Monday, March 6, 2023

Coachella Valley Firebirds 5 at San Jose Barracuda 4 (AHL) - March 4, 2023

After angrily leaving UC Davis, I drove back to San Jose. Despite an incredible amount of traffic, it moved quickly, and I arrived at the parking lot next to Tech CU Arena at 5:30. Fellow sports traveler Tike is a season ticket holder and was kind enough to give me one of his tickets and paid for the parking as well. If you are not so fortunate, you can pay for parking through an app after you drive in, or look for free street parking nearby.

Tech CU Arena is an addition to Sharks Ice San Jose, a community rink that is now the largest ice facility in the United States. It also has what might be the largest ICE mural as you can see above. There are six ice sheets here, with one of them hosting the San Jose Barracuda, who had played at the SAP Center from their beginnings in 2015 until last season. Now that they have their own venue, nicknamed The Reef, there has been a slight increase in attendance, from 1,789 last season to 2,070, which is still worst in the 32-team circuit. (Last year, Stockton was the only team with a lower average attendance and they moved to Calgary.) The complex is located right next to the San Jose Giants stadium so in April and May, two-sport doubleheaders are possible.

The rink is much smaller than the other two I visited on this trip, as those are multi-purpose venues that host concerts and other events. There is a lower bowl and a small upper bowl with just a couple of rows of seats around which a concourse runs. The upper deck also has several drink rails that are ticketed seats, but as many of them are unoccupied, you can sit there if you prefer some space. Though with capacity of 4,200, you won't have much trouble finding somewhere to watch the action.

There are suites in the upper level, so you cannot complete a circuit on that upper concourse. There is a somewhat secret bar in the far corner of the picture above that requires use of an elevator to access. Known as Calder's Bar and Refuge, it overlooks two of the community rinks. It is named after the AHL championship trophy (there is another bar on site known as Stanley's that overlooks the other rinks) and drinks here are cheaper than those in the arena itself, with a solid pint going for $8. Make sure to keep the aluminum cup as a souvenir for your freezer for when you might want a cold beer.

The Barracuda have one lonely banner from their Pacific Division title in 2017; they lost in the Conference Finals to eventual champions Grand Rapids.

The mascot is Frenzy, who tries his best to get the crowd into one, though again, it is tough with the place half-full.

Overall, Tech CU Arena is a simple AHL venue as you would expect when the parent club plays nearby. With so many other teams in the Bay Area, the Barracuda will always have trouble attracting fans, which is a shame because AHL hockey can be highly entertaining, as I found out on this night. 

The Game

The Coachella Valley Firebirds were the visitors, coming in with a league-best points percentage, while the Barracuda were far behind, lying 8th in the ten-team Pacific. Chris Driedger started for the visitors, while Strauss Mann was in net for San Jose, who were sporting their black Cuda uniforms.

Kole Lind (Vancouver's 2nd-round pick in 2017) started things off for the Firebirds completing a nifty passing play, but Cuda captain Andrew Agozzino (below after warmups) tied things up on the power play with a shot from in close. Agozzino has some NHL experience and his last NHL goal came three years ago to the day for Anaheim; my cousin's kid Brendan Guhle scored the next goal for Anaheim in that game. Anyway, Ozzy Wiesblatt gave San Jose the lead just 13 seconds later, but late in the period, Coachella Valley scored two in less than a minute, including a power play marker from Jeremy McKenna who I saw in Moncton in 2019. It was a hectic 20 minutes with San Jose winning the shot battle 16-13.

The second period saw the Barracuda blast Driedger with 19 shots, but only one found the back of the net as Jeffrey Viel tied the game at 3 on a beautiful shorthanded rush with just 31 seconds left.

Early in the third, Martin Kaut (Colorado's 1st-round pick in 2018 who was acquired by San Jose in January) gave the home team another lead, but again, the losing team fought back as Jimmy Schuldt beat Mann on a screen midway through. With less than three minutes remaining and overtime looming, the Firebirds rushed up the ice and trailer Tye Kartye got the puck in the slot and snapped a quick shot past Mann to make it 5-4, and that was the way it finished. 

San Jose outshot CV 41-38 in a fast-paced affair that saw four ties and four lead changes, one of the best games I've seen at this level. The AHL is not a true development league in the sense that the best players go straight to the NHL, but there is still a lot of talent at this level and some of the goals I saw were very impressive.


The only rink I have left to see in the AHL is Abbotsford Centre, home of the Canucks. I also have to see the Leafs at Rogers Arena and Climate Pledge Arena, so hoping that the schedule maker puts them close together next season with Abbotsford a day or two before or after. The Calgary Wranglers play in the Saddledome which I have seen for NHL (and WHL), so I don't need to see it for the AHL, as once you see a venue for a sport at one level, it counts for all levels below.

Next Up

With college basketball season ending and no new minor league ballparks opening this summer, I will be mostly hibernating over the next few months, with only a couple of trips to some independent league ballparks. Of course, other trips will arise in the meantime, so check back on occasion to see what I'm up to.



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