood is filled with bars that you can visit before or after the game.



Tickets range from $26 to $32 plus a host of service charges. The rink is rather small, with a single seating bowl of 20 rows, and generally draws a decent crowd, so you might as well splurge for the good seats. Interestingly, the end that St. John's attacks twice is much busier than the other end, so if you want some space to yourself, try getting seats between Sections 113 and 117 (it was pointed out in the comments that sections 114-116 are those where alcohol is not permitted, hence the space).



There is one main entrance next to the box office that most fans use and once you enter, you will see a small display honouring veterans of the many wars in which Canada has participated.



The concourse is very narrow and to minimize the number of bottlenecks during intermission, they have placed lines on the floor that instruct concession stand customers on how to stand without blocking the way. This works quite well and is something that should be adopted by other arenas with small footprints.



The Molson Canadian Hockey House is a small bar along one side of the rink. There are a few pieces of memorabilia here, including some jerseys from long ago. The Maple Leafs were the first NHL team to have an affiliate in St. John's when they placed their AHL team here from 1991-2005 before moving them to Toronto to become the Marlies, so having a Sittler jersey is not out of place.



Those Maple Leafs made it to the Calder Cup final in their first year, only to lose to Adirondack. No banners remain from that franchise, but there are still some remnants of the previous IceCaps incarnation, including their trip to the championship two years ago, where they lost to Texas.



You can see that the team kept the logo, but changed the colours to match Montreal's instead of Winnipeg's.



Capacity is 6,287 for hockey and they regularly draw over 5,000, a good crowd for a city with a population of about 100,000. Fans are attentive and there is little of the "Make Some Noise" exhortations that have left pro sports fans incapable of cheering without being prompted. As such, the rink is quiet and you can hear the sounds of the game quite clearly. Some complain that this is a problem but I think it is because the fans are watching the game intently. I don't know when being a good fan became equated with making an idiot of yourself (probably around the time ESPN started focusing on entertainment rather than sports) but a quiet crowd doesn't mean bad fans necessarily, and that is the case here.



Overall, I would strongly recommend a visit to Mile One Centre because you probably aren't going to get to Newfoundland otherwise as a sports fan. The province is really quite different than the rest of Canada and St. John's has a number of interesting spots to see such as Cape Spear and Signal Hill. With two games on every road trip, you will get your fill of hockey too. Let's hope the IceCaps remain in St. John for years to come as it is truly a unique sporting destination.

The Games

It was a battle of Montreal and Ottawa affiliates on these two days. The most notable player is NHL All-Star MVP John Scott (#33 below) who was traded from Phoenix in the NHL's desperate and vain attempt to ensure that he missed the game. Despite all the media reaction, Scott maintained his good nature, and that has continued even without any more coverage. At one point he lost an edge and tumbled into the boards right in front of me. After standing up, he stared at the ice as if to blame it for his fall. The fan next to me stood up and said "Yeah, it was the ice, it was the ice!" and Scott turned around, acknowledging the fan with a nod and a smile.



Binghamton started Matt O'Connor (below) in both games. O'Connor is a rookie who will be remembered for dropping the puck in his net in the NCAA championship game last year, likely costing his Boston Terriers the title. St. John's started Eddie Pasquale who I had seen in Brampton back in November. The AHL usually has home teams wear white, but St. John's wore road reds both nights.



I'm not going to recap the games, other than to say Binghamton started the first game with the worst shift I have ever seen. After two quick icings, David Dziurzynski was stripped of the puck right in front of his net by Gabriel Dumont who took a weak shot that snuck through O'Connor's legs and was punched home by Max Friberg just 39 seconds in. That set the tone for a game that the IceCaps dominated, outshooting the Senators 41-26 on their way to an easy 4-2 win, with Dumont netting three points for the first star.



Friberg, Anaheim's fifth-round pick in 2011, was traded to Montreal two months prior. Anaheim's AHL affiliate is in San Diego, so you could say he suffered the reverse Jacob's Ladder trade, going from the warmth of America's Finest City to St. John's in January. Of course, being Swedish, he probably doesn't mind the cold so much.

Anyway, Binghamton won the second game 4-1 to salvage a split. It was a dull affair, not surprising after the first game was quite energetic.


Notes

Newfoundland was the only province that I had yet to visit. I still need to see the three territories but there's not much sport to get me there. I still have to get to Alaska to complete all 50 states, and I plan to do that next season to see the Aces of the ECHL.

Best,

Sean

2 comments:

  1. 114-116 Are dry sections. That's why not as busy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting overview of some of the attractions of St John's

    ReplyDelete