Saturday, June 30, 2018

B.C. Lions 22 at Edmonton Eskimos 41 - June 29, 2018


After a short drive from Calgary up venerable Highway 2, I arrived in Edmonton for my second CFL game in as many nights. After dropping off my wife and baby at the hotel, I headed over to the stadium. For some reason, I had thought the game was at 7 and showed up an hour before, only to find few fans around. A quick glance at the ticket window showed my error, so I returned downtown to do a bit of shopping, getting back to the stadium just after 7.



The Eskimos play out of Commonwealth Stadium, built in 1978 for the Commonwealth Games. With a capacity of 56,302, it is the largest open-air stadium in Canada. It is easily accessible from downtown on the LRT, with the Stadium station just two stops away from Central; if you have a game ticket, the ride is free. From the station, the stadium is just a minute away; the picture below is taken from the platform.



Good seats were $61 so I thought I'd wait around at the ticket window to see if anyone had an extra, and eventually someone did, though he wanted to make sure that I would not sell it. I mentioned that I was in Calgary the night before to prove that I was not a scalper, and that convinced him. Free football!



I immediately made my way in and did the obligatory lap around.  As in Calgary, the stadium is set up with east and west stands, with the sun shining into the east stand at the start of the game. As my seat was on the east side, I was happy with the later start as the sun moved behind the west stands early in the second quarter.



Sections N-Z are on the east side, while A-M are in the shade. The upper deck uses the same section numbers and doesn't renumber the rows, so you can get as high as Row 84, which I have not seen anywhere else. One thing that I like is that the seats at the end of each row also have the section posted on them to reduce confusion.



There are seats in the north end zone but they are mostly covered with tarp, as are the end sections in the upper deck.



The south end zone has some group areas and suites, as well as some party areas with tables.



You can walk along the concourse here, though the party tables are blocked off so you can't take a picture from directly behind the goal posts.



The concourses are underneath the seating bowl and contain banners of past Eskimo greats. My Dad grew up in the area and often mentioned names such as Normie Kwong and Jackie Parker as players he followed and it was nice to see them honoured here.



There are smaller fixed concession stands along the concourses here with typical offerings, but you are better off visiting the larger concession areas that open up off the concourse, helpfully dubbed East Concession and West Concession. Here you will find a wider variety of food scattered throughout a number of different stands. Try the Green 'n' Gold Dog for a bit of local flavour; it comes with mac'n'cheese and bacon bits and is quite tasty.



The stadium has resisted the trend towards corporate naming, but when the Eskimos play, the venue is officially called The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, after a large Canadian furniture store.



Going up high allows you to see two other venues: Northlands Coliseum, the former home of the Oilers...



...and Rogers Arena, to the right of downtown in the photo below.



As the stadium was built for track and field events, there is some distance between the stands and the field. The best seats are probably between rows 20-30 along the sidelines, but the view from up top is not bad either.



There is no distinct pattern to the seat colours here, but it does look quite different depending on the sun. The west side appears gold (above), while the east seems more yellow when the sun is shining on it.



The Grey Cup titles are shown along a glass display above the south end zone, including the 2015 title that I saw in Winnipeg.



Fans here were more sedate than those in Calgary, and a bit quieter without all the cowbells. I didn't see anyone here trying to get drunk like I did in Calgary, though that might be due to my seat location; at McMahon Stadium I was not in the good seats like I was here.



A final panorama shot from the top of the west stand. This is really a beautiful stadium that has aged very well in its 40 years and definitely worth a visit for any stadium traveler that wants to get to Edmonton in the summer.

The Game

The B.C. Lions, fresh off a bye week after winning their opener, were in town to take on the Eskimos who were 1-1. The Lions got the ball first and drove to the Edmonton 30, only to net just a single point on a missed field goal. When Edmonton QB Mike Reilly was intercepted on their first drive, the Lions promptly scored a touchdown. Then the ensuing kickoff was fumbled and the Lions again had excellent field position on the Eskimo 23, but they had to settle for a field goal to make it 11-0. The fans groaned noticeably as a blowout seemed likely, but the Lions were leaving plenty of points on the field.



After intentionally yielding a safety on a punt deep in their own zone, B.C. drove on their next possession and again only could come up with a field goal. On their next possession, the Lions reached the Edmonton 27, only to have the field goal attempt bounce off the upright. Instead of 28 or more points, B.C. had just 14 and, down only 12, the Eskimos realized that the game was by no means out of reach. They finally got their offense going late in the half when Mike Reilly found Natey Adjai with a 14-yard touchdown, and after B.C. punted, Reilly led another drive that culminated in another 14-yard touchdown, this time to Kenny Stafford. A two-point convert gave the Eskimos a 17-14 lead at the break.

The third quarter was all Edmonton as their defense held the Lions to just 8 plays from scrimmage while their offense added two more touchdowns. Though the convert on the first also hit the upright, another two-point try on the second made it 31-14. The Lions got one TD back early in the fourth on a QB sneak, but Edmonton matched that with a sneak of their own that put the game away. B.C. completed their exasperating evening with a punt single, while Edmonton added a field goal late to make the final 41-22.



A fun game to watch as the home team won handily after an early deficit. Glad to say that both home teams won on my brief foray in Alberta. Also note the 50/50 take-home amount on the scoreboard above: $103,972 - the West really enjoys gambling!

Notes

I spent the following week in Toronto and saw the Blue Jays split with the Mets. Having also seen the two games between those teams at home in Queens, I saw all home and away games in a baseball season series for the first time. This tidbit really wasn't worth a post of its own.

Next Up

I'll be attending a Formula E race in Brooklyn in mid-July, and then heading off to Chicago to see the Jays take on the White Sox in a weekend set. As always, recaps will be posted here, eventually.

Best,

Sean

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ottawa Redblacks 14 at Calgary Stampeders 24 - June 28, 2018


When the CFL schedule was released late last year, I immediately pegged an early-season weekend as a chance to add the three missing venues to my count, as Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatchewan were all home on consecutive days in late June. However, as the date approached, I realized that flights between the three cities were not cheap as it was the Canada Day long weekend. So I changed the plan, flying to Calgary and driving to Edmonton, and leaving Saskatchewan for next time.



The first stop was McMahon Stadium, which has been the home of the Stampeders since 1960. It has hosted more than just football, as it was the Olympic Stadium in 1988, and site of the NHL's Heritage Classic in 2011. Located in the northwest corner of the city, it is easily accessible from the LRT's Banff Trail station, a short ride from downtown. After disembarking, just walk over a pedestrian bridge and there you are.



I was staying at a nearby hotel, so was able to walk over without the aid of public transit. I had picked up a ticket from StubHub, so did not need to visit the ticket office, but it is located right next to the southeast gate.



It is important to note directions when seeing a game at Calgary. The east side (Sections M-Z, above) is facing the setting sun, and being up north and far west, the sun sets quite late. For a 7 pm start, you can expect to be squinting until well past halftime if you forget your shades. The west side (A-L, below) is protected, but slightly cooler as a result.



Both sides are identical, with the best seats in red, single sections of blue seats on either side, and then benches that turn in slightly as they reach the end zone. There is a walkway above row 43, and benches above that, all the way up to row 61. There is not much space between the stands and the field as the stadium was built for football, and sightlines are good from anywhere.



You can see the blue seats seem a bit older and are quite similar to those in Toronto's Rogers Centre.



On both sides of the field, Stampeders Hall of Famers are displayed. Jeff Garcia started his career here in 1994, backing up Doug Flutie, and led the team to the Grey Cup in 1998.



The south end zone is where the main video board can be found, and there are no seats here. The Stampeders dressing room seems to be behind here and they run out onto the field through the tunnel you can see below.



The north side is home to the Telus Patio, a private area with field-level views. Seeing how far back you are from the end zone, I can't imagine this is a good place to actually watch the game. Above this is a handicapped seating area. Note the ballpark in the background - this is Foothills Stadium, which used to host the Calgary Cannons until they moved to Albuquerque for the 2003 season. I saw a game there back in the late 1980s; long before sports road trips were even a thing.



Next to the Telus Patio is a collection of pennants celebrating the Stampeders Grey Cups.



You can stand at the north end zone next to the handicapped area, though the view isn't very good, even from an elevated level.



Inside, the concourses are spacious enough, with a couple of ads helping you figure out where you are in relation to the field.



There are a few banners here as well, including one celebrating the aforementioned Jeff Garcia.



The Stampeders mascots include Quick Six, a white horse that matches the team logo and runs along the east side after a Stamps touchdown.



Finally, a shot of the east stand from the top of the west. Note the speaker at the very top; this is the public address system and can be heard from quite far away, including all the way over at my hotel.



CFL facilities are much simpler than their NFL counterparts, and I enjoy them for this reason. McMahon Stadium is no different and is certainly an enjoyable place to watch a football game. Fans are definitely into the game and their team, and cowbells are used frequently to celebrate any good play. If you are heading to Alberta in the summer or fall, check out the CFL schedule and if the Stampeders are home, drop by McMahon Stadium for some old-fashioned football.

The Game

Both teams came in undefeated, but that didn't mean much in Week 3, especially since Ottawa already had a bye. I picked up a seat in the second row at the goal line, a place I generally enjoy for NFL games. But the CFL field is much wider and action doesn't happen around the goal line as much, so I moved around for the second half. Below are the Redblacks warming up.



This was a defensive battle with Ottawa getting into Calgary territory a few times in the early going but unable to capitalize, leading to two field goals. After an interception deep in Redblack territory, the Stamps managed a touchdown on a pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to Eric Rogers and halftime came with the home team up 7-6.



Ottawa tied it midway through the third quarter on a punt single, but the Stamps regained the lead on a field goal, with the 10-7 score holding until the final frame. Ottawa opened the quarter with first and goal at the Calgary 4 but could not score, turning the ball over on downs. That was the turning point as Calgary moved the ball enough to get a punt safely away, and when Ottawa punted shortly thereafter, Terry Williams returned the ball to the Ottawa 37. Mitchell found Kamar Jorden a couple of plays later and it was 17-7 Calgary. On the ensuing possession, with rain falling, Ottawa fumbled and Calgary recovered on the Redblack 23. Three plays after that, Don Jackson ran it in from 6 yards out and Calgary had pretty much clinched the game with just 6 minutes left. Ottawa did add a touchdown late to make the final 24-14 in a battle that finished in a driving rain.

This was not a good game with each team punting 8 times, but that is what you can expect in the CFL, where 2-and-outs are common. Add in 7 total turnovers (including 3 on downs) and 20 penalties, and it was not a pretty affair. It also took over 3 hours, which surprised me as I thought CFL games would move more quickly than those south of the border. But there are just as many commercials to show in Canada, I guess.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Texas Stars 1 at Toronto Marlies 6 (AHL Calder Cup Final, Game 7) - June 14, 2018


I've seen each of the Big 4 championships won exactly once (1995 Stanley Cup, 2001 World Series, 2012 NBA Championship, 2014 Super Bowl, plus the Memorial Cup (1990), Japanese baseball championship (1997), Olympic Hockey Gold Medal game (1998 in Nagano), World Cup (Japan in 2002), AAA National Championship (2013), Grey Cup (2015), and a few other minor titles. To me, they are the ultimate viewing experience for a sports fan: to see a team crowned champions with a trophy presentation is something that you will never forget. So when the Toronto Marlies made the AHL's Calder Cup Finals a couple of weeks ago, the idea of visiting Toronto for the final game began to germinate. The Marlies had the best winning percentage in the league at 0.737 (112 points in 76 games) and would be hosting the final two games against the Texas Stars if it went that far. When they took a 3-2 lead in the series by winning Game 5 in Cedar Park, I had to decide if I would go to Game 6 on Tuesday and risk a loss or wait for Game 7 on Thursday to see the Calder Cup in person. That decision was made easier when I looked at flights - mileage tickets were only available for Thursday. I didn't particularly want the Marlies to lose Game 6 but when they fell behind 3-0, I began to plan for the trip.



First, I bought a ticket to Game 7 online, beating the rush that occurred later that evening. By the next morning, the game was sold out, though tickets were available on the secondary market for a premium. I picked up a seat at the blue line for $50 CAD plus $5 in fees, a bargain. The view is below.



When Game 6 ended 5-2 in favour of Texas, I booked a round trip mileage flight, arriving at Toronto's downtown airport via Montreal and returning via Pearson Friday morning. I also picked up a hotel near Union Station, which would allow me to use the very convenient UP Express to get to Pearson without having to deal with Toronto traffic. With everything booked, I just had to wait a day before leaving. The concern with such a tight schedule is that a delayed flight will ruin everything, but it all went smoothly and I arrived in Toronto around 3 pm. After dropping off my stuff and grabbing a Harvey's burger, I planned to take the 509 streetcar over to Exhibition Place, but the TTC was operating like the MTA. I waited for over 10 minutes for a streetcar to arrive, and when it did, it was a shortened route that wouldn't even go all the way. So I decided to walk the 30 minutes, arriving at a festively decorated Ricoh Coliseum at around 6:30.



This was my fourth visit to the arena, and I reviewed it all the way back in 2010, when Braden Holtby played for Hershey. Since then, there have been some additions, such as a couple of historic displays with old and new jerseys.



There is also a collage of past players that went on to greatness with the Leafs, including many from the Toronto Marlboros junior team that now plays out of Guelph.



And the road trip map has been updated several times, and will be again next season with the arrival of the Colorado Eagles.



With the tour complete, I settled into my seat to see which team would take home the Calder Cup.

The Game

A record crowd of 8,818 was on hand for this one, and they were all given towels to wave, which they did as the team entered to a darkened arena. There wasn't a lot of tension in the arena though,



Garrett Sparks (below) started in goal for Toronto after being pulled in the Game 6 loss, while Mike McKenna manned the twine for Texas. I had seen McKenna twice before, including a playoff game in Manchester where he was terrible and so I hoped for a similar result.



Texas had an early chance when a giveaway led to a breakaway for Sheldon Dries, but he hit the post. Just past the midway point of the first, Andreas Johnsson, a 7th-round pick in 2013 and the leading scorer in the playoffs despite missing four games, combined with Carl Grundstrom (2nd, 2016) on a give-and-go with Johnsson lunging to put the puck past McKenna for the 1-0 lead. Toronto doubled their lead with just 17 seconds to go as Mason Marchment scored to finish off an impressive rush.

It was clear that Toronto was the better team, and the Stars spent much of the second period committing borderline penalties, a good strategy as the refs were clearly letting them play. Texas thought they had a goal at 10:23 after a goalmouth scramble, but a lengthy video review proved otherwise and Toronto maintained their two-goal advantage into the third.

Early on in the final frame, Texas turned the puck over at their blue line and Johnsson fed a beautiful pass to Grundstrom who slapped home an insurance marker. You could feel the fans relax after that, but controversy was to rear its ugly head. Again Texas celebrated after a goalmouth scramble, and again we went to a long review with the two referees examining a laptop in the penalty box area. Eventually the good goal signal was given, and two friends who were watching the game texted me simultaneously: "terrible review". Shortly thereafter the replay was shown on the scoreboard and the puck never went in, leading to a loud chorus of boos and "Ref, you suck" chants. With 9 minutes left, could this non-goal goal give the Stars some momentum? Thankfully, no. Texas pressed and had chances, but Sparks made a couple of huge stops to maintain the 2-goal advantage. Then a blocked shot in the Toronto zone fell to Johnsson, who passed off the boards to himself, skated in on McKenna, and shot. McKenna made the save but the puck bounced in off a Stars defender and there was no need for replay - it was 4-1 Marlies with just 3:46 left. McKenna was pulled immediately and Ben Smith added an empty netter to clinch it, with Marchment closing out the scoring in the final minute as the Marlies won 6-1 in a game that was much closer than the score indicated.



The Celebration

As the siren sounded, the players leapt over the boarded and skated to Sparks, surrounding him and the net while the fans cheered and waved their towels.



The vanquished Stars waited patiently at the other end for the handshakes, which were a bit warmer than what you usually see at the NHL level. There are a lot of career AHLers who move from team to team and know each other, and smiles were exchanged, with McKenna receiving much in the way of compliments as his stellar play kept Texas in the series.



Johnsson was given the Jack Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP and then captain Ben Smith was handed the Calder Cup.



As the players began to pass the Cup to each other, confetti was released. Each player, coach, and staff member got to hold the Cup for a few seconds, with GM Kyle Dubas, now in that position with the Leafs, receiving a loud ovation.



As the ceremony continued, I moved to the walkway between the ice and dressing room, joining a few other diehards. We waited for about 30 minutes while the on-ice celebrations continued, and Brendan Shanahan appeared to a loud cheer. Eventually the Calder Cup was brought through the walkway, where fans were given a brief opportunity to touch it. Once it disappeared into the locker room, the night was over, and I grabbed a streetcar back downtown, ending a whirlwind trip.



There you have it - the first hockey championship in Toronto since 1967. Glad I was there to witness it.

Notes

This was my second Marlies playoff game this year as I also saw them in Syracuse when they completed their second-round sweep of the Crunch back on May 8. It was also my fourth time seeing them at Ricoh and they are 4-0 in those games.

The Calder Cup was won at Ricoh Coliseum in 2012 by the visiting Norfolk Admirals, who finished off a sweep, winning by the same 6-1 score.

Don't feel sad for Texas, they won the Calder Cup in 2014, taking all 3 games in St. John's in OT.

This was the fifth Toronto title in the last 14 months after the Raptors 905, Toronto Wolfpack, TFC, and Toronto Argonauts all won their respective league championship. Over to you Maple Leafs.

Next Up

I return to Canada in just over a week to add two more CFL venues to my total, as I will visit both Calgary and Edmonton before stopping in Toronto for the Mets and Jays. Check back for recaps then.

Best,

Sean