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

22 Jan

Winter in the Falls

Visiting the falls in January was a first for me
Even with the snow, it’s still nice to see

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Tourist traffic has come to a virtual halt
Yet that hasn’t slowed the spreading of salt

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The application of sodium chloride is anything but light
They put down so much that it turns the ground white

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Visitors are milked for everything but their keys
If you want a closer view, that will be four quarters please

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When the weather gets warmer, the coins will again be rolling in
To help reduce the massive debt racked up by Premier Wynne

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Passing this blue moose while walking up Clifton Hill, it’s quite the hike
Pray tell, why are there no places to lock up a bike?

The falls has become a popular destination for this new area resident
I’ll be making more visits for reasons that are quite evident

18 Jan

IceDogs vs. Kingston

Last night, I was in attendance as the IceDogs took on the Kingston Frontenacs at the Meridian Center. It seemed like just yesterday that I went to my first game and now I’ve been to nine. Given that the IceDogs stole a point from a strong North Bay team the previous night, the old Jets (1979-1996 vintage) fan in me was expecting a major letdown with Kingston languishing near the bottom of the standings. I’m not happy to have been right.

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I was privileged enough to be allowed entry without going through the latex glove treatment, though many still are having their bags rifled through, the targets seemingly chosen at random. I understand many are complaining about this treatment and I hope those complaints continue until this practice stops. Despite what they might claim, the bag searches have nothing to do with security. It’s about concession revenue. Nothing more.

The people seated around me certainly did their part to increase that revenue. I continue to be amazed as to how many people go to sporting events to eat and pay exorbitant prices for the privilege.

When going through the concourse, I passed by our most capable organist, who was bringing in his equipment on a two-wheeler. I was surprised there wasn’t some quasi-permanent installation and that he would have to unbox and box up all his gear for each game. I was equally surprised that he would be doing it instead of arena staff, but I guess wearing many hats is par for the course at this level.

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GreatClips was set up in the south end giving free haircuts. As they announced before the game, it was something to do with Big Brothers.

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The sight of this young woman sitting on the concrete floor behind the last row of seats presumably doing her homework was one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen at a hockey game.

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After taking my seat, I noticed this guy going through a spirited workout in the visitors’ penalty box. I would later find out that it was Kingston coach Paul McFarland. Evidently there was no space available in the dressing room or in the spacious hallway that runs behind both benches.

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Once again, I noticed how badly smudged the glass in front of me was and it was no different anywhere else around the rink. SMG is a world-renowned facility management company, but I can only surmise that it’s not in their contract that they have to clean the glass. Ever.

Singing the anthem was LauraLeigh Groppo, who also handles the in-game promotions. P.A. announcer Rod Mawhood introduced her before her performance. And after her performance. And after the game. He also introduces himself before the game. And after the game. Every game. Announcers who draw attention to themselves this way is a pet peeve of one loyal reader and it’s quickly becoming one of mine. He is well-spoken and good at his job, but I go to games to watch the players, not hear him announce. I’ve been to hundreds of games in many other venues and I’ve never known or cared who the P.A. announcer was at any of them.

Incidentally, I encourage any reader who might be interested to check out LauraLeigh’s Twitter feed (@LauraLeigh19) and note in particular what she was doing on the night of January 12. Six times. Maybe that might explain why she was so oddly unsure of herself as she sang O Canada. I’m baffled as to why anyone would post such a thing for public consumption.

Before the opening faceoff, the IceDogs also presented awards to the hardest working forward and “decenceman.” Unfortunately, I was too slow on the draw to get a picture as they flashed the misspelled details on the scoreboard.

The first two and a half periods featured some lackluster play, which drew the ire of the would-be Howie Meekers seated around me. “What are you thinking!” shouted one when Anthony DiFruscia, the IceDogs’ resident agitator, took another of his signature foolish penalties as his team was in the process of frittering away a two-man advantage.

Despite the sluggish pace, the goaltending at both ends was surprisingly good. In my limited experience, I have found it to be the weakest position across the league. Graham Knott looked good and he’s certainly setting himself up nicely to be a high draft pick this summer, but I think there might be some buyer’s remorse coming from the teams who picked Brandon Perlini, Carter Verhaeghe and Josh Ho-Sang. The three members of the IceDogs’ top line has been anything but dominant and it’s awfully tough to win when your best players aren’t your best players.

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Off the ice, Bones came down to visit with some fans near me.

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During the first intermission, he was being his usual playful self.

Trailing 3-1 in the third, the IceDogs rose from the ashes and scored twice to tie the score. They had Kingston on the ropes and looked primed for the kill until they pulled one out of the Jets’ playbook and lost in overtime. At least they got a point out of it, but it was a point I’m not sure they deserved. Playing half a period isn’t going to get it done.

Go Jets, er, Dogs Go.