Sunday, December 31, 2017

Manhattan College Hoops Doubleheader (without Manhattan)

A few days ago, I ran into an English couple who are honeymooning in America for the next 3 months. They said that they are interested in sport, so I told them about some options in NYC over the next few days. There does happen to be a lot of college basketball on the final weekend of the year, and I suggested a Columbia Lions game as the most convenient. With the 1 train skipping all stops between 96th and 157th, we took the M5 bus up Riverside Drive, a much quieter and more scenic option. Upon arriving, we picked up our tickets and entered Levien Gymnasium, at the corner of 120th and Broadway.

With most students away for the holidays, the gym was only about half full, with the majority sitting on the east side as usual. The Maine Black Bears were the visitors and they were thoroughly outmatched, as Columbia took a 46-27 lead at halftime and won handily 83-71, with the score made respectable by the Lions resting their starters for the last few minutes. The game moved quickly although there were 38 total fouls, and it was a good introduction to mid-major college hoops for my friends.

After saying goodbye as they headed downtown for some touring, I continued on to the second stop of the afternoon: a Division III basketball game at Hunter College Sportsplex. This gym is located in Hunter College at the corner of Lexington and 68th, right where the 6 train stops. Just walk in, tell security where you are going, and take the escalator down two flights and there you are - an actual NCAA venue in central Manhattan.

On this day however, it was not Hunter College who was playing, but the NYU Violets, who also call this their home gym. As their hockey games are free, I expected the same for basketball, but in fact they charge $5. However, you get an excellent hard ticket and there was a doubleheader, so it is well worth the price. Amazing that a small school like this can print out special tickets for this day only but the Atlanta Falcons can't.

Note the UAA logo at the top; this is for the University Athletic Association to which NYU athletics belongs. Hunter College plays out of the City University of New York (CUNY) conference, which consists of 9 schools around NYC and will provide me with more venue opportunities in the new year, as my long-distance travel will be curtailed.

On this day, the south bleachers were folded in, so the 266 in attendance got cozy on the north side.

There are banners on one wall, but they are for the Hunter College Hawks. I'll probably stop by once to see them too, though it won't count as a new venue.

Penn State Altoona were the visitors, and they were the better team early, taking a nine-point lead into halftime. Or so we thought. As NYU was dribbling out the half, the whistle blew as the buzzer sounded. Travelling was called and the Lions had 0.9 seconds given back to score a miracle trey, which is exactly what they did. Aubrey Washington took the inbounds pass, turned, and launched a prayer that found nothing but net to make it 47-35 at the break. The advantage remained in double digits through much of the second half but down 13 with 8:45 to go, NYU went on an 11-2 run to make it close, and then chipped away, tying the game at 77 when Ross Udine missed two free throws, grabbed his own rebound, and heaved an unlikely three pointer with just under a minute to go. Unfortunately, a NYU foul on a PSA rebound gave the visitors a couple of free throws, which they made, and after Udine missed a layup, a necessary foul led to the final two points as Penn State Altoona won 81-77.

For me, it was quite interesting to see mid-major and Division III hoops in quick succession. There is no doubt that Division I is more polished (24 turnovers compared to 39 and several pretty plays) while this game had far fewer set plays and more running and gunning, but it was also more entertaining. If you enjoy live sport of any variety, have a look at the lower divisions in NCAA, and you might be pleasantly surprised.


Manhattan College also had a game on this day, a 7:00 start up at Draddy Gymnasium in the Bronx. Too far to make it a Manhattan tripleheader unfortunately.

The Hunter College Sportsplex was venue #768 lifetime. I've updated my venue count so it is broken down by sport, and this was basketball court #138, one more than the number of hockey rinks. My claim to being a Canadian has taken a hit, though as Sharpy points out, basketball was invented by a Canadian, so I need not worry.

Happy New Year to all my readers!


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saint Peter's Peacocks 61 at Seton Hall Pirates 84 (NCAA Basketball) - December 12, 2017

Regular readers know that I am much more concerned about seeing new venues than games. Having visited pretty much every meaningful stadium in the New York area, it is tough to find something that excites me. The renovated Nassau Coliseum recently reopened and I'll have to head out there for a Long Island Nets game sometime, and NJIT has a new basketball court that I will check out this season, but these are not particularly compelling venues. But as I scoured the schedules for December, I was surprised to see that Seton Hall would be playing a rare game at their campus court, Walsh Gymnasium. I saw the Pirates play at their regular home, the Prudential Center, back in 2013 on a visit to NYC, but had never even heard of Walsh until I saw this game on the calendar. Tickets were available via the Seton Hall Box Office, so I phoned up and was happy to find them still available. At $40, it was not cheap, but as this was the only chance I could see the venue, I splurged.

After work on Tuesday, I grabbed a NJ Transit train to South Orange and then walked the mile or so to the gym. The McNulty Pedestrian entrance on South Orange Avenue is locked 24/7, a fact of which I was not aware until I arrived. Fortunately, someone was leaving and I was able to enter that way; better to use the Ward Place gate both coming and going.

The gym is located next to the Richie Regan Recreation and Athletic Center at the southeast corner of campus. It was built in 1941 and still stands separately, but there is a single entrance that leads to a lobby that serves both facilities. Go up a small set of stairs on the left to reach the historical displays that mark the entrance to Walsh.

Seton Hall athletics has a long and storied history, mostly in basketball but also in other sports. That's baseball Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio in the center above; he played here during the mid-1980s along with Mo Vaughn and John Valentin. Note the interactive television screens along the bottom; something you only see in newer big league venues. Very impressive!

Basketball has had its share of stars as well, with all-time leading scorer Terry Dehere, who finished his NBA career with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1999, noted prominently.

The basketball team had one remarkable run to the NCAA tournament final in 1989, losing to Michigan in overtime. That trophy is on the top right above; the others are more recent Big East titles in women's golf, men's hoops, and men's swimming and diving.

The team did win the 1953 NIT with a 31-2 record, back when it was considered the preeminent postseason tournament, but they were not the national champions.

I particularly enjoyed the poster from a football game in 1966, when I was two months old. In the NHL that day, the Leafs and Bruins tied at 3 while the Habs shutout the Rangers 3-0.

There are several other historical touches, such as the scoring wheel that looks like an old LP above. Although the men's team plays here only once or twice per season, women's hoops and volleyball use the gym exclusively and it is worth a visit to either of those to see everything that is on display.

There are two small concessions stands in the lobby by the downstairs entrances with limited offerings at cheap prices. Above each are black and white murals that probably escape the attention of most fans, but are worth noting, as I am sure these are original to the building's construction.

As you can see above, there are two levels of seating. The lower level is accessed through entrances next to the historical displays, and seemed reserved for students mostly, while you have to walk up a set of staircases to reach the balcony. Here you will find 7 rows of old wooden seats that might also date from the buildings construction. Capacity is only 1,655, which explains why the team plays mostly in Newark.

When I bought my ticket, I didn't bother to ask for a specific location and was given a seat in the section farthest to the left, which wasn't ideal (below).

The walkway above the seats is open for standing, though the pillars that hold up the press box and camera positions block some of the court from certain spots, but I found an open space and stayed there for the entire game (below).

At the left of the photo above you see a large glass enclosure that is the equivalent of suites from what I can tell, while the far right is a stage, as Walsh is used for other functions, including graduations.

I was really happy to get to see a game here as chances are so few. Check out Seton Hall's 2018-19 schedule when it is released next summer and mark your calendar for the Walsh Gymnasium game, you won't regret it.

The Game

Seton Hall came in ranked 15th in the nation, their highest since 2001, while Saint Peter's was 269th of 351 teams in the RPI, having returned only a single player from their CIT championship squad. So a blowout was anticipated and that is exactly what happened. The Pirates scored the first 8 points and had a 21-6 lead midway through the first half before the Peacocks started to sink a few to enter halftime down 42-23. Seton Hall scored the first four points of the second half and from there, Saint Peter's played them evenly as the 23-point difference held to the end, with Seton Hall winning 84-61 in a game whose outcome was never in doubt.

Angel Delgado, last year's top rebounder in the nation, was the star with 18 points and 11 boards, his 57th career double-double, which leads Division I hoops.


This was venue #767 lifetime.

Seton Hall took their #15 ranking to Rutgers for their next game and were upset by the Scarlet Knights.



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Stony Brook Seawolves 6 at NYU Violets 2 (ACHA Hockey) - December 8, 2017

When it comes to college sports, most of what is covered is varsity sport, which is overseen by the NCAA and generally means that the players receive scholarships to play. But there is another level below that, known as club sports, where students try out for a university team after they have been accepted to the school based on academics. Most club sports receive no coverage, but they are still well organized, none more so than club hockey, which is governed by the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). There are three men's divisions with over 400 teams and two women's divisions comprising 64 clubs in the ACHA. Rankings are released and there is a national champion crowned at each level every year. I saw an ACHA game in Tucson, Arizona back on my NFL Road Trip in 2013; since then the Arizona State Sun Devils have transferred to NCAA Division I hockey, so it is possible for clubs to make that jump.

Within Division I of the ACHA, there are 57 schools in 7 conferences. Of these, only the New York University Violets play close to home, taking the ice at Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan. A friend attends games here regularly and had invited me in the past, but I hadn't found the time to join him until this past Friday.

Chelsea Piers is now a sports and entertainment complex boasting movie studios, a bowling alley, a driving range, and the only 2 skating rinks open 365 days a year in NYC. But back in the day, it was a passenger ship terminal and was actually the destination of the Titanic. Some of this history is preserved on photos on the walls leading to the rinks.

Getting here is easy: you can walk the three big blocks from the 23rd Street stop on the C and E lines, or take the M23 bus which terminates right in front of the complex. Follow the signs to the Sky Rinks, and it will be obvious which one is hosting the Violets.

Between the two rinks is a small sitting area where you can warm up during the intermissions (above). You can find a small concession stand here offering slices for $3.50 and a few other options, while $2 bottles of soda can be found in vending machines just inside the entrance to the rink itself.

There are about seven rows of benches stretched along one side of the ice, mostly protected by netting. There are no tickets here, just walk right in, sit right down, and enjoy some hockey. The quality of play is not spectacular, but the players are competent and the game moves quickly.

On this night, the Stony Brook Seawolves were visiting in an Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League matchup, the first of a home-and-home set. Stony Brook was ranked #11 at 14-3-1, while NYU was unranked at 8-6-2. The visitors opened the scoring at 5:07, but NYU tied it just 11 seconds later, only for Stony Brook to regain the lead 14 seconds after that. That's 3 goals in 25 seconds for those who are counting. NYU tied it again near the end of the frame, and the second was scoreless until the last couple of minutes when Brendan Calello notched his second of the night on the power play to make it 3-2 Seawolves. Stony Brook's Devon Palmieri (brother of New Jersey Devil Kyle) added a pair of shorthanded markers early in the third and an empty netter late made the final 6-2 Seawolves.


Stony Brook completed the sweep with a 4-0 win on Saturday.

This was lifetime venue 766.

Next Up

I'll be adding venue 767 this Tuesday when the nationally ranked Seton Hall Pirates make a rare appearance at their campus gym. Check back for a recap later this week.



Sunday, November 26, 2017

Michigan State Spartans 40 at Rutgers Scarlet Knights 7 (NCAA Football, Big Ten) - November 25, 2017

I was originally hoping to get to the Grey Cup in Ottawa this past weekend, but circumstances did not permit. Rather than mope around at home though, I found an event a bit closer that allowed me to add a new venue and see some old friends. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights were hosting Michigan State at High Point Solutions Stadium and I joined my friends Mike and Gary from Royalty Tours along with Sabre Mike Carroll for the afternoon. After taking a NJ Transit train from Penn Station to New Brunswick, we walked along College Avenue, stopping at a local pizza joint before boarding a shuttle bus. Along the way, we saw a knight with a scarlet shield that made for a great photo opportunity. Sabre Mike on the left is sporting an Ottawa Champions cap, apparently in my honour.

The shuttle bus leaves from in front of Student Center (other buses leave straight from New Brunswick Station if you don't want to walk) and takes about 10 minutes to reach the stadium. You are dropped off on the other side of River Road, which allows you to take a photo of the south entrance from a distance.

You can enter here, or walk to the left up a fairly steep path to get to the west entrance. This is where you will see the main bragging point of Rutgers, namely that it is the Birthplace of College Football. The first intercollegiate football game was played on November 6, 1869 at College Field at Rutgers (now a gymnasium and parking lot), with the home team beating Princeton 6-4.

Despite this historical claim, Rutgers football has not been very successful in the last century. In 2006, they were ranked 7th on their way to an 11-2 season, but they moved to the Big Ten in 2014, and are now pretty much an afterthought in college football. Still, they have had a few big wins, and those are commemorated with posters hiding the ramps to the upper level.

Keep walking around to the north end for the box office. There are plenty of scalpers but if you wait, you should be able to get in for free as long as the opponent is not Ohio State or Michigan.

Every entrance is different; the north entrance (Gate C) is sponsored by a local health provider. Yes, in America, health providers are in competition.

Before entering, I returned to the west entrance and shortly thereafter the band passed by. They stopped right in front of us and played a quick tune.

They were followed by the Scarlet Knight on his (or her) horse.

With the outside ceremonies complete, I went in to take my tour.

High Point Solutions Stadium was opened in 1994 and originally called Rutgers Stadium before the naming rights were sold to a local business technology concern in 2011.

Capacity was 41,500 until a 2009 renovation added just over 11,000 seats in the south end zone, pictured below with the scoreboard above. All the seats are benches, though those in the middle sections of the lower bowl (in red below) have backs.

The view below is from the north end zone, with the sun setting to the west. The game was a 4 p.m. start, which was rather odd for this mostly meaningless affair.

The upper deck should be avoided, particularly under the lights as pigeons or seagulls roost there during the week and the benches below are completely covered in bird poop.

Below is a panorama shot from the top of the upper deck on the east side of the stadium.

Below is the southeast corner, with the Busch Practice Bubble in the distance.

A few steps to the left and you are looking directly north, with a small party area taking up a portion of the seating bowl. It is impossible to tell from the photo, but the far wall holds plaques for all the Rutgers bowl games.

The concourse back here is quite wide, with the flags of all the Big Ten teams on poles attached to the wall.

A different view of the scoreboard and the small party area is below.

Overall, HPSS is a decent venue that suffered on this day from a terrible game and poor attendance. Should Rutgers ever become good again and the crowds return to support them, the stadium would be a much better place to visit.

The Game

Michigan State came in ranked 16th in the College Football Playoff at 8-3, while Rutgers was 4-7. A blowout was expected and that is exactly what happened. Rutgers won the toss, elected to defer, and the Spartans immediately marched down the field, scoring a touchdown when Brian Lewerke hit Connor Heyward with a 7-yard pass. On Rutgers first play from scrimmage, Gus Edwards fumbled and MSU recovered on the Rutgers 8. The Scarlet Knights defense held the Spartans to a field goal, but on their following possession, their offense gained no yards and punted. Again Michigan State drove, and again they were held to three points. It looked like the blowout was starting early, but Rutgers scored an improbable 42-yard pass-and-run touchdown early in the second quarter to make it 13-7, and give the home fans something to cheer about.

But that was all they could muster. Michigan State added a field goal in the second quarter to go into halftime up 16-7. During the break, I went down to meet a friend sitting low at midfield and stayed for the first couple of series of the third quarter, where I took the picture above. The Spartans added yet another field goal during that time to make it 19-7 at the end of three. Even though the blowout had yet to appear, many fans had seen enough and hightailed it for home, as you can see in the photo below, taken early in the fourth quarter.

They were the smart ones, as the Spartans blew the game open with three touchdowns in the final frame to win 40-7. I stayed until the end so I could capture the final score.

Rutgers had only five first downs in the game and held the ball for just 12:10, while MSU went 13-21 on third down conversions. I could go on, but suffice to say that this was not the most exciting football game I have ever seen.


The two mascots are quite similar, though the Rutgers one is smiling for some reason, while Sparty is grumpy. Given the result, their expressions should be reversed.

After the Rutgers touchdown, a lady in the row in front of us started tossing homemade cookies to everyone around. According to a season-ticket holder, this happens every game. Sit near the back of Section 107 and hope for a Rutgers score if you want a free cookie or two.