09 Dec

My First Falcons Game

Pictures and a few observations from last night’s GOJHL game between the St. Catharines Falcons and the visiting Ancaster Avalanche at the ancient Jack Gatecliff Arena:

1. Despite the larger-than-normal “crowd” of 433 in attendance at the 3,500-seat arena, buoyed by the presence of a high-school-age team from Cleveland, I didn’t exactly have a long wait in line to buy a ticket. The elderly gentleman at the counter almost seemed surprised that I wanted one.

2. Upstairs, two more seniors acted as the greeting committee, one of whom stamped my hand and thanked me for coming. It was a pleasant change from an IceDogs game at the Meridian Center, where rude rent-a-cops rummage through your belongings and act like they’re doing you a favor by allowing you in the building.

3. This guy in a red jacket with a black “SECURITY” cap hanging out at ice level was all there was as far as security was concerned. The way it ought to be.

4. Though the GOJHL is hardly a guaranteed ticket to future stardom, there are a handful of players who have made it from the Falcons to the NHL, a fact they proudly display on this banner.

I was surprised to see former Fighting Moose Brandon Nolan’s name on the list. During my time as a fan, he was little more than a third- or fourth-line player whose career seemed to be going nowhere. In addition, St. Catharines native and former Falcon Daultan Leveille was a first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Thrashers back in 2008.

5. Shots around the sparsely populated concourse:

6. The $1 puck toss took place in the first intermission with the big prize being a chicken dinner from Swiss Chalet on Fourth Avenue. In addition, the lucky winner of the 50/50 draw took home $298.

7. Shots around the historic rink. For those who are unaware, not only was this once the home of the IceDogs, but it was where stars like Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Marcel Dionne and Pat Stapleton spent their formative years. During the early 1980s, the AHL’s St. Catharines Saints, then the Leafs’ farm team, also played at “the Jack.”

8. The smell from decades-old fermented sweat that permeates every corner of the stands stuck to my nostrils so badly that I was still smelling it when I woke up the following morning.

9. I think it was warmer outside than it was in the stands.

10. Given the rink’s age, I wasn’t all that surprised to see how hacked up the glass was. But at least the place was clean. I didn’t have to wipe down my own seat and despite covering much of the rink, I didn’t find any sticky spots on the floor. The SMG staff who “clean” the Meridian Center should come by and take some lessons from the city crews.

11. Line combinations or defensive pairings written on the glass at the visitors’ bench:

12. Just like the old Winnipeg Arena, a picture of the Queen hangs in one end:

13. Scenes during the warmup:

14. I got the distinct impression that this person is a regular. Call it a hunch.

15. The Falcons are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, something they proudly display at center ice:

16. Section F’s collection of bell ringers. Every low-level junior hockey team seems to have them.

17. Aside from the team from Cleveland seated in the far end, I was one of only a small handful who wasn’t drawing CPP and who didn’t know most everyone else there. Many of them are probably still wondering who that guy with a notepad and a camera was.

18. Before the game:

19. The siren sounded like a recording of a pig being slaughtered.

20. It was a nice touch for them to honor a longtime Falcons fan who had passed away earlier in the week with a moment of silence.

21. For the anthem, I had expected a tape-recorded version of O Canada to be played, but instead, the P.A. announcer opened up the door behind him and handed the mic to a woman seated there. She actually handled the task pretty well, much better, in fact, than the school choirs the IceDogs frequently use.

22. Unlike the case at IceDogs games, the P.A. announcer did not deem it necessary to introduce himself.

23. The opening faceoff:

24. First period action:

25. In contrast to games played at higher levels, they keep the games moving quickly in this league. No fussing around, no TV timeouts and no lengthy pregame ceremonies. Drop the puck and let’s go.

26. Shots of both benches:

27. When and if this kid ever gets married, he should seriously consider using his wife’s name.

28. Sound carries particularly well throughout the rink, especially with so few people in attendance. The officials, coaches and players really can hear fans when they scream and likewise, we could hear them and their frequent use of the F-bomb.

29. Apparently in this league, a boarding penalty carries an automatic 10-minute misconduct. For the most part, I think that’s a good idea.

30. Are they penalties or are they penal ties?

31. After the Falcons’ second-period goal, lights flashed near the bench:

32. During the second intermission, instead of having a lucky fan stand at center ice to try and shoot a puck through the empty spot in the board covering the net to win a prize, they had a player do it. Unfortunately, the player missed both shots, drawing a couple of boos for his efforts.

33. They sold beer at a pub? Who knew?

34. The Falcons’ “Main” man:

35. Largely dominated by their opponents, particularly so in the third, the Falcons were fortunate to get out of regulation with the score still tied at 1-1. In this league, rather than use the three-on-three overtime followed by a shootout, they play five minutes of four-on-four, followed by another five-minute period of three-on-three. Since neither team could break the deadlock, however, the game ended with a tie score, marking the first time I had been at a tie game since the (real) Jets’ final season at the Winnipeg Arena.

36. After the game: