Category Archives: Meridian Center

01 Oct

IceDogs Home Opener 2017

Thoughts and observations from the Niagara IceDogs’ 2017-2018 home opener against the visiting Erie Otters to kick off my fourth season of IceDogs hockey since relocating to St. Catharines:

1. Don’t ask me why, but the drivers on the road on the way to the rink seemed to be in a particularly ornery mood. Maybe because it was Friday night.

2. I passed by two people with dogs and both had their canines on leashes. This is not the Old Country.

3. Sign of the times: A woman sitting in a park with her head down busy with her phone and not paying the slightest bit of attention to her children.

4. Odd sightings en route: A biker sitting in a bar was a spitting image of the poor sap whom Arnold Schwarzenegger targeted in the opening scene of Terminator 2. Not more than two blocks later, the cyclist I spotted on Welland Avenue bore a striking facial resemblance to former IceDog Brendan Perlini.

5. Maybe I’m just noticing them more, but many, shall we say, diverse characters were coming out of the woodwork as I made my way through downtown. One of the strangest was a woman lying on the ground who was so disoriented after getting up that she nearly staggered into me. I don’t want to know the substance she was under the influence of.

6. The purpose of this headless mannequin on St. Paul Street is …

7. Why our civic leaders are celebrating the installation of a crosswalk half a block from a traffic light as a great accomplishment is something I don’t quite understand.

8. The long line on the Rankin Gateway of people waiting for the privilege of getting in.

9. When we were finally allowed in around 6:05, ravenous and rude rent-a-copettes were again rifling through bags and purses just as they had been back when the building first opened. In response to complaints, the practice had since been greatly relaxed, but it’s apparently back and with a vengeance. I hope it’s not the case of the new general manager looking to flex his muscle in order to impress his masters at SMG.

9a. Being among the thick crowds, I was able to run a pass pattern to avoid them and sneak in a juice box. Take that, SMG!

10. Outrageously priced souvenir item of the night: A baby outfit for $15.

11. This season’s menu and prices at the concessions, which did a booming business:

11a. The two women seated to my immediate left each had a mozza burger and three beers and shared a tub of popcorn, spending more than double the cost of their respective tickets in the process. And they probably drove home.

11b. Seeing how much cash people blow at the concessions, it’s no wonder the governments they elect spend money so wildly.

12. Obligatory scoreboard and center ice shots:

13. The usher at section 106 who was standing in the middle of the aisle acted as if she was doing me a big favor when she got out of my way. The role of an usher is to help patrons, not to obstruct passageways. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

13a. Note to IceDogs ushers: Being a volunteer does not entitle you to annoy the living daylights out of paying customers.

14. There was a booth from a radio station offering a chance to win tickets to see Elton John at the Meridian Center. The school project I was forced to do on him in Grade 4 is the only reason I even know who Elton John is.

15. New sponsors this year include Niagara Airbus, whose service brought me from Pearson Airport to my new home on the historic day of August 1, 2014 when I became an Ontario resident, as well as OPSEU, which is advertising on the ice and on one of the Zamboni machines. Like I always wondered with MGEU, why do they feel the need to advertise? It’s not as though public sector employees can go to another union.

16. Sadly, Horizon Utilities remains a sponsor. I still do not understand why does a publicly owned utility with a monopoly has any need to spend money to promote its brand. And why the municipalities which own Horizon/Alectra do not put a stop to this frivolous practice with an iron fist.

17. I liked this clever IceDogs-themed ad:

18. There were many familiar faces in the crowd. Perhaps I’m becoming one of them. After all, this is a small town.

19. Among the crowd of 4,768 that, if anything, was under-reported, was a big contingent from the Commonwealth who came to see their team, including the group in my row. Seated to my immediate right was a 40-something teenager who spent the entire night trying to become the next Howie Meeker. Her favorite player appeared to be Christian Girhiny, whom she first called “Pogo” then later “Coco.” Her calls of “hit ‘em,” “skate, Jordan,” “Jordan, what are you doing?” and “get up there, get up there” were pretty tame, but I nearly jumped when she yelled “Shoooot!”

20. Seated in the section to my right was a woman in her 20s with “LOVE ME Always and Forever” emblazoned on the back of her blouse. Are people that desperate for affection?

21. Sadly, the band was back, but at least they weren’t too obnoxious.

22. The presence of so many higher, designer numbers on this year’s roster is further proof Marty Williamson is no longer in charge.

23. I’ve officially lost hope that the glass will ever be cleaned in that building. Worse yet, the floor beneath my seat was so sticky that I had to keep moving my feet during the game to avoid the risk of having my shoes permanently adhere to it. I suppose the off-season wasn’t long enough for them to clean the place properly. *eyeroll*

24. Before the game, I did another eyeroll as they again showed the “Hockey Night in Niagara” graphic on the scoreboard. Funny, but I don’t see any other Niagara municipality rushing to help pitch in to help retire the debt and share in the cost of maintaining the building. Yet they’re more than willing to share in the glory and celebrate the IceDogs as a regional team. Yes, that remains a sore point.

25. Among the hockey operations staff introduced before the game was the IceDogs’ new director of analytics. Seriously? This is junior hockey, not the NHL. Let the kids have a little fun, for the love of Pete(tm).

26. Dear public address announcer whose name I will not repeat since he loves to promote himself so much: We know that St. Catharines, Thorold, Mississauga and Oakville are in Ontario. When giving the player’s hometown in the introductions, you don’t have to repeat it each and every time. Even if we didn’t know, the fact that we’re at an Ontario Hockey League game might give it away.

27. It was a nice touch to honor longtime season ticket holders and others in the IceDogs family who had passed away in the off-season with a moment of silence before the game.

28. The Grand Avenue Public School choir handled the anthems poorly and sadly, did part of the Canadian anthem in Quebecese. Not cool.

29. The winner of the “Move of the Game” was a little kid named Gavin, the same name of the lead character in Shattered Dreams, my fifth book.

30. When visiting the washroom, I noticed many people using the sinks as well as the urinals. Once again, this is not the Old Country.

31. Oh by the way, there was a game going on. The first period was relatively uneventful, and despite the rash of penalties called in the second, it wasn’t until the 16:45 mark that the IceDogs opened the scoring. Erie answered just over a minute later, but the IceDogs regained the lead early in the third and put the game away with two more late in the period.

32. In the third period, I laughed as Elijah Roberts tried to put a spinerama move on an attacking Erie forward at the Otters’ blue line. Kid, you’re not the second coming of Serge Savard.

33. The IceDogs saluting the crowd after the game:

34. While waiting for the bus after the game, I spotted a guy wheeling a bike to the platform. He likely didn’t know it, but his bike needed a new cog. He also seemed to have a great deal of trouble figuring out how to read the board showing when the next buses are coming. They taught us that in Grade 8, but it didn’t look like he had gotten that far in school before dropping out. Or flunking out, if they allow that these days with the “no-fail” policies in place.

35. On the bus, the back door opened automatically and all but one departing passenger thanked the driver. You’ve heard this before, but this is not the Old Country.

01 Sep

Hockey in August – Black and White Game

Observations from the annual Black and White game to wrap up Niagara IceDogs training camp:

1. En route, I spotted someone picking up after his dog. Again, this is not the Old Country.

2. Also en route, I passed by this sign. I asked it how I could become a member, but it didn’t answer. How rude of the sign. If the Lions are really serious about wanting to add new members, they really should consider replacing this sign with a more friendly one.

3. I guess that’s what smoking weed does to your brain.

4. Spotted downtown was a pair of young women clearly dressed to begin their shift selling their services on the street. One was dressed in a tight top with her cell phone tucked inside her bra, no doubt waiting to be dispatched by her pimp, while the other had a short skirt with smurf-blue hair.

5. A rather interesting paint job on this barrel:

6. No doubt the driver will claim to be a dog lover …

7. Stopped at the light at St. Catharines’ answer to Confusion Corner were two women arguing, one of whom was insisting she wasn’t using her phone while driving. With the disturbing prevalence of texting and driving, why is it that I didn’t believe her?

8. Not too far from that intersection was a mentally disturbed couple engaged in a heated F-rated conversation. As I got closer, the man leapt out of his wheelchair to grab the woman’s purse as the two of them continued to argue. Two blocks later, it was an argument I could still hear quite plainly.

9. Farther down St. Paul Street was a bum stretched out on a bench using his backpack as a pillow. But at least he wasn’t smoking.

10. It would have been nice if the staff at the Meridian Center had actually propped open the doors instead of leaving attendees to guess as to where to go. But I guess that’s asking a little too much.

11. Strolling through the souvenir store, the outrageously priced items that grabbed my attention were the $120 light jacket and the $45.95 golf shirt. With prices like that, it’s no wonder sightings of IceDogs paraphernalia around the region are rare, much like it was with the Fighting Moose in Winnipeg.

12. I keep hoping this will be the year the glass at the Meridian Center will see its historic first cleaning, but understandably, my optimism is waning.

13. The management at Meridian Center wants my feedback like they want a root canal without anesthetic. I’ve already given it to them. More than once. Publicly. What do they do about it? Nothing. What they really want is for people to tell them what a great job they’re doing so the bigwigs can pat themselves on the back, just like the politicos did at Lakeside Park earlier in the day.

13a. That $20 at the concessions sure won’t get you very far.

13b. Case in point, last night’s shortened menu:

13c. I could only shake my head when I walked past two teenage heavyweights standing near the concessions debating what to fill their faces with. It didn’t seem to occur to them that they didn’t need anything. Save your money and more importantly, your health.

13d. Am I just noticing it more or is obesity on the rise? Maybe it’s a little of both.

14. It’s “merchandise.” A common word. Not hard. And the space is there to print it out in full.

15. A few shots from around the rink:

16. The crowd was a little light as hockey in August is evidently not terribly popular. Even the team’s photographer was noticeably absent. But despite the few number of attendees, I did notice a few familiar faces, including some from past bus trips.

17. It is apparently not a proper IceDogs event unless the PA announcer introduces himself. Which he did. But he broke from tradition and didn’t introduce himself again after the game. It was a faux pas he is undoubtedly still kicking himself over and one he will surely never repeat again.

18. Did they really need to blow the horn after each goal? All it did was wake up the otherwise comatose “crowd.”

19. Seeing the name “Hooper” on the back of one of the linesmen made me think of “Jaws” and the scenes where the bounty hunter Quint kept yelling at the oceanographer.

20. This is the start of my fourth season since moving to St. Catharines, yet I’m already going on my third head coach, second mascot and have seen many front office people come and go. I’m getting to think that the IceDogs must give long-service awards after six months.

21. This year’s marketing slogan is “The New Age.” Isn’t every year a new age in junior hockey?

22. During the second period, an usher was walking through the stands handing out finger-licking-good wall-size posters with the home schedule and a little bit of his spit on it. It didn’t take me more than two seconds to spot the glaring error:

22a. It is incredible to think how many hands this passed through on its way to the printer, yet no one else seemingly caught it.

23. I wonder if that same usher remembers the game last year where he chased me down an aisle trying to force me to accept his “help.” He might not remember the occasion, but I do, and that incident will be among many featured in a future book I intend to start in a couple of years time on my fan experiences with the IceDogs, similar to what I did with the Fighting Moose. Some people will like it. Others won’t. He will likely fit into the latter category.

24. Spotted in the “crowd” was someone wearing a #31 Brent Moran jersey. There’s a player whose name will live in infamy longer than any other in the annals of IceDogs history.

25. For the record, the black team beat the white team by a score of 6-4. Now let the real games begin.

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.

10_feetup

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.

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.

26 Jan

Winnipeg Jets Day at the Meridian Center

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the IceDogs again as they took on the Barrie Colts at the Meridian Center. This was a date I’ve had circled on my calendar for some time because of the opportunity to see Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk behind the Barrie bench. I saw the greatest player in Jets NHL history so often during my five years as a season ticket holder and this was my chance to see him once again.

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As soon as I walked into the building, I was befuddled when one of the security guards asked, “Are you here for the game?” What else would I be there for?

While waiting to get in, someone who noticed the Jets gear I was decked out in approached me and said, “Winnipeg, they’ve been winning.” He apparently was one of those who still do not distinguish between the Winnipeg Jets, a team that no longer exists, and the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. I assumed he meant the Chipman team instead of the Jets, so I responded, “Don’t worry, it won’t last.” He seemed surprisingly taken aback as he went on to talk about Chipman’s team before asking, “Your goalie, is he stopping the puck?” I told him I had no idea and I don’t even know who his goalie is, even though, as a former Manitoba taxpayer, I was helping to pay his salary. A surprising number of fans remain wilfully blind to the fact that the Chipman franchise has been on artificial life support before they ever dropped the puck. This so-called “inevitable” return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg has been made possible only by generous government handouts.

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When I got to my seat, I noticed once again that it, along with many others in the area, was dirty. Not only that, the floor hadn’t been cleaned and as you can see from the picture, there were some leftover cheezies on the ground. I wasn’t the only one to flag down the girl who was going around cleaning off the seats and she claimed that they do get wiped. It is a claim I find hard to believe. Once she finished in my section, she continued around the rink and as late as ten minutes before the start of the game, they were still wiping down seats. SMG is supposed to be a world-renowned arena management company, but they’re not exactly doing a bang-up job at the Meridian Center. I shudder to think what this jewel of a building is going to look like in five years time under their stewardship.

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To my surprise, seated opposite me on the other side of the rink were a couple of season ticket holders who were also dressed in Jets gear. The woman on the left was wearing a 1980s vintage jersey like the one I was wearing, but unlike me, she also had Hawerchuk’s name and number on the back.

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Interestingly, Mike Rosati, a former Manitoba Fighting Moose goaltender, was also behind the bench as one of Hawerchuk’s assistants. Rosati will be one of the players featured in my next book, View from Section 26: A fan’s look at the minor leagues featuring pro hockey’s most unwanted team, which I expect to have available sometime this year.

Though Hawerchuk’s appearance was the headline attraction for me, this was the IceDogs’ annual Pink in the Rink event, with the players and even the officials dressed in pink to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer.

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Bones at center ice prior to the chuck-a-puck in the second intermission.

I continue to be amazed by the how well patronized the concessions seem to be. For example, three seats to my left was a young couple who arranged the financing to pay for a bowl of fries swimming in gravy and some pizza that came fresh from the kitchen of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. There’s virtually nothing on their menu that I would want at any price.

Cody Payne’s cousin sang O Canada and, well, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all. At least she sang it entirely in the Canadian language.

Sitting right behind the bench, I didn’t expect to be able to see much of the action, but I got a surprisingly good view of what turned out to be a wild game. Barrie got on the board early and following a fight, the lights suddenly went out. Fans were kept in the dark, figuratively and literally, as they just played annoyingly loud music and didn’t make an announcement until sending both teams to their respective dressing rooms more than 15 minutes later. After the 24-minute delay, the IceDogs came out like gangbusters and scored five times before the intermission. One fan behind me yelled, “Get ready, you’re next,” at backup goaltender Daniel Gibl, but for better or for worse, Hawerchuk stuck with his starter the whole way.

The IceDogs went on to cruise to a 7-4 victory as Josh Ho-Sang exploded for three goals and Brendan Perlini showed some flashes of the brilliance he needs to show more often.

Hawerchuk’s former boss with the Jets, the late John Ferguson, would have been proud as Barrie seemed intent on starting a fracas once the score got out of hand. There was some stickwork that would have brought a smile to the face of Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken and, late in the third, a number of their players wanted a scrap in the worst way. Nothing came of it, but that didn’t stop Hawerchuk from unloading his full repertoire of profanity at any official who would lend him an ear. I’m surprised he wasn’t penalized or ejected.

I was happy with the IceDogs’ victory, but I admit to having had some split loyalties during the day because of Hawerchuk. Nonetheless, for someone who lived and died with the Jets during most of Hawerchuk’s tenure with the team, it was a thrill just to be on the other side of the glass from him and the final score was almost immaterial. I have so many unpleasant memories of my former home city, but Hawerchuk represented a number of the good memories I brought with me that I continue to build upon here in St. Catharines.

26 Oct

Ode to the IceDogs

Here is a tale that will rhyme
About when I saw the IceDogs for the second time

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I found little buzz on the street on this day
There was only this mascot from the local Subway

Under the auspices of security, a guard rifles through your bags and devices
They just want you to pay the high concession prices

Never bought food at a hockey game, that’s a fact
It’s a streak I intend to keep intact

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I really don’t want to be mean
But is it asking too much for the seat to be clean?

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New banners were hung from the rafters
Honoring the team that was the Eastern Conference masters

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Before the game, Bones posed for a picture for me
There would be not many others in the stands for the mascot to see

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The IceDogs played their backup goaltender, giving him a fling
We found out why he’s second-string

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Battalion shooters found him easy to strafe
Don’t worry Brent, your job is safe

The work of the officials was not a delight
“I’m blind, I’m deaf, I want to be a ref,” was easily the line of the night

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An altercation caused many to scoff
One man near me yelled, “Rip his head off!”

The biggest cheers came from a third-period fight
The guy to my left pounded on the glass with all his might

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After the game, dejection was written all over their faces
It hardly seemed worth tying up their skate laces

The light crowd was not happy, to say the least
As their team crept closer to the bottom of the East

Looks like a long year ahead for fans like me and you
They’ve played a dozen games and only won two

17 Oct

My First IceDogs Game

Last night, I was among the sellout crowd of 5,300 as the Niagara IceDogs played their first game at the Meridian Center. Not only was it my first IceDogs game, but it was the first time I had been at a junior hockey game since 2002 when the Brandon Wheat Kings played the Prince Albert Raiders in a playoff game at the Winnipeg Arena. My experiences with the junior ranks dates back to the 1980s with the Winnipeg Warriors, but I’m not sure sitting among 1,500 loosely interested spectators scattered throughout a cavernous 15,000-seat arena to watch a bad team go through it paces really counts. It would also be the first hockey game I’ve seen in person since the Devils battled the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown Saint Paul in December 2009. Yes, it’s been a while.

Adorned in my Manitoba Fighting Moose jersey, I made my way to the bus stop, where a car with an SPRM plate soon passed by. That may have been a bad omen for what was to come on the bus. The offer of free bus fare with an IceDogs ticket was well publicized by both the IceDogs and St. Catharines Transit, but when I showed my ticket to the driver, he acted like I was flashing a three-dollar bill at him. “What’s that,” he snapped in a very un-St. Catharines-like fashion as I boarded the #7 bus. Only when I explained that it was an IceDogs ticket did he recoil and take off. I hope that, in future, St. Catharines Transit does a better job of publicizing such offers internally.

After I sat down, the driver sped down Niagara Street like he was on the QEW and I got downtown in record time where I waited on one of the two pedestrian bridges leading from St. Paul Street to the Meridian Center.

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I was hardly the first one to arrive and there was a real buzz around the area. In the understatement of the year, IceDogs hockey is a really big deal here. There certainly wasn’t anything close to this kind of atmosphere during the eight years I attended Fighting Moose games and it even exceeded anything I saw during my five years as a Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder in the 1980s. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this.

While waiting in line, I noticed someone standing nearby with a hat bearing the logo of the Mark Chipman Hockey Club and his seat was only a stone’s throw from mine. I hope that is not another bad omen.

When the doors opened shortly after 6:00, one hour before game time, a security guard was at a table assigned to rifle through bags and purses, much to the dismay of my fellow attendees. After the slow procession of anxious fans down two flights of stairs, I made my way through the entrance to the concourse.

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It seemed spacious enough during Saturday’s grand opening, but the concourse was jam-packed during the intermissions. It was particularly bad near the washrooms and concession stands.

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Not that I wanted to buy anything, since I don’t go to hockey games to eat, but I paid attention to the menu and prices. $8.50 for a regular beer and $9.50 for a premium beer. Don’t ask me what the difference is. Since we are in the heart of wine country, wine is available for $7.50. Coffee was $2.00, bottled Coke products were $3.50, hot dogs were $4.50 and popcorn was $5.50. I was disappointed that in today’s day and age, healthier alternatives were not available.

As regular readers may be aware, I am quite proud of never having purchased a food product at the Winnipeg Arena in over 300 games that I saw there. I suspect I will have a similar track record at the Meridian Center.

Just before the warmup started, the two linesmen skated out and took their positions opposite each other at the red line. As I noticed in those Wheat Kings playoff games many years ago, the two teams cannot be trusted to be on the ice together at any time without adult supervision.

In a nice touch, the IceDogs were wearing special jerseys with the design of a tuxedo out front in honor of the special occasion. They would keep those jerseys on through the pre-game introductions before donning their new third jersey that looks like a Chicago Blackhawks knockoff. I liked the new addition of the interlaced “STC” on the shoulder atop the crossed bones to recognize their and my home city.

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The visitors on this night were the Belleville Bulls, who came in sporting a 6-1 record. The last time I had seen a team known as the Bulls was in 1979 when the Birmingham Bulls came into Winnipeg to play the Jets.

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While checking out the Bulls’ roster, I noticed the name of Jake Marchment, the nephew of former Jets defenseman Bryan Marchment, one of the dirtiest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.

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“Bones” out on the ice before the pre-game introductions.

Prior to the start of the game, I was puzzled by the announcement that all SLR and DSLR cameras had to be registered and any unauthorized cameras would be removed. Beyond the issue of blocking another patron’s view of the play, I can’t understand the rationale behind this policy. They should be happy that you care enough to be there and take pictures of the action.

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The opening ceremonies featuring Mayor Bryan McMullan, MPP Jim Bradley, Tom Rankin, Jason Ball, Bill and Denise Burke among others.

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Leading up to the historic home opener, there was much ado about attracting “Andee” to sing the anthem. I was among many who had never heard of her and her performance was nothing spectacular. In addition, her choice to sing partially in Quebecese was both unnecessary and disrespectful. Having the organist play O Canada would have been a much better choice. To her credit, however, “Andee” was fully dressed, unlike what I had seen so often during the Fighting Moose era were the singer would parade around half-naked in front of a crowd of mostly 8-12-year-old boys.

Once the puck dropped for real, it would be the most fascinating game-night experience I had ever seen. The building largely lived up to its lofty advance billing, my seat was comfortable and the sight lines were excellent.

The IceDogs got on the board with two quick goals and I got an early indoctrination into the fans’ tradition of howling for each goal after the cheering had died down. By contrast, the announcement of each Bulls goal was met with a collective “WHO CARES!”

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Along with the band clanging their cymbals and banging their drums to exhort the crowd on, I had the feeling I was at a college football game.

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First period action.

I noticed a smattering of empty seats throughout the building, but the place was mostly full and officially a sellout. The sound system worked well. Too well, in fact. It would be nice if they turned the volume down. I found it a little unsettling watching my home team not knowing any of the players, but I found the level of play to be quite good, full of end-to-end action. The kids make plenty of mistakes, but this is a developmental league and that’s to be expected at this level.

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The IceDogs bench during the second period.

I was particularly interested in the demographic of the crowd. For the most part, it seemed to be a combination of seniors and middle-aged couples along with a smattering of children. Almost without exception, they were dedicated fans who were there to watch a game and not just because they had nothing better to do.

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I noted with considerable interest the lack of zany promotions that I came to expect from the Fighting Moose. There were no rat cannons or “hurling of dead, frozen poultry carcasses,”™ just more garden-variety stuff like this score-to-win contest during the intermission.

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The most off-the-wall promotion was “Kiss Cam” during the third period when they focused on a couple and tried to shame them into kissing on camera for all of St. Catharines to see.

I was impressed that, during the game, they only allowed people to return to their seats during stoppages in play and announcements to this effect were made regularly. I noticed that the ushers were eager to help direct fans to their seats, but they were also often in the way. Instead of standing off to the side, many were standing in the middle of aisle and I had to contort myself around one of them who was standing between me and my seat.

During a break in the action, I laughed when I saw an IBEW ad on the video board in which they boasted about taking care of the whole country while showing the Toronto skyline. Those of you who have spent your entire life within the inner orbit of the Center of the Universe won’t get it.

It wouldn’t be a hockey game without a 50/50 draw and this would be no exception. Unlike the case with the Fighting Moose where aggressive kids ran after you halfway across the rink, the tickets here are sold by adults who wait on the sidelines and make themselves available to you – the way it should be.

Of course, there was a fight, but little did I know about recent rule changes at this level that will make this spectacle increasingly uncommon. Players with more than 10 fights are automatically suspended for two games and the team will be fined if the player exceeds 15. In the IHL, I more expected a player who didn’t reach double figures to be disciplined. The Fighting Moose once traded for a player who had a bonus clause in his contract based on the number of penalty minutes he racked up.

During the third period, there was a lengthy delay as they consulted video review for a disputed non-goal. I was shocked that they used any form of replay at this level and it was more proof as to what a big deal OHL hockey is in this part of the world.

Oh, by the way, there was a game going on. After the quick start, I had a feeling the IceDogs were going to let the game get away, but they held on and a late empty-net goal sealed the eventual 7-4 win. Their record improved to 1-6. Memorial Cup, here we come.

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The IceDogs salute the crowd after their first victory of the season.

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Denmark native Mikkel Aagaard, with two goals and an assist, including the first goal at the Meridian Center, was named first star. The announcer dubbed him the “Danish Delight,” a moniker I hope does not stick.

After the game, during the mass crush of humanity leading to the exits, it was a nice gesture for them to give out commemorative pucks to mark the historic occasion of the first game at the Meridian Center. I was able to get one and it will soon be prominently displayed on my mantle.

I expect the Meridian Center will be seeing my shadow again in the not-too-distant future and I look forward to more equally memorable games.

12 Oct

Grand Opening at the Meridian Center

Yesterday, I was one of many who attended the grand opening of the new Meridian Center in downtown St. Catharines. IceDogs season ticket holders and the politicians each had their own sneak preview in the preceding days, but this was the first time the general public had a chance to tour the facility.

I was among the first to arrive and I wasted no time in touring the seating area, as I would again after the ribbon-cutting ceremonies when they mercifully turned the lights on.

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The concourses seem spacious enough, though a better judgment on this point will come on Thursday night at the IceDogs home opener.

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Once again, I knew I was not alone.

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Many of you may take things like this for granted, but as a veteran of the venerable Winnipeg Arena, I was impressed that there were individual urinals and not a trough. In addition, the sinks and soap dispensers actually worked.

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I was pleased to see the city honoring its sporting past.

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I was shocked that the IceDogs’ store was not open. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to sell some merchandise to a captive and awestruck audience.

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This automated ticket machine was the team’s only presence.

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Interestingly, right after taking this shot, mayoral candidate Walter Sendzik passed by and recognized me from a recent debate I attended. I am getting around.

Before heading down to ice level for the ceremonies, I poked my head and camera into one of the private boxes.

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Mayor Bryan McMullan and MPP Jim Bradley were among the dignitaries to address the crowd. I was surprised when the mayor mentioned that the facility was located on the site where the original canal went through.

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IceDogs’ owner Bill Burke.

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Following the speeches, three young women in strange garb walked up on stage and climbed up these bands of cloth hanging from the rafters. They clearly possess an uncanny talent for contorting themselves around cloth at high altitude, but their purpose here was unclear.

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The official ribbon cutting. It was a nice gesture for them to provide cuttings from the ribbon for attendees to take home as a keepsake and I was lucky enough to get one.

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The mayor and a few council members posed for a shot after the ceremonies concluded.

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I continued my self-guided tour with a look at the dressing rooms at ice level. First was the visitors’ room.

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Next was the IceDogs’ room.

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The IceDogs’ workout room.

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Even the Zamboni was on full display.

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The retractable seats behind the goal. The row of orange seats reminded me of the Winnipeg Arena and its infamous ice-level orange chairs that sat atop creaky plywood floors loosely separating paying customers from the hordes of four-legged vermin that lived quite comfortably not far below the surface.

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The view from behind the net.

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The officials’ room.

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The penalty boxes and the timekeeper’s box. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a heated contest.

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Looking behind the stage along the ice.

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And, of course, my home city is recognized on the ice.

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As impressed as I was with the facility, I was equally impressed with the friendliness of the staff who on hand to answer questions. It was another pleasant change for me coming from Winnipeg, where the Mark Chipman organization expects gratitude for the privilege of doing business with them. That is why, even though I no longer live there, my favorite NHL team is whoever the Chipman franchise is playing.

There is a part of me that laments leaving the history and tradition of older rinks behind, but the Meridian Center looks like a wonderful place to build new memories. I look forward to seeing my first game there on Thursday night at the IceDogs’ home opener.