Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 49 at Gonzaga Bulldogs 95 (NCAA Basketball) - December 20, 2021

When planning this trip, I was initially thinking of returning to New York after Sunday's Leafs-Kraken game. But when I saw Gonzaga had a home tilt on Monday night, I started to reconsider. And when I found that I could get a very cheap mileage flight from Seattle to Spokane, and then a cheap overnight flight from Spokane to La Guardia (via O'Hare), I knew I had to add the Bulldogs to the trip. What I didn't know is that Gonzaga tickets are very, very, very hard to come by.

I arrived in snowy Spokane and rented a car, a necessity as I had a bag that would not be allowed into the venue. I parked a few blocks away at the corner of Sinto and Cincinnati and made my way to Logan Tavern, the side of which is decorated by the above mural. I figured I had a good chance of finding an extra ticket here.

So while having dinner, I talked to the clientele and asked the staff, but nobody had an extra. There was absolutely nothing on the secondary market either and I began to worry. Would I be shut out of my last game of the year? About an hour before the 6:00 tip, I walked a few blocks to the McCarthey Athletic Center and went to the box office, where I was told some chilling words: "We don't sell tickets". Chilling because now I had to stand out front in subzero temperatures begging for an extra. Fans were polite but unable to help. It took about 40 minutes but finally someone responded in the positive. I asked him how much he wanted and he inquired as to how much I was willing to pay. I lied and said $50 (I would have gone much higher) and he laughed and said he would charge me face value, a mere $25. I didn't argue.

We walked in together and he told me where the seat was. I had scant time to tour, so I hustled around taking pictures where I could. 

McCarthey Athletic Center was opened in 2004 and holds exactly 6,000 fans. And every one of those tickets is accounted for. So if you are planning to go, try to find a ticket in advance. 

It is nicknamed The Kennel and it replaced a venue with the same nickname, so to differentiate the two, this one is sometimes called The New Kennel. The old Kennel is the Charlotte Y. Martin Centre, which is still around and hosts women's volleyball.

There are two levels of seating separated by a railing along the sides. There is no upper level at the ends, and you are allowed to stand along the concourse there, which I did for much of the game.

All seats are blue plastic, though as you can see below, there is a difference between those in the lower rows. Note that not every seat has a cup holder in its armrest.

The shot below gives you an idea of the layout behind the baskets. There are specialty concession stands in each corner and The Carvery is the one you have to try. For $11 you get a turkey or roast beef sandwich on your choice of bread, plus a bag of chips. As you might expect from the name, a generous portion of meat is carved in front of you, and you can add horseradish and other condiments to make one of the best sandwiches you will get in all of sports. You can even add a souvenir soda for $3.75. I made sure to stand nearby as halftime approached and even though I was served just a couple of minutes into the break, I could not finish my sandwich by the time the second half started. 

If you prefer more typical concessions, there are plenty to be found along the concourses under the seats.

Of course, Gonzaga has had an amazing hoops history for a school outside of the power conferences, including two appearances in the national finals.

This history has been made possible by players such as Canadian Kelly Olynyk...

...and some guy named Stockton. There are several other displays around the concourse that honour all of the players that have contributed to the school's success, including many in the women's program.

The team's achievements are celebrated with banners above one end of the court. 

This is a very intimate venue, unheard of for a team that in recent years has been one of the top 5 in the nation. No wonder tickets are so scarce.

I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed this visit; there is really nothing like it. A big thanks to the gentleman who sold me his ticket for far less than I was willing to pay. 

This was hopefully the most difficult ticket of the 388 NCAA home hoops venues that I am chasing. Whatever the case, it will also be one of the most memorable. The game on the other hand...

The Game

Northern Arizona was in town and Gonzaga was favoured by 35 points. And even then, tickets were nearly impossible to get! Anyway, the Bulldogs stormed to a 10-2 lead with Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren (shooting below), Canadian Andrew Nembhard and Julian Strawther all scoring. But the Lumberjacks responded and when Jalen Cone completed a 4-point play, it was 16-15 Gonzaga. Upset brewing? No. The Bulldogs scored the next 7 points and dominated the rest of the half by a 32-15 score to end any suspense about the winner.

When Gonzaga's Hunter Sallis hit a three just before the midway point of the second half, it was 75-44 and the 35-point spread was in jeopardy. Even with their subs in, Gonzaga was far superior and the lead kept increasing, reaching 46 points with 2:29 remaining. And amazingly, that was how it ended, with nary a basket in those final 179 seconds. There were no stupid fouls or pointless timeouts as in the women's game I saw the day before; the game was decided and it played out without unnecessary delay.

College basketball does have its share of mismatches like this, but when trying to see 388 venues, I cannot be picky. Imagine how difficult a ticket is when the visitor is actually competitive.

Notes

The Lumberjacks were the first NCAA basketball home venue I ever visited, way back in 2008. I will never forget driving on campus in the dark, in the days before Google Maps, looking for the Walkup Skydome. In the end, the game was moved to Rolle Center, so I still need to return to Flagstaff as part of the quest for 388. That remains the only NCAA home visit that is not documented on the blog.

I saw Gonzaga beat Norfolk State 98-55 back in March, when they were favoured by 33 points.

I returned to Logan Tavern after the game and was told that two fans had extra tickets available just after I left. So I guess if you are in the same boat, leave your number at the bar.

Next Up

I have no idea. It is tough to plan when games are cancelled just minutes before. Once Omicron peaks here and people realize that the worst is over, I will start looking at possible NCAA basketball trips. 

In the meantime, the 2022 CFL schedule has been released, so I do have a June trip planned to Winnipeg and Regina to finally complete the circuit. Hoping that the Canadian government wises up by then.

Best,

Sean


Monday, December 20, 2021

Nevada Wolf Pack 71 vs Eastern Washington Eagles 60 (NCAA Women's Basketball, Husky Classic) - December 19, 2021

The postponement of the Leafs-Kraken game on Sunday left limited options in terms of sporting events in the Seattle area. There were two choices: a junior hockey game in Everett at 4:00 and a women's basketball game at the University of Washington at 2:00. As much as I would have liked to see both, it was not logistically possible without leaving the basketball early or arriving late at the hockey, neither of which I was willing to do. As Sharpy had to drive back to Vancouver immediately after and I am chasing NCAA hoops venues, we decided on the earlier event, which also happened to be just a few minutes away from our hotel on the 1 Line.

We arrived about 30 minutes before tip and had a quick look at Husky Stadium, with the Husky statue out front. Just a few feet away are statues of long-time head coaches Don James (below) and Jim Owens; it was nice to see the football team so honoured. But we were here to see basketball, so without further ado, we walked another few feet to reach Alaska Airlines Arena. 

This beautiful brick building opened in 1927 and was later named Hec Edmundson Pavilion in honour of the school's long-time basketball and track coach. Although the naming rights have been sold since 2000 (Bank of America had them for a decade before Alaska Airlines took over), the official name still includes Hec Edmundson Pavilion and most fans refer to it by this name, or Hec Ed for short.

Interestingly, the event we were here to see did not feature the Huskies at all. This was the middle game of the Husky Classic, a three-team tournament with Eastern Washington and Nevada also participating. The lady Huskies had beaten EWU the day before, and would play Nevada on Monday, but this game featured the two guest schools. As an aside, the word classic is overused in sports; there was nothing classic about this tournament, featuring teams ranked 105, 202, and 309 in the nation.

Without the home Huskies playing, this was not a popular contest, but even then tickets were $15. Sharpy and I forked over the cash (or credit card as the venue is cashless) and entered to an empty concourse. It is quite the contrast with the new carpeting inside such an old venue.

A quick tour revealed a logo very similar to that of the reigning Grey Cup champions. I guess there are only so many ways to stylize the letter W.

More advertising. I am not sure what "Bow down. Rise above" means.

There are a few seemingly random Hall of Fame classes along one wall, with pictures of Husky Stadium from past years below that. It seems like they don't induct a new class every year, so these were the most recent. It is interesting to see future pros like Mark Brunell and Nate Robinson next to those who were successful at the college level but were unable to turn pro because their sport provides limited opportunities to do so.

There is also a museum, but it was closed on this day. Inside, you can see the 1991 National Championship Trophy in the foreground; the Huskies were split winners with Miami that year.

We continued around the concourse and were happy to find the concession stand below. As this would be the last game we would see together in some time, we decided to have one final beer. From what I could tell, we were the only ones to do so.

Inside, the seating bowl is typical for basketball, with two levels and four sides, though there are corner seats on the upper level. On one side of the lower level are benches, which are presumably for the students when the Huskies are playing; the other side is chairbacks. It was general admission and we sat close, though not courtside lest an errant pass spill our beer.

The upper deck is a mixture, with seven rows of chairbacks, then five rows of wooden benches. Above that are plastic benches. It is an unusual setup that I have not seen elsewhere, and it does make for interesting photos. Note the stats board hanging in the picture below, another rarity to have it in this location.

All of the bench seats in the upper level have cushions, even the very top row. In addition, this row has a very narrow path in front of the bench, making it a bit of a challenge to navigate. You cannot walk normally in front of the bench, you must sidle as if on a ledge. I can't imagine what this is like when it is sold out.

Here is the view from the top row. You can see the Seattle skyline on the court below. I appreciate these touches on the college courts, which are usually free of advertising. Purchasing the naming rights gets you around that restriction.

At the west end are six arched windows that are original to the building. They were painted over for years, but uncovered when the facility underwent a massive renovation in 1999. This renovation also removed 20 support pillars that had rendered many seats to be of the obstructed view variety. 

At the other end are the accomplishments of both the women's and men's teams that use Hec Ed. Men's basketball's best showing was in 1953 when they finished third, losing to Kansas in the semifinals and beating LSU in the third place game. The women made the Final Four in 2016, where they lost to Syracuse, who were then destroyed by UConn in what is the last title for those Huskies.

Overall, I was glad to get inside here and have an easy time of touring. Attendance was announced at 908 but as you can see, that was a slight exaggeration. I enjoy getting to see a venue when it is mostly empty and that was certainly the case here. And to be honest, the game wasn't that bad after all. At least until the end.

The Game

Nevada (Mountain West) were considered the visitors and fell behind to the Eagles (Big Sky) early, only to end the first quarter on a 9-1 run to take a 17-13 lead. The second quarter was almost identical, with the Wolf Pack taking it 16-13. 

Things reversed in the third quarter with EWU going on a 12-5 spurt to tie the game at 44, and we went to the final frame with the Eagles on top 49-48.

The one-point lead was still in place with 7 minutes to go when Nevada's Audrey Roden hit a trey and was fouled on the play. She made the charity shot, and when EWU missed a three, Roden came right back and hit a jumper. Another couple of misses by the Eagles were followed by Nevada's Da'Ja Hamilton sinking a two-pointer and the Wolf Pack lead was suddenly 7. Two minutes later, it was a 13-point bulge as EWU could not hit and Nevada could not miss. With time running out, it was obvious that the game was decided, but then something odd happened. In the final minute, three timeouts were called. Yes three! With 44 seconds left and down 10, EWU called time. Then with 15 ticks to go and up by 9, Nevada called time! Why? To make matters worse, coming out of the time out, EWU immediately fouled. Again, why? But wait, after Hamilton made the two free throws, the Eagles again signaled for a time out. Yes, down 11 with 13 seconds to go, the coach felt that something just had to be said. Is there an 11-point line I don't know about? Basketball is already overcoached, and women's hoops is mostly unwatchable (today's combined shooting stats: 40-115 (35%) and 11/42 (26%) from long range), so why make it even more so?

Anyway, Nevada prevailed 71-60 in a game that took about five minutes longer than it should have. Roden was the star with 18 points on 6-11 shooting, including 4-6 from beyond the arc and it was her four-point play that was the turning point. Her mother was sitting in front of us and rightfully proud. 

Notes

This was the first neutral-site women's basketball game I have ever seen, and very likely the last. I hope to be back to see the men play as this visit doesn't count on my list of 388 active NCAA hoops home venues.

There was an interesting connection between all three schools: Nevada's Nia Alexander has a sister Alliyah who plays for Eastern Washington (though she wasn't dressed); their mother Dianne starred for Washington in the early 1990s and of course, she was in the crowd.

Washington won the tournament by beating Nevada 58-42 on Monday afternoon, so the teams finished in their expected order.

Best,

Sean


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Edmonton Oilers 5 at Seattle Kraken 3 - December 18, 2021

The purpose of this west coast trip was to see the Maple Leafs in Vancouver and Seattle, the two NHL rinks where I had yet to see them play. When my friend Sharpy decided to join, it made planning a bit tricky, as we both had to avoid certain COVID test requirements. The best solution was for me to fly from Seattle to Vancouver on Saturday and then drive back to Seattle after the game with Sharpy, who would then take the rental car back to Canada. It was a brilliant plan, but as we found out, not resistant to the NHL's special brand of Covidiocy. 

I awoke early on Saturday and made my way to a chaotic SeaTac airport, where I had to check in at the counter, as it is the airline's responsibility to confirm that passengers meet Canada's entry rules. At this time, the Leafs still had two players in the COVID protocol and it looked like the game would be played. Two hours later I was in Vancouver and getting more hopeful. Then Sharpy arrived from Ottawa and told me that two more Leafs had entered the protocol. Oh-oh. After getting the car, we drove to Flying Beaver, a brewpub right on the Fraser River that is well worth a visit, especially if you like seaplanes. While having lunch with a friend, the news broke that both Leaf games that weekend were postponed. So it was time for Plan B. The Kraken were to face the Oilers that night and so rather than head into Vancouver, we immediately turned south and crossed the border. I spent all of five hours in Canada and actually did not set foot in Vancouver itself. 

Arriving on the outskirts of Seattle after a couple of hours in some heavy rain, we hit the traffic that defines this part of I-5. As we slowed, I noticed a train station next to a hotel just off the highway.  A quick search showed that the train station is Northgate, the newly opened northern terminus of the 1 Line, Seattle's light rail system that goes through downtown and all the way to the airport. This was ideal for our weekend needs, so we booked a room and relaxed for a bit after a hectic few hours. 

We then took the 1 Line to Westlake, from where you can ride the Monorail to Seattle Center, home of Climate Pledge Arena. We walked instead, stopping at Uptown Hophouse for a light meal and a couple of beers. Of course, there was the constant worry that this game would be postponed too but by 6:00, it was clear that it would go on. So we crossed the street and made our way to Climate Pledge Arena, the venue that changed Club 123 to Club 124. 

Vaccination credentials are checked and you walk through security without taking things out of your pockets, a welcome change. We entered via the Alaska Airlines Atrium, which brings you to the upper concourse, something you don't see that often. 

Despite being a new venue in Club 124, Climate Pledge Arena is not new itself. It was first opened in 1962 for Seattle's World's Fair, making it the oldest building in the NHL. The Seattle SuperSonics played here until they left for OKC in 2008, and the WHL's Thunderbirds used it until they moved to Kent in the same year. I had seen both teams here, so it was not even a new venue for me. Of course, it has undergone extensive renovations since then, with only the roof and building structure remaining.

It is tough to see the roof at night, but I did snap a picture of it while landing in Seattle the day before. The arena is just behind the Space Needle. The other venue in the picture is Memorial Stadium.

I'm not going to talk about the arena in much detail; after the day we had, I just wanted to sit and watch the game. I did take a brief tour and snapped a few photos. The concourses are very white, but not your typical setup, which allowed for ease of movement in most places.

The team store is huge, and you can look down into it from the upper level.

The venue has a relatively small footprint that results in the upper deck being relatively close to the ice, particularly behind the nets.

Double-digit sections denote the lower bowl, with the 100 level up top behind the nets (called Mount Baker Hall at one end) and the first few rows along the sides (known as loge seats), with the 200 level above that on the sides and one end. It is quite similar to Prudential Center in New Jersey in that regard.

There are twin, triangular scoreboards at either end, another unique touch.

The shot below is from a rail in the upper deck, not a bad view at all. 

A closer look at the scoreboard.

Looking back at the 100 level seats with the 200 level above and the suites below.

At one end of the arena is a small stand where entertainment takes place, similar to what happens at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas.

There is one very cool bar on the upper concourse that is designed to resemble a Kraken, the sea monster of legend for which the team was named.

The shot below is from the top rows of the upper deck; now you are getting rather far away and the scoreboards are blocked too.

As game time approached, I returned to my seat, which was in Section 12, right next to the club (view below). Like so many new arenas, all seats between the face-off circles are reserved for the clubs; in this case three sections on either side. The premium to sit here is rarely worth it.

After the game, I wandered in to take a couple of pictures. Yes, the seats are very nice.

Below is the actual WaFd Bank Club area that covers Sections 13 through 15, the other side is the Symetra Club that comprises Sections 01, 02, and 26. There are also suites right next to the ice that are called Tunnel Club Suites. 

Returning to my seat, the shot below is looking back up at the entertainment area, easily visible due to the bright green railings.



There are a couple of banners; including one for a Stanley Cup that the team did not earn. Much like the Senators, who have several such banners, this team will not win a Cup until the banner comes down, no matter how cool it is.


Amazon bought the naming rights but chose to call it Climate Pledge in order to call for action on climate change. Maybe having people reduce the amount of online ordering would be a first step? 


There is a long corridor with some green that somehow signifies the danger facing the planet and all of the steps that are being taken to reduce the impact of our species. I suspect that not a single fan changed their behaviour one bit after visiting here.


Other than the hypocritical political message, this is an extremely impressive venue. The renovation of a building that is 60 years old shows that there is no need to construct new stadiums when you have the foundations of one already in place. The Blue Jays recently toyed with the idea of building a new ballpark, but decided instead to renovate Rogers Centre. I doubt they will be able to accomplish as much as they did here, but it gives me something to look forward to. 

The Game


The Oilers were visiting and it was a battle of the backups with Stuart Skinner in net for Edmonton, while Chris Driedger (below) manned the pipes for Seattle. The Kraken got out to an early lead when Skinner let a Ryan Donato shot sneak under his arm, and then Jared McCann doubled the lead just 9 minutes in. But Edmonton got one back when Evan Bouchard drilled a point shot past Driedger, and they tied it up on the power play as Warren Foegele slammed home a juicy rebound. It was an exciting period of hockey, but Edmonton outshot Seattle 20-7, a sign that things were not as close as they appeared.


The second period saw Skinner make a spectacular save midway through, and that seemed to energize the Oilers, who used some great forechecking to get the puck to Colton Sceviour, who backhanded it past a helpless Driedger. But Seattle got that back late in the frame when Carson Soucy (#28 below) scored on a long rebound off the post.


The Oilers had yet to lose in overtime and I had hope that we might get an extra period, but then controversy reared its ugly head. A point shot from Bouchard bounced off Driedger and hit Foegele (#37 above) in the face shield, where it then caromed over Driedger's shoulder and into the net. At the same time, Kraken captain Mark Giordano pushed Foegele into Driedger and it was ruled no goal. But a review showed that the puck was already behind Driedger and furthermore, Foegele was obviously pushed, so the call on the ice was reversed and Edmonton had the lead again. Seattle couldn't get anything going, mustering only 3 shots in the period (and 17 all game) and Connor McDavid added an empty net tally to make the final 5-3.


This was a fun game to watch and a lot more relaxing than attending a Leafs tilt. Of course, I will have to revisit here at some point to see the Leafs play, whether later this season if that game is rescheduled or in a future season. But for now, I am still in Club 124, which looks to have no new venues until at least 2024 if not later. 

Notes

This was the 51st venue at which I saw an NHL game, including overseas and outdoor games. 

Best,

Sean