Friday, December 07, 2007

2007 Hockey Road Trip Recap Part II

If you missed the first part of my hockey road trip summary, click here. If you don’t want to click, here’s a quick recap: the Wild-Coyotes game was rather boring; the Minnesota fans were disappointing; the Mall of America has many stores; I ate poorly; AirTran was better than expected; the XCel arena and St. Paul were cool; and Uff Da!

Thursday, November 29

The ultimate driving day from St. Paul, Minnesota to Chicago. Did you know that there are no large cities anywhere near Minneapolis/St. Paul? Fargo, North Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Madison, Wisconsin are all approximately 250 miles away and I don’t think most people would consider any of these as, well, large. As soon as we crossed into Wisconsin and left the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, there was very little for miles…with one exception. If it is not already, western Wisconsin should be known as “Dead Deer on the Side of the Road” country. There was a dead deer seemingly every few miles until we reached civilization near where Interstates 90 and 94 meet. Are there no taxidermists who live near Interstate 94? If someone likes venison, there is plenty of free meat in Wisconsin. Actually, forgot the whole Cheese-head thing; this should be Wisconsin’s new claim to fame.

Near Madison, we started to pick up local radio coverage from the Green Bay Packers network. The pre-game show featured a version of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me” called “Talk Packers With Me.” It was quite silly. I can’t think of any other fans that would create songs for their team.

Friday, November 30

Welcome to Chicago! The Windy City! We drove around and pretended like we were tourists. Actually, I guess we were tourists. We ate deep dish pizza, spent a few hours at the Museum of Science and Industry, and went by Wrigley Field. The scoreboard outside the stadium stated the Cubs are the World’s Greatest Fans. According to the scoreboard and announcer at the XCel Center, the Minnesota Wild has the greatest fans. I’m confused. Anyway, I really need to return to Chicago during the baseball season to see a Cubs game.

Game #2: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes

My pre-game prediction was that there would be more goals scored in this game than the first one on the trip. Little did I know what was about to transpire. The Blackhawks scored on their first three shots and didn’t stop. In fact, Chicago scored 5 goals on their first 7 shots before Wayne Gretzky thought it would be a good idea to pull goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Three of those goals were scored by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. I’m sure that I can tell my grandchildren that I was in attendance for Byfuglien’s first professional hat trick! In all seriousness, Chicago looked really good in its 6-1 victory. Before leaving on the trip, Seth from Empty Netters wrote me that the Blackhawks remind him a lot of the Penguins from last season. There really aren’t any expectations, and whatever happens, happens. Rookies Jonathan Toews (a goal and two assists) and Patrick Kane (two assists) are fun to watch, they have a proven goaltender in Nikolai Khabibulin (one of the coolest names in hockey) and a good supporting cast including Martin Havlet, former Penguin Robert Lang and Tuomo Ruutu, who scored two goals and may or may not be related to Jarkko Ruutu (after searching the web for an hour to try and find a picture of the Wild fan on the ticket stub, I’m not looking this up). There was also a Patrick Lalime sighting on the Blackhawks bench as the team’s back-up goaltender. I can’t believe that it’s been 10 years since Lalime was a Pittsburgh Penguin. As for Toews and Kane, while I don’t think that they are in the same category as Crosby and Malkin, they and the Blackhawks are going to be very good for a long time.

The player that I couldn’t stop watching throughout the game and the trip was Coyote left wing, Daniel Carcillo. I found this article about Carcillo by Dave Molinari in the Post-Gazette when I returned from the trip. The article is spot on. The Penguins traded Carcillo for Georges Laraque late last year. After seeing him play live, I feel like Phoenix definitely got the better part of the deal. Carcillo seems to hit someone or get hit by an opponent on nearly every shift. He also has a scoring touch as evidenced in a nice backhand shot against Detroit in Game #3, and he plays on the power play. His temper is a problem though. He had 23 penalty minutes in the Chicago game including two double minors, the second of which was for Interference for moving the goalie's stick when it was on the ice and then an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and 10-minute major for going crazy arguing the call. I think Gretzky benched him in the third since the only time he was on the ice was going from the penalty box to the bench after the penalty ended.

Although the United Center opened in 1994, it seems like an old arena, but not in a good way. Dank may be the word to describe the place and the concourses should be much wider for a newer arena. I feel for the Blackhawk fans as they really want a winner. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2001-2002 season when they got knocked out in the first round. Plus, most of the Blackhawk games aren’t even shown on local television. As the Blackhawks improve and continue to win, the fans will return. Fortunately, the Blackhawks didn’t claim to have the world’s greatest fans like the Cubs and the Wild.

Two quick stories from the game:

1. I went to the main stadium shop at the arena looking through Bulls and Blackhawks merchandise. After a few minutes, I asked one of the store employees if they had any Aaron Gray gear. Gray played college basketball at the University of Pittsburgh and is now a rookie for the Bulls. The employee had no idea who Gray was. That’s not a good sign.

2. The highlight of the evening was a father behind me explaining the finer points of hockey to his young son, who was probably attending his first hockey game. Part-way through the third period, a rather large gentleman sitting in the row in front of me, attempted to climb over his row to exit instead of asking a few people in his row to stand up to let him get by. Oh, I forgot to mention that said guy was pretty drunk, and struggled to climb over the seats, spilling beer along the way. After he left, the kid asked his father about what he just witnessed. Although I do not remember the father’s exact quote, it started with, When you have too many adult beverages….

Saturday, December 1

Game #3: Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes

I’ve written way too much already, so I’ll make this one brief. Phoenix and Bryzgalov bounced back from the Chicago game, and led 2-1 after 2 periods. However, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and the Red Wings were too much for the Coyotes and pulled out a 3-2 victory. The Red Wings are an extremely talented team, but I had the feeling that they weren’t playing their best.

I was really excited about seeing a game in Joe Louis Arena. You often hear Detroit referred to as Hockeytown, so I wanted to see the fans and the arena in person. While I liked the arena primarily because of its history and old-fashioned feel (a good old-fashioned feel as opposed to the United Center), and the dozens of Red Wings banners hanging from the rafters, I was disappointed that there were not more people in attendance. There seemed to be a lot of empty seats. What I really liked most about the arena may have been the announcer, who sounded like he was from another era. Most of the announcers I hear at stadiums over the past few years yell to get the crowd excited. This announcer was Joe Friday; simply providing the facts. It was refreshing to hear (I’m especially talking to you, Washington Capitals announcer).

During the game, we learned that Henrik Zetterberg has a website. Among the website’s highlights as mentioned at the game are a weekly podcast and the Z-Mailbox, where Hank (Hank?) answers questions sent in by fans. I visited the website and found that Hank’s weekly podcasts took place on October 2, October 22 and most recently on November 8 (Note: Right before I posted this, I saw that there is a new Z-Cast Podcast dated December 6. Damn you Z!). That’s not exactly weekly now is it Hank?

Final notes from the trip:

- I knew it was going to be a good sign for the road trip, when the license plate started with UWE, which must have been for former NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp, who played for the Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, Quebec Nordiques, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers in his career.

- Phoenix has a player named Zbynek Michalek and Chicago has player named Andrei Zyuzin. If Michalek marries Andrei’s sister (if he has a sister) and decides to change his last name, Zbynek Zyuzin would be a heck of a name!

- This year’s random songs heard several times during the trip: “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas song. Can someone please explain Trans-Siberian Orchestra to me? They only have one song, but they tour every year around the holidays, and seem to do well.

- Here are the attendance numbers from the games:
Minnesota - 18,568 (102.8% full)
Chicago - 16,234 (79.2% full)
Detroit - 18,557 (92.5% full)

- The total mileage for this trip was 918 miles and we visited five states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan). Indiana really got screwed when the state boundaries were developed. All of these other states have many miles of lakefront property; Indiana only borders Lake Michigan for 25 or so miles.

Finally, I have a few thank-yous I want to share (these are specifically for people who may read this):

Thanks to Andy for the excellent pizza and Chicago advice.

Thanks to Scott, Manager of Hockey Development of the Phoenix Coyotes, for providing a detailed description of the Phoenix players and even suggesting places to stay in Minnesota and Chicago. I e-mailed Scott that I understood if he and the entire organization no longer wanted me to attend future Coyote games since the team lost all three games I saw live. He replied, “Yes, please never attend a Coyotes game again,” and said wrote that he was kidding. (Or was he?)

Thanks to Seth at Empty Netters for putting together an excellent Pittsburgh Penguins and hockey site and for proving me with a list of players to watch since I really am not familiar with many Western Conference teams.

Thanks to “Uncle Chi-Chi” for organizing the entire trip. I would never do this by myself, and this really was his idea in the first place.

And thank you to everyone who actually made it to the end of this!


Anonymous said...

tuomo ruutu is jarkko ruutus brother, jarkko is the oldest, tuomo is the youngest, they also have a brother in the middle, mikko, who was drafted by, but never played for, ottawa because he retired due to a broked back. nice blog, i enjoyed the read.

Anonymous said...

That was a great trip. Thanks for the shout out. "Uncle Chi-Chi" indeed. And don't sell yourself short, the whole idea of the hockey tour was yours to begin with. Looking forward to next years trip to Canada.

Anonymous said...

Nice seeing you in Ann Arbor!