Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at Edmonton Oilers 2 - November 29, 2016

It is still early in the NHL season, but the Edmonton Oilers are finally reaping the benefits of so many first-overall picks, leading the Pacific Division at the quarter pole. Their success comes just in time as they have moved into a brand-new downtown arena, which means expensive tickets, and if they want fans to keep coming, the team needs to win. Rogers Place (not to be confused with Rogers Arena in Vancouver) is part of a large revitalization project that will be known as the ICE District when it is complete.

The building is located at the corner of 104th Avenue NW and 104th Street NW, on the north edge of downtown Edmonton. It is a huge structure that stretches down the entire block and at the very end crosses over the street as you can see below. Note the Mercer sign; this building houses the Mercer Pub, which is a great pregame spot for a drink or two.

The extension shown above houses Ford Hall, which is really just the main lobby (below) as well as the Molson Canadian Hockey House, the entrance of which can be seen in the distance.

Access is easy via the LRT system, with a station just three blocks away, though parking seems simple to find too. The main entrance to the arena is a few steps east along the avenue, where you will also find the iconic Gretzky statue. After walking up a couple of staircases, you will enter Ford Hall, where you will also find the box office.

The main gate is here too, and arranged similar to airport security as you can see above. It works well enough, though I arrived an hour before puck drop, so am not sure if it gets more crowded closer to game time.

Fellow sports traveller Gary has a friend in Edmonton named Jim who was kind enough to procure a ticket for me, and he took me around the two concourses. The lower bowl is much more spacious as you can see in the photo above, taken from the escalator to the upper bowl. It is more of an open design than the typical NHL rink, with large concession stands all around.

There are a couple of cool artworks on the walls highlighting the two greatest Oilers in history, including Mark Messier (above).

The lower seating bowl is typical of new rinks, with club seats comprising the four sections between the goal lines on both sides. If you want to see the warmup, you'll have to enter one of the corner sections. The suites hang above the last row of the lower bowl, and the upper bowl is quite steep as you can see below.

This means that the view from the upper deck (level 7) is not that bad, even though there are two levels of suites. This is a pretty nice setup for a new downtown venue. As an aside, if you do have upper level seats and arrive late, take the stairs or elevator up as the lineup for the escalator gets quite long. The upper concourse also gets very busy during intermissions so if you need to use the facilities, best to do so during one of the TV timeouts.

During the first intermission, Jim took me to his company's suite and we watched the second period from there. That's the view below. Pretty posh.

Of course, the Oilers many, many banners have been moved from Rexall Place. It is a bit of overkill to have four banners from the same season though. (I believe that teams should only have one banner to celebrate their top accomplishment that season, which had better be a championship of some sort. For example, teams in baseball commemorating wild cards is ridiculous.)

Despite the braggadocio, I was impressed with the new digs. The arena is in a great location that will only get better as the ICE District comes into being. There are a lot of seating options, though it does seem like a lot of the old fans have been priced out, with top level seats close to $100.  Unfortunately, that is the way sports are trending, with casual and corporate fans taking over the best seats and the more serious fans relegated to the nosebleeds. At least here, the nosebleeds are actually pretty decent.

The Game

The Leafs scored just over five minutes in when Auston Matthews poked home a great pass from Michael Nylander just as an Edmonton penalty expired for the only goal of the first period. Early in the second, James Van Riemsdyk was left alone in front of Cam Talbot and converted on his second chance while the Edmonton defense watched helplessly. The Oilers responded quickly on a point shot from Andrej Sekera that beat Frederick Andersen (above in the warmup) two minutes after, but just over a minute later Leo Komarov did some great work on the forecheck and passed to Nazem Kadri who slid the puck past Talbot. Late in the period, after the Leafs had killed a 5-on-3, Zach Hyman backhanded a rebound home that Talbot should have stopped and it was 4-1 entering the third.

Talbot (life-size bobblehead above), having given up 4 goals on 14 shots, was replaced by ex-Leaf Jonas Gustavsson to start the final frame, and when Connor McDavid scored a beauty just 4 minutes in, it looked like the Leafs might be on their way to another road collapse. But Andersen made a couple of big saves and the Oilers took a late penalty to end their chances as the Leafs held on to win 4-2, only their second road win of the season. They are now 13-13-4 in my first visit to a road rink.


Remaining a member of Club 122 is not easy. There are four new venues this winter, the Braves are opening a new stadium next year, the Red Wings and Pistons are moving to Little Caesars Arena for the 2017-18 season, and the Vegas Golden Knights are starting operations as well (so it will be Club 123 then). The upshot is that the blog will be around for another year or two at least. In fact, it might stay around long enough that blogs will become fashionable again!

Club 122 is not my only quest as I want to see the Leafs in every road rink and I still have Carolina, Phoenix, and Vegas to complete that. I also need to visit Buffalo, Vancouver, and Detroit after that to see them in every current rink, though that is not as much of a priority.

Next Up

I'm in Calgary and just watched the Leafs shutout by the Flames who scored two in the first minute. I should have stayed at the bar to watch the TFC game. There won't be a post on the Leafs loss since I saw the same matchup back in 2012, but tomorrow I'm off to Minneapolis for the Cowboys and Vikings in another new Club 122 venue, so check back Friday for a recap of that.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Manhattan Jaspers 67 at Temple Owls 88 (NCAA Basketball) - November 20, 2016

After ending my college football slate by watching Princeton win the Ivy League crown on Saturday, (I saw only three games all season), I started my college basketball campaign on Sunday in Philadelphia. There are six schools here that play Division I hoops, and I had only seen La Salle and St. Joseph’s, leaving defending national champ Villanova, Drexel, Penn, and Temple still on the list. The Owls were home on this day, hosting Manhattan, who are coached by the always dapper and dramatic Steve Masiello. A Jaspers game is worth watching just to see him constantly overreact on the sidelines.

Anyway, Temple University is located in North Philadelphia, right along Broad Street at the corner of Cecil B, Moore Avenue. There is a subway stop right here too, so no need to drive. As soon as you exit, you will see the Liacouras Center, where the men's basketball team plays (the women use McGonigle Hall next door). It had turned bone chillingly cold overnight, so rather than tour the area; I snapped a quick shot of the exterior before heading to Pub Webb to watch the NFL pregame shows. My buddy Andrew joined and after watching the first quarter of the football games, we returned to the arena, picking up tickets from a friendly scalper for slightly less than box office price.

The Liacouras Center opened in 1997 and was originally known as the Apollo of Temple (a play on the many Temples of Apollo that dot the ancient world). In 2000, it was renamed after Temple present Peter J. Liacouras, who passed away earlier this year. The stadium is a multi-purpose venue and hosts concerts and minor sports teams along with Temple hoops.

The lobby is spacious and has a couple of statues of past coaching heroes, including John Chaney (in the middle below) who led Temple to 17 NCAA tournaments between 1984 and 2001, including 5 Elite Eight appearances...

... and Harry Litwack, who coached the Owls from 1952-1973 with two NCAA third place finishes to his credit.

Inside, the concourse is quite wide and clean, and there are several concession stands around, all with local ties. Chickie and Pete’s, Broad Street Dogs, and Tony Luke's are just some of the names. I appreciated the clever Hack-A-Snack shack that you can see below. Interestingly, beer is also sold here, a rarity for a campus venue.

History is on display here with the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame along the inner wall of the concourse...

...and some early accomplishments in the rafters.

There is a new ring of honour that was unveiled at halftime, with four players comprising the inaugural class. The ceremony took place under red lighting, so the picture isn't that good.

There are also banners for each American Athletic Conference team in the concourse ceiling.

Seating is typical for basketball, with two levels both reached from the main concourse. Manhattan is not a draw here and the place was mostly empty, so we sat in a few different places.

One thing I liked was the giant owl eyes at one end of the court, right above the Cherry Zone (so named because the team colours are Cherry and White), and yes there is a White Zone at the other end.

Overall, Liacouras Center is a decent place to watch a basketball game. I’m sure when one of the other Philly teams visits for a Big 5 contest (Drexel is excluded from this group) that the place fills up and is quite energetic, but this was an early-season mismatch on a football afternoon that kept many fans at home. I’d like to come back for one of those Big 5 games sometime.

The Game

I hoped that the Jaspers would put on a good show and they started well, keeping pace with the Owls through the first ten minutes. With 8:35 to go in the first half, the score was tied at 15, but after that Manhattan became a turnover machine, giving up the ball 8 times as Temple went on a 24-5 run to finish the frame, with the Jaspers hitting only 7 of 28 shots to make matters worse.

The second half was quite entertaining and the teams played a fast-paced back and forth style, as Temple built up a 31-point lead late in the game, but Manhattan closed on a 22-12 run to make the final a slightly more respectable 88-67. The Jaspers finished with 22 turnovers and a 38.7% shooting percentage, compared to 15 and 53.4% for the Owls. Andrew and I left in the final minute but we could have left at halftime and not missed anything. I am sure Masiello had a few choice words for his team after this one.

Next Up

Off to Edmonton next week for the Leafs at Oilers, the first of six games in six venues in six cities in five days. Check back to see how it all turns out.



Monday, November 21, 2016

Dartmouth Big Green 21 at Princeton Tigers 38 (NCAA Football, Ivy League) - November 19, 2016

A good friend was visiting Philadelphia this past weekend, so I decided to pop down to meet up with him. Rather than take a bus or train directly to Philly, I used New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor route which allowed me to stop in Princeton, where the Tigers were hosting the Dartmouth Big Green on the final weekend of the Ivy League football season.

The Tigers played in the first ever college football game back in 1869, thus making them and their opponent (Rutgers) the oldest football teams in the land. Between then and 1950, Princeton won 28 national titles in football, but after the Ivy League formed in 1955, the program faded from national attention as those schools decided to focus on academics. How quaint.

The Tigers play on Powers Field at Princeton University Stadium, which was opened in 1998 to replace decaying Palmer Stadium, which had hosted the team since 1914. The field is named for a former punter who donated $10 million to the program back in 1997. NJ Transit offers the simplest way to get there should you be without a car. Disembarking at Princeton Junction, you switch to the Dinky, which is small 2-car train that takes five minutes minute to reach campus, making it the shortest commuter line in the country. It is also one of the least frequent, particularly on weekends, so plan ahead to make sure you are not waiting at the station. The ride costs $3 if you buy on board but you can reduce this charge slightly by ensuring that your tickets are to and from Princeton (not Princeton Junction). The ride from NYC is $17.75 one-way, while Trenton is $6.75.

From the train station, the stadium is a short walk through campus, passing by Poe Field and several interesting buildings. As you approach over a pedestrian bridge, you will see the west side of the structure (above), which is only revealed to be a sports venue through the lights atop the exterior and the seats visible through the many openings. That structure is actually a horseshoe-shaped "wall building" that holds many offices and other rooms that can be used throughout the year for events.

Walk north to the main entrance where the box office is located (above). If you want a specific seat, buy it online in advance because at the window you will be handed the next ticket on the roll, which will cost you $12. Make sure to pick up a free program before entering; it is one of the best I have seen with a lot of useful game-day information.

Concourses are covered by the upper level of seats. There are two sets of stairs at every breezeway, one to enter the main walkway that encircles the seating bowl, while another will take you to the upper deck. Note the landing flush against the exterior wall below; this is a good spot to relax at halftime and avoid the crowd on the concourse.

There are no ushers so you can generally sit where you want as long as it is not down low at midfield.  As you can see, the lower level of seats is very close to the field.  The Princeton sideline is on the west and that is the place to sit to avoid the sun, which shines into the other seats throughout most of the game.

The venue holds 27,773 but rarely sees even half that number, so it is easy to move around, which is good because all seats here are of the metal bleacher variety and not particularly comfortable. There are two levels of seating on three sides, with the fourth side in the south end zone currently closed due to construction.

Food here is actually pretty good, with a truck offering some Mexican dishes right by the main entrance, and a grill in the southwest corner of the concourse that provides freshly cooked burgers and chicken tenders at reasonable prices. There are also several identical concession stands with your typical stadium fare such as pretzels, hot dogs, and giant bags of popcorn. Of course, no alcohol is provided as this is a campus venue. Bags are not searched upon entering, so you can try to bring in some of your own chow if you so desire, but forgo the booze as you will be immediately ejected if discovered.

There’s not much here in terms of attractions. A bounce house for kids works well with with the upside down tiger motif.

I particularly enjoyed the smiling face and was disappointed that it was shut down at halftime.

The band occupies the southwest corner of the Princeton sideline and do keep things lively during the timeouts…

…as do the cheerleaders who must do a push-up for every point every each Tiger score. That means 7 push-ups after a touchdown, 14 after the next, and so on.

Despite these energetic endeavours, I found Princeton University Stadium to be relatively sterile considering the team’s place in gridiron lore, with no meaningful history on display. It was an ideal autumn afternoon and the team was playing for a championship, yet the turnout was just over 8,000 and many of the fans were supporting Dartmouth, which made things even less compelling. I guess those 28 titles just got boring after a while.

The Game

Princeton came in at 6-1 in Ivy League play (tied with Penn and Harvard) and a win would clinch at least a share of the title (there is no postseason play in the Ivy). The visiting Big Green were 1-5 and not expected to provide much in the way of a challenge.

After Princeton punted on their first possession, Dartmouth started at midfield and took 7 plays to score as QB Jack Heneghan ran the ball in from 20 yards out. Princeton replied near the end of a quarter with a 77-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard plunge from backup QB John Lovett. Dartmouth regained the advantage early in the second quarter with a TD pass to Cameron Skaff to complete a 75-yard march. Both teams then turned the ball over on downs as offenses got bogged down a bit. After a subsequent Dartmouth punt trapped the Tigers at their own 10 with 2:35 left, it looked like the half would end with the visitors up 14-7. QB Chad Kanoff thought otherwise and quickly led his squad to the Princeton 5, but they could only manage a last-minute field goal as they went the locker room down four.

The third quarter saw Princeton pocket the only points on another Lovett goal line push that finished a superb 85-yard drive (above). It was Lovett’s 20th rushing TD on the season to set a new school record while also leading the FCS. The atmosphere was tense with the Tigers up only 17-14 as the final frame got underway, but things quickly fell apart for the Mean Green. First, Kanoff found Spencer Horsted on a short pass and he rumbled around the corner and into the end zone to make it 24-14. Dartmouth fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Princeton recovered on the 9. Three plays later, Lovett found Scott Carpenter in the end zone for some insurance. Dartmouth again turned the ball over when Heneghan was intercepted on the next drive, and four plays later, Charlie Volker galloped 39 yards to put the game out of reach.

At this point, I had to leave (more on that below) and snapped the scoreboard showing Volker's run. Dartmouth scored a late touchdown to make the final 38-21. An entertaining game that was close, until it suddenly wasn’t.

With the win, the Tigers clinched a share of the title with Penn and the banner above now requires an update. Highlights can be seen on the Tigers Twitter feed.


The game started at 1:30 and there were two possible Dinky trains back to Princeton Junction: one at 4:30 and the next at 6:01. That’s 91 minutes between the two so I hoped for a quick affair, but TV timeouts put paid to that dream. I really didn't want to spend 90 minutes waiting for a train, so once Princeton clinched the game, I scurried back to the station to catch the earlier one. I don’t know why they didn’t add an additional train for this game; I can only surmise that few fans take transit to make it worthwhile. At any rate, some thought as to coordinating game times with the train schedule would be helpful. I'm going back in February for a hockey/basketball weekend and I'll see if there is any improvement.



Friday, November 18, 2016

Analysis of the MLB MVP Awards

The MLB MVP awards were announced yesterday with Mike Trout of the Angels winning in the AL while the Cubs Kris Bryant took home the hardware in the senior circuit.  After the mild (and unnecessary) controversy over the Rick Porcello winning the Cy Young , I thought I'd do a quick study of the MVP awards to see if the voters make good choices.

Once again, Bases Per Out (BPO) is the statistic used, but for offensive players the formula is a bit different: (TB+BB+SB+HBP+SAC+SF)/(AB-H+CS+SAC+SF+GIDP). That's the total bases achieved by the batter against the number of outs he made, and obviously, the higher the ratio the better.

With that in mind, here are the top 5 in the AL.
Player        Bases  Outs  BPO
Mike Trout     464   393  1.181
David Ortiz    424   397  1.068
Miguel Cabrera 419   438  0.957
Mookie Betts   443   481  0.921
Nelson Cruz    407   442  0.921
So Trout was the best player in the American League offensively, and when you add in his defensive contributions (which BPO ignores) he was the MVP. Betts was a defensive stud but his 49 walks really damaged his BPO.

Over in the NL, the story is a bit different:
Player           Bases  Outs  BPO
Joey Votto        435   400  1.088
Freddie Freeman   445   429  1.037
Daniel Murphy     372   362  1.028
Paul Goldschmidt  440   434  1.014
Kris Bryant       438   438  1.000
Would you look at that! Joey Votto was the best player offensively, while MVP Bryant was 5th with a BPO of exactly 1.000. So does that mean Votto was robbed? Of course not. First, Bryant was on a division champion, but more importantly, he was strong on defense too. Of those five players, only Bryant had a positive Defensive WAR (0.79) while Votto was a league-worst -2.43.

So it looks like the voters got it right this year, but in looking at the candidates, it was a pretty easy choice for both.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why Rick Porcello Deserved the Cy Young Award

The announcement yesterday that Rick Porcello had won the AL Cy Young Award was immediately met with derision from the lovely Kate Upton, fiancée of second-place finisher Justin Verlander. Verlander received more first-place votes but was left off of two ballots and Porcello won the overall count by a 137-132 score (voters can choose 5 pitchers with points awarded on a 7-4-3-2-1 basis). So if those two writers had given Verlander third place votes or better, he would have won.

Porcello does sport a gaudy 22-4 record, helped by the best run support in the league, while Verlander was squarely at 16-9. Of course, Porcello's Red Sox also made the playoffs, while Verlander's Tigers did not. No doubt these differences influenced the voters, but wins, losses, and overall team success are a function of much more than just the pitcher, as most baseball fans are aware. So was Verlander robbed? Are his stats that much better than Porcello’s?

My go-to statistic in this situation is Bases per Out because that is essentially what pitchers can control. Before any sabermetricians raise objections, I do appreciate the concepts of FIP and BABIP but want to keep this analysis simple, and BPO is just that. For pitchers, the formula takes the total number of bases given up (TB+BB+HBP+WP+BK+SB+SAC+SF) and divides by the number of outs recorded (IP*3). Note that strikeouts are not given any additional value here other than the out achieved, which hurts Verlander who led the league with 254 (Porcello had 189). Taking all qualifiers in the AL, here are the top 7 in BPO:
Pitcher          Outs Bases BPO
Rick Porcello    669  368   0.550
Corey Kluber     645  363   0.563
Chris Sale       680  388   0.571
Aaron Sanchez    576  329   0.571
Justin Verlander 683  391   0.572
Masahiro Tanaka  599  343   0.573
J.A. Happ        585  351   0.600
So there you have it. Porcello was actually the best pitcher in the league by BPO, giving up just 0.55 bases per out. Verlander was fifth. Sorry Kate, but the voters (surprisingly) got it right.

You will note that I used the term qualifier. That means a hurler who averaged at least 1 inning pitched per game, or 162 IP over the season. This eliminates relievers, particularly Baltimore's Zach Britton, who had an unbelievable season, giving up 68 bases in 67 innings pitched (for a BPO of 0.338). Personally, I don’t believe relievers should be eligible for the Cy Young Award; they already have their own trophy. Yes, Britton was incredible, but he pitched just a third of the innings of the top starters. Why not include pitchers that pitched 50 innings, or 40 or 30 or 1? It is a lot easier to be dominant when you know you only have one inning to get through. Starters and relievers have different assignments and I think the Cy Young should only be awarded to starters.

So in conclusion, Rick Porcello was a worthy winner of the 2016 American League Cy Young Award. Frankly, any of the top 5 would have been an acceptable choice, but it is good to know that the voters did not make a huge mistake as many assume. At least in the AL. In the NL however, Kyle Hendricks was robbed. His BPO was 0.519, while Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was 6th in the league at 0.564. So if anyone should be upset, it should be Hendricks' fiancée Emma Cain.

I'll look at the MVP awards tomorrow.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Maine Black Bears 27 at Stony Brook Seawolves 21 (NCAA Football, CAA) - November 12, 2016

College football in the New York City area is relatively rare. Only three schools within city limits compete in the sport (Fordham, Columbia, Wagner) and I’ve been to all of them, so now I have to look farther afield to add to my collegiate gridiron count, which began the weekend at a paltry 12.

The next closest school with a football team is Stony Brook on Long Island. I’ve already been there for a couple of basketball games, but in those cases I used the Long Island Railroad, which limited my ability to see more of the area. This time, I decided to rent a car for the long weekend which gave my wife and I the opportunity to see the Hamptons on Friday and Sunday.

Saturday however was for football. After a stop at the Long Island Museum and its collection of horse-drawn carriages (more intriguing than expected) we headed over to the Stony Brook campus, where parking is free off Circle Road on the other side of the LIRR station.

From there, it is a short walk to Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, home of the Seawolves. Fellow sports fans Gary, Eddie, Jeremy and Michelle joined us on this day; while we were waiting for them, the visiting Maine Black Bears made their way to the field from the locker room (above).

The stadium was opened in 2002 and named for a New York state senator who helped acquire financing for its construction. The east side of the stadium has a second level which is in the sun for much of the game, a benefit on a chilly afternoon (above). Some seats here are box seats, while others are GA benches. The opposite side has about 10 rows of benches from end zone to end zone and is behind the visiting bench (below), while the south side has two levels as well that are shaded for the whole game.

Tickets are $12 and assign you to a section but no row or seat, i.e. general admission within the section, which is something I hadn’t seen before. There are actually ushers at every stairway checking tickets, even though there were plenty of empty seats.

Concessions are basic but affordable, with hot dogs going for $4. Of course, no beer is sold as this is a campus venue. We sat behind the Maine bench for the first half but moved to the upper level for the second half to enjoy the warmth of the sun. This also gave us a chance to watch the band’s halftime show, which included a vocal rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A” with one of the band members belting out the tune, something I had not seen before from a college band, which is usually limited to instrumentals.

Overall, LaValle is a basic football stadium that gets high points for affordability and ease of access, either via public transit or your car. There’s not much around the area, but Port Jefferson is just one stop away and has a number of waterfront restaurants. If you have a vehicle, you can find yourself in Hamptons wine country in under 30 minutes. Certainly worth a trip for anyone visiting New York and looking to attend a sporting event away from the city.

The Game

Stony Brook was hosting Maine on Senior Day in a Colonial Athletic Association battle (both schools are in the America East but that conference doesn’t sponsor football). Each was 4-2 in conference and 5-4 overall, but the Seawolves had lost starting QB Joe Carbone the previous week, so Pat Irwin made his first career start. He couldn’t do much, completing only 1 pass in the first half, while Maine was able to score on a couple of long drives and also had a fumble return touchdown. A conversion was missed so the Black Bears had a 21-0 lead at the break.

Early in the third quarter, Maine QB Dan Collins found freshman Josh Mack on a short pass and Mack rumbled 21 yards to make it 27-0. It sure looked like the game was over, but Stony Brook rallied as Irwin finally found his rhythm, leading the offense down the field on a couple of big passes. Donald Liotine score on a 1-yard run to break the shutout and give the home fans something to cheer about. On Maine’s next possession, Collins was picked off by Travon Reid-Segure who jogged into the end zone and suddenly Maine looked worried. When Liotine scored on a 50-yard run early in the fourth, it brought the Seawolves to within 6 points. But their last two drives saw them play like they had in the first half and they never threatened again as Maine won 27-21, eliminating Stony Brook from playoff contention.

Mack was the star of the game with 157 yards on the ground, 28 yards receiving, and 2 touchdowns.


We visited Montauk on Sunday and enjoyed some time at Montauk Point, the easternmost point of Long Island. The lighthouse is the prime attraction, but there is a beach below that is easily accessible.

Right next to this is Camp Hero, an abandoned base that is now a State Park and still has the remnants of a large radar, and several hiking trails on which you may find hidden entrances to the old base.

Finally, make sure to visit Montauk Brewing Company for some great craft beer. All in all, a weekend combination of eastern Long Island and a Stony Brook game is an excellent way to spend a fall weekend.