Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Almost a Metaphoric Moment

Tonight, while walking down Market Street, and scrolling through songs on my iPod, I narrowly avoided colliding with a man checking e-mails on his Blackberry.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Tonight I watched Brad May lift the Stanley Cup. Or as he will always be to me, “BRAAAAAD MAAAAY!”
Mr. May scored a seminal goal in Sabres history.
Of course, for many franchises, a seminal goal would be something like the one scored by Bobby Nystrom in 1980; a goal that won a Stanley Cup. But I am a Sabres fan. I must look harder for milestones.
Luckily we have Rick Jeanerette to help point them out. We go back a long way, though we lost touch for a while.
In 1993, I lived in a cheap apartment in one of Denver’s dreary exurbs, shared with a guy from Boston, as it happens.
The goal I’m talking about was May’s overtime winner in Game 4, capping a sweep for the Sabres. Having enjoyed the victory in real time, I switched over to ESPN, hoping for another chance to wallow in this unusual feeling.
First, Sportscenter showed the goal as a highlight. Then, as a special treat, they played the highlight again, this time with the Buffalo radio announcer’s call.
Thanks to the miracle of sound recording, we can play it again and again: MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! And it was great, but I had a much more primordial reaction.
At that point, it had been many years since I lived in Western New York, so I hadn’t listened to Sabres broadcasts for a long time.
But the voice was unforgettable. I was instantly transported back in time. Back to third and fourth grade, in Ransomville, New York, when I would take my Radio Shack Sing-a-Long radio up to my bedroom to listen to Sabres games. Turning to an alternate reality away from what, even at that age, was a family environment not entirely conducive to retaining my mental health. Back to the time I became a hockey fan; a Sabres fan. Back to a time and the circumstances that may explain why hockey and the Sabres remain meaningful to me more than 30 years later.
Anyway, thanks to the miracle of the modern Interweb, I can once again listen to RJ call Sabres games on the radio, at least until they are knocked out of the playoffs.
And as I was watching Brad May hoist the Cup, the thought crossed my mind: The Mayday goal was in 1993. Holy crap, that’s 14 freakin’ seasons ago!
There are people who say some nasty things about Brad May. Talentless goon, that sort of thing. The Kim Johnsson incident gave them a good argument. But I don’t think a player sticks around the NHL that long – 15 seasons, not counting the lockout - if he isn’t bringing something to the table.
So here’s to you, Brad. Your name will look good on that Cup.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Walks In The Old Ballpark

May 27, 2007: San Jose, Calif.
Stockton Ports 9, San Jose Giants 6
It turns out that I am better at wandering than sticking to hockey. In this case, at loose ends on Memorial Day weekend, I wandered down the 880 to San Jose. I will spare readers the paean to minor league baseball, as you have undoubtedly seen it before, but the Single-A experience in San Jose is distinctive. Number one: Municipal Stadium is old. Minor-league owners have been just as effective (maybe more effective) as major league owners at extorting taxpayers for new stadiums, complete with luxury boxes and the whole yadda yadda yadda.
San Jose's civic leaders are probably more susceptible than most to throwing money at desperate attempts to attract status symbols, but the California League isn't what they have in mind. I think the Athletics' planned move to Fremont also casts doubt about the future of the minor league game in San Jose. So, at least for now, 65-year-old Municipal Stadium abides.
I wouldn't say it's particularly architecturally distinctive, but it does have something of a vague Mission style. The best thing about it is that it is utterly unDisneyfied, in contrast to most new facilities. I was really taken with the interior concourse. The walls are lined with painted pennants of minor league teams present and (mostly) past. There are murals and displays outside the stadium tying together the history of pro baseball and the history of pro ball in San Jose. It's low-key but classy.
The other key ingredient to the game experience there is the barbecue area by the third base line. It's a large-scale operation, with a bunch of picnic tables nearby and its a treat to go early get some barbecue and a beer (good selection at reasonable prices by pro sports standards).
Unfortunately, there is no shade anywhere at the stadium, at least anywhere you can see the game. It was only in the mid-70s, but the San Jose sun was relentless. And what kind of idiot goes to a day ballgame and forgets his ballcap? That would be me. So, I confess, I left early. In my defense, I watched two and a half hours of baseball, though that only worked out to six innings, because the pitchers had trouble finding the strike zone, and infielders had trouble finding the ball. As for #18 of the Ports: they need a baseball version of the shot clock for pitchers like him.
I'll make one baseball observation: even a casual fan like me can see how thoroughly the Athletics (the Ports' parent club) teach and apply the Moneyball patient batting philosophy.
Local color: Adobe sponsors the pitch speed sign.
Hokey Minor League touch:
Forget dot racing: the San Jose Giants do horse racing by having horse-head cutouts, carried by some staffer below, "race" above the outfield wall between innings. Very old school!
Game reports here and here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hockey Wanderer is not worthy

These hockey bloggers were at the recent hockey World Championship tournament in Moscow -- on someone else's
tab. Now that's hockey wandering. They were worth every penny; offering
lots of interesting insights on hockey and Russia.I believe you can
find it all in one place if you root around at the Washington Capitals

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You Stay Classy, Stockton

April 14, 2007: Stockton, Calif.
Idaho Steelheads 2, Stockton Thunder 1, 2 OT
Has it really been five weeks since I watched this
game? And four since I promised to blog about it?
Luckily, it was a memorable evening. After cancelling plans
for a longer getaway, I found a fun alternative,
Hockeywanderer style -- a lovely afternoon spent
meandering through the Delta, followed by some playoff
hockey. After an al fresco dinner at Valley Brew -
friendly staff, excellent beer, edible food -- we went
down to the Stockton Arena.
Now, Hockeywanderer is fond of places with quirks, with character, with local color. That's not what you get at the Stockton Arena. You get a late-model, state-of-the-art sports arena experience, as one would expect from a franchise and venue controlled by the IFG Group.
That has good aspects (cleanliness, wide concourses, adequate restrooms) and less-good aspects (relentless, loud CrapRock played during every break in play; robotically frequent fan exhortations on the p.a. and scoreboard.)
The Thunder are in their second season, and rewarded their numerous fans with their first playoff berth. This was their first home playoff game. The Thunder drew a pretty good-sized crowd, which is not always a given in the minor leagues.
The Game:
Five years from now, the winner of the 2007 Kelly Cup will be largely forgotten. But the players in this contest fought with every bit as much heart as a player fighting for the Stanley Cup. It was a taught, hard-fought contest, and the intensity was palpable. I thought the Thunder showed a little more flair, but aside from one scoring play, they were unable to finish. Their goaltender was spectacular.
The Steelheads for their part looked thoroughly well coached. This struck me as an excellent demonstration of how to be successful in the AA minor leagues, where teams are less likely to have players with game-breaking individual talent (since such talent would likely get promoted). Idaho played a flawless positional game -- they were not often caught out of place and were consistently in position to keep the Stockton attack from building. As I write this, Idaho is playing in the Kelly Cup finals and I am not one bit surprised.
The Atmosphere:
As I noted, IFG does not let a second go by during the game without some kind of stimulation provided for the fans. I might bring earplugs next time, just for the p.a. system. It looks like a lot of Stocktonites have taken to their hockey team -- caring enough to make sign supporting their team and, evidently, rookie Troy Bodie. Many wore bright yellow wigs, which makes sense -- because, to me, the sound of thunder evokes the sight of bright yellow fake hair.
They proved very vocal in their opinions of the refereeing -- especially after the ref blew the whistle after losing sight of the puck during a scramble that appeared to have led to a Stockton goal. This resulted in a loud, thunderous chants of "You Suck, Ref! You Suck, Ref!" This caused Mrs. Hockeywanderer to look at me in a certain way, as if to say, 'So, these are hockey fans, and you are a hockey fan, and therefore...'
Anyway, the fans were quite emphatic in their criticism of the officiating, even though I am confident that 90% of them had never seen a hockey game before Dec. 10, 2005. This including the 10-year-old girl who enthusiastically soloed on the "You Suck Ref" chant regularly through the third period and first overtime. Classy parenting!
Value proposition: This was actually my second Thunder game and it won't be my last. Sixteen bucks for good blueline tickets to a pro hockey game is a screaming deal, well worth the drive from the Bay Area. The cheap seats start at $9 for adults.
Confession: As a general rule, real fans stay to the end of the game. I declare an exception when one is: A) not a true fan of either team and 2) 80 miles from home. As overtime began, I said we would stay for one overtime (my hockey senses smelled multiple overtime) and that's what we did, so I was on Highway 4 when the winner was tallied.
Doing things right: The main beer advertisers are Fat Tire and Sierra Nevada. That IS classy.
Hokey Minor League touch: A few lucky fans were called to the ice for intermission musical chairs. This was flat out hilarious! They had to wear helmets, and they needed them too; those people were vicious competitors.
Game reports here and here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My City In Ruins

May 8, 2007: New Haven, Conn.

A recent trip to Connecticut sent me past the second place I ever saw a professional hockey game -- probably the location where I watched the most games.

Won't ever happen again, obviously.
The New Haven Coliseum was home to the AHL New Haven Nighthawks. When I was in middle school I forced my Dad to drag me to quite a few Nighthawks games. It was also the site of a few formative rock concert experiences -- R.E.M. before they got really big, Tom Petty (heading a great triple bill), um, ahem, Iron Maiden...but I digress. In all objective honesty, it was a 70s architectural travesty, but I still fondly remember the long ride down the outdoor escalators from the parking garage to the Orange St. entrance -- it helped build the pre-game anticipation. After the game there was the the fun of everyone honking their horns as they rolled down the circular parking ramps. So it's sad to see the place looking like the World Trade Center on September 12. Not that I was surprised. I was actually down on the corner of Orange and George returning a car to Hertz back in late 2005 -- they had already started demolishing the place then. This means they have probably taken more time tearing down the Coliseum than they spent building it in the first place. That's New Haven for you. I understand they have big plans to build some kind of cultural mecca in place of the old arena, though they obviously aren't in a big hurry. To me, tearing down a venue like that -- and not replacing it -- just reeks of a city that's thrown in the towel.
For what it's worth, the first place I every saw pro hockey was the Aud in Buffalo. I hear it's still standing, though it's been closed for a decade. And Buffalo built a new arena to replace it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More rugby wanderer

April 21, 2007: Berkeley, Calif.
Cal Bears 51, New Mexico Lobos 3.

I got a call last week from a friend with a similar sports curiosity habit -- did I want to see the Cal rugby team open the playoffs?
You bet.
Cal Berkeley dominates U.S. college rugby. It has won 15 of the last 16 national championships, and 22 of the 27 since the first one in 1980. It's an impressive record of organizational achievement, even if a cynic might compare dominating of American rugby to being the top team in German baseball.
Cal hosted the opening rounds at Witter Field. It's located in Strawberry Canyon east of the football stadium, and offers a fantastic view of the Bay. The crowd numbered in the hundreds, but the demographics were definitely high
Cal plays rugby union, which gives five points for a try, instead of the four in rugby league. That's about all I learned about the differences, though I can confirm that I am unable to understand the kicking away strategies in either code. In any case, one didn't need to know much rugby to comprehend Cal's domination of the game, though I suppose the Lobos can claim a moral victory for scoring any points at all. I was kind of sad when one of their players busted a long run near the end of the blowout, only to get caught two yards away from a try.

Game report here.

Cal won their next game by an even more ridiculous margin, sending them to the final four two weeks later Stanford.
Audience quote of the day: "The ref's a girl!" She didn't take any crap, either.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thunder go under

The Stockton, Calif. Thunder were eliminated from the ECHL playoffs Wednesday. Hockeywanderer attended Game 3 of the series, and will report on it soon.
Sharkspage has a far more timely review of recent ECHL developments in California.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Faceoff circle or Arctic Circle?

Sept 16, 2005: Fairbanks, Alaska.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5, Billings Bulls 3.
I was in Fairbanks to ride the Alaska Railroad south to Anchorage. To my delight, I found there was a hockey game the night before I left! The Ice Dogs play in the North American Hockey League. This is at the Junior A level. The league bills itself as a way to train at hockey while getting an education -- though from a look at the Ice Dogs' roster it didn't look like anyone was still in high school. As much as I can guess, Jr. A, at least the NAHL version, is a chance for players overlooked at high school to keep their careers alive, and make an impression on scouts -- either pro or college, as it preserves NCAA eligibility (unlike Canadian major junior).
It was opening weekend at the Big Dipper Arena. The arena, with about 2,000 seats, is run by the city rec department, and it has an unusual pedigree. The most unusual architectural feature: a mirrored ceiling. It was Saturday night, on the second night of a two-game opening series, and the Dogs drew a sizable crowd of all ages; lots of adults shooting the breeze, catching up with each other, while their kids got to romp around. A very good-spirited atmosphere. During an intermission, I walked over to the booster club table and talked to the head of the organization. He said the Ice Dogs usually draw pretty well; their primary competition for the hockey fan dollar is the University of Alaska team, which plays at the high-caliber NCAA Division 1 level. The Ice Dogs, he said, have one key competitive advantage: they can sell beer at their games. As I recall, they even sold very good beer.
It was a good game and a good time. If I lived in Fairbanks, I'd have season tickets.
Game sheet here.
It occurs to this blog that it may be the only blog alive to attend the home games of two different hockey teams with nickname Ice Dogs. Perhaps I should go for a trifecta.

Monday, March 26, 2007

And now: rugby wanderer

Feb. 17, 2007: Sydney, Australia
Sydney Roosters 10, Wests Tigers 4

Hockeywanderer is happy to mix travel and sports, which brings us to Sydney, Australia in February, where I experienced high-level rugby. Well, a warm-up for high level rugby. It should be noted I attended the match the night I arrived in Australia, basically in an attempt to keep myself awake. This game was rugby league, which is different from rugby union in ways I do not understand and am too lazy to find out.
The game was held at Aussie Stadium. I thought it was so dubbed because it was some kind of national icon -- in reality, the naming rights were sold to a mortgage broker.
The stadium is a bit of a surreal sight. My final approach, on foot, was down a street of old two- to three-story brick row houses, very characteristic of that part of Sydney -- which appears quite gentrified, full of used book stores and art-house movie theaters. Then, boom, looming like a spaceship over Paddington, is this futuristic white erector set, set up by architects to disguise what is otherwise an unremarkable rectangular reinforced concrete stadium.
At first I thought it would be a Sydney home crowd, because I assumed Wests were from the west, as in maybe Perth. As it turns out, Wests stands for Sydney's western suburbs, and Wests fans seemed to have a slight edge in numbers in the crowd of 16,000.
The game I saw was, hold your breath, the "Foundation Cup" - a very fancy name for what was really both teams' first pre-season exhibition game.
The whole spectacle is just as commercialized as North American pro sports -- complete with cheerleading squads, costumed mascots and overly enthusiastic PA announcers. In some ways, it was even more commercialized: not only are there sponsorship ads on the players jerseys, but on the referees' as well! The good news is that rugby league is played with a running clock, so there are no breaks to be filled up with loud, annoying music as at most American sports events. (Though they played "Eye of the Tiger" during the Tigers' team introduction.)
As for the rugby itself, I got it -- up to a point. Basically the players try to carry the ball into an end zone, for a try (4 points) at which point they get to try to convert for two more points with a kick through the uprights -- an angled kick, much tougher than a football extra point. The scoreboard also had a line for field goals, but no one scored any, so I don't know what they are.
Players run the ball, and they are allowed to lateral it to their teammates. At times, the teams attacked with a series of laterals that developed with breathtaking speed. However, that series of laterals. 60 yards across the field, would net them 10 or 15 yards, which begins to tell me why American football adopted the forward pass.
Players ran the ball, and when they were tackled, everyone suddenly stopped, the tacklee took a set over the ball and gave it a kick-nudge backward to a teammate behind him, after which the whole thing starts again. It was difficult for anyone to get anywhere very far without being swarmed by defense. There does not seem to be any blocking as we know it in American football, probably because it would be regularly fatal. As it is, the game is viscerally physical. Complete with broken bones.
There are also several features I didn't comprehend. For instance, a team would be in the middle of a seemingly successful possession, with ball control, and then suddenly kick the ball down the field. As near as I can tell, they were hoping to force errors on the part of the player fielding the kick. Often play would die suddenly for reasons I couldn't fathom.
Speaking of incomprehension, there's the scrum, which is how play restarted after these pauses. It seemed like kind of a kabuki ritual, in which a bunch of players slammed shoulders, but the ball always quickly flew out into a waiting teammate's hands.
I suppose I should have asked someone around me what was going on, but I am admittedly an introvert, I was completely jet-lagged, and in any case deem it prudent not to talk to groups of drunk people when I am sober. The beer lines were of epic proportions.
Not that there was any menace in the crowd; fans of the two teams were spread all over the stadium, and they were quite boisterous, but I saw no fans direct venom at any of the other team's fans, or anyone but the referees.

There was none of the edge one expects at a Raiders game, let alone a European soccer crowd. Many people brought their kids along; the tickets were $20 AUD for adults and $10 for kids; I suspect a lot of the fans out for the game may be priced out of regular season games, which might be much more expensive, given the rampant commercialization that was in evidence. Anyway, I suspect that few of the fans came from the gentrified rowhouses around the stadium.

Game report here.