Tag Archives: St. Catharines

26 Jan

Winnipeg Jets Day at the Meridian Center

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the IceDogs again as they took on the Barrie Colts at the Meridian Center. This was a date I’ve had circled on my calendar for some time because of the opportunity to see Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk behind the Barrie bench. I saw the greatest player in Jets NHL history so often during my five years as a season ticket holder and this was my chance to see him once again.

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As soon as I walked into the building, I was befuddled when one of the security guards asked, “Are you here for the game?” What else would I be there for?

While waiting to get in, someone who noticed the Jets gear I was decked out in approached me and said, “Winnipeg, they’ve been winning.” He apparently was one of those who still do not distinguish between the Winnipeg Jets, a team that no longer exists, and the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. I assumed he meant the Chipman team instead of the Jets, so I responded, “Don’t worry, it won’t last.” He seemed surprisingly taken aback as he went on to talk about Chipman’s team before asking, “Your goalie, is he stopping the puck?” I told him I had no idea and I don’t even know who his goalie is, even though, as a former Manitoba taxpayer, I was helping to pay his salary. A surprising number of fans remain wilfully blind to the fact that the Chipman franchise has been on artificial life support before they ever dropped the puck. This so-called “inevitable” return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg has been made possible only by generous government handouts.

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When I got to my seat, I noticed once again that it, along with many others in the area, was dirty. Not only that, the floor hadn’t been cleaned and as you can see from the picture, there were some leftover cheezies on the ground. I wasn’t the only one to flag down the girl who was going around cleaning off the seats and she claimed that they do get wiped. It is a claim I find hard to believe. Once she finished in my section, she continued around the rink and as late as ten minutes before the start of the game, they were still wiping down seats. SMG is supposed to be a world-renowned arena management company, but they’re not exactly doing a bang-up job at the Meridian Center. I shudder to think what this jewel of a building is going to look like in five years time under their stewardship.

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To my surprise, seated opposite me on the other side of the rink were a couple of season ticket holders who were also dressed in Jets gear. The woman on the left was wearing a 1980s vintage jersey like the one I was wearing, but unlike me, she also had Hawerchuk’s name and number on the back.

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Interestingly, Mike Rosati, a former Manitoba Fighting Moose goaltender, was also behind the bench as one of Hawerchuk’s assistants. Rosati will be one of the players featured in my next book, View from Section 26: A fan’s look at the minor leagues featuring pro hockey’s most unwanted team, which I expect to have available sometime this year.

Though Hawerchuk’s appearance was the headline attraction for me, this was the IceDogs’ annual Pink in the Rink event, with the players and even the officials dressed in pink to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer.

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Bones at center ice prior to the chuck-a-puck in the second intermission.

I continue to be amazed by the how well patronized the concessions seem to be. For example, three seats to my left was a young couple who arranged the financing to pay for a bowl of fries swimming in gravy and some pizza that came fresh from the kitchen of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. There’s virtually nothing on their menu that I would want at any price.

Cody Payne’s cousin sang O Canada and, well, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all. At least she sang it entirely in the Canadian language.

Sitting right behind the bench, I didn’t expect to be able to see much of the action, but I got a surprisingly good view of what turned out to be a wild game. Barrie got on the board early and following a fight, the lights suddenly went out. Fans were kept in the dark, figuratively and literally, as they just played annoyingly loud music and didn’t make an announcement until sending both teams to their respective dressing rooms more than 15 minutes later. After the 24-minute delay, the IceDogs came out like gangbusters and scored five times before the intermission. One fan behind me yelled, “Get ready, you’re next,” at backup goaltender Daniel Gibl, but for better or for worse, Hawerchuk stuck with his starter the whole way.

The IceDogs went on to cruise to a 7-4 victory as Josh Ho-Sang exploded for three goals and Brendan Perlini showed some flashes of the brilliance he needs to show more often.

Hawerchuk’s former boss with the Jets, the late John Ferguson, would have been proud as Barrie seemed intent on starting a fracas once the score got out of hand. There was some stickwork that would have brought a smile to the face of Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken and, late in the third, a number of their players wanted a scrap in the worst way. Nothing came of it, but that didn’t stop Hawerchuk from unloading his full repertoire of profanity at any official who would lend him an ear. I’m surprised he wasn’t penalized or ejected.

I was happy with the IceDogs’ victory, but I admit to having had some split loyalties during the day because of Hawerchuk. Nonetheless, for someone who lived and died with the Jets during most of Hawerchuk’s tenure with the team, it was a thrill just to be on the other side of the glass from him and the final score was almost immaterial. I have so many unpleasant memories of my former home city, but Hawerchuk represented a number of the good memories I brought with me that I continue to build upon here in St. Catharines.

24 Jan

IceDogs vs. Plymouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 Jan

IceDogs vs. Kingston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Jets, er, Dogs Go.

26 Oct

Ode to the IceDogs

Here is a tale that will rhyme
About when I saw the IceDogs for the second time

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I found little buzz on the street on this day
There was only this mascot from the local Subway

Under the auspices of security, a guard rifles through your bags and devices
They just want you to pay the high concession prices

Never bought food at a hockey game, that’s a fact
It’s a streak I intend to keep intact

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I really don’t want to be mean
But is it asking too much for the seat to be clean?

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New banners were hung from the rafters
Honoring the team that was the Eastern Conference masters

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Before the game, Bones posed for a picture for me
There would be not many others in the stands for the mascot to see

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The IceDogs played their backup goaltender, giving him a fling
We found out why he’s second-string

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Battalion shooters found him easy to strafe
Don’t worry Brent, your job is safe

The work of the officials was not a delight
“I’m blind, I’m deaf, I want to be a ref,” was easily the line of the night

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An altercation caused many to scoff
One man near me yelled, “Rip his head off!”

The biggest cheers came from a third-period fight
The guy to my left pounded on the glass with all his might

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After the game, dejection was written all over their faces
It hardly seemed worth tying up their skate laces

The light crowd was not happy, to say the least
As their team crept closer to the bottom of the East

Looks like a long year ahead for fans like me and you
They’ve played a dozen games and only won two

17 Oct

My First IceDogs Game

Last night, I was among the sellout crowd of 5,300 as the Niagara IceDogs played their first game at the Meridian Center. Not only was it my first IceDogs game, but it was the first time I had been at a junior hockey game since 2002 when the Brandon Wheat Kings played the Prince Albert Raiders in a playoff game at the Winnipeg Arena. My experiences with the junior ranks dates back to the 1980s with the Winnipeg Warriors, but I’m not sure sitting among 1,500 loosely interested spectators scattered throughout a cavernous 15,000-seat arena to watch a bad team go through it paces really counts. It would also be the first hockey game I’ve seen in person since the Devils battled the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown Saint Paul in December 2009. Yes, it’s been a while.

Adorned in my Manitoba Fighting Moose jersey, I made my way to the bus stop, where a car with an SPRM plate soon passed by. That may have been a bad omen for what was to come on the bus. The offer of free bus fare with an IceDogs ticket was well publicized by both the IceDogs and St. Catharines Transit, but when I showed my ticket to the driver, he acted like I was flashing a three-dollar bill at him. “What’s that,” he snapped in a very un-St. Catharines-like fashion as I boarded the #7 bus. Only when I explained that it was an IceDogs ticket did he recoil and take off. I hope that, in future, St. Catharines Transit does a better job of publicizing such offers internally.

After I sat down, the driver sped down Niagara Street like he was on the QEW and I got downtown in record time where I waited on one of the two pedestrian bridges leading from St. Paul Street to the Meridian Center.

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I was hardly the first one to arrive and there was a real buzz around the area. In the understatement of the year, IceDogs hockey is a really big deal here. There certainly wasn’t anything close to this kind of atmosphere during the eight years I attended Fighting Moose games and it even exceeded anything I saw during my five years as a Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder in the 1980s. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this.

While waiting in line, I noticed someone standing nearby with a hat bearing the logo of the Mark Chipman Hockey Club and his seat was only a stone’s throw from mine. I hope that is not another bad omen.

When the doors opened shortly after 6:00, one hour before game time, a security guard was at a table assigned to rifle through bags and purses, much to the dismay of my fellow attendees. After the slow procession of anxious fans down two flights of stairs, I made my way through the entrance to the concourse.

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It seemed spacious enough during Saturday’s grand opening, but the concourse was jam-packed during the intermissions. It was particularly bad near the washrooms and concession stands.

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Not that I wanted to buy anything, since I don’t go to hockey games to eat, but I paid attention to the menu and prices. $8.50 for a regular beer and $9.50 for a premium beer. Don’t ask me what the difference is. Since we are in the heart of wine country, wine is available for $7.50. Coffee was $2.00, bottled Coke products were $3.50, hot dogs were $4.50 and popcorn was $5.50. I was disappointed that in today’s day and age, healthier alternatives were not available.

As regular readers may be aware, I am quite proud of never having purchased a food product at the Winnipeg Arena in over 300 games that I saw there. I suspect I will have a similar track record at the Meridian Center.

Just before the warmup started, the two linesmen skated out and took their positions opposite each other at the red line. As I noticed in those Wheat Kings playoff games many years ago, the two teams cannot be trusted to be on the ice together at any time without adult supervision.

In a nice touch, the IceDogs were wearing special jerseys with the design of a tuxedo out front in honor of the special occasion. They would keep those jerseys on through the pre-game introductions before donning their new third jersey that looks like a Chicago Blackhawks knockoff. I liked the new addition of the interlaced “STC” on the shoulder atop the crossed bones to recognize their and my home city.

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The visitors on this night were the Belleville Bulls, who came in sporting a 6-1 record. The last time I had seen a team known as the Bulls was in 1979 when the Birmingham Bulls came into Winnipeg to play the Jets.

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While checking out the Bulls’ roster, I noticed the name of Jake Marchment, the nephew of former Jets defenseman Bryan Marchment, one of the dirtiest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.

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“Bones” out on the ice before the pre-game introductions.

Prior to the start of the game, I was puzzled by the announcement that all SLR and DSLR cameras had to be registered and any unauthorized cameras would be removed. Beyond the issue of blocking another patron’s view of the play, I can’t understand the rationale behind this policy. They should be happy that you care enough to be there and take pictures of the action.

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The opening ceremonies featuring Mayor Bryan McMullan, MPP Jim Bradley, Tom Rankin, Jason Ball, Bill and Denise Burke among others.

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Leading up to the historic home opener, there was much ado about attracting “Andee” to sing the anthem. I was among many who had never heard of her and her performance was nothing spectacular. In addition, her choice to sing partially in Quebecese was both unnecessary and disrespectful. Having the organist play O Canada would have been a much better choice. To her credit, however, “Andee” was fully dressed, unlike what I had seen so often during the Fighting Moose era were the singer would parade around half-naked in front of a crowd of mostly 8-12-year-old boys.

Once the puck dropped for real, it would be the most fascinating game-night experience I had ever seen. The building largely lived up to its lofty advance billing, my seat was comfortable and the sight lines were excellent.

The IceDogs got on the board with two quick goals and I got an early indoctrination into the fans’ tradition of howling for each goal after the cheering had died down. By contrast, the announcement of each Bulls goal was met with a collective “WHO CARES!”

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Along with the band clanging their cymbals and banging their drums to exhort the crowd on, I had the feeling I was at a college football game.

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First period action.

I noticed a smattering of empty seats throughout the building, but the place was mostly full and officially a sellout. The sound system worked well. Too well, in fact. It would be nice if they turned the volume down. I found it a little unsettling watching my home team not knowing any of the players, but I found the level of play to be quite good, full of end-to-end action. The kids make plenty of mistakes, but this is a developmental league and that’s to be expected at this level.

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The IceDogs bench during the second period.

I was particularly interested in the demographic of the crowd. For the most part, it seemed to be a combination of seniors and middle-aged couples along with a smattering of children. Almost without exception, they were dedicated fans who were there to watch a game and not just because they had nothing better to do.

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I noted with considerable interest the lack of zany promotions that I came to expect from the Fighting Moose. There were no rat cannons or “hurling of dead, frozen poultry carcasses,”™ just more garden-variety stuff like this score-to-win contest during the intermission.

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The most off-the-wall promotion was “Kiss Cam” during the third period when they focused on a couple and tried to shame them into kissing on camera for all of St. Catharines to see.

I was impressed that, during the game, they only allowed people to return to their seats during stoppages in play and announcements to this effect were made regularly. I noticed that the ushers were eager to help direct fans to their seats, but they were also often in the way. Instead of standing off to the side, many were standing in the middle of aisle and I had to contort myself around one of them who was standing between me and my seat.

During a break in the action, I laughed when I saw an IBEW ad on the video board in which they boasted about taking care of the whole country while showing the Toronto skyline. Those of you who have spent your entire life within the inner orbit of the Center of the Universe won’t get it.

It wouldn’t be a hockey game without a 50/50 draw and this would be no exception. Unlike the case with the Fighting Moose where aggressive kids ran after you halfway across the rink, the tickets here are sold by adults who wait on the sidelines and make themselves available to you – the way it should be.

Of course, there was a fight, but little did I know about recent rule changes at this level that will make this spectacle increasingly uncommon. Players with more than 10 fights are automatically suspended for two games and the team will be fined if the player exceeds 15. In the IHL, I more expected a player who didn’t reach double figures to be disciplined. The Fighting Moose once traded for a player who had a bonus clause in his contract based on the number of penalty minutes he racked up.

During the third period, there was a lengthy delay as they consulted video review for a disputed non-goal. I was shocked that they used any form of replay at this level and it was more proof as to what a big deal OHL hockey is in this part of the world.

Oh, by the way, there was a game going on. After the quick start, I had a feeling the IceDogs were going to let the game get away, but they held on and a late empty-net goal sealed the eventual 7-4 win. Their record improved to 1-6. Memorial Cup, here we come.

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The IceDogs salute the crowd after their first victory of the season.

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Denmark native Mikkel Aagaard, with two goals and an assist, including the first goal at the Meridian Center, was named first star. The announcer dubbed him the “Danish Delight,” a moniker I hope does not stick.

After the game, during the mass crush of humanity leading to the exits, it was a nice gesture for them to give out commemorative pucks to mark the historic occasion of the first game at the Meridian Center. I was able to get one and it will soon be prominently displayed on my mantle.

I expect the Meridian Center will be seeing my shadow again in the not-too-distant future and I look forward to more equally memorable games.

12 Oct

Grand Opening at the Meridian Center

Yesterday, I was one of many who attended the grand opening of the new Meridian Center in downtown St. Catharines. IceDogs season ticket holders and the politicians each had their own sneak preview in the preceding days, but this was the first time the general public had a chance to tour the facility.

I was among the first to arrive and I wasted no time in touring the seating area, as I would again after the ribbon-cutting ceremonies when they mercifully turned the lights on.

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The concourses seem spacious enough, though a better judgment on this point will come on Thursday night at the IceDogs home opener.

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Once again, I knew I was not alone.

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Many of you may take things like this for granted, but as a veteran of the venerable Winnipeg Arena, I was impressed that there were individual urinals and not a trough. In addition, the sinks and soap dispensers actually worked.

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I was pleased to see the city honoring its sporting past.

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I was shocked that the IceDogs’ store was not open. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to sell some merchandise to a captive and awestruck audience.

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This automated ticket machine was the team’s only presence.

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Interestingly, right after taking this shot, mayoral candidate Walter Sendzik passed by and recognized me from a recent debate I attended. I am getting around.

Before heading down to ice level for the ceremonies, I poked my head and camera into one of the private boxes.

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Mayor Bryan McMullan and MPP Jim Bradley were among the dignitaries to address the crowd. I was surprised when the mayor mentioned that the facility was located on the site where the original canal went through.

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IceDogs’ owner Bill Burke.

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Following the speeches, three young women in strange garb walked up on stage and climbed up these bands of cloth hanging from the rafters. They clearly possess an uncanny talent for contorting themselves around cloth at high altitude, but their purpose here was unclear.

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The official ribbon cutting. It was a nice gesture for them to provide cuttings from the ribbon for attendees to take home as a keepsake and I was lucky enough to get one.

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The mayor and a few council members posed for a shot after the ceremonies concluded.

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I continued my self-guided tour with a look at the dressing rooms at ice level. First was the visitors’ room.

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Next was the IceDogs’ room.

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The IceDogs’ workout room.

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Even the Zamboni was on full display.

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The retractable seats behind the goal. The row of orange seats reminded me of the Winnipeg Arena and its infamous ice-level orange chairs that sat atop creaky plywood floors loosely separating paying customers from the hordes of four-legged vermin that lived quite comfortably not far below the surface.

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The view from behind the net.

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The officials’ room.

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The penalty boxes and the timekeeper’s box. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a heated contest.

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Looking behind the stage along the ice.

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And, of course, my home city is recognized on the ice.

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As impressed as I was with the facility, I was equally impressed with the friendliness of the staff who on hand to answer questions. It was another pleasant change for me coming from Winnipeg, where the Mark Chipman organization expects gratitude for the privilege of doing business with them. That is why, even though I no longer live there, my favorite NHL team is whoever the Chipman franchise is playing.

There is a part of me that laments leaving the history and tradition of older rinks behind, but the Meridian Center looks like a wonderful place to build new memories. I look forward to seeing my first game there on Thursday night at the IceDogs’ home opener.

14 Sep

Terry Fox Run in St. Catharines

This morning, for the first time in my new home city, I participated in the annual Terry Fox Run.

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I was one of the early birds.

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Sponsor tents.

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The registration desk.

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As those of you who know me would expect, I added the name of the late Carli Ward to the list of dedications. Long before her cancer diagnosis, Carli made the Terry Fox Run a habit and I’ve since continued the tradition in her memory.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that, unlike what happens in Winnipeg, the ceremonies were kept rather understated.

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Local volunteers.

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This speaker was from Café Amoré, one of the sponsors.

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Dawn Dodge, one of my councillors and the deputy mayor, read a prepared statement on behalf of the city. She should have finished it with the line, “This has been a recording.”

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Another of the speakers, this one from Brock University.

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The warmup.

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At the starting line. I was impressed that they thought enough to stagger the departure times. In order to avoid the unruly free-for-all that normally takes place in Winnipeg, the cyclists went first, followed by the rollerbladers, runners and walkers. As they explained, it makes sense to have the faster participants leave ahead of the slower ones.

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A scene along the route. Again, I was impressed that they had police blocking traffic. In Winnipeg, there is no traffic control and participants have to be on the lookout for passing vehicles.

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There were people cheering the participants all along the route. It was a very nice touch that is unsurprisingly absent in Winnipeg.

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Once again, cheers greeted participants at the finish line. It was another welcome reminder that I no longer live in the SPRM.

I heard runners who passed me boast about their times and the pace they were able to keep, but the Terry Fox Run is one event where the times are not important. What is important is that the run Terry was not able to finish continues year after year in city after city to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. There have been so many advances in detection and treatment, but the battle against cancer is far from over. That struggle that touches nearly every one of us is the reason so many dedicated volunteers work so hard to put the run together and why so many of us set aside time to be part of it.

05 Sep

Waterfront Trail – St. Catharines to Grimsby

Taking the lead of a friend and former colleague from the SPRM who recently paid me a visit in my new home, I decided to take a trek west and cover the section of the Waterfront Trail between St. Catharines and Grimsby.

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On the way, I noted this sign with particular interest as I passed through Port Dalhousie. I was most impressed to see that the city has a Clean City Committee and organizes activities like this. It was yet another pleasant reminder as to why we packed all those boxes and came all this way. I would ordinarily be the kind of person to see this as a waste of resources, but a fresh perspective has certainly made me appreciate being in a community that cares about such things. I don’t think readers from my new home city can properly appreciate that perspective unless they have spent any significant time in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

Incidentally, I still find myself pronouncing Dalhousie as dal-HOW-zee. Old habits from the SPRM die hard.

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For the most part, the trail is well signed, but after leaving Port Dalhousie, it would be more appropriate to call it the QEW Trail instead of the Waterfront Trail since you end up seeing more of the QEW than you do of Lake Ontario.

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Nonetheless, there are some nice views of the lake as you pass by Charles Daley Park on the way to Jordan Harbor.

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At Jordan Road, the trail officially takes a detour into Jordan Village. I continued west on North Service Road, but I will check out the sights in Jordan Village in a future visit.

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Behind the Ramada Beacon Harborside Resort is Jordan Harbor.

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Even though the path of the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, this is one of the few places along the route where motorists can actually get a glimpse of the lake.

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Hidden away behind some brush is the rusting remains of “La Grande Hermine,” or “Big Weasel” that has been in Jordan Harbor since 1997. The full story of this abandoned vessel can be found here.

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Continuing west, I passed by the Lake House restaurant as the trail veers away from the lake.

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Prudhomme’s antique store and factory outlet.

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Prudhomme’s Landing Inn hasn’t seen too many landings recently. I don’t even think the buzzards bother to stop there anymore.

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Despite passing mainly through farmland, there are oases like this when you need to stop for a break. There’s also another such area in Beamsville a few miles to the west. Despite the ancillary traffic it brings, there are advantages to having the trail near the QEW.

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There’s more to Vineland than just a carpool parking lot.

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Another roadside attraction.

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I know one reader from the SPRM will appreciate this, even though I know it’s not spelled the same.

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I’ve seen these signs before, but never one at such close proximity. I know I’ve mentioned it before in a previous entry, but I unreservedly endorse these measures to punish reckless drivers. I do hope that, unlike the way it is in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, driving like a maniac is indeed a reportable offense.

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After putting on 19 miles, I reached Grimsby.

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I didn’t want to venture too much farther on this morning, so I turned around at Bal Harbor Park, but not before a little break to snap some more pictures.

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I imagine that second-floor patio gets a lot of use.

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The water was clear and didn’t smell like a sewage lagoon. This just in.™ This is not the Red or Assiniboine River.

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On the way back, I needed another break, so I stopped at Charles Daley Park, just west of Seventh Avenue Louth.

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View of 15 Mile Creek.

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Other views from the gazebo on the east side of the park.

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I noted this sign with interest especially having seen the signs in the washrooms along the Niagara Parkway advising that foot washing in the sinks wasn’t allowed. As a newcomer to the area, I don’t quite understand the fascination with foot washing in this part of the world. Maybe I’ll figure it out in time.

Going west from St. Catharines doesn’t offer the same quality of scenery as it does in the other direction, but it was a relatively non-contentious route, the kind of which I could only dream about when I lived in the SPRM. It offers a good view of the escarpment, but you won’t be climbing it, so it offers some of the easiest miles in the region for a cyclist. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back.”™

22 Aug

Cycling to the Falls

As many of you who know me might expect, soon after my bike arrived from Winnipeg, I wasted no time in making a pair of visits to nearby Niagara Falls.

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Though I’ve studied plenty of maps, since I am still largely unfamiliar with the best routes to use, I decided to rely on Google to plan my first visit to the Falls since I was a young child on vacation from Winnipeg.

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Google recommended first heading south from St. Catharines along the Welland Canals Parkway into Thorold.

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As the sign says, Thorold is where the ships climb the mountain. It is also where cyclists climb the mountain, otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment. Coming from the flatlands, the frequent changes in elevation are something I’m going to have to get used to.

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I took the exit at Regent Street and proceeded south along Front Street through Thorold’s “historic downtown.” That phrase carries a very negative connotation in Winnipeg, but Thorold’s downtown has a lot more appeal than Winnipeg’s downtown does. Once again, I found no bums and the streets were clean. Thorold’s downtown reminded me of Kenora, a city in the northwestern part of the province I’ve visited a number of times when I lived in Winnipeg.

Google’s recommendation took me through the Front Street Park and towards the Thorold Tunnel that goes underneath the Welland Canal.

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I promptly got off my bike and walked it through the tunnel along the pedestrian walkway, separated from motorized traffic by a concrete barrier.

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MTO says the tunnel is 840 m long, but it felt like five miles when I was in there. I am normally not claustrophobic, but it was a harrowing experience having speeding trucks whizzing past me at close quarters inside such an enclosed space. After reaching daylight, I was visibly shaken for much of the remainder of the ride into the Falls. On my return trip, I would ride through and shorten the amount of time I had to spend in the tunnel. I suspect the Thorold Tunnel won’t be seeing much of my shadow in future.

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Once out of the tunnel, I turned south on Davis Road, then east on Beaverdams Road, following it to Lundy’s Lane.

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Beaverdams Road passes through a golf course and a few homes, but mostly through farmland. It seems to be lightly travelled, but it had no paved shoulder. This is why I normally don’t rely on Google or other cycling maps. There’s really no substitute for experience.

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After reaching Lundy’s Lane, I crossed the QEW and made my way towards the falls. Not unexpectedly, there were tourists galore and when I next want to spend some time looking over the falls, I’ll park my bike somewhere and walk. Walking a bike through such a large crowd was rather awkward.

A few days later, I opted to rely on my limited personal experience for my next trip. I crossed the lift bridge at Lakeshore Road and made my way directly to the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail using East and West Line. Lakeshore does see more traffic, but East and West Line doesn’t seem to be that busy. More importantly, there is a paved shoulder to give cyclists like me a little more comfort.

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Upon reaching the trail, I headed south towards Queenston and Queenston Heights, site of a famous battle during the War of 1812.

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As I noted in a previous blog entry, they don’t call it Queenston Heights for nothing. I made it up this incline without too much difficulty, but I had to get off the bike and walk it up much of the way through the town.

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Continuing south, I went under the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge towards the floral clock.

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After a brief break to snap a few more pictures, I passed by the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station.

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There are a number of spots where you can pull off the trail and get some shots, which I did.

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I noticed a sign for the Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory, so I stopped in to check it out. Sadly, I was too early and the conservatory was not open yet, but I will make a point of getting there in a return visit. Given that this was the height of tourist season, however, I was surprised they were not open at the crack of dawn.

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I continued south on the trail towards the Whirlpool Gorge.

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I stopped for some pictures alongside a busload of people from Maryland. On this trip, in addition to many from neighboring New York, I would also spot plates from New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and Illinois.

After passing Victoria Avenue, cyclists have to go on the road, but there is a paved shoulder that takes you past the Whirlpool and Rainbow Bridges right to the falls.

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I stopped at the Not-So-Secret Garden before turning around and heading for home. This time, I planned a different route myself, wisely not relying upon Google.

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From the 420 junction, I took Stanley Avenue north across 405 to Niagara Townline Road. Stanley Avenue is a little busier, but again, there was a paved shoulder for most of the way.

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I took Four Mile Creek Road and made my way to the lightly used Queenston Road. Unfortunately, it did not have a paved shoulder, but there was far less traffic there than I found on Beaverdams Road.

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I stopped for this picture just north of the intersection of York Road. I’ve since found out what an “Unassumed Road” is, but the terminology seemed odd. At first glance, it sounds like they don’t want you to assume this is a road.

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Hello, my name is Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Genius.

I followed Queenston Road back to St. Catharines and made it home safely. Overall, this route seemed to be a lot better than the one Google recommended, though much of the scenery to the north can be distracting.

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I’m sure there are other routes in the area to get to the Falls and back, perhaps better ones, and I look forward to discovering them over the coming months and years.

15 Aug

Hockey Night in St. Catharines

Last night, I attended Hockey Night in St. Catharines, the fifth annual such event in support of the United Way of St. Catharines and District. It is not an event I would normally have attended, but it was a way of taking the first baby steps to becoming part of my new home city. It also allowed me to see some former WHA players in addition to those who played in another major league, many of whom I have not seen for a decade or more.

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The game took place at the Gatorade Garden City Complex, a.k.a. Jack Gatecliff Arena, now, with the completion of the Meridian Center, the former home of the Niagara IceDogs.

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I was one of the first to arrive and I got some pictures around the seating area.

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The flags along with a picture of the Queen at one end. Ironically, the Winnipeg Arena, a building that saw my shadow hundreds of times, was famed for its long-standing picture of the Queen that hung in the south end before being moved across the rink once the Jets moved from the WHA into another major league. Unlike the picture that hung in the Arena, the Queen is sporting a cheeky grin, much like the one on my face when my one-way WestJet flight was taking off from Winnipeg two weeks ago.

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The banners honoring the Memorial Cup champion St. Catharines Tee Pees. The 1953-1954 Tee Pees were led by Rudy Pilous, who would later spend many years with the WHA Jets. Pat Stapleton, a former longtime major pro player and a wonderful man whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice, was a member of the 1959-1960 team.

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Before the game, Rick Dykstra, our MP, was circling the ice sporting a blue jersey with the Conservative logo.

After the warmups, it was time to introduce the players.

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Former WHA player Dave Gorman.

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Former Winnipeg Jet Bill Derlago.

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Dave McLlwain, another former Jet. Mark Osborne, playing for the red team, would make it a threesome of ex-Jets.

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MP Rick Dykstra.

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Steve Ludzik, a former pro player and someone who I last saw behind the bench of the Detroit Vipers of the late, great IHL. The woman circling the stands selling raffle tickets for the free WestJet flights and wearing one of his jerseys said that Detroit was “about four moves ago.” She also mentioned that Darren Banks, one of Ludzik’s former players with the Vipers, was playing for the red team. For those who don’t know, I followed the IHL for several years and the subject of my next book will be my experiences with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose. Pro hockey’s most unwanted team, its owner/president/general manager/head coach and its handful of supporters will be dissected with heavy doses of humor and sarcasm.

Interestingly, coaching the red team was former WHA player Jim Dorey. Like me, Dorey is also a member of the WHA Hall of Fame advisory board. For those interested in the history of the WHA, I encourage you to visit WHAHOF.com and, specifically, the database section that represents countless hours of research on my part.

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Former pro great Phil Esposito did the honors for the ceremonial opening faceoff. I found it odd that a security guard packing body armor followed him out to center ice. This is St. Catharines, not Winnipeg.

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O Canada being performed by Antonella Cavallaro.

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Al “Stomach Muscles” Secord chats with referee Ron Hoggarth. Hoggarth had a microphone with him all night and did his best to entertain the crowd, but I found it a bit much after a while. Having seen him work many Jets games at the Winnipeg Arena, it seems like he hasn’t changed a bit.

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During the first intermission, Hoggarth took his act into the stands. Later in the intermission, he had Kraig Nienhuis sing a little of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. I know one reader will appreciate the reference as it relates to my late uncle.

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Second period action. The game itself, as one would expect, was little more than an organized pillow fight with all the intensity of a Jets-Oilers playoff game from the 1980s. Sorry, old grudges die hard.

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“Bones”, the IceDogs’ mascot made appearances throughout the stands. On this occasion, he was dangling a woman’s purse over the boards and put on a show as he rifled through it. I didn’t find all that funny, but maybe it’s just me.

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The post-game handshake.

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Our MP holds up a ceremonial check for $182,329.00, the amount raised at the event.

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Both teams gather for one last picture.

All in all, it was an interesting evening and I’m glad I went. I’m looking forward to October when the puck drops for real at the Meridian Center.