Saturday, February 4, 2017

Rockford IceHogs 3 at Milwaukee Admirals 4 (OT, AHL) - February 3, 2017

In addition to attempting to visit all the active venues in Club 122 and minor league baseball, I'm also trying to complete the American Hockey League. To that end, I visited Milwaukee last season to see the Admirals, who were playing in the Bradley Center at that time. However, they decided to move across the street to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena for this season, so I had to come back to the Mecca of the Midwest. And I'm glad I did, as their new digs (actually a very old arena) are much better suited to minor league hockey.

Opened in 1950 as the Milwaukee Arena, the stadium has welcomed many famous faces, such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and John F. Kennedy. The Bucks played here from 1968-88, including their championship season in 1971. During the pregame, the scoreboard displays a series of historic photos highlighting all that has happened here while music from the 60s plays, a nice way to demonstrate its storied past.

The arena is home to the Wisconsin Athletic Walk of Fame, which takes up the entire east side of the venue along 4th Street. Established in 1951, the Walk honours members with bronze commemorative plaques. It takes quite a while to see all the inductees, numbering 137, and many of them have detailed writeups. If you are a sports history buff, plan to arrive an hour earlier than usual to enjoy this.

There is even a Toronto connection here, though it is not mentioned specifically:

The Admirals played here from 1977-88 as members of the IHL, and I can't figure out why they left. The Bradley Center is just too big for a minor league franchise, so much so that they closed the upper deck when they played there. Panther Arena (named after the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee athletic teams) is perfectly designed for hockey, with 3 levels along the side and end zone seats almost on top of the ice.

I love this old-school setup, which really keeps fans close to the action.

The view from the other end of the ice.

Tickets start at $17 at the box office, and there is no reason to spend more than that as the rink is not that big. This will get you seats either behind the nets or in the corners of the 400 level, which is where I ended up, taking a seat in the top row where I could enjoy my beer and brat in relative privacy. The 400 level is accessed by ramps that lead to another concourse, which is pretty empty as most fans prefer to sit close.

The lower concourse is wide enough for the crowd, and concessions are some of the best I've seen at this level, not surprising for Milwaukee. Avoid buying beer on the main level and head to the Tap Room on the lower level, where the selection is much better without a difference in price. You can bring your beer back to your seat as well.

Another advantage of moving to this venue is having the ability to add a personal touch with posters and the like, such as the one of Pekka Rinne (above), who played here for three seasons before moving up to Nashville.

Overall, this immediately became one of my favourite AHL venues. The downtown location is great, and the surrounding neighbourhood is full of all sorts of bars and restaurants, while the inside is a great throwback to arenas of old. Moving back here was a stroke of genius for the Admirals, and I'm sure their fans are overjoyed to be watching hockey here instead of the dreary Bradley Center. Check it out next time you are in Milwaukee.

The Game

The Rockford IceHogs (Chicago's affiliate) were in town having won just 14 of 45 games, while Milwaukee was 24-15-4. The AHL breaks out OT losses and SO losses for some reason, as you can see in the photo below.

The IceHogs got off to a miserable start when keeper Max Carruth (7th round pick in 2010, below in warmup) played the puck behind the net. His clearance attempt was stopped by Justin Florek (Boston, 5th, 2010) who passed out front. Carruth dove to stop the pass but the puck bounced around, ending up on the stick of Frederic Gaudreau in front of the yawning cage. He did not miss and the home team had the 1-0 lead just 59 seconds in.

After Rockford tied it midway through the frame, Gaudreau (#89 below) added his second shortly thereafter, poking home a loose puck on a 5-on-3. Spencer Abbott (who played three seasons for the Marlies and one game for the Leafs) tied it again for the IceHogs on another 5-on-3 for the only goal of the second period. Eagle-eyed readers might notice Sam Carrick (#16 below, Toronto's 5th round pick in 2010) who played 19 games for the Leafs over the last couple of seasons.

With just over 7 minutes to go, Gaudreau completed the ugliest hat trick in history when his pass went off a defender's skate and past a frustrated Carruth. A few fans managed to get their hats on the ice, but really, this was not a display of prodigious scoring ability by Gaudreau, just a good bit of luck. Anyway, it looked like an Admiral win was in the books, but Abbott scored his second of the game with 57 seconds left to tie things up yet again and force overtime. Just 31 seconds into the extra period, Alexandre Carrier (Nashville's 4th-rounder in 2015) picked up a rebound and backhanded home the winner behind a visibly annoyed Carruth. That's Carrier celebrating the 4-3 victory below.

This was a chippy affair, with a lot of pushing and shoving and a couple of silly fights. There were four game misconducts, including Ted Dent, the Rockford coach, who was tossed at the end of the first period for complaining I guess.


The Admirals signed a 10-year lease to play here, so they won't be moving into the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center, which will replace the Bradley Center in time for the 2018-19 season. I'll be back in Milwaukee to see the Bucks then, as well as this summer for the Jays two-game set against the Brewers.

Speaking of the Brewers, their owner Mark Attanasio also owns part of the Admirals along with Gord Ash and retired pitcher Ben Sheets. The Brewers are the Admirals uniform sponsors as you can see by their logo on the jersey below.

I still have Tucson, Iowa, and Winnipeg to see in the AHL, along with Belleville which will host a team beginning next season. I don't think I'll be getting to any of them this season, but hope to complete the circuit in 2017-18.



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