Friday, February 28, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at New York Islanders 5 (OT) - February 27, 2014

Not going to talk about Nassau Coliseum or the game much, this post just exists to prove I went. The Leafs lost in overtime after a fantastic third period in which the teams scored 5 goals in just over nine minutes. Olympic players did well, with Michael Grabner scoring twice while James van Riemsdyk assisted thrice. Winning goal was from Lubomir Visnovsky 1:55 into overtime. I attended to do a final review of the Nassau Coliseum for Stadium Journey and received a media credential, allowing me to wander the seating bowl randomly. Spent the third period standing behind the 200 level seats at center ice and thought Toronto had it won when Lupul scored with just 6:06 to go, but alas, it was not to be. Fun game except for the overtime, Toronto is now 8-10-2 on the road when I am in attendance.

A few pics:

Nassau Coliseum does not look like an NHL rink from the outside.

Nor from the inside.

Please note the retired numbers are also a good 6/49 pick.

I like getting in early to take pics like this.

Goalies looking behind themselves, a common theme during this 5-4 game.

Bitter end.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fairfield Stags 62 at Saint Peter's Peacocks 63 (NCAA Basketball, MAAC) - February 25, 2014

My week of NCAA basketball ended yesterday with the fifth game in eight days, all within an hour or so of Manhattan. Ironically, Manhattan is one of the teams that I will wait until next year to see. Anyway, last night there were three choices: St. John's hosting Xavier at MSG, Saint Peter's welcoming Fairfield in Jersey City, and NJIT, the only independent school in Division I, seeing the Eagles of NC Central visiting in Newark. Decisions, decisions. The St. John's game would likely be the most entertaining, but also the most expensive. NJIT is not that easy to get to and was probably a mismatch, while Saint Peter's is a short walk from Journal Square on the PATH train. When I found out that a few friends were heading there as well, my decision was made.

The Peacocks, who I saw play on the weekend in Monmouth, call the Yanitelli Center home. It has the distinction of being the worst-rated venue of the over 1,700 reviewed stadiums on Stadium Journey (a year later, Arkansas Pine-Bluff baseball took the crown). And that review is pretty accurate. There is simply nothing at the Yanitelli Center that merits mention, other than tickets are just $10 ($5 for students and seniors). Check out some pics:

This is from the top of one side of the gym, about 30 minutes before the game. Hard wooden benches are your only option and yes, your ass will hurt by the end of the game.

Saint Peter's has had some success in the past, with three NCAA tournament appearances, although I didn't realize that the light blue banners were for the women's teams while the dark blue ones that you can see below are for the men. In 2011 they won the MAAC tournament and were quickly dispensed by Purdue at the Big Dance. Update: The Peacocks got their revenge in 2022.

The cheerleaders just wear t-shirts and shorts, and don't do much other than a few lifts like below. With an enrolment of just 3,700, you can't expect much but the turnout was still disappointing. Those who did make it enjoyed a good game.

The Game

Fairfield came in at 3-15 in conference play, tied for worst with Niagara, while Saint Peter's was 7-11 and a 4-point favourite according to Vegas. Yes, even these lesser known tilts get action at the sports books.

Fairfield came out strong with Amadou Sidibe (above) clearly their best player on offense. He seemed unstoppable in the low post, banking in shot after shot, scoring ten points in the first 8 minutes. The Stags managed a 21-16 lead but Saint Peter's went on a 19-5 run over the last 9 minutes to take a 35-26 lead into the half, which was played at a fast pace, taking about 40 minutes.

The Peacocks retained their 9-point advantage through the first media timeout in the 2nd half and then fell apart on both sides of the ball as Fairfield went on a 15-0 run over 6 minutes to take a 48-42 lead. Only a thunderous dunk by Marvin Dominique (#21 in white above) served to stop the momentum and bring the tiny crowd into the game.

With the score 60-51 in Fairfield's favour with 3:24 to go, then the officials got in the act, calling two ticky-tack fouls on Maurice Barrow (shooting below) in a 6-second span, causing him to foul out with 15 points. Chris Burke (trying to block Barrow) made both free throws and after Jamal Fields brought the Peacocks within 4 with a layup, Sidibe fouled Desi Washington (#11 below) who drained both to make it 60-58 Fairfield with 1:45 left.

After Washington missed a trey, Sidibe was fouled and made both his charity shots to regain the 4-point cushion. But the Stags allowed a quick layup to Quadir Welton and Saint Peter's called timeout, down 2 with 30 seconds to go. When Fairfield took possession, the Peacocks waited until K.J. Rose, a freshman shooting just over 50% from the line, had the ball before fouling. Smart move as Rose missed both free throws and Saint Peter's ran the ball up the floor. Washington dribbled the clock down, moved back, and sank a long three, sending the crowd of 387 into a frenzy. Fairfield had no timeouts and just 2.1 seconds on the clock, not enough time for even a desperation heave as Saint Peter's won with a miracle, 63-62.


Washington also sank a last second trey in their previous meeting in Connecticut, giving the Peacocks a 56-55 win. That one was even featured on SportsCenter's top plays that night, if the game notes are to be believed.

The officials were brutal. On three separate occasions they had to review a play, including one on which a foul was called. As my good friend Mike said "What are you going to do, change it?" Those reviews and some questionable foul calls really dragged out the game in the second half.

I ended up making the right decision as Xavier upset St. John's 65-53 and NC Central hammered NJIT 81-62.

Next Up

First, I'll be seeing the Leafs on Long Island tomorrow, my third Leafs' road game this season and 20th overall. Then I fly to Chicago on Friday add the United Center (NBA) to my Club 122 credentials. I saw the Bulls play at old Chicago Stadium back in 1991 but have yet to grace them with my presence since the new arena opened in 1994. I'll also be seeing the AHL's Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Bucks, check back regularly for updates.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Yale Bulldogs 46 at Columbia Lions 62 (NCAA Basketball, Ivy League) - February 23, 2014

Another day, another NCAA basketball game for me. This time it was a meaningful encounter in the Ivy League between Yale and Columbia. The reason I say meaningful is that the Ivy League is the only conference in Division 1 to not hold a tournament to decide their March Madness representative. Instead, the regular season winner gets the spoils of national attention. I find it surprising that none of the other 31 conferences follow suit, as you would expect them to want their best team representing them on the national stage. In many cases, the #1 seed loses during the tournament, which is often held at a neutral venue giving no home court advantage. I guess that the extra revenue and coverage during championship weekend makes up for occasionally having less qualified teams in the tournament. Anyway, Yale came in at 8-1, a half-game behind leaders Harvard who had beaten Princeton the previous evening and they needed a win to keep pace, so this one was meaningful!

I decided to buy my ticket online as there are no service charges and $10 is a bargain for a Saturday afternoon game. When I arrived on the Columbia campus on the Upper West Side, I stopped by to take a picture of the venerable lion in front of the Athletic Complex.

The gymnasium is not accessible through the front entrance, but instead you must walk to the left of the Physics Building and down a staircase to where the box office sits. You are essentially on the corner of 120th Street and Broadway here, but it is much more interesting to walk through campus, so you can take pictures like the one of the library above.

I picked up my will-call ticket, thus avoiding a surprisingly large line at the sales window and entered the gym. There are 24 rows on each side, with some sections reserved for students and others with chair backs that were not available online. Be aware that things get quite cozy here when a full house as the seats are quite small on the benches. The photo above was taken after the game to give you an idea of the gym's layout, while below is during the action when nearly every seat was filled.

Make sure to arrive on time here as they close the gym doors during play and you are not allowed in until there is a stop in the action. I did not see any food for sale, but didn't look very hard either. This is really just a college gymnasium where Division I basketball is sometimes played. I would recommend a visit for any hoops fan visiting New York City; just arrive with limited expectations and you will be fine.

The Game

So Yale needed the win but Columbia was at 5-4 in the league and 16-10 overall and by no means a pushover. The first thing I noticed was that the Lions wear a bright Columbia blue uniform to match their benches, so Yale was dressed in white. The second thing I noticed was that I was surrounded by Yale fans, who were quite vociferous in support. Sadly for them, their team was nervous right from the start, looking out of sorts particularly on offense, turning the ball over 8 times in the first frame. With the score tied at 10, Steve Frankowski (#5 below) led the Lions on a 11-2 run, sinking 9 of his 17 points in just over three minutes off the bench. That lead held up until halftime as Yale was terrible from the line as well, going just 4/10, heading to the locker room down 30-23.

The second half was more of the same. Two early miscues and three missed charity shots from the Bulldogs allowed Columbia to build a 13-point lead, which was never seriously challenged the rest of the way as the home team won in a rout. You will notice that the second half score was 32-23, almost the same as in the first.

The Yale fans around me were disgusted, seeing their chance at an NCAA appearance begin to fade away. Harvard leads the league by a game now, but Yale hosts them on March 7th, so all is not lost yet. Should Yale win that and both teams win their other three remaining games, there would be a one-game neutral-site playoff game for the right to attend March Madness. This is one of many races worth following for the next two weeks as college basketball gets very exciting. Having lived in Canada and Asia, I've never experienced the tournament in my backyard, and I can finally understand the thrill. Although the eventual champion will almost definitely come from a small group of power teams, just having a team you follow participate is something worth celebrating.


Normally when they show head shots of the players in other schools and the pros, the players are wearing a team jersey. Not so at Columbia, where all head shots are suit and tie. This is a classy school.

A few blocks north of Columbia is Tom's Diner, which you might recognize from a TV show. I did not eat here though.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saint Peter's Peacocks 61 at Monmouth Hawks 51 (NCAA Basketball, MAAC) - February 22, 2014

With the NHL on its Olympic hiatus and the local NBA teams on extended road trips, there's not much going on in New York these days. To fill the void, I've decided to add college hoops to the sports menu this week. I'll end up seeing 5 games in 8 days as I try to catch my own version of March Madness a month early.

I have mentioned my friend Eddie, who lets me know about all the schools and games in the region. I never realized just how many universities there are in the greater New York area and there seems to be a game nearly every night. On Saturday, we had two options: Princeton hosting Harvard in the Ivy League, and Saint Peter's at Monmouth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Both are about 90 minutes from where I live, but Monmouth had two advantages: we could get tickets (the Princeton game might have been sold out as tickets were not available online), and our friends at Stadium Journey needed a review. So down to West Long Branch, NJ we went.

Eddie had rented a car for another trip and had kept it an extra day, allowing us to avoid a long public transit ride. After picking me up, we raced over to New Jersey and down the Garden State Parkway arriving at the Multipurpose Activity Center just after the 7:00 tip-off. The entrance is signified by a sculpture of a large hawk, and just next to it is the box office. Tickets were $12 at the window, which had several fans debating their options while we waited anxiously. Aargh, the game is starting, get out of my way! We finally acquired our ducats and headed into the arena. The game had just reached the first media timeout with Monmouth leading 6-2, so we hadn't missed much.

I was immediately surprised at how full the arena was. Capacity here is 4,100 and there were 3,899 fans in attendance. Compared to the games I had seen earlier in Brooklyn and Stony Brook, this was a madhouse. The court is beneath a running track as you can see below, with two levels of seating. The upper level consists of temporary sections that are moved aside when there is no game happening.

The student section was filled up, with the football team an obvious presence. Turns out they were there for the halftime ceremony, in which former Hawk and current Dallas Cowboy Miles Austin had his jersey retired.

You can stand behind the end zone here, which I enjoy as it gives you a better view of the play developing. Many students and families choose to do this as it gives you room to move around and leaves you closer to the concession stand as well. Although food options are limited, they are better than you get at other small Division I schools, with a chicken or meatball parm sandwich just $5 (add $2 for chips and a fountain drink). There was also a stand handing out free tacos and nachos.

As I was doing the Stadium Journey review, I didn't really follow the game during the first half, but Monmouth's lead dissipated over time and they went to the break down 30-23. At this time, Eddie and I went to our seats, which had been appropriated during our absence by a large family. Rather than disturb them, we moved to some empty seats at the top of the section and watched the rest of the game from the vantage point below.

The second half saw Saint Peter's (based in Jersey City) quickly build their lead to 12, and the Hawks were unable to get much closer the rest of the way. Whenever the deficit hit 6, the Peacocks always made the next basket or free throw. With 2 minutes to go, the score was 51-45 after Josh James (#0 below) made a couple of freebies for Monmouth, who then went into foul mode in a vain attempt to pull even.

Those last two minutes seemed to take forever as Saint Peter's went to the line 14 times, draining 10 of them to win 61-51. I hate it when teams intentionally foul once the game is clearly over, as it was here. The constant whistles only serve to prolong the agony for the home fans; once you have lost, let us get on with our lives.

Chris Burke led Saint Peter's with 16 points, while James was the game's high scorer with 18 and big guard Andrew Nicholas (below with the ball) contributed 10 despite hitting just 4/13 from the field on a gimpy knee. Both teams shot just 37% but Saint Peter's managed 7 from downtown to just 3 for Monmouth, and that was the difference.

After the game, the band plays the alma mater while the players and cheerleaders sing. The players did not have much enthusiasm after suffering their 9th straight loss.


The teams played a couple of weeks before at Saint Peter's with the Peacocks winning that one 61-50, showing some consistency at least. They may also meet in the MAAC tournament as they are currently sitting 8th and 9th in the 11-team conference and the first 5 teams get a bye. Safe to say that neither is heading to the NCAA tournament though.



Who Really Won the Winter Olympics?

At the end of the 2012 Summer Olympics, I declared Great Britain the overall winner based on a system that combined the nations' medal points, population, and GDP. Now that the 2014 Sochi games are in the books, let's do the same.

There were 26 countries that secured at least one medal during the past two weeks. Russia finished on top with 13 gold, 11 silver, and 9 bronze medals. Again using a 5-2-1 point system for gold-silver-bronze, this gives them 96 medal points. However, with 143.7 million people living there, they only get 0.67 medal points per million people (MPMP), 14th on the list. A GDP per capita of $17,518 means that each medal point costs $182, which is also the best among all nations. Add up 1+14+1 and divide by 3 to get 5.33 as Russia's overall ranking. This puts them 4th overall. So who won?

Norway! Their 11-5-10 medal count gives them 75 medal points, tied with Canada's 10-10-5 and good for second in this category. But Norway's population is just 5.1 million, so there MPMP is an astounding 14.71, nearly double second best Slovenia (8.73 coming from 18 medal points for 2.1 million people). Norway does have the highest GDP per capita at $54,397 so each medal point cost $725, 7th overall. Add 2+1+7 and divide by 3 to get 3.33, the best overall average. Not surprisingly, all but one of Norway's 26 medals were obtained in skiing events.

Canada comes in second, followed by the Netherlands. They are actually tied in average ranking, so Canada gets the nod based on a better medal showing. The USA comes in 10th, hurt by their large population and high number of bronze medals. Here is the complete table:

Country       G     S     B     MP   Rank   Population  MPMP   Rank GDP/cap  GDP/MP   Rank   Avg Rank
Norway       11     5    10     75     2         5.1   14.71     1   54397    725.3     7       3.33
Canada       10    10     5     75     2        35.3    2.12    10   42317    564.2     3       5.00
Netherlands   8     7     9     63     5        16.8    3.74     5   41527    659.2     5       5.00
Russia       13    11     9     96     1       143.7    0.67    14   17518    182.5     1       5.33
Austria       4     8     5     41     7         8.5    4.82     3   41908   1022.1    11       7.00
Belarus       5     0     1     26    11         9.5    2.75     8   15479    595.3     4       7.67
Switzerland   6     3     2     38     8         8.1    4.68     4   44864   1180.6    12       8.00
Germany       8     6     5     57     6        80.6    0.71    13   38666    678.4     6       8.33
Sweden        2     7     6     30    10         9.6    3.11     6   40304   1343.5    14      10.00
USA           9     7    12     71     4       317.6    0.22    19   51704    728.2     8      10.33
France        4     4     7     35     9        65.8    0.53    16   35295   1008.4    10      11.67
Slovenia      2     2     4     18    16         2.1    8.73     2   27837   1546.5    17      11.67
Poland        4     1     1     23    13        38.5    0.60    15   20562    894.0     9      12.33
China         3     4     2     25    12      1360.7    0.02    26    9055    362.2     2      13.33
Czech Rep.    2     4     2     20    15        10.5    1.90    11   27000   1350.0    15      13.67
Finland       1     3     1     12    18         5.5    2.20     9   35771   2980.9    19      15.33
South Korea   3     3     2     23    13        50.2    0.46    18   31950   1389.1    16      15.67
Latvia        0     2     2      6    21         2.0    2.99     7   18058   3009.7    21      16.33
Ukraine       1     0     1      6    21        45.4    0.13    23    7295   1215.8    13      19.00
Slovakia      1     0     0      5    23         5.4    0.92    12   24142   4828.4    23      19.33
Japan         1     4     3     16    17       127.2    0.13    24   35855   2240.9    18      19.67
Italy         0     2     6     10    19        59.9    0.17    21   29812   2981.2    20      20.00
Great Britain 1     1     2      9    20        63.7    0.14    22   36569   4063.2    22      21.33
Australia     0     2     1      5    23        23.4    0.21    20   41954   8390.8    24      22.33
Croatia       0     1     0      2    25         4.3    0.47    17   17618   8809.0    25      22.33
Kazakhstan    0     0     1      1    26        17.2    0.06    25   13526  13526.0    26      25.67

The Winter Olympics don't have nearly as much variety as the summer games in terms of participating nations, so this isn't that interesting. Don't take it too seriously either,  it's just a way of looking at the results a bit differently. I prefer this to a simple medal count, which NBC has been using as it leaves the USA in second place overall.  You can play with the numbers yourself, changing the medal point system as you wish, but it will be hard to argue that any nation had a better Olympics than Norway.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

UMBC Retrievers 53 at Stony Brook Seawolves 72 (NCAA Basketball, America East) - February 19, 2014

While attending a very enjoyable college basketball contest at St. Francis University in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, I told my friend Eddie that I would be interested in seeing other games in the area. Eddie is a true NCAA hoops aficionado with over 125 venues visited and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the 32 conferences. He immediately mentioned Stony Brook, a university on the far reaches of Long Island known more for academics than athletics. The Seawolves play in the America East Conference and were hosting UMBC (that's the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, my bit of learning for the day) on Wednesday. The big attraction was a bobblehead giveaway, with the mascot Wolfie the honouree.

Getting there from New York is not that simple. You need to take the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station or Woodside and switch at Jamaica for a train going to Port Jefferson. Stony Brook is the penultimate stop on this line, and it is about 90 minutes from Woodside, with a peak ticket around $17 (off-peak is $12). From Stony Brook station, a small path takes you to campus and the athletic complex is the first building you will see, right next to the football field. Inside is a large hall with a concession stand (avoid this and try the student cafeteria a couple of buildings over) and ticket booth ($14 for reserved seats). From here you walk into the gym, which has seating areas on all four sides.

Stony Brook has an enrolment of nearly 25,000 but they are mostly there to study, judging from the relatively small student section at Pritchard Gymnasium, which is soon to be replaced by the Stony Brook Arena. In fact, this was the second-last game to be played here as the new arena will open for the 2014-15 season, necessitating another visit.

My seat was in the third row behind the visiting bench, which was a great location to watch the Retrievers' coaches and players interact. There were some pretty nifty plays as well, as you can see below.

Stony Brook was slow to start, allowing UMBC a quick 8-0 advantage and not scoring their first actual field goal until 8:09 had passed. Despite this, it was clear that UMBC was outmatched as they were fouling on what seemed like every play, allowing the Seawolves to remain close. After the Retrievers took a 16-14 lead with 9 minutes to go, Stony Brook finished the half on a 21-7 run. The second period was more of the same, with the Seawolves outscoring UMBC 37-30 to win handily. By the way, if you want to look at the scoreboard, avoid section 107.

The game was marked by 42 fouls resulting in 47 foul shots which destroyed any flow that might have developed. The player to watch here is Jameel Warney, a 6-8 sophomore whose 64.1% from the field ranks 5th in the nation. That's him below almost missing an easy dunk, fortunately the ball bounced in for 2 of his 18 points on the night.

UMBC big man Brett Roseboro (#35 below) was their best performer finishing with a career high 20 points on 8/15 shooting. Stony Brook won every statistical battle on the night and are certainly worth watching in the upcoming America East tournament.

Compared to the game the previous night though, this one wasn't that exciting. Too many whistles and a rout left me less than impressed. I'm still trying to add college basketball to the list of sports I follow, but games like this one will make it difficult. That won't stop me from trying a few more though, as I'll be visiting Columbia who host Ivy League leaders Yale on Sunday afternoon. Check back next week for a recap.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Central Connecticut Blue Devils 73 at St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers 71 (NCAA Basketball, NEC) - February 18, 2014

The main reason that I continue with my sports road trips is that I am always learning something new about the world, experiencing something that I haven't before. Those who travel understand what I mean. Think back to the first time you stepped on foreign shores; how you felt being in the minority for a change, perhaps unable to speak the local language. It can be very unnerving if you are not used to it, but if you are the least bit adventurous, it quickly becomes natural and for some, a bit addictive.

This was certainly true for me when I lived in Japan, nowhere more so than at a small sporting event that few foreigners bothered to attend. I certainly received my share of odd looks in some far flung locales on the Japanese archipelago. Even more exciting was traveling overseas in Asia and finding games in countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia or Taiwan, which always required quite a bit of research. It was quite satisfying when I walked into a stadium that few sports fans back home even knew about as my research paid off with another check box on my venue count.

Now that I am in the US, there is little difficulty in finding games to attend, but I am still learning every time I go. Case in point would be Tuesday night, when there was a Division I college basketball game in Brooklyn. College hoops has always been my least favourite sport, with a 40-minute game coming with 8 media timeouts and as many as 5 timeouts per team. Add in about a foul per minute and you have a game with little flow. What I didn't realize is that this phenomenon generally applies to games involving teams in the power conferences, which are hyped incessantly by ESPN. Televised games can take well over 2 hours and are usually decided in the final minute, which itself can take 10 times as long with all the time outs being called. Fortunately, the power conferences are in the minority. There are 351 Division I college basketball programs among 32 conferences, but only 5 or 6 would be considered power conferences. The rest play a relatively anonymous schedule, appearing occasionally on ESPN but mostly consigned to regional broadcasts or ESPN3.

Such is the case for the Northeast Conference, a collection of 10 schools that are, not surprisingly, all in the Northeast. Among these is St. Francis College, an institution with a small campus in downtown Brooklyn and an enrolment of less than 3,000. Known as the Terriers, they faced Syracuse back in November, losing narrowly to the then #9 Orangemen.

Their home venue has three separate names: Generoso Pope Athletic Complex, Daniel Lynch Gymnasium, and Peter Aquilone Court. It is located inside the main campus building at 180 Remsen Street, and you wouldn't guess that there is a Division 1 basketball court a few feet away if you walked by on the street. A single sign advertising the game is the only indication that you are in the right area. Tickets are $10 for general admission and although there is an all-you-can-eat option for $20, you are advised to eat before or after the game at one of the nearby restaurants. The court is a cozy place, with maybe 8 rows of plastic seats on one side of the gym.

There are no bells and whistles (other than the officials) here. The national anthem is a recording that generates polite applause. The media timeouts are taken as usual, but they seem to move much quicker, and there were few timeouts taken by either team. The entire game lasted perhaps 1:45 and I was back home by 9:30, a nice surprise given the 7 pm start.

The visitors were the Blue Devils. No, not Duke, but Central Connecticut, who play out of of New Britain. You can see their logo at the top of the shot above. The game was originally scheduled for last Thursday but a nasty snowstorm postponed it to Tuesday night.

Despite losing two players to a scandal, the Terriers seemed to be the better team and had a 40-35 lead at the half, but CCSU started the second stanza with some strong defense and took a 42-41 lead just before the first media timeout. The lead changed hands several times as the minutes ticked away, and with 43 seconds left, the game was knotted at 70. After SFC's Brent Jones was fouled with 12 seconds left, he made a single free throw to give the Terriers a one-point lead but leaving CCSU a final chance. Kyle Vinales (#1 above) dribbled down and drained a desperation three that shocked the home fans with just over 2 seconds on the clock. On the ensuing inbounds pass the ball was tipped and the Blue Devils escaped with a 73-71 win. It was a thoroughly entertaining game and one of the best college events I have ever attended.

The star for the home team was Ben Mockford (#3 in the photo above), who sank 6 treys and nothing else, while Vinales finished with 23 points to lead all scorers. Vinales name was regularly mispronounced by the announcer; I guess that won't happen again.


St. Francis' next game is against St. Francis. Reminiscent of the CFL back when the Roughriders would play the Rough Riders, the two NEC schools are actually St. Francis College (the one in Brooklyn) and St. Francis University, based in Loretto, PA.

I managed to grab a free t-shirt that was thrown into the crowd, ruthlessly shoving aside my friends for the prize. Hey, when you are unemployed, free clothing is always worth battling for.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Club 122 Road Trips

The big goal for me, now that my NFL Road Trip has become a legend spoken about in hushed tones by reverential sports road trip fans, is to enter Club 122. As of now, there are four venues left in the quest: PNC Arena in Raleigh, home of the Carolina Hurricanes; and NBA arenas in Chicago, New Orleans, and Orlando. I've seen games in the old Chicago Stadium and Amway Arena, but as you know, Club 122 requires all active venues to have been visited. Which means my membership will be only good for 5 months, once the NFL season opens I will need to visit Minneapolis and Santa Clara to see those two new stadiums.

Anyway, in order to get this done before the end of the season, I have planned three trips in March. The first is in Chicago and Milwaukee where I will see the two New York basketball teams as well as an AHL game; the second is a drive to Raleigh with some college basketball and another Leafs road game, and the final one is in Florida and Louisiana with my entry to Club 122 followed by the Blue Jays opening in Tampa Bay. The details:

Trip 1 - Chicago/Milwaukee

Fri Feb 28  Rochester Americans at Chicago Wolves (AHL) 7:00
Sat Mar  1  Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks 7:30
Sun Mar  2  New York Knicks at Chicago Bulls 12:00

Trip 2 - DC/NC

Wed Mar 12  Charlotte Bobcats at Washington Wizards 7:00
Thu Mar 13  Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes 7:00 - Final NHL venue
Fri Mar 14  ACC Tournament Quarterfinals at Greensboro 12:00
Sat Mar 15  Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Duke Blue Devils (NCAA Baseball) 1:00
Sun Mar 16  Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals 3:00 - 24th Leaf road game

Trip 3 - Florida/NOLA

Wed Mar 26  Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans 7:00
Fri Mar 28  LSU Tigers at Florida Gators (NCAA Baseball) 7:30
Sat Mar 29  Evansville Icemen at Orlando Solar Bears 7:00 - Orlando is Toronto's ECHL affiliate
Sun Mar 30  Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic 6:00 - Club 122 achieved!
Mon Mar 31  Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays 4:10 - Opening Day
Tue Apr  1  Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays 7:10
Wed Apr  2  Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays 7:10

If you are in the area or at one of these games, drop me a line. If not, keep checking back for updates of these and other trips.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 CFL Road Trip

The CFL schedule was released today and that means it's time for my CFL Road Trip plan. Doubtful I'll get the OK to do this, but it is only six weeks long and nearly perfect in that every team but Hamilton and Edmonton will be seen on the road, with the Stampeders the only club participating in multiple road contests.

The CFL trip is obviously much easier than the NFL one, because there are only 9 teams (Ottawa is back in the league with the indecisively named RedBlacks) and 20 weeks of action from which to choose. You can pretty much start at any week and create a reasonable trip, but you'll probably want to include Week 8 in any plan as there are four games in Ontario then. (Toronto has two home games in five days). Here is the schedule:

Sat Jul 19  Montreal at BC 4:00
Thu Jul 24  Calgary at Edmonton 7:00
Sat Jul 26  Toronto at Saskatchewan 8:00
Fri Aug  1  BC at Calgary 8:00
Sat Aug  7  Saskatchewan at Winnipeg 7:30
Thu Aug 12  Winnipeg at Toronto 7:30
Mon Aug 16  Calgary at Hamilton 3:00
Sun Aug 24  Calgary at Ottawa 3:00
Fri Aug 29  Ottawa at Montreal 7:30

You will notice that the playoffs are not included here. The Grey Cup will be in Vancouver on November 30th with two playoff weekends prior to that. You can in fact plan a trip starting on September 21st in Montreal and moving west without backtracking, finishing in Vancouver on the last week of the regular season. You could easily add the two Western playoff games to your schedule to complete the journey. I'll leave the planning as an exercise to you.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wells Fargo Center Tripleheader - February 7-8, 2014

There are three venues in North America that share an NHL, NBA, and NLL (that's box lacrosse for you novices) team: Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Pepsi Center in Denver, and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Of those nine teams, I had seen eight, with only the Philadelphia Wings yet to be added to my venue count. They are the closest NLL team to New York so I wanted to get down there to see them this season, but it isn't worth the trip just for a single lacrosse game. Fortunately, it is easy to convert a hockey rink into a lacrosse floor and the schedule makers cooperated by setting up a doubleheader with the Flyers hosting the Flames on Saturday afternoon before the Wings took on the Edmonton Rush in the evening. To complete the trifecta, the Lakers and Sixers had a game on Friday night so I decided to check that out as well, seeing all three home teams in the same building in just over 24 hours.

Lakers 112 at Sixers 98

After a quick bus ride from Manhattan, I arrived at the Wells Fargo Center around 5 pm and headed over to the box office to see what was available. The cheapest single was $38, insanely high for these two teams (I saw Golden State at Dallas for $5 to compare). I didn't know it at the time but there is an $8 charge for every order filled at the box office, a significant rip off for single ticket buyers. Before talking to scalpers, I checked StubHub and I found a single in the first row of the upper deck for $18.50. However, that option would require a printer, an object with which I rarely travel. I phoned StubHub to find out if there was another option and they said that they do e-tickets for Sixer games. In other words, I can just show a QR code on my phone to get in, no paper ticket is required. The gentleman on the phone completed my order and a link was sent to my email account. Once clicked, the QR code magically appeared and I just showed it to the ticket scanner without any difficulty. Great service from StubHub but they will have to change their name eventually, because there is no more stub when you get an e-ticket. The view from my seat is below.

Before the game some of the Sixers' Dream Team were engaged in a photo shoot courtside. Blue on white or white on blue? Hmm.

The new mascot race was interesting, with the Liberty Bell taking on Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross in a two-lap contest. Betsy blew by the other two late in the race to break the tape and claim victory. Both the Franklin and Ross mascots were dancing on the concourse before the game as well. Many fans seem to hate these sorts of mascots but they are much more creative than the typical anthropomorphic animals that most teams have.

The big news for this game was that it was Steve Nash's 40th birthday. I didn't know about it until I checked the program, but yep, Steve was born in South Africa back on February 7, 1974, and is the oldest player in the NBA. He's been injured most of the year but recently returned and was solid in this game leading all scorers with 19 points.

The game was close throughout the first three quarters, with the Sixers leading in the first half only to have the Lakers fight back. On the last play of the third period, Philly's Tony Wroten hit a bank shot from the top of his own key (i.e. 3/4 of the court) to make it 87-85 Lakers. It was the second game in a row Wroten had hit such a shot. At that point, both teams were shooting quite well, with L.A. at 50.7% compared to Philly's 48.5%. The 76ers then suffered a collective collapse, going 4/19 (21.1%) in the final frame while LA went 8/16 from the floor and 9/12 from the charity stripe to pull away with the 112-98 win. A fun game to attend and it was good to see Nash one more time, as he is likely in his final season (he re-injured himself in the Lakers' next contest).

Flames 1 at Flyers 2

Saturday was the last day of NHL action before the Olympic break, and most of the west coast teams were in the east to minimize travel to Sochi. The Flames had played in Long Island on Thursday, and I had a front row seat to that one for $20. The Flyers are a much better draw though, and StubHub did not have such bargains floating around. As well, my friend Andrew and his 18-month-old son Micah would join, so we resorted to the scalper route. Andrew is well-known around Philly sports venues as he often brings one of his two kids to the game, and this familiarity paid off with seats in row 7 of the second deck for about a third of face value. As an aside, the Flyers ticket site has different prices for each row in the mezzanine (upper bowl). Let's just say that $125 for this game was incredibly overpriced. Anyway, these seats were on the aisle and next to the plateau where the bifurcated lower stairs join to form a single staircase to the top, so Micah had a bit of room to roam around and distract bored fans. That's the view from the seats below.

The game was not that interesting as both teams seemed anxious to begin their break. Ray Emery started for Philly and was solid, shutting out the Flames for two periods.

The Flyers managed a goal from Brayden Schenn (#10 below) midway through the second and then Scott Hartnell deflected a Claude Giroux shot past Reto Berra early in the third for some insurance.

With just over 2 minutes left, Matt Stajan played shutout spoiler, driving a shot past Emery but the Flames could not tie it up in the dying seconds and the Flyers won 2-1 in a game that will be remembered for nothing.

Rush 8 at Wings 6

The Philadelphia Wings are playing in their 28th season on the box lacrosse circuit, which started in 1987 as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League and spent a few years as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League before taking on its current moniker. The Wings are the only franchise to have remained in the same location throughout the entire history of the league; the Colorado Mammoth are also an original franchise but they began in Baltimore and spent time in Pittsburgh and Washington as well.

The league does quite well in attendance, averaging 9,663 fans in 2013, but lacrosse lacks national appeal and will never challenge the Big 4 or the MLS for followers with just nine teams in the league and only five in the USA. The Wings used to have a solid fan base themselves but that has started to dwindle in recent years; their 7,647 average last year was a far cry from the 11,623 they saw in 2006. I don't suppose the $8 rip-off charge at the box office has anything to do with that. Well, it didn't stop me from buying a ticket immediately after the Flyers game, since I wanted to avoid the hassle of finding something outside the arena later on. That was a stupid move, as I paid $18 for a $10 ticket thanks to the rip-off charge, and tickets were offered to Andrew at Chickie's and Pete's, where we enjoyed dinner between the two games.

The ticket was in the end zone, which is OK for viewing but not for pictures so at half-time I moved to a better seat. The highlight was sitting behind Rush backup keeper Brodie MacDonald, whose jersey I can buy in three years to match my name and age yet again (Andrew MacDonald of the Islanders wears #47 right now).

Before the game the Wings honoured Jake Bergey by retiring his #66 jersey. Bergey is the son of former Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey who also wore 66. It was a nice ceremony and the fans in attendance were clearly appreciative of the younger Bergey, who played in 133 games for the club, registering 557 points in that time.

Unfortunately the Wings could not complete the evening with a win. The game was a hard-fought, defensive battle as Edmonton bullied their way to a 6-2 lead at halftime. The Wings scored the only goal of the third quarter, a power-play effort from Kevin Crowley (above with the ball behind Rush netminder Aaron Bold) and another Wings' goal early in the fourth made it 6-4. Home fan hopes were quickly dashed when Edmonton's Curtis Knight replied less than a minute later and when the Robert Church added an 8th marker for the Rush at 9:36, it was game over. The Wings added a couple of late goals to make the score respectable but Alberta escaped with a split on the day.

In case you are wondering, this wasn't the lowest scoring game of the season; that record was set when Vancouver beat Minnesota 8-5 last month.

I'm glad I got down to Philadelphia for this rare opportunity to see a venue in three different guises. The basketball game was the most entertaining and cost the same as the lacrosse game in the end. Thanks to Andrew and Micah for joining me for the Flyers game and making that more interesting than it would have been otherwise. I'll be back to Philly in May when the Blue Jays are in town for a 2-game set and hope for some more wins for Canadian teams!

Next Up

Other than the occasional game in New York, I won't be doing any traveling for the next three weeks. I want to complete Club 122 and so I'll be in Chicago between February 28th and March 2nd to add the Bulls to the list, and then down to Raleigh for the Hurricanes sometime in mid-March, before finishing off in New Orleans and Orlando at the end of the month. The Blue Jays also open in Tampa immediately after that, so I'll hang around for some of that action too. Can't wait for baseball to get started, until then stay warm everyone.