Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Postgame Recap - 12/3: Fall Leaf Collection

I hate Phil Kessel.

No, I mean it.

Not because he's the leading goal scorer in the NHL at the time of this post, for he is a legitimate offensive talent.  Not because he spurned the Bruins' attempts to offer him a contract extension, because eventually that paved the way for the B's to draft Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton.  And certainly not because he was born in Wisconsin, for he was a member of the US men's Olympic hockey team.

Nope. I hate him because he ruined what could have been an absolutely epic 35th birthday party for me.

A year ago, Heather and I braved the elements and poorly maintained American Eagle aircraft to make the trek up to Toronto for a Bruins-Leafs matchup on my birthday, a Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada game no less.

And we had a blast. Everything was great - the city, the food, the climate controlled underground passageways, the Hockey Hall of Fame, even the people.  And the game itself was great.  For the most part, that is.

Nathan Horton gave the Bruins an early lead before Carl Gunnarsson tied it up late in the first period.  The game was knotted at one a piece into the thrid when Greg Campbell reclaimed the lead for the B's six minutes into the third stanza.  But former Bruins property Kris Versteeg got one back for the Leafs with a powerplay strike in the final minute of play to send the game into overtime.

After a scoreless OT, the game went to shootout. Nazem Kadri beat Tim Thomas on the first shot, but Tyler Seguin equalized with a shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Thomas stoned Nikolai Kulemin and David Krejci couldn't get one past Giguere on the other end.  Then it was Kessel's turn and he slipped one past Thomas.  Michael Ryder was our last hope and he missed. 

Kessel's shot stood as the game winner.

Sure, the Bruins got a point out of the game and perhaps I should be angry at Krejci and Ryder, but it felt like a loss and the fact that it was the petulant Kessel who iced it made it hurt even more.

Fast forward to when the schedule was released for the 2011-2 season and one date immediately stood out: December 3, 2012.

Toronto at Boston.

An Original Six matchup.  The final Saturday night game of the regular season.  The night before my 36th birthday. But perhaps most importantly, a chance at revenge.

Let's take a look back, then, at what went down.

Just the Facts, Jack (Edwards)

  • Toronto Maple Leafs (14-9-2) at Boston Bruins (15-7-1)
  • Game 24, home game 16
  • Bruins with 25 out of a possible 26 points in their last 13 games, going without a regulation loss in the entire month of November
  • Second game of a home and home series with Toronto, with the Bruins having won 6-3 at the Air Canada Center two nights prior
John Blue Plate Special

Being a Saturday night game, we figured we'd actually get a good amount of Leafs fans coming down for this game. And because this was going to be the de-facto celebration of my birthday with my hockey peeps, I got to the Fours fairly early, around 4:00.  In fact, Heather and Pete got there earlier and headed upstairs to grab some seats as we also had to deal with crowds watching the various college football conference championships.

By the time I got there, there bar was somewhat full and there were a good number of Leafs fans already enjoying some fine alcoholic libations.  Based on our past experiences, the vast majority of Leafs fans are great people and willing to engage in playful hockey banter. And sure enough, these folks were more than willing to trade friendly barbs with us.  Granted, being able to boast about a certain 35 pound silver chalice gave us all the ammunition we needed, we kept it genial, willing to listen to them blather on about having the league's leading scorer (Kessel) while we thanked them for securing our future (Seguin, Knight and Hamilton) and letting them know that Brian Burke was the best General Manager we've ever had. And for the hate we have for Mike Komisarek, theirs' is apparently greater.  All of which made for, hands down, the most enjoyable pregame of the season to date.

Most surprising, though, was the fact that the vast majority of the Leafs fans at the Fours were not from the province of Ontario.  The ones we hung out with were from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  There may have even been a couple from P.E.I. as well.  And every single one of them had nothing but nice things to say about our fair city.  There were a couple of guys from Halifax who came down to see the Christmas tree that the city donated to Boston, a longstanding traditon, which was pretty cool.

And it just so happened that one of them was a former goalie.  It was imperative, then, that we introduced him to Tim Barry, our resident goal tender/goalie apologist.  Needless to say, they hit it off right away.

And to be honest, this is the way it should be.  I love engaging opposing fans in a jovial manner over drinks before and after the game.  People that travel to see their team play on the road deserve a measure of respect, provided they act respectfully as well. We've had great exchanges with fans in Chicago and Toronto and likewise visiting fans from Toronto, Washington and even Buffalo have been fun to talk to.  It certainly helps when you know your players and history with regard to the other team, but even the most neophyte of fans can get along if there is mutual respect.

Unfortunately, more often than not, there is some idiot on either side that spoils it.  Usually its some drunken imbecile who takes umbrage that someone who ever venture on the road to support their team would have the audacity to show up in our building while having never been on a road trip themselves or don't know jack about their own team.  No, its more important to defend the home turf from someone who would never, ever pose any sort of threat otherwise, than it is to act as a decent human being and a properly mannered hockey fan.

I might be losing ground on my stance here, but I'm not going down without a fight (no pun intended).

As for our dining selections, I was greeted by a plate of dark chocolate raspberry cookies that Heather had baked, the recipe having been used specifically for my birthday proceedings. Absolutelt delicious. We split a Bobby Orr, teriyaki style, with Heather agreeing to the addition of cheese (normally witheld) as another token of birthday salutations. As always, it was fantastic.

Couture Corner

Games against Toronto get me giddy.  With a Saturday night home date, I knew that Toronto fans would be there en masse and thet meant unabashed sweater porn.

But wait, there's more.

The Leafs made a major change to to their third sweater design for the 2011-12 season, ditching the design they wore for the past 11 seasons that was based on what they wore in the early 60's for a new one that is based on the sweaters they wore when the won the Stanley Cup in 1967.

The old Leafs' third sweater was one of my all time favorites, but the new ones are stunning as well.

At first glance, they look somewhat similar to what they normally wear, but a closer look reveals a more pointed crest with a different (and much improved) font. The sleeve and hem striping is bolder and a white stripe has been added down the sides of the pants.  I know these are subtle differences, but when the primary home is close to simplistic perfection to begin with, the slight modifications make the alternates stand out.

When Toronto officially released the new design to the public, they also offered up a list of the 14 games that they'd be wearing them.  Surprisingly, there were a bunch of away games included. And, as luck would have it, the Bruins were one of those teams that would don the old home whites, along with Original Six bretheren in Chicago and New York as well as fellow rivals Ottawa and Buffalo.

The Leafs actually wore their thirds at home against the Bruins on November 5th, a 7-0 shutout for the B's which a bunch of our 307 crews was fornutate to be at.  But when I saw they were going to bring them along for the game on December 3rd, I got excited.  Often, the Bruins wear their white uniforms at home once a season, either at the request of the away team or for photography purposes.

So while a bunch of my friends were across town at the 2011 American Outlaws Winter Ball, getting gussied up and having fun while raising money for a worthwhile cause, I got dressed up myself in my hockey formalwear, in this case going with the 1967 inspired Bobby Orr.

And there were a host of other fans in attendence that broke out their Saturday night bast as well. Let's take a look at some of the highlights:

Circa 1993 Wendel Clark Maple Leafs away replica

Circa 2005 Darcy Tucker Maple Leafs away replica

1997 Sergei Berezin Maple Leafs away replica

This easily takes the award for "most obscure sweater" of the night.

2007 Milan Lucic Vancouver Giants (WHL) home replica

Old school Looch at its finest.

Circa 2000 Curtis Joseph Maple Leafs alternate replica

2006 Eric Lindros Maple Leafs away replica

80's Mike Milbury Bruins away replica

You really need a loafer in your hand to complete this look.

1996 Bill Ranford Bruins away replica

Tought to see it in the picture, but why on earth would anyone ever buy this unless you missed your chance when he was with the Bruins 10 years earlier.

Guy Lafleur Canadiens away replica
Bill Barilko Maple Leafs home replica

Who in their right mind wears a Habs sweater to a Bruins/Leafs game?  Really?

As for the Barilko, as much as he never wore this particular sweater, he's one of only two Leafs players with their numbers retired (Ace Bailey's #6 is the other) having won 4 cups before he died in a plane crash.

Maple Leafs away replica

This one left me stumped.  The style is from the early to mid 70's, as evidenced by the lack of a nameplate, but no Leaf wore #32 until Ron Zanussi wore in in 1980.  By then, players had names on their backs.  So I have no diea what this one is supposed to be, but it does look sharp nonetheless.

circa 2009 Tomas Kaberle Maple Leafs home replica
2011 Dion Phaneuf Maple Leafs alternate replica
circa 2009 Phil Kessel Maple Leafs home replica

 As bad as Kaberle was, at least he can say he won a cup in Boston, which is more than he ever won with Toronto.

The Phaneuf sweater is simple and classy.  Phaneuf? not as much.

The Kessel one? Hey, I didn't buy it.

Before a game, I usually pick a particular sweater design or player for the opposing team as my desired target.  The challenge varies based on who we are playing (let's face it, there isn't much to choose from with the newer franchises), but some team force me to set the bar high.  Toronto is one of them.  So, before the game I told Heather I wanted to find a St. Pat's (the predecessor to the Leafs) sweater. 

We weren't even into the arena before we found this guy.  Maybe I should have set the bar higher?

Mid 90's Doug Gilmour Maple Leafs away replica
2009 Jonas Gustavsson Maple Leafs home replica
2007 Mats Sundin Maple Leafs away replica

These were some of the aforementioned Leafs fans we hung out with at the Fours for pregame.  Quality hosers.

The Row 11 Rundown

As we head closer to ski season, the Saturday appearances by the Hoyts draw to a close and Saturday was no exception.  Kathi, Charla and the kids took the night off and even Cornelius missed out on this one (he had a wedding or something - clearly his friend, or his fiance, was not a Bruins fan).

But we did have Robyn in seat 11, which was nice.

Doosh of the Day

Originally, I was going to give this out to the guy at the bar who kept saying "Leafs suck".  But he was in actuality a Canadian wearing a Leafs sweater who purported to be a Bruins fan.  His whole story was sketchy and he was a fraud hater, so I'll give him a pass.

So, in his stead, I will give it out to the DB who tried to gain access to the private party upstairs at the Fours after the game despite there being a sign on the door clearly stating that the upstairs was closed.  And props to Tina for playing the role of enforcer.

The Bob Lobel Prize

Fortunately, Kessel did not ruin this game for me. He did land five shots on goal, but none went in and he finished a -2 on the night.

The Leafs also have former Bruins first round draft pick Joe Colborne on their roster (16th verall in the 2008 Entry Draft). but he never played a minute for the Bruins in the regular season, thus making him ineligible for the prize.

The Home End

After storming their way through the month of November without a regulation loss (their first month like that since the 1969 season), it was reasonable to think that the advent of December might bring different results.  For this night at least, it was more of the same.  The game was fairly close through the first two periods, with the Bruins holding 2-1 lead.  But the B's extended their lead early in the third on a Johnny Boychuk slapshot.  And midway through the period, the Bruins has a solid two minutes of constant pressure in the Toronto zone.  Though they didn't score, they had their way with the Toronto defense, maintaining possession at will.  And you could see that the Leafs' will was crushed.  There was no way they were going to get back in the game.  Perhaps losing their first three matchups with the Bruins (by scores of 6-2, 7-0 and 6-3) weighed on them as well.  Whatever hope they may have had was completely dashed when Nathan Horton added an insurance goal late in the game.

So the Bruins continued to roll on.  Next up was a date on the road with the best team in the conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, now bolstered by the return of Sidney Crosby.  Needless to say, this one was highly anticipated.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Postgame Recap - 11/26: Man, Oh Manitoba

November 21, 1995.

Just over 16 years ago, on a Tuesday night, the Bruins last hosted an NHL franchise hailing from the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba.  Courtesy of a hat trick by Jozef Stumpel (sorry, Patty!) the B's would go on to defeat the original (at least the NHL version) of the Winnipeg Jets by a score of 5-4 in the first season at the brand new FleetCenter. The Bruins also got goals from Ray Bourque and Chelmsford homie Steve Leach while Medford native Keith Tkachuk (2 goals), Teemu Selanne and Current Blackhawks/Versus/NBC commentator Eddie Olczyk scored for the Jets. The immortal Scott Bales manned the crease for the Bruins while current Edmonton Oiler Nicolai Khabibulin tended the Winnipeg net. Also playing for the Jets in that game was one Shane Doan, currently the only player still with the franchise including their relocation to the Arizona desert in the 1996-7 season.

The Bruins would take a 5-3 decision in Winnipeg on the last day of 1995 with Cam Neely and Ted Donato chipping in with 2 goals a piece against onetime Bruins netminder Tim Cheveldae as Craig Billington got the win.

And that was the end of NHL hockey in Winnipeg.

Until now.

The demise of the Atlanta Thrashers led to the relocation of the team to the middle of Canada and the rebirth of the Winnipeg Jets name.  Though the new team is a completely separate entity from the team currently toiling in obscurity in Glendale (the Coyotes are the official inheritors of the original Jets history, including retired numbers), the fanbase has taken to the new version with a fervor that few other markets can match.  They play in the MTS Centre, the smallest arena in the league, but tickets are pretty much sold out for the entire season and the few that are available can be had for a hefty sum.  The team is not all that great, having been picked by the pundits to finish somewhere near the bottom of the standings, but they had been somewhat hot of late, with a 4-0-1 record coming into the game.

Which brings us to this past Saturday night. A long holiday weekend tilt, the second half of a back to back homestand against the reborn Jets.  Let's see how it played out.

Just the facts, Jack (Edwards)

  • Boston Bruins (13-7-1) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9-9-4)
  • Bruins riding an 11 game point streak, having lost in a shootout a day earlier to the Detroit Red Wings, halting their 10 game winning streak
  • First game against the Jets since they relocated from Atlanta
John Blue Plate Special

I had flown back from Baltimore earlier in the day, having spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family at my wife's in-laws.  I had missed attending the Detroit game, but thankfully I was able to watch it on the national NBC broadcast (which was great, I may add).

Having got home fairly early, we were able to get home and unpack and get some stuff done around the house.  But because we had to get up at 6:00 am, we were all somewhat exhausted.  My wife and son fell asleep and I relaxed with some NHL network.  Around 3:30, I headed out into town for the game.  A quick jump on the orange line and I was at the Fours, meeting up with Heather.  

The downstairs was pretty much full, as I had expected given the slate of college football games on the schedule.  So we headed upstairs and were able to land a couple of seats at the bar fairly easily.  Perhaps it was residual tryptophan in people's blood streams or the fact that many season ticket holders gave up their seats for the night, but the pregame crowd was lame.  No energy whatsoever.  Saturday night games are special and ever-increasingly rare and here was a game against a Canadian opponent still with some of that new car smell and people could have seemed less excited. Add to that the fact that Heather was feeling a bit under the weather and the whole scene left something to be desired.

With my partner in crime not having much of an appetite, I had carte blanche to order whatever I wanted off the menu. I went with the Bobby Orr, teriyaki style with cheese, peppers and onions.  I dare you to find a better pregame meal in the city.  Good luck, because you won't.

Couture Corner

Nostalgia is big these days.  Reebok, through their purchase of CCM/Koho, has been able to capitalize on this wave by reissuing some of the sweaters worn by many of the defunct and relocated NHL franchises including such teams as the Hartford Whalers, Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiquies and, of course, the original Winnipeg Jets.

I fully expected to see one or two Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk replicas and sure enough, when I walked into the Fours, I was greeted by a blue #13.  But I wanted more.  And thanks to a conversation with fellow 307 resident Cornelius Hardenbergh, the bar was set: Dale Hawerchuk.

Did I find my white whale?

You'd better believe it!

Circa 1982 Dale Hawerchuk Winnipeg Jets away replica

A close cousin to the disco era New York Rangers uniforms of the late 70s, the Jets wore this design from their inception to 1990. Not the greatest look in my book, but simple and effective.

What else did I find?

Atlanta Thrashers Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little home replicas

I almost felt bad for these guys.  Here they were to support the team they had (seemingly) rooted for only to have the franchise move to greener pastures north of the border.  But for whatever sense of sympathy I might have had for them, it was undone by the fact that they chose to purchase these sweaters.  First introduced in 2003 as an alternate, this design became the home sweater in 2006 and survived the Reebok edge revamp the following season.  I don't mind the color of the body; In fact, I kind of like it.  But the asymmetrical sleeve treatment along with the "Atlanta" down the left side just plain sucks.  The hemline striping and the crest are great, but this just screams "small market shenanigans".

Benoit Pouliot Sudbury Wolves home replica

Before Benny was on his way to being a first round bust in Minnesota and Montreal, he was skating for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.  Coming off a monster season in junior (he went 29-38-67 with 102 PIMs in 67 games), he was drafted #4 overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The Row 11 Rundown

Being a Saturday night, Bill and Carol weren't in attendance, but we had John Barry man seat 11 and Chris was the designated Kasper representative.  Charla and the kids weren't there either.  And Heather had to make an early exit as she wasn't in the best of shape due to illness.

Doosh of the Day

After a brief hiatus, we are back with DoTD.  And this time the award goes to the bitchy girls in row 10 (big surprise) who showed up 5 minutes into the game and decided to enter the section while play was going on in our end of the rink, clearly not paying any attention to the signs imploring ticket holders to wait for the whistle.  Granted, the lack of an usher working at the entrance didn't help, but I also didn't need nor appreciate the bitchy retort when I asked them to grab a seat after their prolonged failure to find their actual seats and sit down so we could see the action on the ice.

The Bob Lobel Prize

When the Bruins acquired Rich Peverley from the Thrashers near the trade deadline last year, the gave up forward Blake Wheeler and defensemen Mark Stuart in return.  And Saturday night marked their first return to the Garden ice since that transaction. 

Wheels had an assist on the first Jets goal, recorded one shot on goal and finished with a -1 rating.

Stu also had one shot on net, but finished a +1 on the night.

In all, neither had a major impact on the game.  No real harm done.

The Home End

Perhaps showing the effects of playing a tough game against the Red Wings a day earlier, the Bruins came out of the gate looking a bit sluggish and it showed with Tim Thomas giving up two goals midway through the first.  But Zdeno Chara potted a power play strike from the right faceoff circle to cut the deficit in half a few minutes later. Chris Kelly struck for second period two goals, the first a shorthanded effort, to give the Bruins the lead before Brad Marchand sealed the victory with an empty netter at the end of regulation.  In doing so, the Bruins were able to extend their point scoring streak to 11, garnering a remarkable 23 out 24 possible points in that span.

Up next: A home and home matchup against Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lucky Seven

Ok, ok, I know.  I've slacked off a bit.

Ok, a lot.

But I have an excuse.  For a blog that focuses on finding unique and rare hockey sweaters at Bruins games, this season has been a huge letdown.

Not that it was unexpected, though.  I fully assumed it'd be a lot tougher than in the past, just not this bad. With the Bruins the hottest ticket in town (actually, with the NBA lockout going on, the only ticket in town), the games are pretty much sold out and much like Fenway in 2005, you get a lot of people who pay a significant premium to go to a game just because its the socially in thing to do.  The problem with that, more often than not, is that these are not the die hard fans.  Consequently, you find that these people are the ones with the brand new t shirts with current players names on their backs or if you're lucky, a sweater.  But rarely, if ever, do they wear team apparel older than 2 or 3 years.  And that really, really limits the available selection of photo-worthy shots for this blog.

At the same time, with so many locals buying tickets, fans of the opposing teams are being frozen out.  And that is really taking its toll on my blog productivity.  Simply put, there just hasn't been that much out there for me to write about.  Since I last posted, teams that have huge traveling fanbases such as Toronto and Montreal have come here with only a smattering of their fans in attendance. Granted, those were Thursday night games, but usually the local colleges provide more than enough ex-pat students to make their presence known.  Not this year, however.

At the same time, teams such as San Jose and Los Angeles that are based in the western conference actually have decent fan representation due to their minor league affiliates being based nearby (Worcester and Manchester, respectively).  But there was nothing to be found when Joe Thornton and his crew came to town.

Adding to the insult, I missed the games against Carolina and the Islanders due to scheduling conflicts.  In all probability, I figure that there wasn't much I missed by the way of opponent apparel, though I always wonder if I blew a chance at finding the ever elusive Islanders "Fisherman" sweaters from the 1995-98 seasons.

And hey, while I'm at it, I would be remiss if I did not mention the 2 hour commute from my office in Marlborough to the game versus the Oilers on November 10th.  By all accounts, traffic was an absolute mess throughout the region during the evening rush hour commute, but my decision to exit the Pike at Copley Square and make my way across town via Boylston, Beacon and Bowdoin Streets only further compounded the problem.  By far, it was the worst commute into a game I could ever remember, including a good number of times driving into town in snowstorms.

Now that I've got all that negativity out of my system, let's move on to much more positive things (aka "The Good Stuff").  I'm going to forgo my normal restaurant reviews (rest assured, they'll be back), but I will mention that I ordered the boneless chicken fingers before the game against the Sabres by indicating to Ian behind the bar that I wanted them with the spicy sauce option, specifically avoiding using the traditional nomenclature associated with a certain western New York locale famed for their spicy chicken wings tossed in a hot pepper sauce.

So, without further adieu, onto the show:

Circa 2001 Curtis Joseph Maple Leafs home replica

Just a classy looking sweater.

Circa 2008 Jonathan Cheechoo San Jose home replica

This was literally the only Sharks sweater I saw in the entire building for the San Jose game.

Circa 2006 Dwayne Roloson Edmonton home replica

The Oilers only come into town every other year or so, so we don't get to see Edmonton fans all that much.  But thankfully, there were a few in attendance when the Oil came here.  And this was the first one I saw.  When you think Edmonton, you can't help to think about their classic royal blue and orange color scheme.  But in the 1996-7 season, Edmonton ditched it for a navy and copper one.  And it wasn't half bad.  They kept the striping pattern intact, so there was some connection to their original look.

Also, thins one caught my eye because Roloson is also a fellow UMass Lowell alum, one of the few in the NHL today.

80's Wayne Gretzky Oilers away replica

This one really needs no explanation other than to say that if I hadn't seen at least one of these at the game, I would have been greatly disappointed.

Late 80's Bill Ranford Edmonton home replica

For those not in the know, Ranford started his career with the Bruins but was traded to Edmonton late in the 1988 season for Andy Moog.  And of course, he was the backstop when the Oilers beat the Bruins for the Stanley Cup in 1990.

He was actually re-acquired by the Bruins in 1995 from Edmonton in a trade that sent Mariusz Czerkawsi and Sean Brown to the Oilers.  And strangely enough, both Czerkawski and Brown each had a second stint with the Bruins later in their careers as well.

Ranford's second stint with the Bruins concluded when he was packaged with Rick Tocchet and Adam Oates and sent to the Caps for Jason Alison, Anson Cater and Jim Carrey.

Late 90's Mats Sundin Toronto home replica
2001 Gary Roberts Toronto home replica

Sundin is synonymous with the Maple Leafs of the 90s and 00s.  Roberts was a douchebag.  But damn if those aren't two great looking sweaters.

Circa 1978 Gordie Howe New England Whalers home replica

Every season, I come across one sweater that is so unique, so outstanding that it blows me away.  This is the leader in the clubhouse so far.

At the ripe old age of 49, Mr. Hockey joined the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association from the Houston Aeros.  He also got to play alongside his sons Mark and Marty, hence the use of his full name on the nameplate.

2011 Jonas Enroth Bufalo away, home and alternate replicas

These people were all congregated together during intermission, so I'm figuring they were all family or friends of the Sabres' backup goalie.  I mean, it's the only logical conclusion, right?

2011 Scott Stevens Devils Alternate

Scott Stevens, the longtime Devils captain and defenseman retired after the 2004 season.  So why in the hell would anyone buy a current alternate with his name on it?  This is but one of my pet peeves when it comes to customizing sweaters.

Late 90's Kyle McLaren Bruins alternate replica

When these sweaters first came out in 1996, I thought the were an abomination.  The jagged shoulder yoke and hemline striping, the large "Bruins" patches on the shoulders and "Gentle Ben" bear head crest just made it such a weak attempt at an alternate design.  The colors were great.  I had been longing for a gold Bruins sweater for years, so I was excited when I heard they were finally going to have one for the first time since 1967.  But, man, were these a letdown.

That said, I probably will try to pick one of these up someday off of eBay.

Mid 90's Dominik Hasek Sabres away replica

I love this design.  The current Sabres set is supposed to be a modernized version of this, but it doesn't even come close.  The royal blue and gold trim on the shoulder yoke made this sweater.

Late 80's Andy Brickley Bruins away replica

There's a Bruins season ticket holder at the Garden that has a home Brick replica.  I see him a bunch of times throughout the year.  But this is the first away version that I can recall seeing.

Circa 1991-2 Scott Stevens Devils away replica

Unlike the doofus I mentioned earlier who had the 2011 version, this guy did it right.  This was from back when the Devils still had the green in their color scheme.  Much like that Hasek Sabres replica, the white trim around the shoulder yoke makes the green really pop.  This was a unique look back in the day, but the Devils' switch to black in the 1992-3 season worked out ok in my book.

2011 Patrik Elias Devils alternate replica

For the longest time, the Devils organization (GM Lou Lamoriello, in particular) refused to bring back the original green and red color scheme as an alternate sweater.  Finally, in 2010, the Devils brought them back for St. Paddy's Day.

1991-2 Martin Brodeur Devils away replica

He only wore this rendition during his rookie season.

2009-10 Tyler Seguin Plymouth Whalers home replica

All the traditional Hartford Whalers sweater greatness, but with none of the Nutmeg state suckiness!

Anwhere from 1983 to 1992 Ken Daneyko Devils away replica

As awesome as the Stevens and Brodeur red & green sweaters were, this one beats them.  Ken Daneyko was a lifelong Devil who never got the accolades afforded to some of his more skilled teammates, but ask and Devil fan who was the guy who typified the devils and more often than not, they'll name #3.

2000-1 Geoff Sanderson Columbus away replica

This was seriously the only Blue Jackets customized sweater I found in the entire Garden when Columbus played here.  And it happened to be that of Geoff Sanderson, the onetime Hartford Whaler who was an member of the inaugural 2000-1 Columbus squad.  This was actually a pretty decent sweater design.

Ok, that's it for now.  But I promise I'll be back, and far more often.

Thanks for watching.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Road Trip Recap, Part III - Seeing Red, The Madhouse on Madison

Previous Recaps: Part I | Part II

Being part of the Original Six brotherhood has some advantages: Logos that have stood the test of time, unparalleled history (both good and bad), a veritable who's who of hockey greats and iconic sweaters.  Sometimes, I take this for granted.  A midweek matchup against Columbus or Nashville just cannot ever come close to the juice one gets when the Bruins take on one of their Original Six brethren.

With the Rangers, Canadiens and Maple Leafs all in the same conference, we get to see those teams two (NYR) or three (MTL, TOR) times a year at home, guaranteed.  But when it comes to the Western Conference siblings, Detroit and Chicago, we might get to see them every other year at best due to NHL scheduling.

As I said earlier in Part i of my recap, Heather and I had first deigned on going to a Bruins/Blackhawks game a couple of seasons ago, but the logistics just didn't work out.  In the 2010 season, the Bruins hosted the Blackhawks at home.  So our next chance for a Windy City showdown was this year.

Fast forward, then, to October 15th as the defending Stanley Cup champions found themselves taking on the Blackhawks as we made our way to our first road trip of the season.  Our first time at the United Center, we were beyond excited for some Saturday night hockey, midwest style.  Let's see how it played out.

You Can't Get There From Here

Oh, but you can.

After we finished up our tour of the Willis (Sears) tower, we didn't have enough time to head back to the hotel, so we decided to go straight to the stadium instead.  We headed over towards the El, but the locals, seeing that we were all decked out in our Black and Gold regalia, suggested that the bus might be better (and quicker) option.  Thanks to the fine folks at the Chicago Transit Authority, we were able to hop on the #20 bus at the corner of Wells and Madison and shoot right over to the United Center.  Unlike my beloved Boston, Chicago is laid out as a grid and the public transportation system is far more reliable, so moving around the city is incredibly easy.

We somehow got off one stop earlier than we should have (we would have been dropped off right outside the Stadium), but it was only a two minute walk and we were able to get some quality camera shots along the way.

A Shared Kinship of Sorts

We arrived before the stadium gates opened which allowed us to mingle a bit with a bunch of the fans who were lined up outside.  There were a bunch of fellow Bruins fans so we exchanged hi-fives and general pleasantries with them as we milled about.

Now, having been to away games in Montreal, Toronto and both eastern New York venues, I've steeled myself a bit when it comes to dealing with opposing fans.  For the most part, the vast majority of people are decent and respectful, but there's always a few bad apples in the bunch.  I've borne the brunt of taunts in the last row of the blue seats at Madison Square Garden as the B's were eviscerated 7-0 by the Rangers on St. Paddy's day.  I've enjoyed been sworn at in French from upset Habs fans as the Bruins took two points in Montreal on St. Paddy's Day. I've suffered the indignity of being taunted by a bunch of 12 year old girls outside the Air Canada Center after Phil Kessel potted the game winner for the Leafs in shootout on my birthday.  And, by far the worst experience was in Long Island as the boys in the spoked B sweaters were handed a beating by the Islanders and the "fans" spewed the most vile and profane comments at us that I'd ever heard at a sporting event.

It goes without saying that I take an overly cautious approach when I engage fans of the other team.  I try to be respectful, reading and reacting rather than being open up front.  If I sense that some people are up for some good natured jousting, I'll go ahead and give it to them, fully expecting something thrown back at me.  But I've also learned not to let my guard down completely.

The old school satin jacket lends major
street cred to one's hockey knowledge
As we waited outside the United Center, random Chicagoans would come us and converse with us.  Perhaps it was our mutual admiration of guys named Esposito, our perceived insights on Theo Espstein or just their instictive good natured midwestern friendliness, but these folks we downright nice to us for the most part. It was weird as much as it was fun.  Us hardened New Englanders are just not used to it.  Everything a stereotypical New Yorker is to us, these guys were the diametric opposite.

We had people come up to us to talk about the old time game from the 60's, sharing cup victory experiences and our respective crops of youngsters on our teams.  It was beyond refreshing to be able to carry out a conversation about hockey with knowledgable fans.  They knew their history as well as a large part of ours and vice versa.

Once the doors opened, Heather and I headed in and took our time walking around the place.  Aside from a few innocuous jeers (to be expected), there was a genuine sense of welcome in the building.  It was fun.  I had a number of Blackhawks fans who can up to me and thanked me (as if I was an ambassador for the B's) for dispatching the Canucks in the Stanley Cup final. I actually had one guy shake my hand when he thanked me.  Apparently, they really hate the Canucks (though I'm winning to bet they hate the Red Wings even more). In turn, I thanked them back for knocking off the Flyers in their moment of ultimate success. In doing so, we sorta kinda bonded.  It was weird, but it also made me realize something: I don't hate these people.  Sure, they are rooting for the other team, but they aren't obnoxious and acting like idiots.  I only hope I can reciprocate the kindness the Chicago fans extended to me.

The Madhouse on Madison

When you can bring the noise
you get to be a bit boastfu
Much like Philadelphia, the arena is on the south side of town; not quite the outskirts, but away from the downtown core of the city.  It is surrounded by parking lots and low rise buildings, a far cry from the neighborhood settings of the Garden or the Bell Center.

And let's face it - this place is downright huge.  It completely dwarfs what we have.  Besides having a capacity of over 22,000 (almost 5,000 more than back home), the United Center has wide concourses, an additional level of premium seats and standing room loactions that ring the building behind the upper balcony seating area.  By the time you are in the back of the 300 level sections, you are pretty far from the ice surface.  But there are no obstructed views and there's plenty of space to move around.  And you're going to need to get up at some point: the seats are crowded as hell. Even someone as short as I am had issues with keeping my knees from banging the seats in front of me.

But the place has a huge drawback: the sound system.  By far the absolute worst one I've experienced at any modern arena I've been to.  We're talking "Charlie Brown teacher" territory.  Barely audible when the crowd was quiet.  And the music was a huge letdown as well.  The organ was pumped through the speakers, rendering it pretty much useless.  And the musical selection was lacking in quality.  Add in the three piece rock band that would play standard hard rock classics from Van Halen and AC/DC during stoppages in play was really pedestrian.  In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor gripe and it honestly didn't detract from my overall experience.

Hey, only 11 more to go
As an added bonus, there is a display case with all six of the Bulls' Larry O'Brien trophies from the NBA championships.  Which is nice, if you're a Bulls fan.  Which I'm not.

I discussed the myriad of food options available  at the United Center in Part I of my recap.  I should also mention that there are a number of standalone bars and lounges scattered all over the building, some of which feature standing areas with views of the ice do you can watch the game while inbibing your favorite tasty libation.  And these are available to all season ticket holders, not just the high rollers in the premium seats.

Shoe shine, sir?
Did I mention they have a shoe shine station as well?

A tremendously tremendous idea
And in one final touch of greatness, all the ushers are supplied with miniature stop signs with a picture of local fan favorite, former player and current national broadcast analyst Ed Olczyk on them for the purpose of stopping people from entering the seating areas while the puck is in play.  And for the most part, the fans stay seated during the game, waiting for the whistle before getting up.  Yet another NHL arena that gets it while the TD Garden continues to show disregard and disrespect for their patrons.

Oh, and they have a bunch of banners hanging from the rafters, as benefitting an arena that is home to two storied franchises.  There are banners for the Hawks four Stanley Cups and the Bulls' six championships as well as banners for retired players for each team.  They also have banners for Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause, the architects behind the Bulls' dynasty.  As a nice touch, the Bulls banners actually have the names of the players on each championship team around the border of their respective banner.  There are also banners for each of the Hawks' various division and conference championships which seems a bit excessive.  And as a whole, the banner designs are rather plain, even boring.  Where the Bruins and Celtics banners are somewhat understated, they do have a simple elegance to them that the United Center ones lack.

Oh Say Can Your Hear

One of the great traditions in all of sports is the signing of the national anthem at Blackhawks games.  I had only seen it on TV and never in person until my trip there.  TV does it no justice at all.  Anthem singer Jim Cornelison is one of the best I've ever heard with a fantastic voice.  But it is the Chicago crowd that makes this one of the best things I've ever witnessed live.  Rather than sing along, the crowd cheers the entire time. And by cheer, I mean make noise, and lots of it.  But it is not disrespectful in any way.  Rather, its just what they do.  And it is amazing. And loud.

What the sound system lacks, the crowd more than makes up for.  I mean, these people can make some serious noise.  They are into the game from the first drop of the puck and don't lose focus at all.  Sure, there are the typical in-game distractions from promotions on the jumbotron, but the hockey is first and foremost. This was a serious hockey crowd.  Now, I'm not sure if they brought their 'A' game because it was a Saturday night and they were playing a fellow Original 6 team who also happened to be the defending Stanley Cup champs, but for that night at least it was a great atmosphere.

And lest I forget, I need to mention the goal horn.  Or goal horns.  Four bugles are mounted underneath the center ice scoreboard and they emit the most wonderful, rich sound when they are played.  The foghorn at the Garden is nice, but this puts it to shame.

Seeing Red

When you have a classic, timeless look like the Blackhawks have, why wouldn't you want to wear one of their sweaters? And ever since the NHL went to the 'white on the road' rule in the 03-04 season, we have been denied the opportunity to see Chicago wear their brilliant red sweaters at the Garden.  Not so when we went on the road.  Simply beautiful.  Even their third/alternate sweaters are pretty good.

I'd say that 90% of the crowd was wearing a hockey sweater of some sort, include those of us in Bruins gear.  And just about all of the remaining 10% was wearing some other sort of team branded clothing. The Chicago fans clearly showed favor for the red sweaters, easily choosing them over the white and black varieties by a 3 to 1 margin.

And with the storied history that they have, there are a bevy of good, if not great players that the fans can choose to pay tribute to with their sweater customization.  Sure, there were plenty of Toews, Kane and Sharp sweaters to be seen in the crowd, but for every two members of the 2010 championship team that I saw on someone's back, there was one of the Hawks' greats to be found:

1991 Jeremy Roenick Campbell Conf.
All Star replica
70's Tony Esposito
away replica
Early 90's Steve Larmer away replica
(w/ current Jonathan Toews throwback)
2003 Theoren Fleury home replica
(token waste of money sweater)
Mid 90's Ed Belfour home replica
Current Marian Hossa home replica
Mid 60's Glen Hall
sweater reproduction
Mid 90's Tony Amonte
home replica
Early 90s Jeremy Roenick
& Bob Probert home replicas
Stan Mikita
home replica
1991-2 Jeremy Roenick
NHL 75th Anniversary Throwback

The Game

Ah, yes, there was actually a game played as well.

The Bruins came out like they were sleepwalking and the Blackhawks took advantage late in the first period with Brian Bickell scoring to take a 1-0 lead off a horrible turnover by Andrew Ference in the defensive zone.  The Bruins tied it up just over a minute into the second period on a Chris Kelly shorthanded tally, but the Hawks countered just a minute later on a narrow angle wrister from the elusive Patrick Kane that managed to sneak by Thomas' far side.

Chicago continued to pressure the Black and Gold with Tim Thomas stellar play the only reason the B's weren't getting blown out.  Late into the third period, the Bruins began to wake up and the ice started to shift in their favor.  Nathan Horton netted the tying goal about 8 minutes in. The Bruins continued to take the puck to the Chicago net, but Corey Crawford was solid.

In overtime, Rich Peverley had a chance to win it for the B's on a clean breakway off a Chicago turnover, but his backhand shot missed wide and the game went to a shootout.

In the past, this usually signaled a death knell.  The Bruins simply suck in shootouts.  And our (as in Heather and me) track record on road games was equally as poor.  And the Blackhawks three shooters were Kane, Toews and Sharp.  We were screwed.

But somehow, Tim Thomas stopped all three shots while Tyler Seguin beat Crawford through the five hole and the goal stood as the deciding tally as the Bruins actually garnered 2 points for their second win of the season.

In Conclusion

This was by far my favorite road trip, ever. The combination of touring a great city such as Chicago with sampling some of my favorite food and taking in a great hockey environment was unparalleled.  Add in some gorgeous weather, some good friends and a bunch of friendly midwesterners and it was the perfect weekend getaway.  I only wish I had more time there.

Needless to say, I want to go back again.  And soon.