Category Archives: St. Catharines

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

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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.

21 Mar

Top Hat Ceremony

Today, I attended the annual Top Hat Ceremony for the official opening of the Welland Canal at Lock 3 here in St. Catharines.

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Judging from the packed house 20 minutes before the ceremony began, I didn’t arrive early enough.

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Before heading up to the second floor, I made sure to sign the guestbook and pry a program loose from one of the volunteers engrossed in a conversation with one of his colleagues. Luckily, I was able to get a good seat right up front before the others joined me.

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Master of Ceremonies D’Arcy Wilson kicked off the event while Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin shot me a “What the heck is he up to?” look. It’s a media event, Alan. I wasn’t the only one there with a camera.

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Francois Allard, Director of Marine Services for Windsor Salt and Allister Paterson, President of Canada Steamship Lines.

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Betty Sutton of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and Terence Bowles of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

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After an anthem singing I could have lived without, Bowles spoke first, followed by Sutton. Bowles played a video proudly showing off the new hands free mooring system being used on the canal and throughout the Seaway.

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Our mayor, Walter Sendzik, then took the podium. I have never known a more dynamic public speaker.

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Ted Luciani, Thorold’s mayor and a 25-year Seaway employee.

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Alan Caslin. Now he appears a little more receptive to the spotlight.

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Paterson spoke about the gloomy state of affairs with the market in China bottoming out.

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Allard then spoke about the salt business. There’s something so fitting about having the first ship through the canal being filled with the essence of Ontario.

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Gifts were then presented.

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Kathleen Powell of the St. Catharines Museum then presented the Top Hat to the captain of the Thunder Bay. The Top Hat tradition apparently dates back to the days of the fur trade, as the beaver pelts were used to make hats.

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The captain poses for the cameras.

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Bowles presented a plaque to the captain and chief engineer.

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Chaplain Arthur Taylor then led the group in prayer. No, we weren’t on our knees on a rug praying toward Mecca. Maybe there’s still some hope for us after all.

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Finally, Bowles and Sutton officially declare the shipping season open, bringing the hour-long ceremony to a close.

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As the crowd dispersed and headed downstairs for the free food, the participants posed for a group picture.

For the second straight year, I’m glad I went and again learned more about the Seaway’s importance not only to the region, but the North American economy.

01 Jan

New Year’s Day Levee

Today, for the second consecutive year, I attended the New Year’s Day levee at the Lake Street Armoury featuring St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and other dignitaries.

Arriving early, I was able to take a tour of the facility beforehand.

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A member of the ceremonial guard.

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Views from the mezzanine level.

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Many took advantage of the free food. As they say, if it’s free, it’s for me.

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Two guns on display, enough to scare the bejesus out of any gun-control-loving socialist.

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A plaque honoring those who had fallen in the Boer War.

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The fire escape plan for the “St. Catherines” Armoury. I know the city’s name is often misspelled elsewhere, and I’ve been guilty of that myself before the prospect of moving here came on the radar, but it’s inexcusable for locals to do it.

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Two centuries of service.

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The flags of New Brunswick and the SPRM fittingly side by side.

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The receiving line, led by Mayor Sendzik. As he said in line, it’s not Mr. Mayor, it’s Walter.

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The Lincoln & Welland Regiment band played before the dignitaries spoke.

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The town crier begins the proceedings.

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Standing at attention for the playing of God Save the Queen. I don’t imagine our new MP, who was in attendance, was too amused.

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Mayor Sendzik raises a toast to St. Catharines. It was another one of those memorable “we really did it” moments as I recalled all we went through to leave the SPRM and come here. It remains the best thing I’ve ever done.

Mayor Sendzik, or Walter, then delivered a six-minute speech, and my ears are still throbbing after they fired the cannon three times to wrap up the event.

12 Sep

Two Days With Stephen Harper

This past week, as those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I had the honor of seeing Prime Minister Stephen Harper in person twice in as many days.

Tuesday night, I was part of a standing-room-only crowd at the Holiday Inn here in St. Catharines. I arrived more than an hour ahead of time, yet there was a lineup of people outside the door waiting to register. As I said to someone who I met there, so much for Canadians being apathetic about politics and “hating” Harper.

Of course, there were a handful of protesters on Ontario Street within shouting distance of those of us in line waiting to get in. They were screaming “Harper must go,” one was playing the bagpipes and I later heard one was waving the Palestinian flag.

I continually hear people repeating the same old tired line, “We’ve got to get rid of Stephen Harper,” but I have yet to hear a single intelligent argument as to why. As Harper said during the event the following day in Welland, “During the global financial crisis, where else would you rather have been?” As I suggested to someone behind me in line, we should have chipped in to buy those protesters plane tickets to Greece.

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Once finally inside, we had to wait in another room before being allowed inside the main hall.

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Being at the head of the line gave me a distinct advantage, and I was able to grab a seat only two rows away from where the prime minister would be speaking. To say the least, he was among friends here.

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Here, St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra chats with the woman who sang O Canada. Unfortunately, part of her rendition included some Quebecese, but it was thankfully drowned out by the gentleman behind me who was singing loudly in the Canadian language.

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MPs Rob Nicholson and Rick Dykstra pose for a fellow Conservative supporter. Many of Nicholson’s team made the trip from Niagara Falls to hear the prime minister.

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One woman holds up a campaign T-shirt.

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As he would do the following day in Welland, Nicholson introduced the prime minster.

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Harper then spoke for about 45 minutes. I had not seen him in person before and he came across as more of a down to earth person than I would have expected for someone in his position. As you can see from the pictures, he walked around the room a little while speaking and just used the podium to hold his notes. Not unexpectedly, I found him to be a good public speaker, but he was guilty of using the word “friends” too much.

After his speech, in a moment I won’t soon forget, both he and his wife came and shook hands with me and everyone in my row. It was an honor that ranked right up there with the evening I spent with a number of former WHA players in Calgary two years ago.

Though I hardly got any sleep overnight, first thing the next morning, my bike and I were on a Niagara Regional Transit bus headed for Welland to see Harper once again. After pedaling from the Welland transit terminal to the Canadian Tire Financial Services office on East Main Street, I waited outside with another large crowd.

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We were packed inside the small room like sardines in a tin can and I was one of the many who had to stand alongside the wall. As I said to someone behind me, I would hate to think what would happen if a fire alarm were to have gone off.

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Here, Dykstra chats with one of the attendees.

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Nicholson once again introduced the prime minister.

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Unlike the event in St. Catharines, this was not a party rally, but a roundtable discussion with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. On Harper’s right was Allan O’Dette, the OCC’s president and CEO, who had a number of questions for the prime minister. The OCC had invited each of the party leaders to such a discussion and the Conservatives were the only party to take them up on their offer.

As an ardent conservative, I didn’t need to be sold, but I came away very impressed with Harper’s detailed knowledge of the economy. It’s nice to know the country is in such good hands. As he pointed out, it would be a disaster for Canada if the Marijuana Party and its teenage leader or the Non Democratic Party were to form a government.

In front of the pro-business audience, Harper made sure to point out the Marijuana Party leader’s most recent childish statement, where he called most small businesses tax shelters for the wealthy.

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Following the discussion, Harper took a few questions from the assembled contingent from the Media Party in the back of the room. Concerned more with Syria than their own country, they grilled him about the refugees, but Harper stood his ground against his political rivals masquerading as journalists.

One so-called “reporter” from the Red Star chided Harper for his legitimate security concerns in regards to the refugees. After she made the ridiculous comparison to the Ukrainians who settled in Canada more than 100 years ago, I don’t know how Harper resisted the urge to point out that the Ukrainians were not fleeing a country largely held by barbarians threatening to destroy Western civilization.

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With the proceedings over, Harper left the stage and I turned to leave the building and return home, but not before seeing more misguided protesters outside waiting for Harper’s bus. I’m glad I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to see our prime minister and it certainly qualified as a thrill of a lifetime.

31 Jul

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe a full year has passed, but tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the day I left Winnipeg for the last time and came to settle in St. Catharines. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday and in others, it feels like it happened more than a decade ago.

The hassle involved in the long-distance move certainly took an emotional toll, but it has paid off in spades. My only regret is that I did not come here sooner. I miss my friends, as I expected to, but I long for little else in the SPRM.

I suppose there’s a part of me that will always be linked to Manitoba. As Sylvester Stallone said about Vietnam in one of the Rambo movies, “As long as we’re alive, it’s alive.” Many positive memories from that part of the world do remain with me, and I try to focus on those instead of the many negative ones that helped fuel my desire to leave.

Today, I am better for having made the move, and I look forward to many more years to come in my new home city.

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.

24 Jan

IceDogs vs. Plymouth

Last night, I saw the IceDogs battle the Plymouth Whalers
The visitors played like a bunch of drunken sailors

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The Whalers are bound for Flint next year
Perhaps that’s why they showed so much fear

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A couple of their players were out stretching in the concourse before the game
Since there’s ample room outside their dressing room, maybe they’re looking for extra fame

Elsewhere, kids were dancing to music as loud as a speeding train
Unlike what would happen in my former home city, someone actually stopped to complain

I stopped in and browsed through the IceDogs souvenir store
Compared to the NHL, for their merchandise they charge so much more

A man sat next to me with so much ketchup on his fries it was unreal
He didn’t understand it’s meant to be a condiment, not a meal

The self-promoting P.A. announcer introduced himself right from the get-go
Apparently he thinks he’s the star of the show

The moment of silence was a nice touch of class while we stood shoulder to shoulder
To honor Ho-Sang’s grandmother and a longtime season ticket holder

A group of school children performed the anthems from the northeast location
Unfortunately, they sang O Canada in the language of a foreign nation

There were no shortage of opinions coming from the peanut gallery during the play
As the home team continues to make headway

They put a whooping on a downtrodden team
No doubt, the Plymouth coach wanted to scream

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Goaltending has been quite a problem, but there’s no reason to mope
Because now, at least the IceDogs have some Hope

Midway through the first, a family of four came and sat in front of me
Why anyone would bring such young children to a hockey game isn’t easy to see

They spent half the night texting and sharing photos on their phone
All I could do was watch and groan

Security personnel missed something when searching them with a fine tooth comb
As they were able to sneak in a juice box from home

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After the game, the announcer again tells us who he is, giving himself more time on the air
I don’t know why he would think any of us would care