Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at Chicago Blackhawks 5 (SO) - October 22, 2016

My Toronto on the Road quest continued with a quick trip to Chicago to see the Maple Leafs take on the Blackhawks. The Leafs only visit the United Center once every season, and thankfully it was on a weekend so I didn't have to miss work. Unfortunately, there weren't other events convenient enough to make it a true sports road trip. The Northwestern Wildcats were home at noon on Saturday, but that would require a very early rousing and flight, something that I am not willing to do for college football. Of course, the Cubs were hosting Game 6 of the NLCS as well, but that would require $500 or more and, being held at the same time as the Leaf game, was not an option anyway.

In the end, the best choice was a single night in the Windy City, so I flew in Saturday afternoon and after a brief stop at my hotel, took the Blue Line all the way to the Illinois Medical District station, which is about five minutes from the arena.

Before getting a ticket, I had a quick walk around, noting the two statues on the northeast corner (that's Stanislav Mikita above, who was a great player in my youth). Bobby Hull is the other player honoured here. As well, there is a smaller sculpture across Madison that has the names of every player to have worn the Blackhawks uniform.

Having paid my respects to one of the Original Six franchises, I started my search for a ticket. The Blackhawks have joined the growing list of teams that don't offer hard tickets to their season subscribers, which makes finding tickets outside that much harder. Scalpers had no singles, and everybody arriving had paper tickets, the scourge of the stub collector. After a few futile minutes, I realized that the box office was my best bet and forked over $97 to sit midway in the upper deck behind the net the Leafs would attack twice. You will note the Stanley Cup banners directly in front of me, including three from the past six years.

Like all decent NHL arenas, fans are allowed to stand near the glass during warmups so I got my first look at the new uniforms as well as new goalie Frederik Andersen.

Once the pregame skate was complete, I headed to my seat. With the Cubs playing, I expected a few fans to skip this one, but the building was full when the national anthems were sung by Jim Cornelison. This was the first time I had heard O Canada at this arena, and it was wonderful, with the Leaf fans in the crowd singing along. But when Cornelison started into the Star Spangled Banner, chills ran down my spine. Truly incredible. It is really something that should be experienced live; there is nothing like it in pro sports.

I think the anthem presentation has to affect the players too, and Chicago didn't take long to open the scoring, tallying at 3:36. Crap. I expected another blowout, but the Leafs fought back, tying the game with 14 seconds left in the period, and then taking a 3-2 lead after two. When William Nylander scored his second of the game early in the third to give the Leafs a 2-goal cushion, I was stunned. Could the Leafs win in Chicago? At the last TV timeout, I made my way downstairs to sit as many fans had left, either assuming the Hawks would lose or getting out to Wrigley. The view from that seat is above.

Well, my move was unlucky as the Hawks scored two goals exactly one minute apart to force overtime (scoreboard shot above taken during the extra period). The Leafs took two penalties in those five heart-stopping minutes but Andersen made a couple of spectacular saves to send it to a shootout.

Jonathan Toews scored for Chicago to start the skills competition, and the next two missed. Superstar rookie Auston Matthews (above) was the second shooter for Toronto and beat Scott Darling to knot things at 1. Sadly though, Artemi Panarin notched his attempt for Chicago and Mitch Marner missed for the Maple Leafs and the Hawks completed the comeback with a 5-4 shootout victory.

Although the outcome was disappointing, I was impressed with the way the Leafs played and really think this could be the nucleus of a contending team. Nylander scored twice with Matthews assisting on both, and Marner is another youngster with great potential. They might not win that much this year, but it will be entertaining. I am already looking forward to seeing them in Edmonton and Calgary at the end of November.


I got back to my hotel just after the Cubs had clinched and watched the celebration. I considered stopping by Wrigley on the way back but with the Jays having lost, I didn't feel like celebrating another team's trip to the World Series. In the end, it was a relatively tame party, which makes sense because all that matters is the World Series, and Cubs fans seemed to realize that.

I still have to see the Leafs in Carolina (in February) and then Phoenix and Las Vegas next year to complete the road rinks.

My Sunday afternoon flight back to NYC was blessed with clear skies and I was fortunate to grab a window seat on the left side of the plane. In the shot below, you can see the United Center in the bottom left quadrant.

Below you can see Soldier Field with the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium just to the north and northwest respectively.

A shot of downtown Chicago. It looks so small from the air.

On approach, we flew past Manhattan. If you are arriving at LaGuardia, take a left side window seat and hope that you use this approach. And also hope that your plane stays on the runway after landing.

Next Up

I'm heading to LA for the Rams, Trojans, and Kings next weekend. Check back to see how it turned out.



Saturday, October 8, 2016

Club 122 Winter Trips Planned

With four new venues opening in the Big 4 sports leagues during the upcoming fall and winter, I have quite a bit of work to do to remain a member of Club 122. To make matters worse, all four stadiums are far from New York, with the L.A. Rams and Sacramento Kings in California, the Edmonton Oilers in Alberta, and the Minnesota Vikings in, well, you get the point. I'd love to do them all in one trip, but as I am working over the winter, I am limited to short weekend jaunts plus one week of vacation. Fortunately, the Oilers play Toronto on a Tuesday during a week that the Vikings play on Thursday, so I am able to get those two in on a single journey. But I couldn't find a decent combo for the Rams and the Kings that did not conflict with some other commitment. Thus I'll be saving the trip to Sacramento until January 15 when the Thunder are in town. So for now, just two trips planned for the fall as follows:

Sat, Nov  5 Oregon Ducks at USC Trojans (NCAA Football, Pac 12) 4:00
Sat, Nov  5 Calgary Flames at LA Kings 7:00
Sun, Nov  6 Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams 1:05

Tue, Nov 29 Toronto Maple Leafs at Edmonton Oilers 7:00
Wed, Nov 30 Toronto Maple Leafs at Calgary Flames 6:30
Thu, Dec  1 Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings 7:25
Fri, Dec  2 Iowa Stars at Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) 7:00
Sat, Dec  3 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles at Michigan State Spartans (NCAA Basketball) 4:30
Sat, Dec  3 Arizona Wildcats at Michigan State Spartans (NCAA Volleyball) 7:00
Sat, Dec  3 St. Cloud State Huskies at Western Michigan Broncos (NCAA Hockey) 7:00

TBD times for college games drive me nuts. When I posted this, the games were still a month or two away but the USC game time wasn't announced until the Sunday before. In the end, the 4:00 start time meant no chance to get to Staples Center for the Kings as college football on ESPN will be nearly four hours long. If the Michigan State basketball game is in the afternoon, I could get to Western Michigan hockey that night for example. Here's hoping that the schedule maker helps out. Update: the schedule maker did, as you can see above. Update 2: No, he didn't after all. The game was initially set for noon, but was changed to 4:30 the week before, thus eliminating the WMIU game from consideration. Fortunately, the Spartans volleyball team is hosting the first two rounds of the tournament and I will see that instead.