Saturday, May 17, 2014

Break from hiatus

Hockey wanderer is about to board a flight to PDX for a special soccer post. This does not construe any sort of commitment for a timely write up of the Portland Timbers experience, given my track record of procrastination. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No Bulls

The speculation was, sadly, true.
The San Francisco Bulls folded in mid-season. Couldn't even muster one last home game.
That's life in bush league hockey, I suppose. Too bad.
Of course, the ECHL is a dicey business proposition. Just ask the Fresno city council.
If you don't believe that, I have a large inflatable dog to sell you.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Not A Bull Market After All

Sad news that the San Francisco Bulls appear unlikely to make it through the season, at least not in San Francisco. I always wondered how they could make it financially at the Cow Palace and it appears the answer is they couldn't given its poor location and its ownership by a state agency about as responsive as the DMV
I kind of appreciated the decrepit nature of the Cow Palace, as it contributed to the Slap Shot-esque nature of the ECHL game that gave Bulls hockey its entertainment value, so there's something appropriate about the venture foundering on flaky underfinanced ownership.
Looks like there'll be another jersey for the Cow Palace memorabilia display.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Monsters of Ice

Nov. 8, 2013: Fresno, Calif.
Gateway Ice Center
San Diego Gulls 6, Fresno Monsters 5 (2OT)
My unplanned meandering through the lower levels of North American competitive hockey has already led me through Canadian Major Junior and Junior A and U.S. Tier II. At this point I ought to close the circle. That leaves Tier I and Tier III, but since I had a short weekend to work with the process of elimination led me to the Tier III Fresno Monsters of the Western States Hockey League.
Which may lead readers to the same question I asked myself -- what the heck is Tier III? A question I asked again after watching the Monsters play their season opener at what is basically a recreational ice rink without a grandstand.
How do they support a team that was able to play cohesive well-coached hockey, with trappings that include a mascot, without much capacity to sell tickets? Turns out the answer is simple -- the players pay to play.
I didn't figure that out until after the game, which is just as well as it might have clouded my thoughts to think that these kids' parents are paying so much to chase what for most will be an elusive dream of a college scholarship. Never mind the NHL.
It was the home opener for the Monsters who were riding high in the standings after several weeks of road games and they played a very disciplined game against the last-place Gulls.
But it was the Gulls that came out on top of the see-saw contest.
A couple things made a difference for the Gulls -- differences that highlight some of the factors that have these players in Tier III.
Number one -- goalkeeper Brody Cavataio played a terrific game for the Gulls. I almost said 'played over his head' but that wouldn't be nice because, well, he's not tall, a factor apt to limit his advancement despite his evident competitiveness, reflexes and positioning. Indeed, the Monsters potted their third goal over his shoulder.
X-factor two was the Gulls' massive Latvian defenseman Kalvis Ozols, who had come over from Europe less than three weeks prior. His uniform was lettered for a guy named Peterson.
Ozols was a man apart in a way I can't recall ever seeing in competitive hockey. He didn't really speak to his teammates on the ice, during warmups, or waiting for a whistle.
He basically had only one play: gather up the puck, storm up the ice, cross the blue line, and fire it - hard - at the Monsters' goal. And he was terrifically effective, with an assist and two goals, including the overtime game-winner. His raw speed and skill level -- despite basically not being able to integrate his play with his teammates -- was an indicator how far they would need to go to rise beyond Tier III.
Hockey Nights in Fresno: Recent years have been full of bad news about hockey in Fresno and it was far from clear the Monsters would get to play this season.
First Time Experience: Instead of a shootout, after the first overtime the game went to 3-on-3 second overtime. Thanks to Mr. Ozols, there was no need to find out what happens after that.
Nice Touch: The freshly built beer garden at one end of the rink.
My Wife Will Be Happy to Read This: There were no fights.
She Will Be Happy to Read This, Too: Moves are afoot to ban fighting in US junior hockey, according to this New York Times story with a dateline from Fresno of all places.
Odds & Ends: Fresno game report;box score.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bulls Update

Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013: Daly City, Calif.
The Cow Palace
Bakersfield Condors 4, San Francisco Bulls 2

A quick report on my recent return to the Cow Palace to see my second Bulls game:

Things that haven't changed:
- Too much loud music as a substitute for actual fan involvement
- PA announcer still out of sync sometimes
- Food still ghastly and overpriced

What has changed:
- The hockey was much better. Time spent playing together looks to have made a difference, even though both teams have been through some turnover after the NHL lockout's sent  roster dominoes falling.
The second Bulls goal was a great hockey play -- with the team down a goal, the defenseman pinched when he needed to pinched, moved the puck to the corner where it was cycled when it needed to cycle, setting up a bang-bang pass to a forward moving into the slot. A thing of beauty.
Sad that the Bulls lost. They had the best of the play throughout the game, but, some unfortunate goaltending at the beginning of the second period put them down two goals and they couldn't come all the way back. That's hockey. Better luck next time.
Loose ends: My wife will be happy to read this: no fights. Game report here and boxscore here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Wanderer At Home

Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012: Daly City, Calif.
The Cow Palace
San Francisco Bulls 6, Bakersfield Condors 5

As a hockey fan, I was happy to hear that the ECHL was adding a team in San Francisco, for the simple reason I would be able to afford to attend nearby hockey games.
The Bulls sold out their opening night, but I dodged the hoopla and headed over the next night, where a more intimate crowd was in attendance.
The Arena: I'm a fan of old arenas with character, and the Cow Palace is old and has character. That said, it's not an ideal hockey arena. The layout, as its name suggests, reflects its original purpose as a livestock show venue. As a result, most of the seats are more distant from the action than would be ideal.
History is on display throughout the concourse, with many vintage photos of the National Western Livestock show, rock concerts and best of all, a display case with uniforms and mementoes of previous minor-league hockey tenants -- the San Francisco Seals of the 60s, the long-forgotten Shamrocks of the 70s, and the one-season wonders of the 90s, the San Francisco Spiders.
Hats off to the hard score Spiders fans who are still rocking those sweaters at Cow Palace hockey 17 seasons later!
Yes, It's the Minors: The team feels compelled to constantly blast mediocre hard rock through the PA system at any pause in the action. I'm sure this is a scientifically market-tested technique that is proven to improve attendance, but it's one of those things that makes me more inclined to stay home. I think it betrays a management's lack of confidence that the people who paid good money to watch a hockey games can be trusted to enjoy a hockey game.
Feel the noise: The Bulls' in-house PA announcer frequently interjected himself into the action with frantic shouts to "Make Some Noise!" Judging from the awkward timing of some of his outbursts and his inability to sync with the rhythm of the contest,  I suspect the Bulls' second game was the second hockey game he had ever seen in his life.
Mr. PA was also completely oblivious to the turning point of the hockey game -- when the Bulls picked up a five-minute major in the third period, and compounded it by taking another minor penalty during the major.
In the first two periods, the Bulls penalty kill was about as effective as the Maginot Line, so it was all the more remarkable that the team killed off the entire major, including two minutes of being two men short.
The PA announcer didn't say a thing about any of this (he didn't even announce all the penalties during the game as is customary) but the fans definitely picked up on it and cheered accordingly -- perhaps us Bulls fans know a thing or two about hockey?
My wife will be happy to read this: There were no fights.
A note on the food: It was utterly ghastly. But it was about as expensive as a meal at the French Laundry. At least a handful of the beer taps had adequate alternatives to Coorsweiser, though the beer is also very expensive.
Just to be perfectly clear: I enjoyed it and planned to come back. My nitpicking aside, it's hockey. I like it. It was a spirited contest that went down to the wire. Game report here and boxscore here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn

Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day

By Doug Mack

Perigee, 2012

It's a great premise: tackle modern-day Europe using a 1963 Frommer's guidebook for direction.
I suspect the premise was better-suited to something the length of a magazine article, rather than a book.
Basically, all the restaurants Frommer cited are closed or have become unholy tourist traps, and the hotel business has changed a lot in 49 years.
To be fair, there's plenty to offer in this book, including a thoroughly researched, engaging look at the postwar history of US travel to Europe.
The premise works for a while when Mack is on the road, but by the time he reached the eighth and final destination, Madrid, I'd tired of it and it's pretty clear Mack did too. It led to a lot of digressions into topics like the circular debate over the nature of travel versus tourism. (Mack's short answer, and I agree, is they aren't as distinct as some people like to think.)
On the plus side, the tale is enlivened from a distance by Mack's mom, who toured Europe in the 60s and left a cache of postcards and letters that enlightened his 21st century tale a bit more than the old guidebook did.
The author’s acknowledgements include one to Arthur Frommer himself, “though we’ve never spoken or met.”
Too bad – Arthur still has a lot to say, and I think Mack would be a great interviewer.