Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Watching Hockey -- at the AHL All-Star Game
For all the gusto and occasional pomposity (just using the word, I think, qualifies) displayed on this blog and within the five-foot perimeter surrounding my person, I am from Binghamton and thus held to a natural ceiling of arrogance. I hear the bitching about the All-Star games. I understand. And agree. But the AHL All-Star game came to my home rink, the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, and I did not hesitate when Sir Douglas the Hockeywise offered two tickets (in his season-ticket spot three rows from the ice, nonetheless) for the fell-in-our laps event.
I was joined for the Sunday/Monday events by Chris McGinnis, honorary captain of the defunct Livingston Manor Maple Leafs, accomplished musician, Subaru owner, and former goaltender of the three-time cup-winning Charlestown Chiefs intramural floor hockey team.
McGinnis and I have a lengthy and illustrious hockey history. We have posed with the Stanley Cup together, visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, purchased tickets for and attended both ends of a home-and-home series between the Sabres and Maple Leafs about a month or so before Maple Leaf Gardens was closed, and attended the Binghamton Senators first home game upon returning the AHL to its rightful place at the Slap Shot-era Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. So it was fitting we were there to celebrate hockey in a hockey town.
We made certain to have a well-rounded Binghamton experience. Before Sunday night's skills competition, we hit the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City to look for Senators hats, and wound up drinking giant mugs of beer at Ruby Tuesday's. After a brisk walk through the mall (taking the edge off of a minor buzzer), we headed to downtown Binghamton and parked on Exchange Street near the library. McGinnis came close to getting robbed there Monday night, but nonesuch on the Day of Rest.
The Arena looked good, glowing within its concrete shell.
And McGinnis looked pretty good, too, glowing in the main concourse.
You know the All-Star festivities aren't really going to be about hockey. Or, at least, I know that, and you know that. The Canadian and America media? They don't know. Or they pretend to not, which (hopefully) explains the 1,000+ references this week to "shinny," "river hockey," "fixing," and "meaningful." (apologies to John Buccigross, who "gets it," so to speak, and who got his missive about enjoying the game out there before this one.)
The All-Star festivities in Binghamton were about the Hockey Fan in a Hockey Town. They were there in abundance. I saw teachers I remembered from third grade, wearing the same Whalers jerseys and haircuts they wore back in Harry L Johnson Elementary School. (no period after the L bitches -- that's how we roll in the JayCee.) A lap of the Arena yielded close to 20 former high school classmates, most of whom I could recognize only by their eyes, and all of whom didn't recognize me in my pre-playoffs playoff beard.
Old-Time Binghamton hockey jerseys.
There was a wealth of out-of-town jerseys, including a group of Portland (Maine) fans sitting near us, a group from Philly, the usual assholes from Scranton Wilkes-Barre, a couple of Chicago Wolves jerseys, and a few from Hershey. There also was a fine representation of vintage Binghamton wear, including the now-ubiquitous Dusters jerseys, a few authentic Binghamton Whalers sweaters, an Icemen jersey (dark days in the Parlor City), and some game-worn Senators gear. (and only one guy in a Rangers jersey, a testament to my hometown.)
Among the general "I'm at a hockey game I'm wearing some hockey shit" sightings: A nice 80s-era Islanders sweater, what appeared to be a homemade Philadelphia Phantoms jersey worn three sizes too small, a Howard Johnson (hotel) jersey (?), assorted youth hockey paraphernalia, and a lot of this, which goes with hockey like Molson Canadian on a Saturday night.
At one point, a kid sat down in front of us, joining a father and son who had been there since the start. The father, laughing at the kid's arrival, said, "hey Meatball." And McGinnis and I must have been thinking the same thought, because we had to choke back the laughter, and then snuck a few photos.
As for the game and skills competition: There was some marginal entertainment value, but, alas, as Bucci wrote earlier, the fun really was in scanning the Arena, scoping out the other fans, the kids, the mascots, and season-ticket holders best known as curmudgeons, occasionally rendered happy and quiet. A beer vendor remarked to us that it was "too quiet," but I think we found it to be a luxury to not be as invested in the game's outcome. As an Islanders fan (and Mets, as well), I have learned to enjoy the games oftentimes separate of their outcomes (a necessary trick if you are to continue to be a hockey/baseball fan with those allegiances). We blew off most of the third period and walked around the building, stopping at the third-floor bar, and walking the tunnel under the stands.
Lineups, and a nice view of the old bird.
And a zoom on Tuukka Rask for Jaroslav. (Rask looked like the Real Deal, even in the loose environment of the festivities. Note Brian Burke crush Bobby Ryan, #29.)
Fan-favorite and all-around Binghamton legend, Denis Hamel, participates in the fastest skater relay.
The game ended in some kind of shootout, which might have been fun, but, well, you know. The crowd was out pretty quickly, and the kids, who were still jittering with anticipation after Sunday's skills competition, were a little subdued and tired.
We walked back to the cars on Exchange Street, started them in the cold, and drove away from Binghamton into the quiet outliers of the Southern Tier.