Observations, pictures and even some video from Saturday’s road trip to Hamilton as the Niagara IceDogs took on the Hamilton Bulldogs in Game 2 of their OHL Eastern Conference Semifinal series:
1. In order to secure my place on the bus, I pedalled down to the IceDogs office first thing on Tuesday morning, only to have to wait for Brianne, because only she can handle the road trips. Just like only Matt can handle the complex task of printing the date on a media pass for when a customer like me wants to bring his DSLR camera to the game. For such a small office, things seem to be a little too territorial around there.
1a. While waiting for Brianne, I listened as Nino, other staffer, processed a phone order for tickets with the customer’s credit card they had on file. Yet when I tried to pay for the road trip to Peterborough last year with a credit card they also had on file, Brianne said she had to see the card and forced me to make a special trip to the Meridian Center. What gives?
1b. Also while waiting, someone came in looking for tickets. As she explained that she was going to be late for work because she had to make the extra stop, I said, “Get Bones to write you a permission slip.”
1c. When she came in, Brianne still recognized me even though it had been more than five months since the Meridian Center last saw my shadow. I know this is a small town, but I was mildly surprised given the number of people she must deal with on a daily basis.
2. Not that downtown St. Catharines is anything like the danger zone that downtown Winnipeg is, but I was still pleased that the buses were leaving from Fairview Mall instead of the Jack or the Meridian Center as they have in past road trips.
2a. For those keeping score, this was my eighth IceDogs road trip over the past four seasons.
3. There were five full busloads of fans and in order to keep it “affordable,” they used school buses instead of regular tour buses. As a result, the cost was only $25 – $18 for the ticket and $7 for the transportation. As I would find out, you get what you pay for.
4. Despite getting there 20 minutes before our scheduled departure time, I was among the last to arrive. As I’ve long since discovered, people here are notorious early birds.
5. Seated in my immediate vicinity were several teenage drunkettes who joined many others in cracking open their favorite beverage as soon as we hit the road.
As one of them said, the “no food or drink” sign only applies Monday to Friday.
6. After getting off the lap of her friend seated next to me, one of the drunkettes decided she would rather sit on the floor than take the last available seat near the back of the bus. Then she complained that she was feeling seasick as we were going over the Burlington Skyway. Being on the floor of a rickety old school bus rolling along at 60+ mph while you’re slightly inebriated will do it every time.
7. Following a short, but annoying ride being forced to listen to the immature ramblings of said teenagers, the driver let us off at the York Boulevard entrance, where two arena staffers opened the door for us.
There were no bag searches, no one got frisked, no wands and no free rectal exam from rude rent-a-cops. Just two friendly guys who scanned our tickets and said “Enjoy the game, eh.” The way it ought to be. All while our mayor, instead of holding their feet to the fire for not cleaning the place properly, wants to turn over an extra $11,000 to SMG to install metal detectors at the Meridian Center.
8. Shots around the concourse at the FirstOntario Center, formerly known as the Copps Coliseum:
9. Circling the concourse, I was appalled at the concession prices. They wanted $5.25 for a hot dog, $8 for a footlong, $10 for chicken fingers and fries, $6 for popcorn, $5 for a chocolate bar, $5 for a canned drink and $2.50 for coffee. At Pizza Pizza, a slice of pizza was $5.25, while a whole pizza was $26. For those so inclined, the cheapest beer was $9.75 and wine was $12.50.
It was no different at their souvenir store, where jerseys were $130 and caps were $30, each even more than the exorbitant prices the IceDogs charge. On the surface, the prices may not seem that unusually high except for the fact that this is junior hockey, which has a substantially lower price point than the NHL.
10. The Budweiser King Club, where you could sit in a lounge and watch a band perform:
11. I spotted this gentleman who had a jersey with the name of the IceDogs’ mascot on it. For the record, the Bulldogs’ mascot is called Bruiser and was a cheap knock-off of Bones, who is truly the best mascot of any team I’ve seen in any sport at any level.
12. Like the ticket scanners, the ushers were very friendly and helpful to those who needed their services. But for those of us who didn’t, they stood to the side, let people pass freely and didn’t feel the need to run after you if you walked past them or, even worse, dared to stop and look at your ticket to make sure you were in the right place. Whereas the IceDogs have the best mascot in sports, they have the worst ushers.
13. Scenes around the stands. As is standard operating procedure, the upper deck at this NHL-size arena is closed and covered with a black curtain. As the Bulldogs’ owner admitted in print recently, having an abnormally large facility for junior hockey is the reason this year’s Memorial Cup will be held in the capital of the Farmers’ Republic of Saskatchewan instead of in Hamilton.
13a. Did you catch that guy with a backpack? Try getting that past the rent-a-cops at the Meridian Center.
14. While roaming the stands taking pictures, finding a clean seat to sit in was surprisingly difficult. One seat had gum stuck to it and several others had some sort of dried liquid on them.
15. Some people from one of the buses watching their heroes during the warmup. For those wondering, the IceDogs wear those special Meridian Center jerseys for the warmup both at home and on the road.
16. Performing the national anthem was some little girl and kudos to the crowd for drowning out that horrible abomination in the line the Liberals changed.
16a. Dear Andrew Scheer: I know there will be a lot on your plate, but please make restoring the old wording of our national anthem a top priority of your new government in 2019. I’m sick of being embarrassed in the eyes of the world. Sometimes I feel like putting a bag over my head with “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote Liberal” written on it.
17. Even though it wasn’t a home game, having developed a familiarity and fondness of sorts for Hamilton, I didn’t feel like it was a road game either.
18. The view I had from my seat:
19. The IceDogs’ faithful greeting their heroes before the start of the game:
20. Did you remember that the Hamilton Bulldogs were previously the Belleville Bulls, the visiting team for the historic home opener at the Meridian Center?
21. As they do at the Meridian Center, the IceDogs contingent reacted with a collective “Who Cares?” to the announcement of Hamilton’s first goal early in the first period. One Hamilton fan seated at ice level answered with a sign “We Do.”
22. After the visitors tied the score later in the first period, the IceDogs fans yelled “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, which appears to be a special playoff tradition having its roots in the world of wrestling:
So naturally, the Hamilton fans shouted back, “No! No! No!”
23. Despite the relatively short length of time since Hamilton has been back in the OHL, there is clearly a healthy and growing rivalry between the fans.
24. I find it odd how vocal IceDogs fans are on the road, yet at home, the place is so quiet that many call their home rink the Meditation Center.
25. I noticed this small contingent of fans known as the “Golden City Brigade” on its feet waving flags all night long. Dedication. Or something.
26. Hamilton’s Brandon Saigeon’s surname is pronounced “say-john” and is apparently not connected with the capital of the former South Vietnam currently known as Ho Chi Minh City.
27. Late in the first period, IceDogs defenseman Elijah Roberts, last seen at the Meridian Center trying to imitate Serge Savard’s spinerama move, first ran into an official when coming out of his own end, then lost the puck after colliding with a teammate, resulting in a good scoring opportunity for Hamilton. To say the least, that’s no way to impress scouts. Focus on the fundamentals, kid.
28. While doing my business in the washroom during the first intermission, I noticed that the tops of the urinals seem to be favorite places to hold beer cans and phones. The beer cans are especially ironic since the beer was what likely brought their owners there in the first place. As I’ve heard it said, you don’t buy beer, you just rent it.
28a. I still appreciate the fact that most people were washing their hands after answering the call of nature. Once again, this is not the SPRM.
29. Also during the first intermission, someone did a serious double-take after spotting my “Make Speech Free Again” hat.
30. Sadly, the same teenage drunkettes who were sitting next to me on the bus were also seated next to me during the game. After each of them polished off three beers, they returned after the first intermission with “food” to complete their gastronomic misadventures, to say nothing of their financial illiteracy.
One of them brought back a tray of nachos with cheese-colored melted plastic, an old Winnipeg Arena classic that set her back $6.50. The drunkette to my immediate right had an order of ketchup with some fries that she spent most of the period with.
31. Once again, as I have come to expect from people in this part of the world, everyone who passed by my seat was very courteous and said “thank you” each time.
32. The second intermission promotion was “Hungry Hungry Hippos” where four teams of two crawled around on the ice trying to scoop up as many pucks as they could.
The pair in the bottom left hand corner was the eventual winner and for their efforts, took home passes to the NHL Hall of Political Correctness.
33. Early in the third period, the IceDogs tied the score at 2-2 on a power play as a result of Hamilton’s second too many men on the ice penalty of the game. Even at this level, that shouldn’t happen once in a game, let alone twice.
34. In the final minute of regulation time, the IceDogs fans began the “cheeseburger” chant. For those who are unaware, when at home, if the IceDogs score in the final minute of the third period, everyone in attendance gets a free cheeseburger courtesy of Wendy’s.
35. On the bus after the overtime loss, fans were griping about the officials, but when your team gets outshot 50-23, it’s not the officials fault that they lost. It was only Stephen Dhillon’s heroic efforts that kept the game close.
35a. I continue to find it interesting how understanding fans are about the mistakes the players make, yet that same understanding never applies to the officials, who are also in the developmental stages of their careers.
36. Hamilton has not been drawing well, but on that night, they had 6,021 in attendance. In addition, the 50/50 winner took home $6,345.
37. Waiting on the bus after the game, many Hamilton fans were taunting us with chants of “Let’s go Bulldogs!” and “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
38. There were no fights during the game, but one did break out at the Salvation Army Booth Center across the street, prompting someone to say, “Let’s get out of this cesspool.” Trust me, you don’t know what a cesspool is until you’ve spent time in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.
39. As I have come to expect in this part of the world, each of us thanked the driver as we disembarked at Fairview Mall. Once again, this is not the SPRM.