Friday, December 31, 2010

Peterborough Petes 6 at Belleville Bulls 1 (OHL) - December 29, 2010

After spending a relaxing week in Havana, Cuba, I returned to chilly Canada and paid a visit to my parents' new home in Belleville, Ontario. Coincidentally, the OHL's Belleville Bulls had a rare 4:05 start on the day I arrived, so I took my girlfriend and her new Canon camera over to Yardmen Arena to watch the action.

Yardmen Arena

Built in 1978, Yardmen Arena is another old-style rink that has endured rather well over the years. Located just south of Highway 401 (exit 544), the arena has several large parking lots that are free and easy to enter and exit.

The seating bowl is quite unique with almost no seats at the ends of the rink. There is a single row of seats at either end that provide an interesting view (above) from midway up the bowl, and a few seats right on the glass that we used late in the game. Otherwise, all seats are along the sides, with 15 rows in the lower bowl and a small balcony of two or three rows above that, as you can see below. These balcony seats are excellent, providing a view almost directly above the ice, and subsequently go for $19.50, a bit more than the regular seats at $17. The upper rows of the bowl seats are not blocked by the glass, so if you can't get a balcony seat, I would suggest sitting there. We managed to get a pair of freebies from the lady having a party in the suite, although we couldn't join her party, we managed to find a couple of good seats right along the concourse.

After entering by the main door, you then get into the arena proper by walking up a set of stairs that doubles as the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame, with pictures of notable local athletes. Very few recognizable names here for me, as I'm not from the area, but it is always good to see the past properly recognized. For example, back in 1958, the Belleville McFarlands won the Allan Cup (awarded to Canada's top senior amateur team) and went on to win the World Championship in 1959. These accomplishments are duly noted on the back wall of the rink.

Walking around the narrow concourse, you will see a number of other banners and displays honouring Belleville's hockey history; my favourite is the NHL honour roll below.

There's also a bull's head affixed to the wall which I found to be a nice touch.

Food here is typical with nothing of note. If you need to eat, buy before the game as there are not many concession stands and it could be busy during intermissions.

There is a video scoreboard but it wasn't used, which annoyed me because I wanted to see the replays of some goals. The ice surface is Olympic sized, which you might be able to ascertain from the view below, which is quite rare among North American rinks. It didn't affect the quality of the game though, it was still pretty sloppy, although not as physical as I expected.

Overall, this is an excellent place to catch a junior hockey game. The fans were good despite a poor performance by the home team, and I was able to walk around and take pictures from a number of places without any hassle. I highly recommend a trip to Belleville to check out the Bulls if you are a hockey fan.

The Game

Both teams are near the bottom of the standings and both are challenged in the scoring department. As a sign of the dearth of top-level talent here, neither team had a player in the World Junior Championships.

The crowd was energetic early, but their team didn't respond at all. The Bulls were lackadaisical from the opening face-off, at one point being outshot 10-0, and relying on goalie Tyson Teichmann to keep them in it. Peterborough finally beat him but I didn't see the goal as some moron was returning to his seat during play and blocked my view of the net. Aargh!!!! Sit down while the game is on!!!

Anyway, the Petes finished the period with a 22-6 advantage in shots but only the single marker to show for it. Belleville tightened up in the 2nd, but Teichmann fell apart, allowing 3 weak goals in just 1:34 (that's one of them above), and the game was essentially decided.

Peterborough went defensive after that and coasted to an easy 6-1 win. Nashville's 1st rounder Austin Watson had a hat trick (he's celebrating his third goal above) to lead the winners while Andrew D'Agostini (below) saved 26 of 27 shots in the Peterborough net. Nobody on Belleville deserves any recognition.

With the game being rather unexciting, it gave us a chance to try out my girlfriend's new camera, which is fantastic and much better than my little point-and-shoot. Some of the better action pictures here are from her. Sadly, I've been banned from using the camera on my own (rightly so as I have a tendency to break things) so for the most part, the pictures on the blog will continue to be pretty crappy, as below.


P.K. Subban's younger brother Malcolm is a goalie for Belleville and was coming off OHL Goaltender of the Week honours. He was the backup for the game, but must have wondered if he'd be brought in. That's him below checking the scoreboard after the fifth Pete goal.

Next Up

I was planning to start another trip from December 29th, but my girlfriend decided to fly over for her year-end holidays which resulted in the trip to Cuba and me canceling the drive to Pittsburgh for the Winter Classic. With tickets to that game unreasonably overpriced and the game delayed due to rainy conditions, it might have been a lucky break after all.

The girlfriend is going back to Japan shortly though, which gives me a few days to enjoy a short trip along with my friend Sharpie. We start with an OHL tilt on January 2nd between the top two teams in the league, Saginaw and Mississauga. The following day has the two World Junior Semi-Finals in Buffalo, with a potential Canada/USA game in the evening. Tuesday and Wednesday will see us in Cleveland for the AHL and then the Raptors/Cavaliers. We return to Canada on Thursday to watch the Blues/Leafs and after a brief stop at the parents, I'll return to Toronto to watch the NLL season opener between the Edmonton Rush and Toronto Rock on January 8th. After that, it will be very quiet as there's not much to see for the next few months. But I'll be commenting on a variety of topics in the meantime, so check back regularly.

Happy New Year everyone!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Montreal Junior 2 at Gatineau Olympiques 3 (SO, QMJHL) - December 15, 2010

I'm back in Ottawa for what I hope to be one of the last times ever, at least in the winter. So I had to take this opportunity to finally see a junior game in Gatineau, the Quebec town that lies just over the Rideau River and is home to the QMJHL's Olympiques.

Robert Guertin Centre

Built in 1952 and originally called the Hull Arena, the Robert Guertin Centre is a throwback to the old-time rinks that used to dominate the Canadian landscape. It is easily reachable from downtown Ottawa via either the Alexandra Bridge out of the Byward Market or the Portage Bridge off Wellington Street. Parking is free in a lot that is large enough to accommodate the crowd, and getting out is pretty quick too.

Tickets are $16 although we were fortunate to find a young lady from a local college handing out freebies that they were unable to give away on campus. With a seating capacity of just over 3,000, there's not a bad seat in the place, although many fans preferred to stand at the drink rail on the concourse that runs around the top of the seating bowl.

There's only 12 rows of seats but the glass in the end zones is low enough so that it doesn't affect the view from the top few rows. There are also a bunch of private boxes called loges that are above the seating bowl and look to provide interesting views. Food here is limited but there are combo deals such as a hot dog, bag of chips, and bottle of pop for $6. Poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds) is the must-try for first-timers to Quebec.

There are banners honouring some famous Olympiques such as Luc Robitaille and the late Pat Burns, who coached here for 3 seasons in the mid-80s, as well as several championship banners which show the evolution of the logo and team name over the years.

Overall, this is simply a hockey rink and nothing more. I loved this place just because it was like the rinks I went to as a kid. If you are in Ottawa and the Olympiques are in town, try to make it over to the Bob for a real hockey experience.

The Game

The Montreal Junior, the 3rd ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League (which comprises the three junior leagues in the country) were in town to face Gatineau, who are no slouches coming in at 20-11-2-2 for 3rd in their division. A few players on both teams had been drafted, including Gatineau goalie Maxime Clermont (above), taken in the 6th round by New Jersey in the 2010 draft (2014 update: he now plays for Orlando in the ECHL).

The first period was scrappy and rather boring with no memorable chances. In the second, Montreal opened the scoring when Philippe Lefebvre took a shot that Clermont allowed to squeeze through his legs. It was a weak goal but his teammates picked him up three minutes later when Jean-Gabriel Pageau (in white below) deflected a point shot past Montreal netminder Jean-Francois Berube (drafted by LA in the 4th round, 2009).

In the third, Montreal regained the lead on a controversial play when Dylan Anderson slid into Clermont and the puck entered the net. There was a video review and the goal was upheld, which brought a cavalcade of boos from the crowd of 2,599. It looked like that goal would give Montreal the win, but Gatineau's Christian Ouellet tied it with just 37 seconds left and Clermont on the bench (below).

This brought on a 5-minute overtime period which decided nothing and a shootout (fusillade in French) was necessary to settle the match.

Gatineau went first and Igor Levitsky scored on a beautiful deke (below). Clermont saved Lefebvre's attempt and the second shooters missed for both teams, which brought Pageau to the ice with a chance to win it. He made no mistake, beating Berube with a quick low shot and Gatineau took the 3-2 shootout win.


Gatineau warmed up in different jerseys than they wore during the game, something I haven't seen before.

Congratulations to my friend Sean, whose lucky program netted him a free oil change at Monsieur Muffler. Of course, there were four other prizes involving free food, so he felt rather unlucky to have won the only prize that wasn't edible, but it's better than nothing.

Next Up

I'm done watching games for the year. I'm off to Cuba next week for a few days of sunshine (but no baseball) before returning to Canada for New Years. In 2011, I'm hoping to get to Buffalo for the World Junior semi-finals and finals, as well as an AHL game in Cleveland and a Leaf game in Toronto. Hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday and I look forward to talking to you all again in 2011.



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oakland Raiders 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 38 - December 12, 2010

I saw this game over a week ago but flew back to Ottawa a couple of days later and have been hanging out with friends and family since then, so I haven't bothered to write about it. I'm going to avoid doing my usual detailed recap of the venue and just say it was one of the best sports experiences I've ever had.

I stopped in Waltersboro, SC and woke early, driving the remaining 3 hours to Jacksonville and arriving just before 11 am. I parked near the convention center as they have a shuttle service from there that costs $7. Sounds expensive, but they give you a coupon for a concession item (large soda in this case) which makes it a reasonable deal. I didn't want to waste time driving through the city as I've heard it can be difficult to find free parking and it was raining, so I didn't want to walk far. The lineups for the return shuttle were long, but moved quickly and I was still out on the highway less than an hour after the game ended.

After arriving at the stadium, I looked for somebody with an extra ticket and was fortunate to find Damon, who had a decent ducat in the middle 200 level. As it was still raining, I bought it from him and entered Everbank Field without checking out the environs. After the game, I did a short walk around and found some cool jaguar statues that were very popular photo spots for visiting fans.

The stadium is cool with teal seats all around. In the picture above you can see the three seating levels, the lower 100 level and middle 200 level are separated only by a concourse, while the 400 level requires a further trip up the ramp or escalator. You'll notice that there are a few sections in the upper deck that are covered with tarp; this is to reduce capacity and thereby increase the chance for a sellout so the Jags can be shown on local TV.

I took my usual walk around and didn't find much of interest. At one end there is the Bud Zone (above), a large bar/restaurant that was packed, likely due to the chilly conditions in the stadium. When the weather is warmer, they open the windows and you can watch the game from there, but on this day it was more of a refuge from the rotten weather.

There were some paintings on the walls that added a bit of spice but little else.

After I did my tour around both levels, I headed down to the field to watch some warm-ups. Oakland QB Jason Campbell tossed a few balls while appreciative Raider fans shouted encouragement.

As I watched the warm-up, the skies started to clear and by the time I returned to my seat, it was sunny and warm. Damon was sitting next to me and he turned out to be a regular fan who knew the history of the Jaguars and we chatted throughout the game. And what a game it turned out to be.

The Jaguars run onto the field

Oakland scored first when Campbell hit Darren McFadden with a short pass and McFadden juked past a couple of defenders for a 67-yard touchdown just over 4 minutes in. Jacksonville tied it up on a 1-yd pass from David Garrard to Marcedes Lewis early in the second, but Oakland added a field goal from Sebastian Janikowski (above) and another touchdown pass from Campbell, this one an 8-yarder to Louis Murphy (below), and it was 17-7 at the half.

In the 3rd quarter, Jacksonville started quickly with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Garrard to Jason Hill just 2 minutes in. McFadden replied with a 51-yard run just 3 plays later to restore the Raiders' 10-point cushion but the Jaguars got that one back when Rashad Jennings rumbled down the sideline for another touchdown. When Oakland muffed the kickoff, the Jags recovered and had a short field and Garrard converted with Mike Sims-Walker for a 10-yard TD that put them in front 28-24.

In the 4th, Jacksonville added an early FG to extend the lead to seven. When Campbell was knocked out for a play, backup Kyle Boller threw an interception but Jacksonville could only muster a quick 3-and-out and the Raiders made them pay when McFadden topped off an 83-yard drive with a fantastic 36-yard touchdown to tie the game.

It looked like overtime, but when Deji Karim took the kickoff back 65 yards, the Jaguars had the advantage. Sure enough, Jones-Drew scampered for a 30-yard TD on the first play from scrimmage and that was enough as Jacksonville won 38-31 to temporarily maintain their lead in the AFC South.

This was one of my best sports experiences ever. An amazing game with 6 touchdowns of 30 yards or greater, the home team pulling off the comeback win, a knowledgeable fan next to me, and a beautiful day to top it off. Thanks to Damon for the ticket and for being a great fan.

To complete the perfect day, I stopped in at Cocoa Beach on the way to Miami where I met with my friend Tom. He contacted me when I was going to the World University Baseball Championship and asked me to take some pictures of the Team USA players for him as there was no coverage of the event stateside and he had a number of friends on the squad. I sent some shots to him and we exchanged a few e-mails but I never thought I'd get a chance to meet him. Thanks to the $1-a-day rental special though, just 4 months later I found myself in chilly Cocoa Beach where we met up. Tom invited Brian Johnson, a University of Florida freshman who played on Team USA during the summer and we chatted about his time in Japan and his prospects for the future. It was really a great way to end a fantastic day of driving and sports, and is really what Sports Road Trips should be all about.

Thanks to Tom and Brian for the hospitality and hope to see you in Japan sometime!



Monday, December 13, 2010

NASCAR Hall of Fame

One of the nicest surprises on this trip was finding the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, just a few blocks from the Time Warner Cable Arena. I thought it had been there for years, but in fact, it just opened in May, 2010. Given the popularity of the sport, I'm surprised they didn't have one much earlier, but it is certainly worth the wait.

Adult admission is $19.95 and there are other combo deals you can consider that include a simulator ride. I know only the basics of NASCAR but I was very impressed with the museum and spent over 3 hours there. I don't want to describe it in detail, but they've done a great job in explaining how stock car racing got started (moonshiners needed fast cars to outrun the law), how the sport developed over the years, as well as honoring the drivers, owners, mechanics, and others that were instrumental in making it the second most popular sport in the U.S. today. There are also lots of interactive exhibits such as timing yourself in pit lane and a video game in which you try to qualify for a race, so kids can enjoy it too.

Right after you enter there is an exhibit called Glory Road, a banked ramp that contains the actual cars that were raced, from the early days, such as Red Byron's car from 1949 (above) to Dale Earnhardt's #3 below. As you move up the ramp, the track that holds the cars banks more and more to give you an idea just how steep some of the actual racetracks are.

Perhaps the most famous incident in the history of NASCAR is highlighted on the second floor, with both cars involved in the fracas on display as well an explanatory video of the fight between Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough (you can see the video between the two cars below).

There's also a Hall of Honor which has detailed displays on the five 2010 inductees, who were only announced back in October. The 2011 inductees have also been announced and I'm not sure how they are going to modify the room to add 5 more exhibits because it was so full of memorabilia already.

I'm not a huge NASCAR fan and have never seen the sport live, but after spending time at the HOF, I definitely want to go to a race. It's not a good sport for my type of roadtripping (i.e. trying to see one sports event per day), because there are only 36 races per year and it takes up the whole weekend, but I'll be checking the schedule for 2011 to see if I can work a race into one of the two roadtrips I hope to take. And if you find yourself in Charlotte, take the time to check this place out, it's a great sports experience.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Boston Celtics 93 at Charlotte Bobcats 62 - December 11, 2010

After an afternoon at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, I walked the few blocks north to revisit Time Warner Cable Arena, this time for an NBA battle featuring Boston and the Bobcats.

Time Warner Cable Arena

North Carolina has a deep basketball history, particularly at the university level with reigning national champion Duke and UNC the most notable programs. At the professional level, the Charlotte Hornets led the NBA in attendance for their first 7 seasons, including 358 consecutive sellouts at the Charlotte Coliseum, before fans became disenchanted with the team's owner and stopped going. The ranchise moved to New Orleans in 2002 and the Bobcats were created to replace the void.

However, a lack of luxury boxes and other revenue generators made the Coliseum too outdated to house an NBA team, so a downtown arena was constructed as part of the deal to bring the Bobcats to town. There was a lot of political controversy in the construction of the arena which I didn't follow when it was happening and don't fully understand even now, but the venue opened in 2005 as the Charlotte Bobcats Arena. Two years later, the Coliseum was demolished after only 18 years of existence.

In 2008, Time Warner Cable purchased the naming rights to the new arena and it subsequently became known as the Cable Box to locals. Just five years old, it is the second-newest arena in the NBA after Orlando's Amway Center.

It is located in Uptown Charlotte, which is really downtown in any other city. There's a light rail station right there which is very convenient, although there is also plenty of parking nearby. I went on a Saturday and parked in a $5 all-day lot but by the time the game was over, the attendant was gone, so it was free! I didn't see any nearby street parking but didn't look very hard either.

There are two main entrances, one on Trade Street (above), the other on 5th street. It is this latter entrance where the box office is located. I should note that there are TicketMaster machines next to the box office which don't have any additional charges, while buying a ticket inside will cost an additional $3 as a facility fee.

Security here is the tightest I've seen and the lineups are long as a result. A gentleman in front of me at the hockey game was told he could not bring in his pocket knife, so they are quite serious and you will need to empty your pockets of all metal objects.

Once inside, there is a large atrium with more ticket windows. It opens into the north end of the seating bowl, although you can't enter there without a proper ticket. In the lower bowl, seats are sloped at a fairly gentle angle, while the upper deck is much steeper. As I mentioned in the previous post, this is not good for hockey, but it works nicely for basketball. An anonymous commenter mentioned the term "short-axis arena" but I haven't been able to find much detail (his comment is on the first page of a Google search for that term).

I walked around once and noticed a number of interesting features. First, there was a practice gym which you could look into. Not sure who was shooting below but don't think he was involved in the game.

On one wall by an escalator there was a historical display on basketball in the state (below), which looked interesting but I didn't notice it until I was on my way out and didn't have time to explore it as I had to get going. There were also a couple of displays for high school champions in both North and South Carolina (Charlotte is right on the border of the two states).

I didn't eat here but did like the aviation-themed concession area with Frequent Fryers and Barn Stormers a couple of the names that honour North Carolina as the birthplace of manned flight.

The upper bowl is very wide with a couple of wall paintings, one that honours season-ticket holders. I had a center court seat midway up and the view is below.

The scoreboard is the biggest for an indoor arena at 28x16 but the coolest thing was the Charlotte skyline on top.

Overall, I enjoyed this venue for both basketball and hockey. It has a great location with plenty of restaurants and bars around and I noticed friendly staff at both events. After the two Charlotte teams lost while I visited, I've been warned about returning, but would suggest to other sports road trippers that they check the schedules out for similar doubleheader opportunities.

The Game

Boston was on a nine-game winning streak and won this one easily 93-62. I'm not even going to bother recapping it, it was ugly. Charlotte were terrible, shooting just 33.8% from the field and an abysmal 56.5% from the line. The Celtics didn't play very well themselves, but it didn't matter. Charlotte had lots of open shots and missed most of them. I liked the quote by coach Larry Brown: "You beg people to play hard and do the right thing, that's not coaching. You don't coach effort, you coach execution." Simply put, the Bobcats couldn't execute on this night and suffered their lowest point total in over a year.

Marquis Daniels driving

The highlight of the game was the national anthem by Lee England, Jr., who plays an electric violin. He also did a halftime show that was about 10 times more entertaining than the Bobcats were.

Next Up

I'm behind on my posting as I've been on the road since Jacksonville. I skipped the Miami Heat game on Monday night as the NBA has been a bit of a turn-off on this trip and I figured the Heat would win easily (which they did). I'm now in Ottawa visiting my new nephew and will be checking out my first QMJHL game tonight in Hull. I'll have posts on the Jacksonville-Oakland game, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and tonight's game over the next day or two before I take a couple of weeks off for the Christmas holidays.