Tag Archives: OHL

09 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Hamilton

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.

22 Oct

IceDogs vs. Ottawa – Autism Awareness Night

Observations from last night’s game as the Niagara IceDogs took on the Ottawa 67’s:

1. On the way in, I noticed the contents of a woman’s purse scattered across the table as the rent-a-cops stationed at the Rankin Gateway were ravenously searching it for contraband material. For the love of Pete(tm), how much longer do they think people are going to put up with these shakedowns for the privilege of attending a junior hockey game? Enough already.

2. Outrageously priced souvenirs of the night: A fleece jacket for $67.95, a flimsy men’s hoodie for $59.95 and this knit cap for $24:

3. I can’t decide. Should I open MediaShare or not?

4. As the title suggested, this was Autism Awareness Night. For those who are not aware, there is a strong personal connection as my friend and subject of my second book, the late Carli Ward, had a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome. Hence the reason for my attendance. In addition to the autism-themed jerseys the team was wearing, there was a display in concourse from Autism Ontario selling jars of “Hugga Honey” for $15 with the proceeds going toward a camp of some sort. There were also shirts on sale with “I (heart) someone with autism” on it. Though it was tempting, I have more than enough articles of clothing.

5. Instead of my usual perch high up in the corner in the retractables, I opted for a different vantage point:

6. I was actually able to walk down to my seat without being harangued by an usher. Will wonders never cease?

7. Scenes from the warmup showing the autism-themed jerseys:

8. Miraculously, the P.A. announcer did not introduce himself before the game. Once again, will wonders never cease?

9. The pregame ceremony featuring an autistic child:

10. A choir from Dalewood Public School sang the anthem partially in Quebecese, giving the middle finger to their mostly Canadian audience in so doing.

11. In a common theme I’ve been noticing over the last couple of years, aside from the seat to my immediate right, this entire row was marked as “sold”:

12. Yours truly along with 5,000 others were alleged to have been in attendance. Something about that figure doesn’t quite ring true:

13. Make Hair Great Again:

14. Seated behind me were a group of chatty guys in their late 50s whom a long-lost friend would describe as “good ol’ boys.” As they entertained me with their in-game commentary, it was obvious they had long since graduated from being Howie Meeker-wannabees and were gunning for head coach Billy Burke’s job.

14a. As they added an “eh” at the end of every sentence, I didn’t need to check their passports to verify their Canadian citizenship.

15. During the game, they read an ad for Enviro-Niagara, which is apparently located on Highway 20 in Welland. Except that Highway 20 doesn’t go through Welland. Details, details.

16. Bones in the crowd:

17. Bones delivering birthday greetings, including a card signed by the team, to a child seated nearby:

18. Many of the people seated around me seemingly had ants in their pants and had to keep getting up during the play to head to the concourse. On one such occasion, someone came back with a beer, two rat dogs and an order of nachos, spending more in the process than I did on my ticket.

19. During both intermissions, I couldn’t help but notice the long lines at the concessions, proof that people will eat anything and pay any ridiculous price for the privilege.

20. For those so inclined, prices and offerings at “The 406 Bar”:

21. During the second period, Ottawa goaltender Olivier Tremblay acted like he had been shot in order to try and draw a penalty call. He stayed down for several seconds trying to milk his “injury” for all it was worth, but he was miraculously cured when an IceDogs player was winding up for a shot from the point. How very convenient.

22. Also in the second period, chants of “fight, fight, fight” began breaking out during an altercation. For a moment there, I thought I was at a Fighting Moose game.

23. During the third period, they had a friendly competition between the guys and girls to see which one could make more noise, completely excluding the transgenders, gender-neutrals and all the other made-up genders liberals are so fond of. I smell a human rights complaint coming.

24. I didn’t think it was physically possible, but regulation time expired without a single goal being scored. OHL history surely must have been made.

25. The lack of goals was not due to lack of effort on either side, but rather due to a comedy of errors. Missed chances, bad passes and pucks dribbling off the end of sticks along with some goal posts and crossbars defined this game.

26. It was more of the same in overtime, but just when it appeared the game was headed for a shootout, Ottawa scored with 4.3 seconds left.

27. Though I didn’t stay for it, the IceDogs auctioned off the players’ jerseys after the game in support of Autism Ontario, raising a surprising total $10,050. One player’s jersey fetched $1,200.

28. Waiting for the bus after the game, one guy dropped the F-bomb, then immediately apologized. This is not the Old Country, where such salty language is par for the course.

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.

26 Mar

IceDogs Road Trip to Peterborough

Thoughts and observations from Sunday’s road trip to Peterborough to see the IceDogs battle the Petes in Game 2 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

1. The bus was completely full and two people who showed up hoping for an empty seat were turned away. They probably could have filled up one or two buses more if the IceDogs had done something really radical like promote it on their website.

2. Kudos to the IceDogs for having our tickets ready in sealed envelopes before we even stepped on the bus. Normally, the IceDogs rep heads to the box office once we arrive and distributes our tickets there.

3. Once again, I was seemingly the only one on board not sporting any IceDogs paraphernalia. Yes, I’m cheap. Yes, I’m stubborn.

4. Fortunately, unlike last week’s trip to Mississauga, this was not the Drunken Seniors Bus. This group was quiet and well behaved.

5. Though he did keep the pedal to the metal, our driver was alert and attentive. It continues to amaze me how much more safety-conscious the bus drivers are here than they were in the Old Country.

6. En route, I spotted a couple of cars pulled over by the OPP. Given that 110-120 km/h is quite normal on the QEW and the 401, I wonder exactly how fast you have to be going before the boys in blue begin paying attention.

7. On the way there, the woman seated to my left helped herself to one of the mini sugar donuts someone was passing around. Along with the chocolate bar she had on the way back, she would have been better served to employ the Nancy Reagan approach. Just say no.

8. At the 403 split in Oakville, I spotted a Reimer Express truck. He was following a big rig from Bison Transport. Try as I might, I cannot escape the SPRM.

9. Speaking of the SPRM, I spotted this Manitoba-esque pothole on Highway 7 near Peterborough.

10. In spite of some stop-and-go traffic in the universe’s center, we arrived plenty early, allowing me some time to walk around and get some pictures outside.

I also had plenty of time for some shots around the concourse and seating area:

11. They do an outstanding job celebrating their past throughout the building. There are banners hanging from the rafters honoring Roger Neilson, Scotty Bowman, Bob Gainey and Steve Yzerman, among others. There is also a Peterborough Sports Hall of Fame, which I toured before the game.

This Jets jersey from Doug Evans understandably grabbed my attention.


As did these two. The Sabres jersey is from Craig Ramsay, the last Thrashers coach, and the Utah Grizzlies jersey is from Mark McArthur, who I once saw play in the IHL.

12. As I was snapping pictures, someone came up to me to point out a jersey and medal from a member of a women’s hockey team. As they say after the visiting team scores at an IceDogs game, who cares.

13. On the way in, there was no security detail assigned to rifle through women’s purses and such.

14. I toured the souvenir shop and quickly discovered that their prices are just as outrageous as the IceDogs’ are. Given the differences in the price points, a junior team charging $120 for a jersey is the moral equivalent of an NHL team charging $1,000. Certainly no one expects them to give their stuff away, but a price of $70 or $80 would be much more appropriate. And just because everyone else in the league gouges doesn’t make it right.

15. We were seated in their Family Zone, where no alcohol is permitted. Egad! What a novel concept.


16. The sections of this Family Zone were, in order, 18, 19, 17. You can’t make stuff like this up.


17. There was an incredibly steep incline as I walked up to my seat high up in the nosebleed section. There was also next to no leg room. It reminded me of the upper deck at the Winnipeg Arena.

17a. Fortunately, there were no sunflower seed shells in my shorts after I got home.

18. Despite how quiet things were on the bus, there was no lack of enthusiasm around me and among the group. A few seats to my left was someone with a flashing goal light, a giant flag and a bullhorn. On either side of me were two guys screaming at the top of their lungs all night long as if the players and officials could hear them. The guy to my left candidly admitted he might not get his voice back until Tuesday, but I’m surprised it lasted until the third period.

19. The P.A. announcer unnecessarily introduced himself before the game, though at least he didn’t lead off with his name, as if he were the star of the show.

20. The mascot for the Peterborough Petes is not named Pete, but Roger. As I suspected, it is a tribute to the late Roger Neilson, the Petes’ former coach.

21. The anthem singer performed one of the slowest renditions of O Canada I had ever heard, but at least she was fully dressed and sang it entirely in the Canadian language.

22. After the first period, they flashed a message on the scoreboard with a welcome to those on the Niagara IceDogs Fan Bus.


23. During the intermission, Roger came out with a rat cannon reminiscent of Fighting Moose days, but he only fired a few T-shirts into the crowd before making a hasty retreat.

23a. The more I see of other mascots around the OHL, the more I appreciate Bones.

24. Unlike the Mississauga game, the IceDogs came ready to play and put in a spirited effort from start to finish. After Aaron Haydon’s blood had to be scraped off the ice, the IceDogs erased a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead after one period. They held the lead until late in the second, only to have Peterborough score twice within a minute to take a 3-2 lead to the dressing room. Undaunted, the visitors kept fighting in the third, but were stopped on a breakaway and couldn’t score on a two-minute two-man advantage. Soon after, Peterborough scored to effectively put an end to the competitive phase of the game.

25. Each time the IceDogs scored, everyone in our group stood up and cheered. Except for me. I wish I cared more. But I don’t. I was there for writing fodder and good stories. Which I got. Oh, and highway pictures, of which I got plenty. Soon to appear on a website near you.

26. Each time the Petes scored, an older woman seated in the lower rows stood up and waved what looked to be a dark red bra. I don’t get it. And that’s probably a good thing.

27. Early in the second period, the particularly rabid fan to my left was genuinely surprised when he looked at the scoreboard and saw that the IceDogs were leading 2-1. He had forgotten Ryan Mantha’s first-period goal and thought the game was tied. Only after a fellow fan seated nearby jogged his memory did the light go on. This was the same guy who probably thought I wasn’t paying much attention.

28. After a frustrating episode later in the game, the same guy responded with an F-bomb, but quickly apologized. This is definitely not the Old Country, where such salty locker-room vernacular is part and parcel of daily life.

29. A “Carly J” was one of the winners of a prize as announced on the scoreboard later in the game. Once again, I knew I was not alone.

30. As the end of the game grew ever closer, with a freezing rain warning overnight, I couldn’t help but think back to the late Mike Doran, John Ferguson’s right hand man, who was severely injured in a car accident in 1984 on his way to a game in Peterborough. For that reason, I was especially relieved when our bus pulled up safely in the parking lot at the Meridian Center.

31. There was a surprising amount of traffic out and about given the lateness of the hour. Too much traffic, in fact. As they say, nothing good happens after dark.

20 Mar

IceDogs Road Trip to Mississauga

Thoughts and observations from Sunday afternoon’s road trip to Mississauga:

1. It was officially called the “7th Man Caravan,” but it might have been better termed a “Carabus,” since we went in six school buses along with one wheelchair van.

2. Despite getting there well ahead of time, there was already a large gathering in place when I got there. One thing I’ve noticed about people in this part of the world is that they are exceptionally early, so the fault lies with me. I should have known better.


3. Brianne from the IceDogs office was running around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to organize the large crowd. Though I got the impression that this was a task she had little experience with, it is fair to point out that one person should not have been left to herd so many people. They should have had two or three, at least. It’s not as though they didn’t know we were coming.

4. I was directed into the first bus, which was already half full, as the second was being saved for kids and families. Little could I have known that it was going to end up as the Drunken Seniors Bus, as I was, by far, the youngest person on the bus, and the only sober passenger by the time the day was done.


5. Waiting for the bus to take off, I listened as chatter filled the air. Some of it was about the IceDogs’ playoff chances, but most of it involved their woes in traveling to and from their warm-weather getaway destinations. One couple had cruised the Panama Canal, others had stayed at Mexican resorts, while another couple had been in Cuba. That couple spoke about the time in which their tour company had gone bankrupt, and they were left having to foot the bill or risk not being let out of the country. By far the biggest gripe was with the airlines, and Sun Wing seemed to get the worst reviews.

5a. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure how much I’d have to be paid to go to one of those Latin American or Caribbean countries.

6. Even before we took off, the booze began flowing. Not just beer, but hard liquor was on tap and it quickly began circulating throughout the bus. One particular brew was sickly orange in color and reminded me of the penicillin I used to take so often as a child.

7. In addition to the booze, people were taking advantage of the free popcorn in two dog dishes making their way up and down the aisle as well as the bag of stinky salt and vinegar chips. People will eat anything, regardless of what it is or who has handled it.

8. As Joe, our driver, drove at breakneck speed down the QEW, many on the bus began posting stills and video to Facebook and Twitter. Despite claims to the contrary, the older generation has indeed embraced social media.

9. Looking around, I realized I was seemingly the only one on the bus not wearing any IceDogs paraphernalia. Of course, I don’t own any, though I suppose I may reluctantly give in at some point and buy something. Maybe. I’m not eager to pay those exorbitant prices.

10. After taking the Hurontario Street exit, our bus pulled up alongside a MiWay bus. Made by New Flyer. Try as I might, I can’t escape the SPRM.


11. We made it to the Hershey Center in just over an hour. As many drivers in this part of the world can attest, the 100 km/h speed limit is, in reality, a minimum.

12. After getting some shots around the Hershey Center, I went to find my seat, and for the first time ever at a sporting event, I need the help of an usher. The poorly marked section 14 had a seat 8, but not a seat 108 that I could see. It turned out to be next to seat 6.


Silly me for not knowing better.

12a. The usher’s name was the same as the father of the family that bought our house in the Old Country. The family that moved to Winnipeg from Mississauga. Ruminate on that one for a while.

13. Off to my right, I couldn’t help but notice a picture of the Queen, a fixture at the old Winnipeg Arena. Along with the dull, drab concrete concourse, I had the feeling that I was back in the Old Country. Luckily, there was no trough in the washroom.


14. Speaking of the washroom, I couldn’t help but notice someone who was letting out a big yawn after leaving a stall. Was what he was doing so physically exhausting or did he just fall asleep in there?

14a. Not that this surprises me here anymore, but there was a lineup waiting to use the sink. This is another pleasant change from the Old Country.

15. Seated in the next section to my right were Bill and Denise Burke, the owners who had driven down in their white Beemer. I was not the only one to notice their presence and during the second period, one fan ran down to take a selfie with Bill. He reluctantly smiled for his customer, but after the guy left to go back to his seat, the boss shook his head in disgust.


16. Before the game, the Steelheads introduced their mascot. “Sauga.” How original. It must have been named by the same person who wanted to call Bones “Saint.”

17. The IceDogs’ cheering section gave their heroes a hearty ovation when they came out to start the game, and they probably outnumbered the hometown team’s supporters. To borrow a line from Slap Shot, good seats were still available.

18. It was odd seeing the players turn to the side to face the flag during the playing of O Canada instead of facing one of the ends. It’s the only rink I’ve ever seen that in.

19. They just played a recording of O Canada rather than have a live singer. I can’t say I prefer one over the other.

20. It was nice of the Steelheads to give a warm welcome to those of us who had come from St. Catharines and across Niagara.

21. The IceDogs needed a point to secure the eighth and final playoff Eastern Conference berth, but you’d never have known it from their lackluster play. I saw more intensity from Jets when they were rolling over for the Oilers in the playoffs during the 1980s.

21a. I’m not bitter. Really, I’m not. OK, yes, I am.

22. The loudmouth seated in front of me berating referee Bob Marley all afternoon long would have been better served directing his anger towards the team in white. Not that I’ll rush to defend OHL officials, but when you fail to answer the bell with your season on the line, you have no right to blame the ref. Even if he is a moron, as the loudmouth kept suggesting.

23. Just when I was getting the impression that they wouldn’t have scored if they played all day, the IceDogs managed to break the shutout in the third period. Based on the reaction from the faithful, you’d have thought they just netted the game-winner in sudden-death overtime.

24. Every crowd has a Howie Meeker clone and I had one seated to my left. But even his enthusiasm waned as the game wore on. He was curious about my note taking, but didn’t care enough to ask me about it. And he’s certainly not alone.

25. As the IceDogs were getting blown out, the Kingston-North Bay score became the dominant topic of conversation in the third period. Fortunately for the boys in white, Kingston rallied to beat North Bay to give the IceDogs a playoff berth they neither earned nor deserved.

26. In a classy gesture, the IceDogs raised their sticks in our direction after the game to salute us for coming to cheer them on.

26a. Based on how they had played, it was a gesture I did not feel inclined to reciprocate.

27. Booze dominated the return trip. Not only was plenty being consumed, but many around me were bragging about their drinking exploits in past bus trips.

28. I’ve made the observation in the past that there is nothing more abused than a hockey player’s liver. In this case, it might also apply to a hockey fan’s liver.

29. I could only wonder what would befall these poor souls if they were to ever reintroduce prohibition. Those folks had some serious alcohol-dependency issues.

30. Despite the high level of intoxication among the alcohol-dependent passengers, I only heard the F-bomb used once. This is definitely not the Old Country.

31. Joe again drove at breakneck speed to get us back to St. Catharines quickly. Too quickly. Between Burlington and Hamilton, he even passed a bus from Safeway Tours. The Safeway driver seemed to take offense and pulled into the next lane to try and regain the lead, but Joe would have none of that and kept the pole position all the way to the 406. As someone on the bus said, “Give Joe the checkered flag!”

10 Mar

IceDogs vs. Owen Sound

Thoughts and observations from last night’s game as the IceDogs took on Owen Sound at the Meridian Center:

1. It was only my fifth game of the year and first in over a month. As I explained to Matt at the IceDogs office on Wednesday, I still suffer from Battered Fan Syndrome.

2. En route, on the sidewalk in front of the PAC, someone passed by and said to her friend, “I forgot my backpack. Because I’m an idiot.” Who am I to argue?

3. As I normally do, in defiance of arena policies, I snuck in a cookie from home. If the ushers can bring their own food, so can I.

4. To humor myself, I took another tour of the souvenir shop. A tenth-anniversary golf shirt will run you $54.95, but a black golf shirt with the IceDogs logo was only $45.95. What a bargain. Or not.


Another interesting item was this knit Bones-styled toque. I think. Whatever it is, you too can have one for just $28. Earth to IceDogs: This. Is. Junior. Hockey. It’s not the NHL. And we live in St. Catharines. Not Toronto.

5. I know it’s getting old, but would you pay premium dollar to sit behind this hacked-up glass?


6. In the concourse behind section 108 was a crew from Cold FX soliciting passers-by to enter a contest to win what I later discovered to be a trip to Costa Rica. I can’t imagine how much someone would have to pay me to go there.

7. Left on the ground next to my seat was a River Lions game program. Evidently, this was an area the cleaning crew missed from their last game.


7a. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what “river” flows through St. Catharines.

8. I couldn’t believe my ears when the PA announcer, during his pregame schtick from the concourse, did not introduce himself. Now how in the world could the unwashed masses properly enjoy the game without knowing who he was?

9. As part of the pregame ceremonies, Mayor Walter L. Sendzik made a presentation to St. Catharines native Danial Singer, who plays for the IceDogs. As Mayor Sendzik made his way to center ice, the announcer mentioned two Garden City natives who had played in the NHL: Brian Bellows of the Montreal Canadiens and Gerry Cheevers of the Boston Bruins. Call me a stickler for detail, but Bellows played most of his pro career with the Minnesota North Stars and it would also have been proper to note Cheevers’ stint with the WHA’s Cleveland Crusaders. Let us also not forget St. Catharines native Mark Plantery, who I saw play for the (real) Jets at the Winnipeg Arena.

10. O Canada was sung entirely in Quebecese by students from Ecole Elementaire Champlain in Welland. That was seriously disrespectful, and the IceDogs should be deeply ashamed.

11. As has become a regular occurrence, my row was entirely marked as sold, yet there were only three others there. In addition, practically the entire section was marked as sold, but only half the seats were occupied.

12. What appeared to be a mother with her two daughters were at the end of my row and left their bags and coats while they went off somewhere, presumably to the washroom or to get “food.” How trusting of them. Then again, this is not the Old Country.


12a. Said mother with her daughters left one of their coats on the ground and made no effort to move it as I passed by. When returning to my seat, I made no effort to avoid stepping on it.

13. Someone seated in front of me had a notepad, and appeared to be a scout. Cue Paul Newman from Slap Shot

14. Scattered around the rink were some people from Owen Sound. They were pretty quiet all night, as was the rest of the crowd. Amazingly, Councillor Mat Siscoe posted a tweet in which he boasted about the “playoff atmosphere.” He must been tweeting about a different game. The only noise came from that stinking band that regrettably made another unwanted appearance.

15. On the other side of the rail to my left was a heavyweight who thoroughly enjoyed her Grimsby Grilled Cheese and accompanying fries that she washed down with a Sprite. In her case, it might better have been described as a Grimsby Girth Enhancer, as she needed it as much as I needed another hole in my head. Not to mention the fact that she probably paid more for her “meal” than she did for her ticket.

16. There was another heavyweight nearby who was sporting a Chipman hoodie. If he only knew.

17. During the first intermission, they had a presentation for Tim Vail, the Niagara Falls firefighter who lost his life trying to save a dog in Vineland in November 2015. Speaking was the great Marcel Dionne, who was seated in the next section to my left.

18. Oh by the way, there was a game going on. Down 3-1 after a first period in which they were dominated, the IceDogs rebounded with two in the second to tie the score heading into the third. Owen Sound promptly broke the tie, then added an insurance marker before the IceDogs made it interesting late. Unfortunately, they could get no closer and even with the sixth attacker, they could generate little offense and went down 6-4.

18a. This was not one of Stephen Dhillon’s better outings, though he was far from alone in that regard.

19. 5,163 were alleged to have been there, and I have to admit that figure was probably reasonably accurate.

20. On the way back, I spotted a sign in front of a bar on St. Paul Street that read, “Soup of the day: Whiskey.”

21. Getting on the bus in front of me was someone with a Dallas Cowpeople jacket. He was also mentally challenged. Coincidence? You be the judge.

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.

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.