Category Archives: Niagara IceDogs

20 Jan

IceDogs vs. Guelph

Thoughts and observations from last night’s IceDogs game as they took on the Guelph Storm:

1. It had been more than two months since the Meridian Center last saw my shadow. It was nice to return, but I couldn’t say I missed it a whole lot. I go to games nowadays for writing fodder, not as a rabid fan.

2. When stopping at the IceDogs office to pick up my ticket around noon, I spotted none other than Bill Burke in the parking lot.

3. After selecting my seat, I inquired as to what was involved if I wanted to bring my DSLR camera to the game. For those who are unaware, in a policy even more restrictive than the customer-hostile NHL, the league and team require all DSLR cameras to be registered with the office prior to any game.

So instead of what I expected to be a simple procedure, I was told I had to track down Matt, who apparently was the Grand Poobah of Camera Registration in addition to his other duties. But he was not currently in the office. Groan. So, while leaving, who do I see in the parking lot but Matt. I caught up with him and followed him back inside, and all he did was print the date on a blank media pass, tell me I couldn’t sell the pictures, hand the pass to me and send me on my way.


I can certainly understand why not just any staff member would be able to handle something so complex.

Or not.

Groan.

But there you have it, IceDogs fans, for those of you who were so inclined to bring your DSLR camera to a game. Your welcome.

3a. Though Matt warned me I might have to show the media pass if any of the security people noticed, no one did. Not that I expected them to.

4. I again got a seat right alongside a rail, the only one in the row not marked as sold. Yet, once again, I was the only one in the row.


Methinks a little Fighting Moose math might be in play here. Loyal readers may remember those days when crowds of 3,500 or so were reported as upwards of 7,000.

5. I wonder if all these seats were marked as “sold” as well:


6. En route to the Meridian Center before the game, I passed by a church with this sign out front.


As I’ve said before, people in this part of the world know nothing about real cold.

7. Also en route to the game, I spotted someone running across the street yelling “AAAAAAAAA!!” at the top of his lungs. On a related note, on January 25, let’s talk about mental health issues. #BellLetsTalk

8. Just after going inside, I spotted an older gentleman with tubes up his nose carrying a canister of oxygen. Now that’s dedication.

9. In the washroom was a poster for a new “regional menu” at the concessions near section 105. New, or at least rebranded, was Pelham Poutine for $10, a Fort Erie Footlong for $10, Niagara Nachos for $10, St. Catharines Steak Sandwich for $12, Grimsby Grilled Cheese for $10 and Thorold Tater Tots for $8. No Wainfleet Watermelon, West Lincoln Waffles, Port Colborne Pickerel, Niagara-on-the-Lake Noodles or Lincoln Latte. I’m sure those respective municipalities are heartbroken over being omitted.

10. Passing by the Crime Stoppers booth, I noticed they were selling T-shirts for $5, polo shirts for $10 and hoodies for $20. A couple of people stopped and asked if they could buy some only to be told they wouldn’t be ready for about 20 minutes. Did they not know we were coming? (eyeroll)

11. Niagara College was the game sponsor and had a booth in the end behind the retractables. In addition to giving out three $1,000 credits toward tuition, they were giving out free suckers at their table. So it’s only suckers who go there? It reminded me of a job fair I once attended back in the Old Country hosted by the feds. Their promo item was a screwdriver, reminding you that you always get screwed by the government.

12. That stinking band made another appearance. Gratuitous noise for the sake of making noise. But at least they weren’t as annoying as they have been in the past. Or maybe I’m just getting used to paying money for the privilege of being annoyed.

13. In another effort to make himself the star of the show, the announcer whose name I will not mention was doing his pregame schtick from the concourse. The announcer’s job is to inform. Nothing else. A topic to be covered at considerable length in a future book.

13a. When listing the scratches for Guelph, for someone normally so well-spoken, he sure got tongue-tied on “Tetrault.”

13b. There will be people who will like that book. There will be people who will not. He will fall into that latter category.

14. The pregame ceremonies featured a curlerette who will be participating in the upcoming tournament to be held here in St. Catharines. The applause she got was marginally polite, at best.

14a. Was there really anyone who lined up for her autograph during the first intermission?

15. The kids from Richmond Street Public School struggled with the anthem duties, but they came through it reasonably well. The best part, as always, was that they sung the anthem entirely in the Canadian language.

16. A father and son seated a few rows in front of me were the lucky winners of the “move of the game” down to the ice-level seats. Given the condition of the glass, untouched by human hands in over two years, it’s a prize I would have declined. Seriously.

17. I continue to find it amazing what people will share with perfect strangers as they spend more time texting than watching the game. For example, a young woman seated one row in front of me was having a conversation about a doctor appointment and how a 63-year-old relative was battling cancer. Later, she congratulated a friend named Owen over getting a job and asked if he was going to see Zack, then moved on to Ben, another of her many male friends.

18. More people seem interested in playing games on their phones between periods than in the intermission events.

19. Bones made a couple of appearances in my area. His presence is always welcomed by the under-12 crowd.


20. Here, fans stood up and yelled for a prize from CAA. It reminded me of a promotional mailing I got from them recently, offering me a discounted membership and other incentives to join. For those who are unaware, I have never attempted to obtain a license to drive a motor vehicle.


21. A very pudgy teenage girl seated nearby was wearing a pink shirt with a pig’s face on it. How fitting.

22. Looking around at all the IceDogs and Leafs jerseys in the crowd made me appreciate not seeing all that Chipman gear around town like I did back in the Old Country.

23. Last night, I felt more a part of this community than I did ever before. Don’t ask me why.

24. Early in the third period, they were trying to get chants of “DAAAAY-O” going. For an evening game. Go figure.

25. Oh by the way, there was a game going on. After blowing a 2-0 third-period lead, Oliver Castleman’s weak dump-in from center ice with 23.1 seconds left somehow eluded goaltender Liam Herbst and gave the IceDogs a 3-2 victory.

26. I’m not sure if the crowd was happier over the victory or the fact that they’d get a free cheeseburger at Wendy’s for the goal in the final minute of the third period.

27. 4,759 were alleged to have been at the game. Debate it at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not the next time you visit Clifton Hill.

19 Nov

IceDogs vs. Ottawa

Thoughts and observations from the game last night as the IceDogs rallied to beat Ottawa:

1. There was an exceptional amount of traffic and activity downtown before and after the game. Our mayor thinks that’s a good thing. I’m not sure I agree with him.

2. In the washroom before the game, I spotted someone putting in eye drops after doing his business at the urinal. Then he went to wash his hands. You just can’t make stuff like this up.

3. Someone nearby took her seat and proceeded to devour an order of ketchup with some chicken fingers and fries on the side. In the second period, someone had an order of gravy with some fries on the side. They are condiments, not meals.

4. During the warmup, LauraLeigh came to escort a couple of nearby fans down to the “best seats in the house” as part of a promotion they hold every game. Instead of watching the game through Gary Bettman’s gift to the world, they got to sit in a sofa at ice level and attempt to follow the play through the grimy glass. I think I got the better view.

5. Despite how wide and spacious the seats at the Meridian Center are, some guy a few rows in front of me had trouble fitting into his. Maybe that will be the final straw for him to get off the “see food” diet.

5a. This heavyweight bore a striking facial resemblance to a late ex-colleague of mine.

6. Just when you think the IceDogs P.A. announcer can’t possibly engage in more self-promotion, he does. In addition to his customary pair of self-serving introductions every game, now he gets his name and face on the big screen before the game. I swear he must be convinced that fans pay to hear him announce rather than to watch the game.

6a. So as not to give him more of the attention he craves, I refuse to identify him.

7. As part of the pregame ceremonies, the four newest members of the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame were introduced. One of them had apparently attended St. Catharines Collegiate, so the announcer made sure to tell us that St. Catharines Collegiate was in St. Catharines. Here I thought it was in Welland. Thanks so much for clearing that up.

8. A girls’ choir from Governor Simcoe Secondary School did a fine job with the anthem. Even better, they were fully clothed and did it entirely in the Canadian language.

9. Every section seems to have its own Howie Meeker wannabee and mine was no exception. I kept hearing “come on” and “keep an eye on him” from this guy who, like so many others, must think the players can hear and will listen to him.

10. The usher in the next section looked like Sean Connery when he played the submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October.

11. One of the groups in attendance was from St. James Catholic School. Back in the Old Country, I lived in St. James for many years.

12. One fan had no problem making himself right at home.

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13. During the game, there was a giveaway for a CAA card in a nearby section. It reminded me of a hotel where I once worked back in the Old Country that was “CAA Approved.” As one snarky painter who did some work there once said, it was approved by the cockroaches, ants and animals, not the Canadian Automobile Association.

14. During a second-period TV timeout, someone proposed to his girlfriend and she said “yes.”

15. A senior in the next section had a nose ring. It looks awful on an 18-year-old and it looks even more out of place on someone who should know better.

16. In the second period, there was another classic Bengt Lundholm moment when Kyle Langdon went through the Ottawa defense only to have the puck dribble off his stick.

17. Despite giving up a bad goal in the second period when he misplayed the puck behind his net, Stephen Dhillon looked better. Less awkward. He still needs more playing time, but there’s been some noticeable improvement since the last time I saw him.

17a. Entering the third period, it was looking like that miscue was going to cost his team the game, but his teammates rallied to take him off the hook.

18. Full marks to the boys for the aforementioned third-period rally to pull out the two points. Unlike what happened too often over the past couple of years when an early deficit meant “game over,” they kept working and were justly rewarded for their efforts.

19. Despite the two goals, Aaron Haydon still looks like a fish out of water up front. He belongs back on the blue line.

20. 4,698 was the announced attendance. Reduce it by 10 or 15% for the actual figure.

21. Fans began leaving during a third-period TV timeout with 9:07 left. What is this, the Old Country?

22. On the bus after the game, everyone without exception said “thank you” to the driver on their way out. On second thought, this is definitely not the Old Country.

29 Oct

IceDogs vs. Barrie Colts

Thoughts and experiences from the IceDogs loss to the Barrie Colts last night:

1. En route, I was following a couple delivering the sub-Standard. What exactly is the point of subscribing to a paper that’s delivered so late in the day that it’s obsolete before it hits your door?

2. Also en route, I passed by a shop selling bamboo steamers for $10.99 a pop. A bamboo steamer is just one fish dinner away from becoming the first item you make available for your next garage sale.

3. Being the last game before Halloween, many were dressed in costumes for the occasion I just don’t get. The ticket takers, the people working the concessions and paying customers like these got into the act on masse:

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3a. Was there anyone on the peninsula besides me who wasn’t part of the parade of costumes during the second intermission?

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4. It’s nothing new where the Meridian Center is concerned, but would you pay premium dollar to sit behind this:

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5. For the second straight game this year, there was no usher at my section. I can only hope to be so lucky at future games.

6. Someone was kind enough to leave some complimentary gum at the end of the aisle and the cleaning staff was equally kind in not removing it. But at least my seat was clean.

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7. I ask again, why is Horizon advertising? Do we have a choice as to where we get our power from?

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8. On the boards was an ad from Wawanesa Insurance, who recently entered into a new sponsorship agreement with the CHL. The last time I saw one of those, I was at a Fighting Moose game in the Old Country. For those who are not aware, Wawanesa is the name of a small village in the Old Country where I once visited.

9. In addition to the many costumes spotted around the rink, many fans came dressed as empty seats.

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Take this row, for example, one that was marked as completely sold out. For some strange reason, I had a flashback to those Fighting Moose days when Chipman’s staffers would pretty much pull attendance numbers out of thin air. And not just because former Fighting Moose goaltender Mike Rosati was behind the Barrie bench.

9a. The announced attendance figure of 4,768 was as phony as a three-dollar bill. Doubtful if much more than 4,000 were actually there.

9b. On a night with an artificially inflated attendance figure, it was so fitting that the season ticket holder of the game wasn’t even there. Friends had to accept his stick and gift card to the Seaway Mall on his behalf.

10. It was nice to see former Jet Dale Hawerchuk behind the Barrie bench once again despite the fact that this time last week, he was back in the Old Country sleeping with the enemy, so to speak.

11. This was the first time I had seen the new Tee Pees banners since they were raised last month. The IceDogs might have had another customer that night had they not been so secretive about the alumni who were attending. Or maybe I was just supposed to know.

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12. In the Barrie lineup was Jaden Peca, cousin of Michael, who was best known for his blindside hit on Teemu Selanne in Vancouver.

13. The kids from Senator Gibson Public School did a good job with the anthem, thankfully sung entirely in the Canadian language.

14. I spotted a few fans like this one wearing that hideous gay jersey. I know the Burkes try their best to do the right thing, but they really crossed the line when they forced the players to wear those duds. I fully support the right of anyone to live as they wish, but as a good friend of mine says, stop shoving it down my throat.

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15. Several fans in the section to my left were wearing Seahawks paraphernalia. It is a sight that normally would have brought a smile to my face, but I have not watched an NFL game since early September. I cannot support organizations that insult America, and part of me wants to burn every piece of NFL paraphernalia I own.

16. It was nice to see the Whale across the ice:

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17. During the game, they announced that anyone with an IceDogs ticket can work out for free at Good Life Fitness for the rest of October. Gee, what a deal.

18. Oh by the way, there was a game going on. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a classic. Neither team really deserved to win. But this is a “take your lumps” year and rest assured, more lumps are coming for the boys in white.

18a. I know they’re young and still learning, but the IceDogs were proudly showing off their pylon defense for most of the night.

19. Needing a goal in the last round of the shootout to stay alive, coach Dave Bell sends out … Ryan Mantha. Is that a compliment to the big, lumbering defenseman or a slap in the face to the young shooters on the bench?

01 Oct

IceDogs Home Opener

Thoughts and observations from before and during the IceDogs’ home opener last night:

1. Passing by a CIBC branch on the way downtown, I noticed a sign in the window promoting the fact that they now offer free WiFi. Why? It’s a bank, not a coffee shop.

2. Yesterday marked the fifth straight day that I had been out in which I spotted a license plate from the Old Country. There’s bound to be some meaning behind it, but I’m not sure what it is. Yet.

3. Though he wasn’t in the lineup last night, congratulations to Graham Knott on his signing with a team in one of hockey’s major leagues.

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4. The bars and restaurants on St. Paul Street were again hopping before the game. From what I saw on the way, so was the LCBO. People were even hauling liquor on their bikes.

5. After so many years in the Old Country, it still felt kind of strange going to an OHL game, yet this is my third home opener since defecting two years ago. How time flies when you’re having fun.

6. I was not expecting the glass at the Meridian Center to have undergone its historic first cleaning. I’m not happy to be right. (eyeroll)

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7. Good to see Horizon Utilities advertising again this year. In the business world, brand recognition is so important and it helps you stay one step ahead of your competitors. Oh right, they don’t have any. (eyeroll)

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8. Speaking of advertising, I spotted this ad for a “medical pharmacy.” As opposed to a non-medical pharmacy?

9. When looking to go into the seating area, I stumbled upon a ramp not guarded by an usher, so I pounced on it. A wonderful stroke of luck I can only dream of for future games.

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10. The tunnel leading to the IceDogs dressing room was, as expected, lined with many young fans-in-training. To their credit, before, during and after the game, each of the players high-fived any kid who extended his hand. Class.

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11. Defenseman Liam Ham is one of many new players this season. I’m guessing he’s not either Jewish or an Adventist.

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12. A Kingston Frontenacs uniform would be perfect for anyone wanting to dress up as a bumblebee for Halloween.

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13. As part of the pregame festivities, following the player introductions, the Eastern Conference championship banner was unveiled. It was just too bad so few of the players who led the team all the way to the finals were there to see it. Seeing all the familiar numbers worn by unfamiliar faces during the warmup, it really hit home how many have moved on. Welcome to junior hockey.

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14. It was a classy gesture to bring Matt Gillard out for the ceremonial pregame faceoff. For those who may have forgotten, Gillard fell into the boards early last season and broke one of the vertebrae in his spine, ultimately ending his playing career.

15. One thought kept going through my head during the pregame ceremonies. Turn. On. The. Lights.

16. Much to the delight of the IceDogs and the city, beer was flowing freely around me last night. The guy to my right had polished off two before the five-minute mark of the first period and it was much the same with the guy to my left. I wonder if the good folks at the NRP have considered roadside check stops after IceDogs games?

17. Seated three rows in front of me was someone with an IceDogs jersey bearing the number 5 on the back. Those of you who know me will understand the significance.

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18. Seated at the end of the aisle one row in front of me was none other than Mayor Walter Sendzik. He was obviously not dressed for a political function and he really needs a shave. Also spotted in the concourse was one of his Liberal comrades, Jim Bradley, who is still rumored to be our MPP.

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19. Right across from me was this ad from our local BMW dealership, reminding me of a good friend back in the Old Country. I miss him, but I don’t miss the Old Country.

20. Apparently, an IceDogs game is not complete without two self-serving introductions from the P.A. announcer. I fondly remember an earlier era when we didn’t even know who the P.A. announcer was.

21. That annoying band was back once again, but luckily, they were just as dead as the crowd was. As I was following them out, I felt like yelling, “Don’t come back!”

22. Oh by the way, there was a game. A dud. The IceDogs didn’t even score a goal. Even the fight was a dud. But being the cynical ex-Winnipegger that I am, I always seem to get more fodder out of a dud and this night proved to be no exception. Not that I want the home team to lose, mind you.

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23. I don’t think there was one player wearing red who distinguished himself. It was a particularly rough second period for new starting goaltender Stephen Dhillon, who looked awkward and clumsy, much like his teammates. He needs to play more. A lot more.

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24. Two of the more prominent and passionate fans in the building spent the second intermission snapping selfies. Before the game, they were handing out hand-made welcome signs for each of the new players, and each one was finger-licking good. I had a passion like that once. That was before I contracted Battered Fan Syndrome. It’s a disease I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake, but it has opened up a whole new world of opportunity.

25. I was mildly surprised there wasn’t a full house on hand. Official attendance was announced as 4,707 and it may have been a bit inflated. My guess was between 4,200 and 4,300.

26. Early in the third period, as Aaron Haydon and former IceDog Cody Caron nearly came to blows, three kids went running up to the boards, pounded on the glass and started yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!” For a moment there, I thought I was at a Fighting Moose game.

12 May

IceDogs Last Stand

This week, I attended Games 3 and 4 of the OHL finals between the IceDogs and the visiting London Knights, as I managed to get a seat for both games during the mad rush for tickets.

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For Monday night’s Game 3, I made sure to leave early to take in the Dog Run, the portion of St. Paul Street between the two pedestrian bridges closed to traffic for a street party in honor of the Eastern Conference champions.

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Maybe I just got there too early, but the atmosphere was oddly subdued. Meridian had a tent where they were giving out free popcorn, CKTB had a tent where they had just finished an interview with the Burkes, and they had some games for kids, but there wasn’t a whole lot else going on.

The bars and restaurants, however, were packed, and on Wednesday night, there was a line outside waiting to get into one of the bars. No doubt, those bar and restaurant owners are the most passionate supporters the IceDogs have.

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Chalk was available for kids to draw on the street. Here, some wrote names of their favorite players.

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Naturally, the best mascot on the continent was making the rounds, stopping for photos with adoring fans. The last shot is taken with Julia D’Amico, arguably the most passionate fan of them all. Judging from her getup alone, it is not difficult to see why she was named the ultimate fan of the game on Wednesday night. As she so proudly belted on the microphone on Wednesday night, “This is our house, our team, our time.”

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Here, Bones takes a seat under the CKTB tent. Having their mascot decked out in black despite the “Make Them See Red” playoff promotion in which the players were covered from head to toe in red was a major faux pas.

Before the stands began filling up, I went into the seating area to get some shots of the ice with the “OHL Championship Series” logo at each end, but not before nearly being chased down the aisle by yet another pushy usher who was evidently put out by the fact that I neither asked for nor wanted his services.

As I posted in a tweet, I am convinced there is a secret clause in the terms on the back of the tickets requiring all fans to accept the services of an usher. I keep hearing fans boast about how friendly the ushers are, yet I keep running into the ones who must have been recruited off used car lots.

Being badgered by these ushers, however, does provide me with plenty of writing fodder. I’m probably going to have enough for a full chapter on them by the time I’m ready to pen a book on my fan experiences with the IceDogs.

Speaking of the ushers, each of them were carrying buckets, collecting donations for the Canadian Red Cross as part of the Fort McMurray relief efforts. Fans contributed a total of $3,162.45 on Monday night.

As game time grew closer, I was expecting more of a raucous atmosphere, and instead, it felt more like a regular-season game than the third game of the league championship series.

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I couldn’t help but notice that the IceDogs couldn’t even spell Nick Pastorious’ name correctly. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on them. After all, he’s just one of the players.

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After the IceDogs were greeted with about three-quarters of a standing ovation, the two teams received their customary introductions. To my surprise, former NHL enforcer Basil McRae was London’s general manager. The last time I saw his name was 16 years ago when I spotted something from his company’s letterhead in Ken Wregget’s locker during a tour of the Fighting Moose dressing room. Oh, how times have changed.

As expected, given what had taken place during the first two games of the series, Matthew Tkachuk, a.k.a Captain Weasel, Jr., got the loudest chorus of boos from the crowd.

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Following the introductions, the IceDogs brought out a number of players from their 2012 Eastern Conference championship team for the ceremonial faceoff. That team, which also lost to London in the finals, actually got a bigger ovation than the 2016 team received.

Captain Weasel, Jr. opened the scoring in the first minute, but the IceDogs came right back with a quick marker of their own and controlled the first half of the game. They took a 5-2 lead in the second period and with Alex Nedeljkovic on top of his game once again, it looked as though the IceDogs were well on their way to picking up their first win of the series.

Or so it seemed.

Despite being down by three goals, London never lost their composure and eventually turned the game around completely, eventually tying the score in the third period. They had the IceDogs on the ropes and Nedeljkovic’s stellar goaltending was the only reason the game even went to overtime.

Even “Ned” couldn’t save the IceDogs, however, and the shellshocked crowd was anything but surprised when London scored three minutes into the extra period to all but extinguish the IceDogs’ title hopes.

As Dandy Don Meredith used to sing on Monday Night Football, “Turn out the lights. The party’s over.”

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Two nights later, some fans had clearly not lost their spirit, but few others had any realistic hopes that the IceDogs could extend the series to a fifth game. There was almost an expectation of pending defeat in the air that I would also sense inside the Meridian Center, both before and during the game.

On the bright side, I was able to sneak into the seating area without being badgered by an usher. There apparently is an art form to this and I think I’m getting the hang of it. Having not been to a game in a while before Monday night, I was caught off-guard.

Sadly, there was another band that filled the air with gratuitous noise that I could have lived without. Thankfully, even their enthusiasm waned as the game wore on.

The IceDogs got only a half-hearted standing ovation as they came out to start the game as Julia waved her sign, which stated “We Believe.” Judging by the lack of energy in the stands, the crowd believed the series was already over.

London silenced what little buzz there was in the stands with a late first-period goal and the 1-0 score held up. Nedeljkovic was easily the IceDogs’ best player and the game’s first star was the only reason his team was able to stay within a goal. Many others noted that the officiating was pro-London and they were probably right, but London won because they were a much better team.

The best chance the IceDogs had came with 7:50 left in the third when the prime minister was robbed at point-blank range. It was then I knew, once and for all, that the jig was up.

While the London players celebrated after the game, I turned my attention towards the disconsolate IceDogs, most of whom were playing their last game of junior hockey. I felt so badly for the kids who had given it their all. After coming so far, it would have been nice to see them win at least one game.

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The two teams shaking hands.

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The IceDogs salute the remaining fans.

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Bill Burke was there at ice level to hug the players on their way off the ice, most of whom were probably going through an emotional roller-coaster.

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OHL Commissioner David Branch then came out to present both the Wayne Gretzky “99” Award to the playoff MVP as well as the J. Ross Robertson Cup, the OHL’s championship trophy. Oddly, Branch was booed when introduced to the crowd. There might be some history there that I’m not aware of.

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Mitchell Marner accepts the Gretzky Award.

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Finally, the London players gathered around as their co-captains accepted the Robertson Cup. I never thought I would live to see the day that someone wearing a #7 Tkachuk jersey would hoist a championship trophy.

The IceDogs had a nice run and defied all the odds in advancing this far. Next year, with so many players leaving, it will be a brand new, younger team that will likely struggle just to make the playoffs. London, meanwhile, advances to the Memorial Cup once again and I wish them well in Red Deer.

07 May

Rallying Your Pep for the IceDogs

On Friday, still sleep-deprived after getting home so late the previous night, I was one of a crowd estimated by the sub-Standard at around 500 in a pep rally at Montebello Park in downtown St. Catharines in support of the IceDogs’ improbable playoff run. The event was organized, not by the team, but by Alex Digenis, owner of Henley Honda in St. Catharines.

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For once, I was far from the first on the scene of the noon-hour event.

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As the population of Montebello Park began to swell, an honor guard from Ridley College lined the route to the stage where the players and coaches would be introduced.

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The first order of business, besides the region’s biggest self-promoter introducing himself for the umpteenth time, was to tape a knight, a symbolic representative of the IceDogs’ opponents, the London Knights, to a tree.

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As someone said, he was being fed to the dogs.

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First, the coaches were introduced, led by head coach and general manager Marty Williamson. Later, while up on stage, Williamson would sing the praises of his charges who might very well have saved his job with this playoff run following an uninspiring regular season.

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Vince Dunn.

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The prime minister.

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Josh Ho-Sang, St. Catharines’ answer to Bengt Lundholm who has done his best to shake that label of late. When he gets to the next level, we’ll see if a leopard really can change his stripes.

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Last, and most importantly, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. I don’t think too many in the crowd miss his predecessor, Brent Moran. One fan in particular comes to mind.

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The team assembled inside the bandstand.

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Williamson addresses the gathering.

Team captain Anthony DiFruscia then spoke, followed by Alex Digenis, who joined many others of late in proudly proclaiming the IceDogs as “Niagara’s” team. Such proclamations are not without merit, but I don’t see any rush from any of the other municipalities throughout the region who have been raising the IceDogs flag to contribute to the repayment of the debt on the Meridian Center. Put your money where your mouth is before calling it “your team.” But again, I digress.

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After the formal part of the proceedings ended, fans dispersed to mingle with the players or get in line for the free hot dogs. Having enough of crowds for a while and with no desire for a hot dog at any price, I did neither and returned home, having been part of an important community event with many fellow fans.

07 May

London Calling

On Thursday evening, I was one of a busload of fans who went to see the IceDogs take on the Knights in London in the opening game of the OHL’s championship series. It would mark the first time I had been at a championship series of any league in person since the Jets were in the WHA. Yes, it’s been a long time.

As those of you who know me would expect, I was one of the first to arrive at the Jack, where I spotted this woman passed out on the front steps of the IceDogs’ former home rink.

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From the looks of her, she was probably homeless, and someone who our mayor, Walter L. Sendzik (the “L” stands for Liberal), would no doubt like the city to reach out to as part of his “compassionate city model.”

Though apparently lacking the wherewithal to put a roof over her head, she did, however, have the resources to care and feed for the animal in the pink cage. She also dug out a cigarette and lit up before leaving to make way for the gathering crowd.

And I’m supposed to feel sorry for her. Those who are big believers in the social determinants of health obviously conveniently overlook cases like this.

But I digress.

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Before the bus came, I chatted briefly with the other early birds who were waiting. One couple had been on every single road trip since the team moved to St. Catharines in 2007 and a couple of others told stories about how they had been treated in other cities. By and large, it seemed to be an older crowd and it would prove to be a significantly less rowdy bunch than the group who went to Brown’s Town, undoubtedly due to the fact that it was a weekday. I strongly suspect that Saturday’s road trip for Game 2 will be much different and it was probably a blessing in disguise that it was sold out before I could get my name on the list.

Once the bus pulled up to the curb, we all piled on and once again, many brought their coolers full of beer. Since getting highway pictures is more important to me than the game, I undoubtedly get chastised for my ulterior motives when going on these road trips, but the many who gorge themselves on beer have no room to talk. For them, IceDogs hockey is but one of many convenient excuses to get drunk.

One of the more than 50 passengers on board was the owner of Pete’s Pizza, a local chain with many locations in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. He brought five boxes of pizza on board for the group and on the way, someone walked up and down the aisle offering free pizza. As I was busy taking pictures during the two-hour ride to London, I declined, but it was a nice gesture and worthy of a free plug.

With everyone present and accounted for, we took off just after 3:30 into the thick of rush-hour traffic.

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It was stop and go on the Red Hill Valley Parkway and the Linc, but once we got onto the 403 and left the Hamilton area, traffic moved pretty smoothly.

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Of the many highway pictures I got en route to London, this one in Brantford stood out. As a five-year Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder who saw the Jets roll over so often for Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, I somehow resisted the urge to blurt out, “Gretzky Sucks!” Old grudges die hard.

Moving on, when we got to Woodstock and merged onto the 401, perhaps the biggest surprise of the ride for me was seeing how much busier the 401 was in this area as compared to the stretch between C.U. and Kingston when we went to Ottawa last year.

Upon reaching London, we exited the 401 at Highbury Avenue and proceeded north for a long tour of the city of over 360,000.

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I spotted these signs along Hamilton Road. Details of this tree trunk tour are left as an exercise to the reader, as I didn’t care enough to check as to what this was all about.

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Making our way through downtown, we pulled up to the Budweiser Gardens and walked across the street as Nick Williams of the IceDogs went to get our tickets.

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Outside Budweiser Gardens.

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Nick was nice enough to give me a seat on the aisle and when they opened the doors, I made a little tour of the rink.

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In the stands. I noted with considerable interest that in a facility named for a popular brand of beer, they had an alcohol-free section, one that I would be a regular in if I lived in London.

To my astonishment, the glass behind the goaltender was even in worse shape that it is at the Meridian Center. I didn’t think that was possible. Then again, the Budweiser Gardens has been around a lot longer than the Meridian Center has.

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Though I had snuck in some food of my own, I paid attention to the offerings and prices at the concessions, as I am always fascinated by the exorbitant prices people are willing to pay for food at sporting events. A hot dog would set you back $4.75, as would a slice of pizza, and even a chocolate bar could not be had for less than $4.25. There were some other options that I could have availed myself of, such as chicken fingers and fries for $7.75, but didn’t.

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Looking outside toward downtown from the 300 level.

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I then headed to my seat high up in the upper deck. The term “nosebleed section” doesn’t do it justice as I had to make the steep climb up to row J. For the benefit of readers in the SPRM, the only rink I’ve been in with a steeper incline was the upper deck at the old Winnipeg Arena.

Interestingly, row J was located one row behind row H. I’m still not sure what happened to row I. Perhaps they’re using a special London alphabet. In any event, this was probably the highest elevation in southwestern Ontario. To say the least, anyone who has a problem with heights needs to avoid the upper deck at the Budweiser Gardens.

Despite the mild temperatures outside, the area where we were sitting was downright cold and even though I had a light jacket on, I was freezing all night long.

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Moments before the pregame introductions, a gentleman from our bus took the seat next to me. He would provide me with more fodder for a future book than the game itself. For the sake of discussion, let’s just call him Jack.

Jack likes beer and I suspect he was well on his way to becoming inebriated even before stepping inside the building. He brought a cooler on board when we went to Brown’s Town and though I didn’t notice this time around, he undoubtedly did likewise on this trip.

Before they even dropped the puck, Jack had made two beer runs, getting his limit of two beers each time. Later in the game, he made another trip and picked up two more cans of his favorite beverage. All told, at $9 a pop, the six beers at the game set him back $54, to say nothing of the beer he probably brought on board what would be termed the “booze bus.”

For the record, after checking their website, a six-pack would have run him $13.95 at LCBO. Plus KST, of course.

In the understatement of the month, Jack is not a careful shopper.

Later in the game, Jack would visit the concessions and both purchase and eat a plate of poutine. From the looks of it, he spent another $6.50 for fries that had been held underneath the back end of a cow with diarrhea.

Jack also has a booming voice. His often-repeated lines of “Come on boys,” “Let’s go boys,” and “Get ‘er done,” resonated in my eardrums during and long after the game. I have no doubt that, despite our distance from the ice and the noise from the other 9,000 screaming fans, some of the players could actually hear him.

No player could move a muscle without a comment from Jack. He was, if nothing else, on top of the action.

Evidently needing some exercise to go along with his beer runs and subsequent trips to the washroom to unload his rented beer, he stood up at one point during the game and did some light calisthenics, swinging his arms around, barely missing me. One loyal reader will understand the reference to a former colleague whose first name rhymes with “truce” who used to do this with regularity during meetings before leaving our place of employment under a cloud.

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Moving on from our friend Jack, I noticed there was a second IceDogs rooting section at the other end of the ice. Seated in the front row were the Burkes along with Wayne Gates, the Communist MPP for Niagara Falls, and the ghost of Jim Bradley. There are unconfirmed rumors circulating around town that he’s still our MPP. But again, I digress.

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Following the pregame introductions, the anthem singer took the microphone. He was good, fully clothed and performed O Canada entirely in the Canadian language. He even paused midway through to allow the crowd to take over for a few verses.

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After the opening faceoff, I noticed how Josh Ho-Sang was booed each time he touched the puck. No doubt, there was some past history dating back to the days when he played for Windsor. There was also a chant for London’s Cliff Pu every time he touched the puck. There was something odd, however, about having 9,000 or so people yelling “poo.”

As I looked around the rink during the play, at the entrance to the ramps in the lower bowl were ads for several real estate agents, one of them being George Georgopolous. All I can say is that it must have been a difficult pregnancy for his mother.

During the first period, London’s Matthew Tkachuk, son of Captain Weasel, the ever-disgruntled ex-captain of the real Jets, was involved in a little fracas. From what I saw, he’s a chip off the old block. He took and doled out plenty of abuse in front of the IceDogs’ net, was certain to be at the center of any display of hostility and took a couple of dives. For his sake, I hope he didn’t inherit his father’s legendary immaturity.

As for the game, which was almost a secondary concern, following a scoreless first period, the IceDogs scored first on somewhat of a fluky goal just after Alex Nedeljkovic stopped Captain Weasel, Jr. on a breakaway. From there, however, it was all downhill. London scored twice before the end of the second and added two more in the third.

As the third period was winding down and the fans were chanting “warm up the bus,” it reminded me of the opening game against Oshawa last season. In that series, the IceDogs lost in five games to a vastly superior team who outclassed them in every respect. I can only hope it doesn’t turn out that way in this series.

Needless to say, it was a rather subdued bunch who reboarded the bus after the game for the ride back to St. Catharines. Nonetheless, as always, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience.

26 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Brown’s Town

On Saturday, I was one of a busload of fans who headed north to watch the IceDogs take on the hometown Barrie Colts in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. It would mark my fourth road trip with the IceDogs and second to Barrie, having gone there on the trip last January.

Despite the fact that the team did not publish the trip on its website, Facebook page or Twitter account, they had a full bus of 56 fans and even had to turn some people away. I only heard about it by accident, but I was glad I did. Maybe it’s one of those “you’re just supposed to know”™ things I’ve seen so frequently since coming to this part of the world.

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As loyal readers who know me would expect, I was among the first to arrive at the Jack, where we were scheduled to leave at 4:00.

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As I was talking to a couple of the early arrivers, a couple of pillars of society passed us by.

While we continued chatting about the IceDogs’ improbable run in the playoffs, conversation elsewhere turned to beer. One fan wondered whether or not it would be allowed on the bus and after finding out that they turn a blind eye to it, debated making a run to the nearest beer store on Welland Avenue. I know I’m in the minority, but I’m proud of the fact that I don’t get the attraction to alcoholic beverages.

Nick Williams of the IceDogs arrived around 3:20 to take our money, then the bus pulled up around 3:30. While the others were drawn to the back, I climbed on board and dropped anchor in the front seat so I could get some good highway pictures of 400 between C.U. and Barrie. All told, I would collect more than 130 quality shots, soon to appear on a website near you.

Before we took off, a gentleman seated right behind me asked if I knew where we were sitting. As we began talking, it turns out that not only was he born in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, but he was also born at the same hospital I was. What are the odds?

With everyone on board, we left just before 4:00. As there were no empty seats on the bus, Nick had to bum a ride up to Barrie with one of the many others who were driving up on their own, leaving Matt Johnston in charge of the group. Fans may recall it was Matt who was married at center ice during the second intermission of a game at the Meridian Center earlier this season.

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The late Saturday afternoon traffic in and around the Center of the Universe failed to dampen the enthusiasm on the bus as “Go Dogs Go” chants broke out at regular intervals.

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In spite of the traffic, we still made good time and pulled into Barrie around 6:00. Matt went and got our tickets and we had time to kill before they opened the doors at 6:30.

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After the doors opened, I first went through the team store. Prices, if anything, were even higher than the outrageous amounts the IceDogs charge for their merchandise. For example, a youth hoodie was priced at $89.99. Junior hockey operators seem blissfully unaware that they are not catering to a champagne and caviar crowd wearing suits and ties.

On this night, I would have loved to have been showing my hometown team’s colors, but I flatly refuse to give the IceDogs $120+ for a jersey.

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Moving on, I toured the concourse and got some shots in the stands. Rally towels were on the backs of every seat in the rink, except for those in our section. It was an awfully petty gesture, but IceDogs fans would have the last laugh in the end.

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In the concourse, I spotted several IceDogs players kicking around a soccer ball.

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I was not the only one to stop for some pictures.

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During the warmup, I noticed the ad on the boards for Patrick Brown, leader of the opposition and the next premier of Ontario. Brown hails from this area and was the MP for Barrie before seeking the leadership of the Ontario PC Party. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he came through St. Catharines and did ultimately vote for him when it came time to cast my ballot as a party member.

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Just before the start of the game, Charlie Horse, the Colts’ mascot, paid us a visit. As I observed last year, he doesn’t nearly have the same engaging personality Bones does and for as little as he contributes to the fan experience, they might as well not even bother with a mascot.

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Once the game began, the IceDogs controlled much of the first period, but they weren’t able to get on the board until early in the second when the prime minister scored to send section 118 into a frenzy.

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The lead became 2-0 after Anthony DiFruscia scored from in front of the net, displaying a dexterity with the puck he hasn’t shown in the last two years.

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There were IceDogs fans throughout the rink, but most of us were concentrated in one section, where chants of “Let’s Go IceDogs” and “Ned … Ned … Ned” were raging. After each goal, the “Yes … Yes … Yes” chant also filled the air.

Barrie narrowed the gap with an early third-period goal, but Graham Knott’s marker at the 6:32 mark restored the two-goal lead.

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Brendan Perlini’s goal later in the third all but put the game away, and the IceDogs fans began serenading the Barrie fans on their way to the exits.

Late in the game, acting every bit the part of sore losers, one of the Barrie players took a run at Josh Ho-Sang and was lucky only to get a two-minute penalty on the play. As Ho-Sang was getting to his feet, I can only wonder what might have been if their coach, Dale Hawerchuk, had shown that kind of fire when he played with the Jets, a team that rolled over far too often for Edmonton when I was a Jets season ticket holder.

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In any event, the IceDogs cruised to a 4-1 victory, and after the game, just as they did in Ottawa a year earlier, they came by and saluted us on their way off the ice in a classy gesture.

Fans were in high spirits as they made their way out toward the bus, but things quietened down soon after we started rolling and it was a rather uneventful ride under a full moon back to St. Catharines. We pulled into the Jack at 12:20, and I was back home just after 1:00. It was another winning experience in more ways than one.

11 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Oshawa

Last night, I was one of 32 fans who made the trip to Oshawa to see the IceDogs open their second-round best-of-seven series against the Generals at the General Motors Center.

While waiting between the double doors at the Jack for our bus to arrive, many others including me were amazed at what a beehive of activity the IceDogs’ former home was on this late Friday afternoon. We could only presume there was a tournament going on as endless streams of kids and their parents kept shuttling back and forth. Space inside was evidently at such a premium that one of the teams had to go to the parking lot across the street to do their pregame stretching.

Among the many parents with their kids was one gentleman who was wearing a jersey from the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. Yuck! Double yuck! As a good friend and loyal reader would say, “Loser!”

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I was relieved when our bus came so we could get out of the way of all the hustle and bustle. Thinking they had been hired to pick up the team, the dispatcher sent the driver to the Meridian Center and only after inquiring inside did he then come to meet us at the Jack. Our driver was excellent once again, but I knew he wasn’t much of a fan when he asked me what league this was.

The group consisted of a few who had made the trek to Ottawa along with some mothers and their children who brought along some sign-making materials that kept them occupied on the way. Without the photographer and Captain Ammonia to provide their unique brand of entertainment, much to my relief, it would be by far the quietest of the three IceDogs road trips I had been on this year.

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Not unexpectedly, we ran into a fair bit of traffic, but we got to Oshawa in plenty of time.

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While waiting for the doors to open, I got some shots out front of the building and of our group.

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IceDogs owner Bill Burke stopped to shake hands with a few of us on his way in and the Generals mascot, Deke, was having a little fun with us.

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Deke didn’t quite measure up to Bones, but he was one of the better mascots I have seen.

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Despite the long line forming on the street and with the high winds making it miserable outside, arena staff defiantly refused to let us in even a minute before 6:35, one hour before puck drop. Season ticket holders were allowed early entry, but not the rest of us common folk. It’s not any different at the Meridian Center, but at least we get to wait indoors.

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After finally being allowed in, I made a point of circling the concourse and my first target was the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, a dedicated room displaying artifacts of the area’s sporting history.

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Among the many displays was a game-worn jersey from former Manitoba Fighting Moose John MacLean.

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The view from center ice.

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Walking through the concourse, I noticed banners like this honoring past Generals players, such as this one for Scott McCrory, another former Fighting Moose. It is nice to see teams do this and I hope the IceDogs follow suit with something similar once they get enough history of their own.

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On the opposite side of the rink was the “Canadian Hockey House,” a popular restaurant/bar where patrons could sit and watch the game while getting plastered. Unfortunately, this was probably the best choice for anyone looking for food as the offerings at the concessions were most disappointing. All that was on the menu was pizza, hotdogs, nachos and a $10 “carve of the day,” but luckily, I wasn’t in need on this trip as I snuck in some food of my own.

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After taking my seat in section B, so named because it was squarely behind the netting, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s unfortunate gift to the world, I noted with interest that, just as they did in Barrie and Ottawa, they introduced the timekeeper, scorekeeper and goal judges in addition to the on-ice officials. As IceDogs fans say after the announcement of an opponent’s goal, who cares? The announcer didn’t introduce himself before the game, but he made sure to after the game. It’s one less time than what the IceDogs announcer does, but it’s still one time too many.

Looking down at ice level, the glass looked a little hacked up, but it was still reasonably clean and, unlike the case at the Meridian Center, a patron would not have cause to plead for a lower price because of an obstructed view. I couldn’t believe my eyes when someone came out with a squeegee during the second intermission to clean a spot where it had been sprayed earlier in the game. That is one shot I should have taken to send to SMG, who manages the Meridian Center, to prove that it is indeed possible.

I paid special attention when they announced a fan bus trip to the Meridian Center in “Niagara.” Not that I am not proud to be a resident of the region, but team’s and my home is St. Catharines. This is another case highlighting how the previous mayor and council seriously erred in not insisting the team take the name of its home city when making the investment to build the rink. Interestingly, one of the late arrivals two rows in front of me was none other than Dawn Dodge, the recently defeated councillor for my ward, who was adorned in a red IceDogs sweatshirt.

The game itself was controlled by the home team and was much more one-sided than the 5-3 final score would indicate. It was only Brandon Hope’s solid goaltending that kept Oshawa from running up the score. At times, it seemed like the ice was tilted.

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Not helping the visitors’ cause was Vince Dunn’s early ejection for slewfooting as well as the mediocre play of Brendan Perlini and Carter Verhaeghe, two of their top offensive threats. Too many nights have gone by where I’ve barely noticed those two and as I’ve said before, it’s hard to win when your best players aren’t your best players. Those two have the skill to be dominant at this level and both seem content to get by because they are better than their contemporaries. As Kurt Warner once said to Larry Fitzgerald, “Why just be good when you can be great?” Hopefully they’ll learn that lesson once they get to the next level.

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Aside from the game, the two intermissions featured some fun and games including this first-period event with a couple of would-be sumo wrestlers. The last time I saw something like this was at a Fighting Moose game more than a dozen years ago.

After the game, Oshawa fans were eager to rub our noses in it. In addition to some comments outside, a couple of guys came aboard our bus, blew their bullhorn and yelled, “Better luck next year.” Even though one of the guys on the bus didn’t care for it all, it was all good-natured and perhaps later in the series, we’ll be able to return the favor.

As part of a promotion, since the Generals scored four goals, every fan was entitled to a free medium order of fries at McDonald’s, so on our way out, Wade Graham of the IceDogs suggested we go through the drive thru and order 34 medium fries, “just to stick it to them.” It was a good idea and it’s too bad we didn’t go through with it.

Even though the game didn’t go well, it was still a good experience and getting home at 1:00 sure beats getting back at 5:00 as I did after the Ottawa trip. Thanks to everyone at the IceDogs for making the arrangements and I look forward to future trips.

06 Apr

Good Friday in Ottawa

On Good Friday, I was among the group of 28 fans who made the long trek from St. Catharines to Ottawa to see the IceDogs take on the 67’s at TD Place, formerly known as the Ottawa Civic Center, the one-time home of the WHA’s Ottawa Nationals and Civics.

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Not unexpectedly, I was the first of the contingent to arrive at the Jack Gatecliff Arena, where our bus was scheduled to depart at noon for the six-hour drive.

It didn’t take long before I was joined by a few others who also came well ahead of time. One thing I have noticed is that people in this part of the world, very much to their credit and unlike those in my former home city, are chronic early birds.

Also along for the ride was Nino Bourikas and Wade Graham of the IceDogs staff and Nino collected the $100 fare from each of us while waiting for the bus to arrive. Nick Williams normally handles those duties but he was reportedly helping someone move.

Not surprisingly, also among the contingent was Natasa Djermanovic and her family who would take up seats beside and behind me. The sometimes vulgar banter between the team’s official photographer and David, a fan from Welland seated near the back, would certainly liven up the ride.

David was an interesting character and he was so loud that not only could everyone on the bus hear him, but I think passing cars on the 401 could hear him as well. On our way, he was hung up on Belleville and kept asking how far we were from the city that just lost its OHL team. He also made sure to tell us that he had recently recovered from a bout with “ammonia.” I presume he meant pneumonia, but he insisted it was ammonia.

Before leaving, Natasa was proudly showing off the $15,000 400 mm lens she had rented for this weekend and mentioned out loud, “Don’t have fun, don’t do anything because you’re going to be blogged about.” Whether or not that missive was intended for me, my presence certainly didn’t cramp her style.

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Badder Bus Services provided the transportation and according to Nino, their rate was half of what Coach Canada wanted. The discounted price, however, didn’t mean any less comfort or safety for us. Not only was the bus good but both drivers were excellent, in sharp contrast to many I’ve had when living in the SPRM. As an aside, it still feels so good to refer to the SPRM in past tense.

We left at noon and Ron took us to the car pool lot at Burlington, where Lyle took over for the rest of the trip. In Ontario, drivers are only allowed 13 hours on the road and a total of 16 hours on the clock before a rest period and because of the long distance, they needed two drivers to split the job.

Even though we were only going for the day, one older couple brought a trunkful of stuff with them including blankets, pillows, a cooler, a case of Rolling Rock beer and hefty order that cleaned out a nearby Tim Hortons. I was surprised to hear from Lyle that though it is in the contract that no alcohol is allowed on board, they and other carriers willfully turn a blind eye to it.

Not long after we got on the road, I spotted someone who had parked his motorcycle on the side of the QEW and perched himself on a guard rail so he could use his cell phone. Give it a rest. Nino then went to put on a DVD, but thankfully, the audio wasn’t working. Natasa and Captain Ammonia would provide more than enough audio for the trip.

Sitting in the front seat, as loyal readers would expect, I was able to grab many more highway pictures, soon to appear on a Web site near you. Among the new shots came from the 407 ETR, the toll route the dispatcher had given Lyle permission to use.

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In order for large vehicles such as these buses to use the 407, they must have a transponder that gates like these will read upon entry and exit to calculate the charge.

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Traffic was quite heavy headed in the opposite direction, but things moved smoothly for us most of the way.

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It was my first time east of Toronto and as much as I was paying attention to the highway in front of us, I was equally interested in hearing Lyle’s stories from his two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy Seebees between 1969 and 1972. A native of Hamilton, he drove across the border to Buffalo to meet with a recruiting officer hoping to learn a trade in the service and instead, unexpectedly got shipped off to Vietnam.

I was particularly fascinated by his near-death experiences that he kindly shared with me. On one occasion, a young Viet Cong soldier no more than 14 years old had an AK-47 to his head. Not wanting to see the end, Lyle closed his eyes, “made peace with God” and waited for what seemed like an hour before opening his eyes to find that the young man had gone and let him live.

On another occasion when he was out in the field, he had tied something too tight and needed fixing as a result. He offered to stay to make the repair, but his lieutenant said the next crew would come and take care of it. That crew never came back, leaving him with an understandable case of survivors’ guilt.

There was also another time when a booby trap went off, sending out sharp metal shards, one of which would have sliced through his throat and killed him were it not for his dog tag that fell down around his neck as he was diving out of the way.

Though it bothered him at one time to talk about these incidents, he said it helps him now and today, he speaks to soldiers returning from Iraq, just as World War II and Korea veterans spoke to him after his return from Southeast Asia.

He also mentioned that he and his buddies would always have an annual reunion the week after July 4, but he’s the only survivor of the bunch as the rest have since succumbed to cancer as a direct result of Agent Orange.

Following his discharge, he was given American citizenship and went on to enjoy a 42-year career as an electrician. Today, he drives a bus part time “just for something to do.”

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As we rolled on into Eastern Ontario, the banter between Natasa and Captain Ammonia began to heat up. While passing some farms, they wondered what would happen if a horse and cow were ever to be mated. Captain Ammonia then yelled, “I want to hear some music,” to which Natasa replied, “Plug your ears!”

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Roughly halfway to Ottawa, we stopped for a much-needed break at the Trenton ONRoute, one of many such rest areas along the 401. As I mentioned when I first saw them on the 400 on the way to Barrie, it sure beats the SPRM’s equivalent of a weather-beaten outhouse.

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Past Trenton, we saw the first sign giving the distance to Ottawa.

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We passed this exit that leads a bridge connecting to I-81 in the U.S. As I mentioned to Lyle, it’s one of the few places where you see an Interstate highway sign in Canada.

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At last, we reached the exit for 416 that took us north towards Ottawa.

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After taking the exit off the 417 in Ottawa, I noted with interest that the stop signs read “STOP” and not “ARRET,” as they do in St. Boniface, a suburb of Winnipeg. If the Canadian-language wording is good enough for a city on the shores of the Evil Empire, it ought to be good enough for St. Boniface.

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The IceDogs’ bus was already in the loading dock by the time we got to TD Place, over an hour before game time.

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When we were going in, I paid special attention to the security procedures. Unlike the case at the Meridian Center, there was no one rifling through bags and purses and security staff were friendly. After making a bee-line for the washroom, with plenty of time to spare, I took the opportunity to stroll through the concourse and get some shots inside the seating area.

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Having not eaten for about nine hours, I also needed to scout around for food. There was a little more choice than I found in Barrie and I eventually settled on the $6.50 “Smokin’ Hot 67’s Pizza” with the $5 hot beef sandwich coming in a close second. Consisting of a BBQ sauce base, the pizza had chicken and onions and the taste stayed with me well into the next day, not to mention the fact that I got my monthly supply of grease in the process.

Elsewhere in the concourse, I noticed free charging stations for cell phones, much like I found at Eaton Center in Toronto. Browsing through their souvenir shop, I noticed that they sell 67’s jerseys for $140, $20 more than the IceDogs ask for one of theirs. I consider a $120 price too steep, let alone $140.

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I joined several others in stepping outside to check out the attached football stadium whose grandstands back the arena before the security guards ushered us back inside.

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I nearly fainted when I spotted none other than Kevin Cheveldayoff, assistant general manager of the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club, busy on his cell phone, undoubtedly getting marching orders from his boss. What are the odds of running into him here?

After taking my seat, I noticed there was little leg room, but the seats were thickly padded and clean. I also noticed the glass was clean. If they can do it here, in Barrie, at the Xcel Energy Center and at the old Winnipeg Arena, they can do it at the Meridian Center.

We were seated in the parents’ section and Anthony DiFruscia’s mother was directly behind us. To my immediate left was Natasa’s son and on the other side was Captain Ammonia and his brother, who lives in Ottawa. Captain Ammonia’s lungs were still in high gear and he spent much of the night getting into it with a 67’s fan behind him from Gatineau. Even if I had a radio, there would have been no need to listen to the broadcast as I got all the play-by-play I needed from Captain Ammonia.

The game itself that almost seemed anticlimactic after such a long and eventful voyage turned out very well. The IceDogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second period and after the 67’s narrowed the gap to 4-3 before intermission, the visitors broke it open in the third for an eventual 8-3 win. Yours truly was very pleased to be among the Niagara rooting contingent yelling “Go Dogs Go” and supporting our home team.

None of the three mascots, those from the 67’s, the REDBLACKS and the soccer Fury could hold a candle to Bones and I mentioned how nice it would have been for Bones to make the trip.

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During the second period, the mascot for the REDBLACKS, not to be confused with the Redblacks, paid us a visit and used the throat-slash gesture to us. Needless to say, that was in exceptionally bad taste and I hope the person underneath the costume realized it.

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Once the game was over, the IceDogs skated over to our section and saluted us on their way off the ice. It was an awfully nice gesture that I think all of us who had made the trek appreciated greatly.

With all of us on board, we took off around 10:10 for the long trip back to St. Catharines. Many of us were snoozing and I was able to get a little shut-eye, but not very much. What little I had was rudely interrupted by Captain Ammonia, who, unable to sleep, decided to come up front and talk to Lyle to spread his misery among those of us who were able to doze a little.

We stopped at the Napanee ONRoute at 12:30, where I went to the washroom while others loaded up at Tim Hortons. Inside the washroom, there was a man at the urinal doing his business while chatting on his cell phone. As I said before, give it a rest.

Lyle was alert and attentive throughout the entire trip, but he made the mistake of using his GPS as a brain substitute once we got to the eastern edge of the GTA. With permission to use the 407, instead of following the clearly marked signs to follow 404, he listened to the GPS that told him to go in the opposite direction. Even after getting back on the correct path, he followed the GPS’s incorrect instructions to get off on a side street. I hope he learned his lesson.

We got back to the Jack at 4:25 in the morning and 50 minutes later, I was walking through my front door. It was a long, exhausting journey that I don’t want to repeat any time soon, but I was still glad I went.

Go Dogs Go!