Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oh... Fucking Canada.

(to the tune of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’) Before I begin, let me state that there are no sour grapes to be had here. I tip my cap to the Canadian team. I even stayed for the medal ceremony and anthem.

I should also acknowledge I was drunk and hungry at the bar courtesy of my friends from California Skyping me when I was trying to get ready to head out to the bar. I had to abandon lunch altogether.

Now that my judgment is completely in question, let me say this: I would go to war with this team USA any day. Even when the Isles were pounding out gritty wins earlier this season, they didn’t look like this team. I know games are decided by goals (as the great Ned Braden once pointed out) but you show me any semblance of a modern team with more guts and heart than team USA. You show me a goalie that is more invested in his team. You show me skaters who are willing to hit, get hit, go to the net as well as fore, back and hip check like this team. The US team wasn’t picked to do a damned thing this Olympics but it’s hard to find a silver medal that comes any closer to being gold than the ones they hung on the dejected American team this afternoon. And I’m not disappointed because medals aside, I am much happier being a fan of the blue-collar effort the Americans put on the past two weeks than any other team in the tournament. Not even close. We had the most exciting team in the world hands down. Bring it on, Sochi.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy to be there

By the time I was back in the rocking chair with a beer and watching the replay of the game on Time Warner Sports, I was a little sad.

End of winter? I'll mark that with a smile.

Coming down from the high of screaming along with 21,000+ mostly upstaters as a man parachuted to center ice to the theme from Rocky? Maybe.

But I don't think that's it.

I think I was a little sad because I was tired, and because the AHL's first-ever outdoor game was perfectly emblematic of the AHL I grew up with, perfectly emblematic of the cities that truly speak to the AHL's history, and perfectly emblematic of everything I love about hockey. And some of the things I don't.

It was ugly as piss. And it was everything we could have hoped for.

The New York State Fairgrounds is a gravel-strewn conglomeration of drab, utilitarian buildings bordered on one side by highway ramps, on another side by a nearly depopulated borderline city neighborhood, and marked at the entrance by a sign for Crucible Steel, a historic polluter that destroyed nearby Onondaga Lake.

We walked through and around the whole thing on our way into the game. Snow mounds, slush puddles, broken roads, tailgating fans, beer cans, piles of scrap metal, and finally, the gravel road to the dirt track grandstand.

I live outside of all of this, in a little place called Tully, where the natives have an Ice Harvest Festival and play very well at being the kind of town Garrison Keillor could adopt as his home and exploit for professors and professional students the world over.

But I am from Binghamton, which fittingly provided the opponent for the outdoor game, and which knows ugly and forgotten. Not all of it, of course, just like Syracuse, but enough that if you grow up with your eyes even partially open, you will have an understanding of the most powerful of the community-destroying effects of the global economy.

So that was there. The long dreary moan.

But there was also this.

I'm going to refer to him only as Ray Fucking Maynard, because he provided what has to be the sort-of sporting highlight of the year: Landing his USA parachute at almost-center ice to the partying roar of 21,000+ fall-drown drunks, Camaro-driving white sneaker-wearing AHL lifers, and all in all happy as fuck hockey fans. And he did it to this.

Ray Fucking Maynard.

You can dig around a little for a game recap and other analysis including the passionate booing given to Gov. Paterson, the early rock 'em sock 'em fight between Mirasty and Yablonski, and the "it was so cool" quotes from players.

But here, you get the cheese doodle guy.

And you get us with Bobby Nystrom.

The Rev. on the left, a four-time Cup winner in the middle, and Mr. Bad Example on the right

And you get us standing 10 feet from the boards, taking advantage of a clear lapse of security/planning, smelling skank fucking ass weed and hanging out with the drunkest of the drunk.

It was fun. Kick ass classic rock and canadian beer fun. There have been a few complaints (very few) about the drunks (we didn't see any fights and everyone actually seemed as jovial as could be considering some of them had been tailgating since the wee hours) and the parking (it was shitty, but so what? We walked a little, it kept us warm), but overall the reception has been glowing and grand. As it should be.

It's already taken on a sort of "you were there?" quality, not surprising because things like this don't happen often enough up here (Syracuse hoops doesn't count, mostly because, well, it's basketball). And I'm happy I was there.

I'm happy I can tell people about walking through the dirt track tunnels on the way back to the car, watching drunks and not-so-drunks falling on a sheet of uneven ice in the dark and then climbing up stepped-on, uneven mounds of snow to get out of the tunnel.

I'm happy I was there when a "security" person told the crowd we were standing with to "get off the platform," to which one reveler said "no comprende," and the security guy, who looked like an extra from Fargo, proceeded to re-deliver his instructions in four languages. Here in Internet land I believe we say "win."

I'm happy I was there to see it. I saw a few people I knew from high school. I saw a few people on the verge of hypothermia. I saw Bobby Nystrom. I saw the best fight I've ever seen. I saw a big ass hockey party bringing some happiness to the middle of February in one of the most depressing physical settings on the non-warring, non-Third World earth.

I'm glad I saw it all. And now I think I'm ready for spring.

The Great Outdoors

It takes a special kind of person to want to spend a winter afternoon in central New York watching a minor-league hockey game at a state fairgrounds. Lucky for you, the Reverend Zamboni and Mr. Bad Example are special kinds of people. And, so, here are some of the sights and, as a special bonus to you, Faithful Reader (and we use that not as an all-encompassing term, but as an actual description of the one person still likely reading this blog), some words to describe the sights of the Mirabito AHL Outdoor Classic between the Syracuse Crunch and the Binghamton Senators.

After an attempt to sidestep the lines for parking, a subsequent detour through scenic Solvay, NY, and our eventual decamping in a less busy though significantly less close parking lot on the New York State Fairgrounds, we headed into the game around noon, picking up our complimentary Outdoor Classic towels as we entered. We soon checked out our seats for the day.

Not too shabby for $30. For $30, I imagine I could have sat on the sidewalk at the House of Blues and listened to the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway, so this wasn't bad at all. We hung around the seats long enough to throw a blanket down and then went to soak in some atmosphere on the ground level. Soon after we got down there, the glass behind the goal shattered during warmups.

It didn't look like anyone got a glass shower, but there was no time to confirm, because I needed my picture on the Ice Throne. So I, a 33-year-old man, queued up behind a group of children to ascend the Ice Throne. They could've sped things up, but I think it was worth the wait.

After our Star Time with Bobby Nystrom, we were turned away from cutting through the VIP area to get to the other end of the ice (where the hot tub kidding), so we headed back to our seats. The start of the game was delayed a bit as they replaced the glass, but soon the pomp and circumstance began. Special guests (including Nystrom and former Sabres Danny Gare and Rob Ray) were introduced and then the mike was handed to Governor David Paterson who, judging by the crowd reaction, might want to rethink his upcoming gubernatorial campaign. I have heard politicians booed before, but, good lord, never with such passion. He aint my governor (we've got our own problems in Jersey), but based on the interview I saw on the game telecast later that night, in which he said he grew up watching the Islanders win the cups and, then, "nothing much has happened there since" (or something like that), I'll boo him the next time I see him, too.

Once the puck was dropped, we realized that it was a bit of a struggle to see the ice, particularly on the near-side boards. So we looked around for better vantage points. Then we were interrupted by this:

Even the linesman loved it.

At the first TV timeout (and after Alexandre Picard's goal for the Crunch), we moved to the general admission bleachers, which were a potential-lawsuit-safe distance away from the ice, which meant they were practically in Auburn (shoutout to Prison City). But at least we could see more of the ice now. Of course, it's hard to focus on the game when the guy in front of you is wearing a hat and jacket covered with Cheez Doodles. You will only find that sort of lunatic at an outdoor game in central New York, where the people are a special kind of crazy that is rarely seen in the rest of the human race.

Since we were pretty far away from the ice, I went on a reconnaissance mission to see what the situation by the boards was. As near as we could figure, no one anticipated that, if you left the area around the boards unimpeded by any sort of barricade, people would just park themselves right on the glass to watch the game. But they did. And so we did for the entire second and third period.

Despite the brisk winds, most of the crowd stayed until the bitter end, watching the hometown Crunch take a 2-1 victory. They were rewarded by being given the opportunity (or perhaps just taking the opportunity) to walk out with boxes of the giveaway Dunkin' Donuts plastic cups as they headed back to their cars. The final entertainment of the day was the Great Slip and Fall that took place in the tunnel that was on the way to the parking lot. We saw about five people go down hard (and a bunch more come close) amid a constant chorus of "Whoa!"s from the drunken hockey lovers of central New York. I probably would've paid $30 just to watch that. (So you don't think I'm completely heartless, everyone that hit the ground--including the guy behind us who turfed out with a sickening thud--bounced right back up. Here's to the resilience of the hockey fan! And the numbing effects of alcohol!)

So, for $30 plus fees, we got to hang with Bobby Nystrom for a few minutes, see a skydiver brave the Syracuse winds to drop onto the rink, watch two-thirds of a pretty competitive AHL game about ten feet from the ice, see an awesome hockey fight, and watch drunk people fall down. Plus my body didn't start shaking involuntarily from the cold at any point (that Inauguration 2008 training came in handy).

A pretty damn good day. And another reason why hockey (and the AHL) kicks ass.

Hold on, we're comin'

We've got jobs and things to do (and I had to go to a Sam Moore concert last night), but one or both of us will get something extensive up about the Outdoor Classic by Tuesday. A brief summary to whet the appetite:

*It was cold.

*We got our picture taken with Bobby Nystrom.

*We watched most of the game standing about 10 feet away from the glass.

*We watched some of the game behind a guy wearing a hat and jacket covered artistically with Cheez Doodles.

*People really don't like Governor David Paterson.

More to follow...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Let it snow...

Come and shake the hands of two actual Palm Isle bloggers at tomorrow's AHL Outdoor Classic at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Of course, our hands may be frozen solid, but we'll try nodding our heads in your general direction. We'll be in Grandstand 4, Row RR, or maybe taking a dip in the hot tub with Bob Nystrom and Rob Ray.

Full report sometime soon after the game. Or at least soon-ish.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Where were we?

When last we were into this thing, we were all hopeful for the future but realistic that the future wasn't quite here yet. So, after some good runs during the season, we're kind of in the same place, no?

Good. Now that we've agreed on that, let's not dwell on our negligence in posting anymore.

Instead, let's turn our attention to one of the joys of being an Islanders fan--namely, that, less than a week before a game you've been thinking about going to since the schedule came out, you can buy a ticket for a center-ice seat seven rows off the ice for $39.35, even with Ticketmaster fees. And that's how I got to the Nassau Coliseum last night to see the Islanders take on the Nashville Predators (my Western Conference team of choice).

After the first period, I was beginning to rethink the trip from Jersey. It was a period typical of the Isles of late: lackadaisical skating, defensive breakdowns, and an infuriatingly bad power play. Amazingly, though, I only cursed out loud once. I would've apologized to the children in the general area, but if their parents are taking them to a game where Bruno Gervais is on the ice, I'm assuming they know what they're getting into.

The second period was a good deal better, starting after a strong shift from Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo that gave way to a goal on the next shift from, wow, Freddy Meyer. Seeing Freddy Meyer score a goal was proof enough that the night was worth the trip, but then, after two goals from the Predators, the truly incredible happened: Bruno Gervais scored a goal. On the power play (granted, a 5-on-3, but any goal on the power play is something of a miracle). Someday I will tell my grandkids (or, more likely, someone else's grandkids) that I once went to a game where Freddy Meyer and Bruno Gervais scored a goal, and they will look at me like I'm crazy and say, "Sure, old man." But I've got the ticket stub (and it's signed by Butch Goring).

Steve Sullivan's power-play goal in the third seemed like an inevitability, so I took it in stride. And as the clock ticked down, I mentally prepared myself for the long train ride home, where I could at least take comfort in the fact that my Western Conference team had picked up two needed points. But with Marty Biron pulled, the Isles started hustling and digging for pucks and then Mark Streit tied it up (sure, I would have liked to see a forward score, but you can't have it all) with 12 seconds left, and it was high-fives all around.

Overtime was pretty entertaining, and the Isles had some good chances. But it was on to the Frans Nielsen showcase that is the shootout. And Nielsen would've had the winner if Biron hadn't decided to try for his best Wade Dubielewicz impression and failed miserably. Luckily, John Tavares saved the day, and the intimate gathering of friends at the Coliseum headed out into the not-snowy-yet night happy.

I was in between trains, so I went down to the lower level of the Coliseum to see if there was any postgame stuff being filmed. Sure enough, about a dozen diehards were staring at Deb (Kaufman) Placey and Butch Goring as they did their postgame thing. So I hung around and got Mr. Goring to sign my ticket stub. I couldn't pull my act together fast enough to get a picture with him, so that dream will have to be fulfilled some other time.

So, to recap: I saw the Islanders win, bringing me to 3-0 on the season in my in-person Islanders experiences; my second-favorite team picked up a point and stayed in playoff position; I got Butch Goring's autograph; and, to cap it all off, it's a snow day for me today, so the late-night return to Jersey City was no big deal. Who says there's no such thing as a happy Islanders fan?