Saturday, December 3, 2016

Iowa Wild 4 at Grand Rapids Griffins 3 (SO, AHL) - December 2, 2016

This hectic trip continued as I visited a fourth city in four days in three time zones. I am back on Eastern Time and in Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of the AHL's Griffins, farm team of the Detroit Red Wings. The AHL is another one of my quest leagues and this visit to Van Andel Arena would be the 26th active rink in the circuit and 33rd overall.

After flying in from Minneapolis and taking a short break at my hotel, I drove to downtown Grand Rapids, arriving about an hour before the scheduled start time. There are parking lots around the rink, but they charge a minimum of $10 so I spent a few minutes looking for street parking, eventually finding a spot about four blocks away and walking back. There are a number of bars and restaurants nearby so if you are looking to eat beforehand, you won't have a problem finding something.

The arena is named for Jay and Betty Van Andel, who were the largest benefactors when it was built in 1996. There is a statue of Jay in front of the main entrance as well as some works of art. Note the holiday touch in the photo above.

There were scalpers out front but I went inside first to see what was available, checking out the mini Hall of Fame display next to the box office.

I ended up buying a hard ticket there for $19, since I prefer stubs to paper tickets as they are better collectibles. However, my precious souvenir was immediately ruined when the ticket taker ripped it in half because it didn't scan properly, likely because it had just been purchased. Aaargh!

Still in shock after having my ticket brutally torn to pieces, I walked up a set of stairs to the main concourse, where I was handed a free program, known as Griffiti. How cute. As you can see above, the concourse is fairly narrow at places. Along its walls are more displays of local sports heroes, with Jim Kaat perhaps the most notable, though former Expo John Vander Wal is also represented here.

The seating bowl is horseshoe shaped with two levels of seating on all three sides, quite a typical layout for the minor leagues. The lower level is guarded by ushers, but the upper level offers a better view and you can move around here.

At the far end there is a small party area for private group functions. There is also a nice videoboard that shows replays and complements the scoreboard above center ice. Several banners can be found at this end too, including the 2013 Calder Cup Championship, in which the Griffins beat the Marlies in the second round before defeating the Syracuse Crunch to win it all.

Food at Van Andel is relatively cheap. Friday nights sees hot dogs and (crap) beer for $2 apiece, but I opted for a pizza sub, which is pepperoni and cheese on a hoagie. It was hot and fresh and very good, a bargain at $5.25.

Attendance was over 8,000, a great crowd considering capacity is 10,834. However, a large number of college kids were among the throng in the upper level, and the game was definitely not the prime attraction for them. Instead, many were intent on downing as much cheap swill as they could. Of course, they had to get up during the game to run down to the concourse, staggering back with 2 beers and climbing over seats to return to their spot. Even more annoying, they spent the evening chatting amongst themselves. You could hear a constant murmur across the whole arena as they yapped. Some even stood while play was going on like they were at a bar! I understand the increasing social aspect of baseball, but I would think that hockey requires a bit of concentration lest you miss a goal. Sadly, live sports for many of the younger generation is more about meeting friends and posting selfies on Facebook than being entertained by the action. I've noticed this more and more at NHL games too, where people pay upwards of 100 bucks per ticket and $10-15 per beer but couldn't care less about who is even playing.

Despite these inattentive fans, I had a good time here. I was able to find a spot to myself and enjoyed a decent contest.

The Game

The Iowa Wild were visiting and started former Sharks backup Alex Stalock in net while the Griffins had Eddie Pasquale, who I saw in Brampton last year, between the pipes. Neither was particularly sharp in the first period as Iowa took a 2-1 lead. Midway through the second, Iowa's Hunter Warner flipped the puck in from center ice. It bounced right in front of Pasquale and took an odd bounce to his left and into the net for a 3-1 lead. Matt Lorito got that one back for Grand Rapids late in the period, but they couldn't find the tying marker as time wound down in the third. With under 2 minutes to go in regulation, Iowa took a stupid boarding penalty, and Martin Frk (Detroit's 2nd-round pick in 2012) capitalized with 9 seconds left, his second tally sending the game to overtime. Nothing was settled there and, and Iowa's Colton Beck notched the only goal in the skills competition to give the visitors the 4-3 shootout win. There's the scoreboard before the shootout began.


Grand Rapids is also home to the Drive, to a D-League team, but they were playing at the same time a few miles away at the DeltaPlex. I realize the two leagues can't arrange their schedules for the convenience of fans, but it still rankles, even though the D-League is no longer one of my quest leagues.

My four remaining AHL venues are Milwaukee (who moved to a different arena this season), Iowa, Winnipeg, and Tuscon. Hoping to finish those in 2017.



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