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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

For your pleasure: Crow

The theme of this week’s work is spoiling quickly. So, let’s start by discussing what I don’t know. I’d like to order a heaping order of crow, please. Courtesy of the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team. I just don’t know jack about the MAds.

Early in the season I made mistake one. I’d said the Admirals were rebuilding this year. Some rebuilding effort. This comment, I don’t remember if I left it here, but I do remember leaving it on Wolfkeeper, has proved totally wrong. They were continuing their dynasty, interrupted last year.

This was followed by a January comment that the Houston Aeros were going to be overtaken by the Admirals. I expected that to happen by the end of February. Nope, the Aeros and the Admirals slacked off till the end of the season, the Aeros finally losing their first spot late in the regular season.

By the time of March I’d become disillusioned with the Ads and after seeing them blow several games in Milwaukee decided that they would probably implode in the post season. I stuck with that idea during their playoff run against Iowa, which went to game seven, and Houston.

The Houston series ended in four. Technically we say they swept the Aeros and if I were a Milwaukee fan I’d have brought a broom to the game to throw on the ice. I’m not a fan of Milwaukee, won’t throw any brooms on their behalf, but will reconsider what they are doing.

Houston was a team that only had, I believe this is correct, two call-ups during the regular season. They kept the team together, had a great crew. Yes, I was disappointed in them when I saw them play Peoria in January, and again in a couple of Chicago games. Still, I felt that crew would beat the Milwaukee team which had seen a revolving door in goal and call-ups of Tootoo, Gamache and others. I believe seven Nashville players joined the play-offs in Milwaukee, including Pekka Rinne. I figured all that talent would need time to settle in.

Nope. Serve up the crow.

Last night, with the Grand Rapids Griffins victory over the Manitoba Moose, the puck is set to drop Thursday in Grand Rapids for the semi-final to the Calder Cup. Once again, I’m calling on the Ads to lose. But now I’ve lost my confidence in their individualism blossoming forth in a lack of discipline.

On the other side of the world, the Hershey Bears defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. I never thought this series would be just four games. This is an implosion as stunning as the Challenger. We almost never see these two teams, or at least never see the Pens, as the Chocolate Bears take western swings every other year. It wasn’t so much that the Pens lost, that was almost expected. What wasn’t expected—they did it in just four games. OUCH!

So, that’s what I know I don’t know. Now on to what I think I know. Billy Tibbetts has earned this blog more attention than any other entry. Just look back at the December entry called the “Billy Tibbetts Show.” There are still comments posted every few weeks. Billy went back to the Rockford Ice Hogs at the end of the regular season from the Chicago Wolves, shot two goals, had numerous penalty minutes and assists in their final game, but failed to stave off the end of the season. The Hogs are done. The UHL itself is changing rapidly, as teams fold and are created.

One Wolfkeeper poster, in discussing the apparently limited life of a UHL team noted the team has elected a new strategy of locating in large metro areas with other established hockey teams. That seems accurate, with St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit all having teams. Alas, the Missouri team, located near St. Louis, is ending operations.

OTR and I made a trip to Toledo, Ohio to see an Eastern Championship ECHL game between the Gwinnett Gladiators and the Toledo Storm over the weekend. OTR discusses some of the events here. Toledo is undoubtedly a minor league sports Mecca for Americans due to the presence of the Toledo Mud Hens.

The Storm don’t play in the classy Fifth/Third Field, but in the Toledo Sports Arena, a run-down hole of a building located across the river from downtown next to a marina.

This place smells of burnt food, bad locker room odors, has a Zamboni from the 1940’s and glass you can lean over. Yes, you can touch the players, but that gets you thrown out! The smoke and haze at the beginning of the game hung over the ice creating a light fog. The Zamboni and inadequate ice equipment means the ice is rough and melting in spots. In the corridors, there are places where the width comes down to just two people wide.

Toledo plans to build another facility, but is debating where to place it. Towns people talk about how the Storm suck. Well they were in the playoffs till last night, how good do they need to be to get people’s support? New building good, according to Dawn and Matt, two fans I talked to.

Toledo fans aren’t supporting the Storm, they say, because the building is so old. As I wandered around this old fire trap of a building, I thought that when it comes down there will be many people who realize that it has soul and like so many places where we saw sports played when we were children, it will be missed.

The low glass makes this place unique in North American hockey. The glass is the normal height at ice level, but the stands are built above the ice. If you stand, you can lean over the ice into the play area. That led OTR and I to discuss the Toledo fans intimacy with the players.

Most sports have a line beyond which lies the game. Or, from the players perspective, the fans. It’s an invisible line that each side mutually respects. Although we laugh when we see the Hansons rush the stands, it is, in fact, an intimidating idea to defend yourself from an athletic young man armed with a stick and body armour.

Not only is that line lower in Toledo, the visiting penalty box and visiting bench is only partly enclosed. Between periods the players cross the main corridor from the bench to reach the locker rooms. And, finally, the cool down equipment is located in the corridor.

This is a set of environmental conditions that allow the fans easy access to the players. These Toledo fans are blessed with one of the most liberal access situations in hockey. And, it shows.

The Gladiators played in Toledo Friday, Sunday and Tuesday. I don’t have details on the Tuesday contest, but the Friday and Sunday contest were marked by the fans delaying the game while garbage was cleaned from the ice surface. It’s a violation of the rules, of course. It could have led to penalties and fines against the home team. Fortunately the referee let the game continue after the clean-up without a penalty.

And it is bad that the fans are responding like this as there is a fan there carrying on the hockey tradition of throwing seafood on the ice. His name is Kramer and I can assure you that no seafood, mostly octopus, but some squid, were harmed on Sunday. Replacing the seafood with a cup of cola is a bad idea fans. Still, I wondered if Kramer’s seafood had started the “let’s chuck a beer” thing now taking place. If you read this Kramer, give us your thoughts, please.

Anyway, great fans, except one, and I won’t name anyone, just say don’t sit below the homer in Section 8, Row A, seat 13. Sorry lady, but I’ve met these guys and they are not filthy slime. Yikes!

Aside from the Sports Arena, there was a hockey game on Sunday. The Wyndam was recommended by the team as where Gwinnett was staying.

Walking in, I wasn’t sure… the lobby was full of parents waiting for their little darlings to drive up to a high school prom. There were in fact two proms, a wedding, a bachelor party and a surprised Troy Milam getting ready that night in the lobby. What a mix. I suppose Troy was looking for a ping-pong table. If you don’t understand that slam, you are very fortunate.

We proceeded this Mother’s Day bash by hanging out at the Wyndam bar. It was a safe place, that was showing the spectacular Senators v. Sabres game on Saturday. OTR and I quickly found the hotel bar, a reasonable place where nachos and two scotches cost us about $30 total.

Today, in the US, you can probably count on one hand the number of bars where hockey is shown on the television. So hanging in the bar with Gwinnett fans and player’s parents was great. Twice, some fool attempted to change the channel to see a baseball game and the 12 of us yelled to turn it back. Yahoo! Hockey rules.

The take before the game wasn’t clear on whether the Gladiators would win. But I was impressed that people had driven through the rain from Georgia to see their team play. It was also very nice to meet Derek Nesbitt’s mom. Derek, as you can tell, I don’t know much about hockey, but your mom does! Yes, fans, I was outclassed in hockey knowledge, not only by Nesbitt’s mom, (Happy Mother’s Day btw) but by at least several fans. But what do you expect, they drove all that way, they had to be dedicated.

Troy was one of the fans who should be blogging. He observed that the affiliation agreement between the Wolves, remember them? and the Atlanta Thrashers is up this year. He said his information is the decision in Atlanta on whether to reaffiliate will be made on the basis of whether Atlanta should own its own AHL team.

That is a different take on the situation from the discussions on Wolfkeeper. There, we’ve been discussing whether the coaching style of John Anderson has created a situation that is hurting AHL prospects. Troy said it is his impression that that is accurate, Atlanta seems to feel that Anderson’s independence is hurting the farm system, and their way around it is to control the club.

As I’ve observed before, Hmmmn….

We drove all that distance to see a hockey game, frankly, you can read about it on line. Here’s a look at the prospects. There were several Canadian parents there, including Robert Snowball’s. Snowball is a Milwaukee prospect who landed in Toledo. He has 12 Pims in the playoffs, leading the booster club to sell T-shirts saying “Let’s have a Snowball Fight…” He appears to have the Darryl Bootland tendency to actually play too. He’s a great agitator. He’d be deadly on a bench with Tootoo as part of a second line.

Another key Storm player was in Grand Rapids off and on throughout the playoffs. I’ll call him Ironman, but you can call him Drew MacIntyre. Mac was in pipes for both teams, has only dropped one game in the playoffs, to Gwinnett on Sunday. Till Sunday he had 1.80 GAA. Unfortunately a great story about him in the Sunday May 14 Toledo Blade has been taken down. I’ll quote from it as I have the hard copy: (by Mark Monroe) “Gifted goalie Drew MacIntyre was expected to embark on one more midnight run back to Toledo last night to make another remarkable return to a Storm team that seems to play at another level in front of him.

“MacIntyre was expected to fly from Winnipeg this morning into Toledo Express and be back in net for the Storm at 6 p.m. in the Sports Arena… ‘They’ve been my team all year and I still want to win a Kelly Cup,’ (MacIntyre said).

“MacIntyre was called up to Grand Rapids immediately after he helped the Storm knock Wheeling out of the division finals… He drove overnight from Toronto to West Virginia to lead the Storm to a series-saving win on April 29.” My note, I saw him drive up to the Arena at about 3 p.m. He was in net but looked tired. He returned to Grand Rapids for the seventh game of the finals with the Manitoba Moose on Tuesday, missing the final game against the Gwinnett Gladiators. There, he relieved Joey MacDonald after he gave up four goals, holding on to win the game and allow the Griffins to proceed to the Western finals against Milwaukee.

Ironman. And that sound after he makes a sound isn’t a boo, it’s “DREWWWWW…”

Facing him in Gladiator colours was Sean Fields, probably the only goalie in the Atlanta system we didn’t get to know this year. The game was a damn tight contest, tied for the most part till the third Glads goal in the third period. There were some great saves by this guy at playoff level skill. There was no five-hole I could see, he took stuff on the numbers and pads. There wasn’t a spectacular throw, just solid work in the pipes.

We’ve also been waiting to see Troy Milam, Guillam Desbiens and Lane Manson in Chicago. Lane is 6’9” and likes to stand back to watch fights, not participate in them. Desbiens and Milam threw themselves into some situations and played with heart. A girlfriend or relative of Manson asked him why the Toledo fans hated him so much.

The answer comes from Friday’s game. Desbiens and Milam checked a Toledo player hard. Matt, my off-ice official friend from Toledo, says it was a dirty hit. Okay, I’ll buy that. So, later, the Storm responded and a dance broke out. Manson refused to participate, leading the fans to call him chicken.

I didn’t see Lane refuse to enter the game and use his body in a physical way, checking and using his size to create opportunities. Far from it. He has a great wrap around move that utilizes his size. What Lane doesn’t do is get into fights easily.

There were a couple of other players on the Glads I’d love to see able to work their way to Chicago. It’s a feeling, based on one game, but I liked (the following is in no particular order) Brad Schell, Derek Nesbitt, Scott Mifsud, Matt York, Milan Gajic, Adam Courchaine and Jonathan Awe. York and Awe are instigators and d-men. Gajic and Mifsud seemed to be in the midst of the action. Nesbitt may need more time in Gwinnett, Schell too. But I liked their moves. Courchaine, he was taking penalty minutes and in the action. I thought he played smart and sometime you need to take the Pims to stop things from developing.

My calls for the rest of the series are going to wait till I can look over the stats. I’d love to see Portland return to the Bradley Center. There would be blood on the ice and I frankly don’t know who I’d want to see survive. But my heart is with the Bears and the Griffins. Both teams seem to have what it takes to deserve the cup.

Late edit: OTR wants me to mention the new American heartland interjection to the "Star Spangled Banner," booing. She says of Desbiens and Manson. It wasn't just the classless white trash behind us either, it was the whole crowd.


Anonymous said...

Yes the sports arena is a toilet and an embarrassment to our community. Thousands of hockey fans stay away in droves because the game does not even resemble hockey most of the the time with the substandard ice size, the low glass that makes the play stop almost continually

The SPorts Toilet houses fans that are rude...obnoxious and ignorant

I refuse to ever go back

Michael said...

Interesting take and recap on your experience. I was at Friday's Storm game, and most of Sunday's.

Unfortunately, Gwinnett won the series 4-1. Toledo could've won, if some breaks would've gone their way and they would've made some key plays. The series was closer than the 4-1 outcome. Gwinnett was the better team (this time).

Your comment about:
"As I wandered around this old fire trap of a building, I thought that when it comes down there will be many people who realize that it has soul and like so many places where we saw sports played when we were children, it will be missed."

....is right. Of course, the Sports Arena is old, mostly out-dated, and should be replaced. But, it does hold a lot of memories -- hockey, seeing the Batmobile at car shows, concerts that kept your ears ringing a day or two after you got home, etc.

While maybe not always great in ##s, Toledo Storm fans are extremely loyal and proud of their team. So, just hope the team continues and will be in a new arena when it's built.

Also, found your post via an online article at ToledoFreePress.com:

-- Mike

Disclosure: Though I've been a life-long Toledo hockey fan (though not ardent), my employer does marketing, PR, etc., work for the Toledo Storm.

If you'd want images or info from any Storm games next season, let me know.

Patrick Kissane said...

Anonymous: We had a great time in Toledo. I hope we make it back for another Storm game and, of course, to see the Toledo Mud Hens. The Arena may be a toilet... but it rocks.

Michael: We grabbed a few Storm items when we were there. We still haven't posted the pix. We'd love some Storm swag.

Michael said...

Holy Crap this is a really long post! Keep up the good work over here. I'll continue listening.